By-the-sea-walker (An experiment in the manner of a poem)

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One day when exploring some rock pools in Connemara I came across a tiny jelly fish. Almost transparent but tinged with a deep blue, what caught my attention was it’s ‘sail’. Hoisted merrily this sail allowed the wind propel it across the pool. When I looked it up I saw it was a Velella velella. A tiny jellyfish that uses the wind to transport it.

But it was its other name that made me fall in love with this tiny creature of the sea. By-the-wind-sailor. How apt that description but also how lovely the wording sings. So here is my poem called By-the-sea-walker.

Today I left my bicycle at home

and went ‘by the sea walking’

today I went slower

by    the    sea

walking

Today I met the bird watch warden

while by the sea walking

It turns out he knows my brother

(the world is a small place

when you go by the sea walking)

today I saw a yellow horned poppy

and a common blue butterfly

and a stone that looked like a terns egg

but was really

just a stone.

and a stone in the shape of a heart

with a chip and a line through it

like a broken heart

I also passed two ladies

‘Ah sure listen to me now

we’ll soon be living in a traffic jam”

they said to each other

not if you go by the sea walking

I said to myself

The end

Sometimes I prefer walking (If only Dad had heard of kintsukuroi)

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Kintsukuroi : The Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted with gold silver or platinum powder.

‘Don’t let Stephanie touch that dish/plate/teapot, she’ll break it!’ was one of my Dad’s refrains.

Recently my sister reminded me of this when telling me of someone she knew who was dyspraxic. She said she often wondered if I had suffered from a mild form that went undetected.

I assured her that I was just a clumsy child and the fact that I had no problem riding a bicycle proved I hadn’t a dyspraxic bone in my body.

Poor Dad!

If only he heard about kintsukuroi he might have been a bit more chilled about my breakages, plus he never learned that hovering nervously over me reminding me not to break something was a sure way of making me break it.

Then again with the pressure off I might not have broken any for him to practice on in the first place.

Now my observation is a sort of antithesis.

My Dad was a pedant and therefore on one side the perfectionist in him would have struggled when faced with the shattered pieces of something as beautiful as a delicate china plate.

But he was also an artist, a purist one to be exact (no wild abstract splashing’s for him, his water colours followed the strict old fashioned wash method) so the creative side of this Japanese art would have interested him.

And being a purist, his Kintsukuroi would have been meticulous.

Unfortunately he missed the era of google, but I am sure he would have gone in search of books on the subject, just as he had with the art of tying Artificial flies for his fishing.

One of my childhood memories is of him sitting, head bent, brow furrowed in concentration, at his specially equipped table in my parents bedroom, tying these minute flies. (Really he should have been working at his architectural drawings and earning a crust for his family)

This table, on which stood a miniature vice grips and a well leafed book detailing the art of fly tying, had a small drawer underneath containing boxes with hooks of various sizes, scrapes of wool, gold and silver threads and hackle feathers collected from cockerels around the country.

It was actually my mothers dressing table, but since she never wore a scrape of make up or perfume, he commandeered it.

So you can understand why I could also picture him, at the same table, in the same manner, painstakingly fitting together the pieces of my latest breakage and painting in the cracks with gold or silver lacquer.

And just as when he was tying flies, we watched in admiration (the hook steady in the vice grips and using a forceps with surgical precision, attaching first the wool, winding the silver or gold thread around to hold it in place, then the feathers) as before our very eyes a Wickhams fancy, bloody butcher, sooty olive, or duckfly, appeared,  we could have also gazed admiringly at his latest piece of kintsukuroi.

And I would have been the proud source of yet another family story surrounding the occasion of the breakage of that particular piece (rather than the shameful clumsy daughter who’s breakages ended in the bin).

A note on fly fishing (and how it ruled our family)

Firstly, the subject of hackle feathers!

As a child it did not appear to us in anyway unusual that, when driving along a country road we would screech to a sudden halt, as my dad, having spied some colourful feathered fowl in a farm yard, would leap from the car, open the gate and scattering the hens, approach the door to talk to the woman of the house.

From our vantage point, we would watch as she, or one of her children raced around the yard in pursuit of the fine cockerel whose feathers my Dad had put his eye on.

Once caught the catcher would hold the bird steady while my Dad plucked a few of the hackle feathers and thanking the farmers wife profusely, tuck them into the small metal box he kept in his jacket pocket.

Secondly. We had to know the names of the flies he tied. After all if we were his oarsman for the day, he could, without letting his eyes leave the water, reel in his line and announce that a change of fly was needed. And our job then was to quietly place the oars in the rowlocks (sounds might frighten the fish) and hand him whichever of the above he requested.

So you better know your flies!.

But where is this story going?

Oh yes.

Breakages, flaws, imperfections and changes and re-pairings.

Kintsukuroi also has a philosophical expression i.e embracing the flaws and imperfections of the object. Seeing its life story through its breakages rather than trying to disguise them.

April, eight years ago, I received the news of a biopsy.

Metastatic melanoma.

The primary, my right calf.

A small freckle I had surgically removed a few years before (supposedly benign) had metastasised to the lymph nodes in my groin.

Had all those years of cycling in the summer sun caused the primary?

Who knows? but one thing was sure. I was not the perfectly healthy individual I presumed I was, but a flawed one, an imperfect being, a broken piece of the human kind.

Look Dad! Now how insignificant those plates, those cups, that teapot.

‘But how can it be?’ I wailed at anyone interested in listening to me’ I feel so well’

I wrote in my diary.

‘After all my years of nursing, of hand holding and reassuring of others I am now on the same side of the fence. I never thought it would be me.’

I had my surgery that May.

At first I was scared of everything, the sun, my life, even my leg.

Especially my leg.

I took each step gingerly, barely daring to walk on it.

I was so fearful of putting weight on it that I began to cycle more than I ever (if that was possible) just to avoid putting it to the ground.

My bicycle became my crutch.

At first I cycled with two surgical drains still in place, hidden by pinning them to the underside of my long skirt.

Then through an exhausting year of Interferon.

I couldn’t stop cycling!

In the west of Ireland I struggled against the Atlantic storms, forcing my legs round and round.

And when my treatment finished, I cycled at a gentler pace across France where, on I reaching the Mediterranean, I finally excepted the philosophy of Kintsukuroi and embraced my imperfection.

In doing so, I realised I no longer needed to rely so much on my bicycle to cart me around and that sometimes I preferred walking.

And now, although there is no silver or gold mending it, like a piece of (unfinished) Kintsukuroi, the thin scar making its way crookedly along, from mid thigh to mid abdomen, continues to tell my story.

To be continued…

(Where with some anxiety but after much deliberation I decided to explore The Alentejo region in Portugal without the yellow bicycle.

As I cycle I Learn to see life stories in the flaws of old things rather than focus on their imperfections.

Some prefer Hawthorns (Practising Hanami on the Achill to Westport Greenway)

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If I were to choose my favorite month for cycling it would be May because May is the month when the hawthorn is in bloom.

I try not to take life for granted but too often I don’t appreciate things until they have passed.

Mono no Aware is the Japanese term which describes the gentle wistfulness, or  the melancholic appreciation of the transiency of things.

Hanami is the Japanese term for cherry blossom viewing. These two go hand in hand as viewing the cherry blossom, which blooms so briefly in spring, is appreciated so much more because of its transience in a way that would be missing if it was always there.

But we have a native tree that would give the cherry blossom a run for its money.

It is the humble Hawthorn.

It was in the month of May when Penny and I finally found a day when both of us were free and we head off to cycle the Achill to Westport Greenway (Co Mayo) in search of Hawthorn blossoms and to practice Hanami .

After doing the ‘two car thingy’ (A technique I wrote about in a previous post) we arrived in my car at the starting point.

~~~~~

‘WILL YOU BE WEARING A HELMET?’ Penny shouts to make herself heard above the rattle (She has opened the boot and is trying to disentangle her bike from mine).

‘I WILL NOT!’ I shout back, pausing from my task of taking the panniers out from behind the front seat. ‘I’VE NEVER WORN ONE IN MY ENTIRE LIFE, AS YOU WELL KNOW, AND HAVE NO INTENTION OF WEARING ONE TODAY!’

I shout so that she is also able to hear ME over the clattering of handlebars and metal mudguards but more because I am appalled that she would even suggest that I owned such a thing.

‘OK OK! she laughs ‘Keep your hair on’

At this stage She has extricated her bike from the clutches of mine and leaning it against the wall turns to me.

‘I wont wear one either so’

She watches me, daring me to look surprised.

I am surprised, shocked even.

The last time we cycled together on the Greenway, not only did she insist on wearing a helmet but a ‘High viz’ jacket as well. I remember thinking that if she fell off her bike there wasn’t much to hit her head off except some sheep wire. And that maybe she needed to wear high viz so that the sheep could see her coming.

‘Great’ I try to look as though its not important one way or the other but secretly I’m delighted  ‘Now you will be able to feel the gentle spring breeze in your hair.

(Nagokaze = the Japanese term for experiencing the gentle spring breeze)

Suddenly I am struck by a wistful longing for those days long ago when cycling were simpler.

Before helmets. Before fear.

Back then (could it be almost forty years ago) I cycled the wild Atlantic way (before it became famous) from Donegal to cape clear island without once worrying about falling.

My bike was a single speed black raleigh, complete with a small wooden bicycle cart (I had bought the cart in Holland the previous year whilst on a cycling trip in Europe).

This cart was of an ingenious design.

When not carrying my accoutrements (tent, spare clothing, pots and pans, Kelly kettle) the base could be taken out and used as a table.

And the sides, having a hinge at each corner, meant the remainder could then be folded flat for easy storage.

Looking back it was a much weightier affair than today’s versions, but I knew no better as, with the breeze tossing my (unhelmeted) hair,  I cruised down those Connemara hills, my feet off the pedals, the cart rattling gaily along behind.

Once when heading across the bog road to Scriob, (a road which undulated in such a measured fashion that the momentum of sailing down hill would almost carry you up the next hill without pedalling) the safety bolt loosened from the hitch on a down hill stretch and the cart disengaged.

Passing me out, it landed in a ditch upside down.

Luckily the only damage was a dint in a saucepan but I took more care after that by adding a loop of bailing twine around the hitch.

That was the only accident I can recall.

Suddenly I understand Mono no aware.

‘Come on’ A voice wakes me from my daydream.

Penny has my bicycle out too and wheels it over.

I buckle on my panniers and fix my picnic laden basket on the handle bars.

The traffic is heavy as we cycle up the main road and we are happy to take a left turn away from it and along a small gravel lane. We continue to climb slowly until finally it turns again before flattening out.

Then for a while it runs, not only fairly level, but straight as well, giving us the opportunity to look around.

To the left the boggy fields bank easily down to the sea, where the ruins of  abandoned cottages lie.

‘Aw look! Aren’t the colours gorgeous?’ Penny points to the swathes of purple and pink rhododendrons dotted here and there.

The colours ARE gorgeous and I wonder is there a Japanese term for admiring things guiltily.

These invasive plants that thrive in our gentle soft rain were brought in by the Victorians and planted as exotics in the grounds of many estate houses and have now run a muck, causing huge ecological problems by threatening our native species which cannot compete for space against them.

But Penny loves them.

Brought up on the bare boggy mountains of mayo she see’s the purple and pinks as uplifting and striking.

We have the track to ourselves and we cycle along easily, stopping here and there to admire the small orchids growing along the road side and in a damp field, the pink of the ragged robin.

The ditches are full of primroses.

‘We’re Hamani-ing already’. I say

‘Save it for the hawthorn’ Penny says standing on her pedals and sniffing ‘I can smell them’.

Sure enough as we round the corner, there they are, in full bloom. Bent into shape by the prevailing northwest winds, they are spread over a field of ancient potato ridges which run down to the shore.

We catch a glimpse of water between their gnarled trunks.

Penny spreads our picnic on a nearby seat.

‘This is how they do it in Japan! They have picnics and wine while viewing the blossom’.

(Penny has been to Japan so I believe her, though we never find it too difficult to have the excuse of a glass of wine on our cycles).

‘Did you know that the leaves of the hawthorn are edible’ I say. ‘In fact they are very good for you and are a known tonic for the heart’? One up for our sturdy hawthorn blossom’!

‘Except’ she replies ‘The leaves AND flowers of the cherry blossom are edible also and more famously too. There is a wide variety of treats using sakura (cherry) leaves and blossoms. From being incorporated in Wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets)  to Sakurayu (cherry blossom tea)’.

‘We better chew on a few hawthorn leaves so’ I sigh resignedly ‘Mustn’t let the side down’.

We pick some of the young green leaves and insert them between the two halves of our baguettes french which already contain spinach and smoked salmon.

They taste good in the sandwich, a tougher texture than the spinach but with a pleasant nutty flavour.

Penny draws a line at making hawthorn blossom tea but I pop a few in my cup and pour some boiling water over them.

The tea has a lovely scent.

‘Here’s to Hawthorn blossoms’ Penny raises her glass.

To Hawthorn blossoms’ I echo her.

We sit for a while without talking and sip our wine, admiring the view, the blossoms, the gnarled trunks of the trees, the way the light defines one side of each potato ridge.

The air is so clear.

The fragrance of the Hawthorn envelopes us.

It’s beautiful and serene and all those things that I cannot find the words to describe.

There is another Japanese term.

Yuugen translates as An awareness of something in nature that triggers feelings too deep and mysterious for words.

THE END

 

The comparable cyclist Part two (Goats,Greenways and keeping on the straight and narrow)

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(Looking across at Mulranny strand from the Achill to Westport Greenway)

What have goats got to do with a Greenway I hear you ask.

Well not a lot! They sort of meandered into this story uninvited.

~~~~~~

It’s early morning. I am off to cycle the western Greenway.

I leave Dublin at cockcrow, my yellow bike in the back of my old car and drive speedily along the motor way which heads to Galway (Ireland has only four of these mindless roads but they ARE handy when you are in a hurry )

After 60 kms or so I leave it to cut cross country in a north westerly direction.

Though now on a ordinary road it is too early for traffic and I still manage to zip along making good time until finally I reach the town of Ballina (in the process of creating its own greenway).

Next I pass through Crossmalina and then hit that lovely web of small roads, more often than not unsignposted.

But I continue on confidently knowing that if I  keep Nephin https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nephin on my left and head southwest I will end up at my destination.

Around a corner, a brown OPW signpost points to a small road indicating the whereabouts of St Patricks well. (Did I mention that I am fascinated by holy wells)

Too late! before I even make the decision to indicate, I am gone past the sign.

If I was on my bicycle I would have been up that boreen without hesitation.  

But a car is a different matter. too often you have flown by a place of interest before you can stop.

Then, maybe a car on your tail forces you onward as there is nowhere to let it pass or you have to drive some distance before you find somewhere to turn and by then the curiosity has left you.

I am tempted to say ‘feck the Greenway’ and park and pull out my bike and explore this area but my friend Penny (Not her real name) will be waiting for me. (Did I mention that when I cycle greenways I do so with a friend and when I cycle boithrins I like to do so alone).

And finally I am sitting outside the Grainne Uaile pub in Newport Co Mayo.

But still I don’t take out my bicycle.

One of my gripes with Greenways is they do not form a circular route.

If you don’t want to cycle back the way you have come, here is a solution.

I call it the ‘TWO CAR THINGY’

But you need a companion.

This is how it works

  • You meet your companion at the end of the journey. Which could be called the beginning
  • Of course she must also have a car with her bike in it (or on it) or it doesn’t work.
  • You then decide which car will go and which will stay.
  • You then load the bike from the vehicle staying into the vehicle going. (size of bike and car and lack of bike carrier may be the deciding factor here)  
  • You leave the now empty vehicle and drive the now full vehicle to the start.
  • You park
  • You unload the two bikes.
  • You cycle the greenway to the end.
  • If both bikes don’t fit in the returning car, you look for something to lock the bikes to, preferable a railing outside the pub (Interestingly you have spotted other cyclists downing delicious looking glasses of Guinness)
  • You drive back to fetch the other car.
  • Disappointingly, you realize how short the distance is when driven (30 mins) as opposed to the length of time cycling it (4/5 hours)thus minimizing the whole cycling experience.
  • You get into your own car.
  • You drive back to pick your waiting bicycle parked at the pub only to remember you cannot drink and drive 
  • You settle for a cup of tea instead.

Confused?

I don’t blame you. I’m confused myself, and disgruntled too.

But here comes Penny.

Penny is neither disgruntled nor muddled. She is organized and jolly and knows exactly what she is doing

You see Penny is a teacher and after years of organizing unruly children, nothing confuses her.

Not least which car goes where with who or what on-board.

Before I know it, she has cheerfully squeezed her white bike in on top of my yellow one and off we go to the starting point of the Greenway at Achill Sound.

An addendum: As more greenways are created (there are a good few in the pipeline) they will hopefully link up and then we wont have to do the two car thingy anymore.

(The white bicycle and the yellow bicycle enjoying a break on the Achill to westport Greenway)

Friendship and Introducing those goats!

Before I go any further I would like tell you about my good friend Penny so you will understand why she is one of the few people I cycle with.

(Anyone who has no interest in goats may wish to leave now)

Penny and I met over the back of a goat.

Literally! A questionable British Saanen to be exact and about thirty two years ago.

Back then I was mad for a pair of milking goats. I dreamt of rearing my children on goats milk for and making cheese.

Over that summer I read up on goats avidly and studied the pros and cons of the different breeds.

My favorite were the Toggenburgs.

The Anglo Nubians, with their long noses and floppy ears came a close second.

But, having read about the ability of the former to escape and the delicate nature of the latter, I settled more sensibly on the docile Saanen.

I read up on what to look for. I studied photos of the supreme champions.

I noted the sleek coat, the gentle slope from hip to tail, the back legs set apart allowing for good udder capacity.

It seemed I would have to travel far, possibly as far as Northern Ireland, to obtain such creatures.

Then one day in early autumn my sister rang me in excitement. A couple she knew had just the pair and they were willing to part with them FOR FREE.

Was I interested?

Warning bells should have rung.

Instead I said that I would come and view them.

But before I had time to put on my coat, a battered estate car pulled up in my driveway (it must have been literally waiting around the corner)and the driver leapt from it and opened the boot.

Two goats jumped out, shot off into the orchard and with the agility of a pair of chimpanzees, scaled the nearest apple trees and began nibbling the branches and eating whatever apples remained unpicked.

Politeness prevailed. There was a human to be seen to first, and I turned to the owner of these tree climbing beasts.

But no! he wouldn’t stay for a cup of tea thank you all the same… he had a lot of things to attend to…he was in an awful hurry!! (The marks his tyres left on my driveway attested to this).

To cut a long story short, when I finally managed to coax the goats down from the tree with a bucket of beet pulp and get near enough to them to examine them and ensure they were indeed goats (and not some variety of four legged monkey)I was left in no doubt of their questionable pedigree.

Disappointingly there was no similarity to those I had seen in my book. No sleek coat or the gentle tapering from hip to tail, nor could I catch sight, due to the length of their rough coats, of an udder, smooth or otherwise.

After finally enticing them further into their shed with the intention of bundling them into the boot of my own car and returning them, they looked at me with such love in their eyes (Its amazing the effect a bucket of beet-pulp can have) I gave in (I didn’t even know where this ‘friend’ lived).

The wonderful thing about animals is if you are kind to them they will love you and won’t give a fig for your obvious disappointment in them.

But just feeding my goats well will not make them pregnant and if I wanted to have kids (and therefore milk) in the spring I needed to work fast.

And that is how I met my now good friend Penny, the owner of a handsome Saanen pedigree buck.

I was first drawn to her kindness and inevitable friendship (We discovered more than just goats in common)by the fact that she didn’t laugh at my unkempt ladies (honestly all the brushing in the world did nothing to improve those rough long coats)but allowed a romance between them and himself to take place.

Then as if by magic in the late bloom of their ensuing pregnancy, the pair lost their rough coats and indeed began to look something like the goats I had dreamed of owning.

And though my ‘goat days’ are long gone, our friendship remains and she is there when I need a bicycling companion who is willing to put up with my cycling idiosyncrasies and keep me on the straight and narrow. 

(The start of my herd)

And now, due to those meandering goats, I have reached a word count of One thousand five hundred and ninty something and have probably lost most of my readers after eight hundred! So I will draw a halt to my ramblings as I have other things to do on this spring Sunday (cycling my bike for example).

Coming soon: When Penny and I actually cycle the Greenway and I promise to not to step off the beaten track …..

  

The comparable cyclist. (Bóithrín or Green way)

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Every bicyclist has their reason or reasons for cycling.

From the Pelotons that fill the roads on a Sunday like brightly coloured parakeets to those who cycle from the sheer necessity of getting from A to B.

And all of us in between.

Whether we choose main roads, bóithríns or greenways, it boils down to the one thing!

We spend an inordinate amount of time on a strange two wheeled object which by forward propellant of its pedals (which in turn revolves its wheels) causes it not only to defy gravity and remain upright but also to move forward (and even backward if you are a circus cyclist) and once continuing to do so, will not keel over, dumping us to the ground (Unless of course it is leaning against something).

Greenway: a preserved car free trail often a disused railway line or a canal towpath (In Ireland) used for recreational purposes such as biking and hiking.

(A civilized place to rest on the Achill to Westport greenway)

Boreen/bohareen: derived from the Irish word bóithrín meaning little road. Usually single tracked, often with grass growing down the center. Banked by stone wall, hedgerow or ditch, they twist and turn and part ways around hills and over streams and generally find their own natural and interesting path through the country side.

(One of the many bóithríní crisscrossing the Irish countryside complete with bystander)

Recently a friend asked which of the above I would prefer most to cycle along and she had to wait for a day or so while I pondered over her question.

Now I think greenways are wonderful and I have four of the five Irish ones under my saddle with a plan to cycle the fifth http://www.deisegreenway.com/ when there is a break in the clouds (so to speak).

They have stunning scenery, are car free, for the most part flat, mostly straight (they usually follow a disused railway line or canal towpath) well organised, well signposted, well maintained.

In fact too good to be true!

Why therefore does the untidy and rarely signposted mishmash of tiny roads (Bóithríns) so common to our Irish country side, attract me more than the safe civilized well signposted cycling trail.

Well You see I don’t LIKE to know where I am going. (I enjoy getting home, pulling out the map and thinking THAT’S where I’ve been).

I am not organised and I cycle in a most haphazard manner, choosing my route spontaneously.

And maybe I just like getting lost (easy to do on a bóithrín but impossible on a greenway)

Scenario One: The bóithrín

A yellow bicycle complete with occupant is moving slowly but surely up to the top of a low hill. The rain has finally stopped and the scent of meadow sweet, dog roses and hawthorn lies heavy on the air.

The bicycle is an old fashioned upright type making it difficult for the rider to stand on the pedals and gain any momentum.

Equipped with just three gears, she is now in first and smiles triumphantly. The crest of the hill is about to be hers. But just as she makes that final effort, a voice from the ditch startles her.

‘You’d be better off with one of them electric yokes’.

Losing concentration (and momentum) she wobbles towards the owner of the voice and just about manages to dismount awkwardly, preventing the bike from toppling over.

A middle aged man with a sally rod under his arm hops out in front of her over the low ditch.

‘I’m perfectly able to get up hills under my own steam’ she says haughtily.

Ignoring her obvious annoyance he pulls open a nearby gate.

‘Would ya ever mind standing there for a moment and put a halt to the cattle if they try to head down the hill’  He motions with his stick in the direction she has come from ‘They’re mad for the river’

He has barely finished his sentence when a herd of unruly bullocks shove through the gate and turn towards her.

‘I’ll stand by the lower gate’ and without waiting for her reply he is off over the hill, disappearing down the other side, leaving her alone with her charges.

The bullocks snort and bellow and lower their heads looking at her and the bike with suspicion

One tries to make a dash past.

Still smarting from her now questionable ability to cycle up and over a hill, she has a good mind to let him go his merry way and the others too if they should wish.

But she holds her ground and does as the farmer has bid.

‘Shoo’ Waving one arm up and down, the other holding the bike in front of her for protection she glares at him.

The bullock knowing instinctively he has met his match, backs into the herd who realizing they are defeated turn and, with much snorting, butting and mounting each other, make their way up the hill after the farmer and down the other side out of view.

She follows them (after all she is going in that direction) keeping her distance in case they change their minds.

They don’t, but in revenge one or two lift their tails and splatter the road with dung.

‘Yuck! great!’ She swerves to avoid running her tyre through the mess.

At the bottom of the hill the farmer is standing guarding the road.  The gate to another field lying open. He raises his stick and the cattle who, despite constant stops to snatch mouthfuls of grass, have reached him, swing in unison into the new field where they proceed to charge around madly trampling the fresh luscious grass.

‘Don’t forget to think about that electric yoke or better still, get a car’. The man calls out as he ties the gate shut with a piece of baling twine.

Throwing her eyes up to heaven, she doesn’t bother to reply but mounts her bike and whizzes down the hill past him.

At the bottom of the hill the bóithrín forks. She hesitates momentarily before turning left.

As she sails along her wheels hissing on the still wet road, small finches scoot from the gnarled and wind-shaped hawthorn trees to the stands of willow lining the bóithrín.

Like dolphins with a boat they keep apace with her.

The bóithrín twists and turns, dips and climbs, its appearance ever changing.

Here a bit of stone wall, there a low ditch, here a flower entangled hedgerow, again those low hawthorns and all interspersed with gates of some kind.  Some large and galvanized, others shaped from old pallets keeping livestock off the road.

At one point a solitary horse, alerted by the sound of her wheels, meanders over, she stops to stroke his nose. Then she is off again.

Its peaceful.

They only sound she hears apart from the wind and the odd call of a sheep are the far off cars on the Westport to Louisburg road and even they fade as the road swings further south.

Another fork! again she decides to take the left turn. At this stage she has lost track of where she is or what sort of distance she has covered.

All she is aware of is that the far of sound of traffic has been replaced with the sound of running water and she is getting hungry and is keeping an eye out for a suitable picnic place.

Rounding another corner she finds that the river has either done a full loop or maybe she has backtracked.

Jumping down from the saddle and leaning her bike against the low stone bridge she unstraps her basket from the handle bars and lays her picnic out on a flat area of the bridge

Wine, some bread and cheese and an apple.

She settles herself comfortably on the wall in the late afternoon sun.

Coming next ; The greenway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drop, Deflate, Invert and Lower! (On reaching sixty and the overuse of parentheses)

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(Going abroad with a bicycle the easy way)

Parenthesis:

  • ‘ A word or phrase as an explanation or afterthought added into a passage which is grammatically complete without it (usually marked off by brackets, dashes or commas.)’
  • A woman who on reaching sixty, finds herself adding many afterthoughts and unnecessary explanations (parentheses is the plural) to her writings.

You would be excused for thinking that the title for this post was to do with a new yoga regime for the older woman.

Or that my absence from this blog (it must be at least three months since my last post) is due to the fact that I have been away on a such named boot camp devised for the middle aged.

As an aside it has occurred to me that, while NOT writing, I have become sixty!

(A note to oneself: Keep writing… it prevents you getting OLD!)

And though I do feel some days that I have been inverted (Silly me to imagine things would slow down when I reached the above age) and even somewhat deflated, (It’s getting harder to find time to write) the above title is only to do with my fast approaching holiday in Portugal (Where I plan to rent a VW camper with bike rack and explore the Alentejo region) and the obvious question….

Do I bring the yellow bicycle with me or rent a bicycle when I arrive?

It might seem a simple enough affair to throw a bicycle into the nether regions of a plane but its more tedious than you would think (or maybe on reaching sixty things just appear more tedious)

You see for the passage of a bicycle, airlines request that you;

  • Deflate both tyres.
  • Invert both pedals
  • Drop the handle bars and turn them sideways
  • Lower the saddle.

These procedures are simple to accomplish with a good spanner, pump and wrench but the tediousness comes with the redoing of the undone.

Flying the yellow bicycle to France all those years ago when I was a young and energetic fifty year old (as opposed to the ease of cycling it fully intact onto a ferry and off the other side last September as I approached sixty) seems a long time ago.

Yet the recollection of sheltering from the downpour under a walkway outside the main doors of Bordeaux airport as I struggled to unwrap a large sodden cardboard box in which my bicycle had travelled, is still vibrant.

As the rain pelted down and the taxi men sat warm and smug in their cars watching the show, I wondered if it had been a wise idea after all.

I had packed it into a large cardboard box, courtesy of my local bike shop (The other option of using one of those fancy bicycle bags I dispensed with as unpractical. I didn’t intend hauling any unnecessary equipment on my journey). The idea that I would just tear up and throw away the cardboard seemed the best option (I had a month of cycling to consider how I would pack it for my return journey)

It turned out to be easy to fill up the various bins outside the airport with the sodden stuff. Whether it was legal or not was another question but nobody stopped me and as I cycled across France, I quickly learnt that if you are on a bicycle you can get away with anything.

At this stage, strip by strip the yellow bicycle began to reveled its shiny self and just as I had run out of bins, it stood before me, a sorry sight, its metaphorical head hanging as though in shame at being caught at its most vulnerable.

I got to work, my audience twisting their heads to get a better view.

Inflating tyres with a small hand pump is a lot less fun then deflating them but I pretended that I was having the time of my life.

Eventually that task was complete and I had less trouble attending to the inverted pedals and raising the saddle.

It was when I tried to tackle the final chore that I had to admit defeat.

No matter how well I held the handlebars upright and how tight I tightened the screws they just stubbornly dropped back down again.

Meanwhile the taxi men grew either bored or received a passenger because one by one they roared off enveloping me in a wreath of petrol fumes and leaving me with a bicycle that looked like a cross between an Omafiets , a hybrid and a racer.

However there was a happy ending to this story.

On finding a nearby bicycle shop a handsome young man (without any look of disdain) not only righted and tightened the handles to the correct height but also oiled the chain and finished inflating the tyres and, refusing to take any payment, handed me back my bike and wished me ‘Bon voyage’

Needless to say (as in all good films) I had only left the shop when the rain stopped and the sun came out.

With a light heart, I turned the yellow bicycle towards the west and headed into the setting sun.

My destination was Arcachon where I dipped the tyre of the yellow bicycle into the Atlantic before turning eastward and cycling across France to the Mediterranean.

In hindsight it hadn’t been too tedious and as I write this piece this piece this morning I know what I will do

I will bring the yellow bicycle to the dutch bicycle shop (the only bicycle shop where the employees don’t hide under the table when they see us coming) and get a few lessons on the raising of handlebars.

Then I will ring Aerlingus and add the yellow bicycle to my flight.

The end

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(Arriving at the Mediterranean successfully with handlebars still aloft)

 

Still can’t see the sea but goodbye to the agapanthus.

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Good bye to the Agapanthus 

Before I realize it my week is over.

In what seems like the blink of an eye, my island story is told.

I make my bed one final time and close the door of the room with it’s window that looks across the bay of sleeping boats at low tide and its ghostly presence at night.

I never did get around to writing about my need to check each room, cupboard and wardrobe before I went to bed.

I am not usually scared of night time. I wild camp without a second thought and sleep in a small tent with no fear. Darkness never bothers me, I have often cycled home alone with just my bicycle lamp to show me the way.

Yet, though this house is in the middle of the village and there is no crime on the island, I felt uneasy each night I spent in it. My unease coming from something inside the house rather than outside.

Of all the rooms, the bedroom opposite the one I chose to use, caused me the most anxiety.

My instinct was to close its door but to keep my one open so that I could keep a watchful eye.

But what I would do if I woke in the morning to find it open or worse, woke in the night to see the door handle slowly turning, I had no idea.

Eventually of course I fell asleep each night  and in the morning all was well.

And in the end, the only night I was ever disturbed was when leaving the window open, the zing of a mosquito in my ear made me shoot out of bed.

After a ridiculously lengthy chase I managed to squish the intruder between my shoe and the wall.

~~~

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I plan to be up early but I sleep in.

When I finally walk up the hill to the boulangerie, all the pain au raisin are sold out.

Madame looks surprised to see me and I explain my absence yesterday. I tell her I am leaving this morning and thank her for her delicious patisseries over the last week.

She suggests a Breton Far. A solid custard type square studded with plums and when I nod,  I see her slip a second one in.

‘Au revoir’.

‘Au revoir et bon voyage’.

I walk down the steep hill for the last time.

The lady who takes care of the house rings to tell me just to pull the door after me and leave the key in it.

She has had to go to the mainland unexpectedly and apologises for not being there to say goodbye. I am concerned about leaving the house with the key dangling in the door but she assures me that I needn’t worry.

I meet the postman coming in through the gate. He has the only other yellow bicycle on the island and it has a small engine on it, which I suppose when, day in day out delivering letters and parcels up those steep hills, he is well entitled to.

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Outside the gate I wait patiently until the only herd of milking cows left on the island walk by and then sail down the hill to the catch ferry, stopping on the pier to look back one last time across the semi circle of sand.

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Au revoir to the village with its steep hill. To my house with the blue shutters. To the stone cottages. To the white beaches and small lane ways.

Au revoir to the fields of fennel and cauliflowers and now faded Agapanthus.

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Simple ou return?’ The ferry lad looks surprised (or maybe slightly relieved) when I sadly reply ‘Simple’

Again he doesn’t charge me for the yellow bicycle though it has caused him more trouble than I have.

The tide is still out so once again its an easy chore to wheel my bike off the ferry and up the sloping ramp of the walk way.

The day is fine! blue skies with a scatter of clouds. I look enviously at the people with walking sticks, rug-sacks and cameras heading past me to board the ferry.france-2016-821

Faire Manger

The importance of lunch time in France can not be overstated.

I learnt that the hard way when cycling from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean a few years ago.

Cycling until midday, my romantic notion of stopping and buying baguette, figs, goats cheese and a small bottle of Sancerre to picnic on in the shade of some dappled-Monet-like-canal-side-tree, was soon quashed.

Shops closed for lunch from 12 until two.

On the dot and without exception.

No amount of pleading by a mad Irish woman who didn’t have a watch or a good sense of time, and always managed to arrive just as the doors of such establishments were shutting, was going to make the owner take pity and let her in. 

I went hungry for the first day or two until I began to realise the importance of these two hours.

Then one day, after again being turned away with a rumbling stomach, I spied a tiny fish restaurant on the banks of the Canal.

I was shown to a small table at the back in a dark corner.

The only other people at the restaurant, were a couple who were already eating at a prime canal side table.

Seated beneath an ancient weeping willow in the warmth of the October sun, they appeared dappled and happy and impressionist like.

Their wine glasses glinted in the light as they raised and lowered them between mouthfuls. Their contented sounding conversation drowned out only occasionally when a pretty pénichette would chug by, its wake causing the soporific ducks and swans to sway and untuck their heads momentarily in order to glare at the disturbance of their fish filled dreams.

Lucky them I thought (The couple not the birds)watching enviously from my table in the gloom.

Minutes later a group of ten arrived and immediately the couple were moved (mid mouthful) from their enviable table to a smaller one near mine and the waiters busied themselves joining the now empty table to another while the new arrivals stood patiently by.

With a flurry of white linen and the clattering of cutlery and glass, it was soon ready and the newcomers were seated.

Meanwhile the discommoded couple continued their food and wine and conversation at the lesser table.

I watched amazed

Not only did they NOT give the slightest inkling of objection at losing their scenic spot, nor any indication at the inconvenience of being interrupted mid bite, But they even smiled at the waiters as though understanding perfectly that it was not the loveliness or ambience of seating position that was important, but the priority of getting everyone fed for this imperative meal.

(Nor, I noted, was there any smugness on the part of the group who now sat installed at a wonderful table in the dappled shade.

Indeed they (the newcomers) didn’t seem in the slightest bit aware of their good fortune except to take it as though fully entitled to do so.

Nor did they show any appreciation for the loveliness of their surroundings. Instead, bending their heads low, they discussed what they would eat).

The second time I noticed the importance of lunchtime was when I took the train from Sete to Narbonne with my bicycle.

Unfortunately I chose a day when the train workers decided to stage an impromptu ‘manifestation’ (strike) .

The train stopped (and remained) at a small station and as I sat listening to the sound of rifles being shot into the air further down the tracks, the other passengers suddenly sprang from their seats and hurried down the platform to where a large crowd was gathering.

Curious as to what was happening, I followed, to see the striking station workers handing out cardboard boxes to everyone.

It was midday and yes, the world might be falling asunder, the trains not running etc, but the people had to eat lunch.

I joined the crowd and was duly handed a box.

Taking it back to my carriage I tucked into tuna pasta, a small plastic bottle of white wine,a fruit yogurt and an apple

Once I had finished and because ,though the sounds of of gunshots were fading, the train still showed no signs of moving, I removed my bicycle from its rack in the bike compartment and cycled away satisfied by my lovely lunch.

~~~~~~

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Lunch time is drawing near.

The restaurant opposite the old harbour is busy.

I manage to get a small table on the terrace with just two chairs at it.

knowing from my above mentioned experiences how precious restaurant tables are at this time of day, I am aware how lucky I am.

At the table beside mine, a group of five Irish men sit with glasses of beer in front of them.

I order a glass then watch as one of the men stands up, boules in hand and steps across the low stone wall separating the terrace from the pitch.

There is a Frenchman already there (I saw him arrive on a moped when I was putting my bicycle in the rack) practicing alone. The Irish man approaches him and without noticeably speaking the pair shake hands and a game of boules begins.

It all happens so smoothly, almost fluently.

It’s obviously not the first time the Irish man has played.

Not only does he appear to know the protocol of starting a game, but he does not let us down either.

By now the beer/wine/coffee drinkers are swiveling in their seats for a better view and the odd clapping of hands and murmurs of appreciation break out.

I settle contentedly back in my chair and watch the game too.

The restaurant is getting busier. (If that is possible) I order a plate of moules mariniere and a glass of white wine

Every table is filled and I nod as someone asks if they can take the empty seat opposite me.

Another chair appears. and another.

My table for one has now become a table for four.

Though now a bit squished, I have no objection.

I understand that we are not at the one table with the expectation of becoming friends or even making small chat but rather for the importance of  ‘faire manger‘.

So after an initial ‘bon appetit’ we get down to the business in hand of enjoying our lunch!

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The final hours.

The church of Sainte Barbe sits on top of a hill.

Built at the start of 17th century, it is a beautiful building, its tower reaching to the heavens.

The plaque explains that Sainte Barbe was the patron saint of sailors and that the occupants of the passing boats would salute the church in hopes for a safe voyage.

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After my lunch at the busy restaurant I still have some time before I need to be at the ferry, so I sit in its shadow and pulling out my diary am busy writing the final sentences of my story when I become aware of the flow of male voices.

I can’t see the owners of this conversation as they are hidden from my view by the shrubbery, but judging from the undulation, the butting in, the interruptions, with sometimes two voices together escalating and much laughter they can only be that of friends.

As I turn around curiously to listen and try and catch what language they are speaking (Yes eavesdrop, if you will) I notice three bicycles complete with filled pannier’s leaning against a wall.

One of the bicycles is sporting an Irish flag.

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The voices get louder and without a break in the conversation, three men of about my age appear around the corner.

‘Bonjour’ They greet me politely when they see me sitting there.

‘Bonjour’ I reply in my best accent intending to pretend I am french. But before I know it I’m admitting to my Irishness.

We start comparing notes.

They explain that its their first time cycling in France and only one of them (I’ll call him Tom) speaks the language and poorly at that.

They depend on his french (however poor) for asking directions when they get lost (which they seem to do frequently).

Now their story goes that Tom only knows the french word for ‘right’ (a droite) and can never remember the word for ‘left’ (a gauche) but at least he knows that one word. So when they are cycling along (Lost as per usual) and he is forced to stop and ask directions, if whoever he asks, indicates they should turn left and says ‘a gauche’, he jumps back on his bicycle, immediately forgetting the word for ‘left’ so shouts instead to the pair still cycling ahead ‘A non droite, A non droite’ (‘to the not right’) and they turn left.

Was it due to my almost non existing chance of conversation for the week on the island that makes me find their story hilarious?

Eventually after much chat we part ways arranging to continue our conversation later in the bar on the ferry but for now they off to buy wine to bring home to their wives and I am off to buy gifts for my grandchildren which I do before cycling down the hill to join the queue of cars waiting to board the ferry.

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The End

 

 

 

Can’t see the sea for the agapanthus ( This little bicycle goes to the market)

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It was my last day on the Island and I awoke in a dilemma.

Should I stick with my original plan of having no plan and just do my usual i.e let the small sandy tracks lead me hither and tither,

or should I get the ferry to Roscoff and go to the market.

I blame it on Regine! 

She made the market sound so enticing.

Sitting with her and Marie yesterday eating gallettes at the Creperie du Phare she became as animated as when I first met her and she thought the yellow bicycle was an antique.

Describing the various stall and the delights they offered, her blue mascaraed eyes flashed with excitement.

If only I hadn’t bumped into her yesterday, I wouldn’t have a clue about what was taking place on the mainland.

I just wanted my last day to be uncomplicated. To spend it alone. (meeting the two women for the 10.30 ferry meant company for a good part of the day)

For the first time in a glorious week of spontaneity I had to make a decision.

I wanted to go but I wanted to stay!

I wanted to go but I wanted to go alone.

I looked at the clock.

7 am

Unless…….

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I am out of bed and through the door in 15 minutes flat. Teeth barely brushed, no time for coffee.

It is still dark as I cycle up the hill past the church, down the other side and along the seafront.

The tide is well out. I can just make out the outline of the boats sleeping on their sides on the sand.

This adds an extra minute to my journey as racing past the ‘tide in’ pier, I have to cycle on around the corner and down the long jetty way.

The ferry is there but the engine is chugging impatiently.

The handsome young lad from my first crossing, looks up from his work of untying the mooring ropes as I loom out of the darkness, the yellow bicycle clattering across the cobbles

‘Attend!’ I shout to him.

Laughing, He gestures at me to slow down.

The ‘low tide pier’ makes getting the bicycle on much easier.

No steps to struggle down.

I wheel it easily off the jetty and onto the boat.

Sitting down on one of the plastic chairs, I catch my breath as the sky turns pink and the sun appears over the horizon.

The 7.30 ferry pulls out and begins its journey across the bay.

‘Retour S’il vous plait et aussi le velo’  I hand over my fare brushing away any guilty thoughts of Regine and Marie and remind myself I hadn’t committed fully to going with them.

‘If I am not on the pier at 10.30 go without me’ were my parting words as I headed up the hill, wobbling slightly from the amount of wine we had drunk.

Plus they don’t really need me, they had each other for company.

Its only when the boat is half way across the bay that I remember Madame at the boulangerie. How long will she wait with my brown paper bag before she realises I won’t be joining her queue today.

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Roscoff is pink in the morning light

Once again I find it much easier to bring my bicycle when the tides are out.

I wheel it easily onto the jetty and push it up the long sloping steps.

The market is underway already. I’m glad I’m there early. It gives me a chance to see every thing before the crowds start.

I buy a raincoat. Its bright yellow to match my bicycle and is lined with blue and white cotton. I also buy a Breton jumper.

Blue and white striped also.

I queue at the cheese stall and eavesdrop on what the other customers are buying.

I watch the Fromager lifting and holding up the huge wheels of cheese for his customer to view and I listen carefully, doing my best to understand what they are saying as they discuss the merits of each cheese before he cuts with a steel string the requested amount.

But its the small pats of smelly goats cheese that really catch my attention and the brie’s with their white/ grey mouldy rinds and milky oozing interiors.

Some of the goats cheeses are  wrapped in nettle leaves, some in rushes, others are ‘naked’ the rind being enough to hold them together.

I watch as he gently presses each circle with the back of his hand before choosing one to wrap for his customer.

The array is mind boggling.

My eyes skim up and down, backwards and forwards.

Un …. non un …. et un piece de…. I practice to myself

And then it’s my turn.

I pronounce my choices in my best french and I receive a smile for my attempts.

‘C’est tout’? he enquires as I start rooting for my purse.

‘Qui c’est tout’ I breath a sigh of relief.

Not only did he understand me but he hadn’t spoken to me in English (A sure sign that I have passed the test.)

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I queue at the vegetable stall along with women with baskets and men with pulley bags.

No one is in a rush and the crowd chat and joke and choose and hum and haw and change there minds.

I miss the last bunch of fragrant basil.

The small bearded man with a blue hat ahead of me, has snatched it up and is busy burying his nose in it.

I give him a minute, he might put it back?

But no! He lays it gently on top of the other items in his already bulging wheelie bag before paying and heading off, smiling smugly.

I am offered a handful of freshly smelling flat leafed parsley instead. I nod and add it to the head of lettuce before choosing a bunch of odd looking tomatoes. ‘Tomatoes ancien’ it says on the little wooden label.

‘Not for cooking’ says the stall owner  ‘délicieux for eating without….you know?’ she makes the motion of stirring a pan and my audience nods their heads in agreement.

‘Qui! pas pour la cuisson’ they mutter.

Its when I’m at the bread stall that I see him.

I am busy discussing seaweed breads with the bread man, whom I recognise as being either Dutch or German but with really good french and speaking English with a french accent that is tinged with something more gutteral.

He is passionate about seaweed and describes collecting it. Especially his favorite, the chorda Filum variety.

I recognise it and tell him I know it as mermaids tresses but he is not listening! He is on a roll describing how you are only allowed by law to harvest it when it is a certain length. He pulls a measuring tape from his pocket to show me the mark allowed and tells me how he brings his tape everywhere with him in so he will be able to harvest it if he comes across it.

(He is definitely German, I can’t imagine a french man being so precise)

He also tells me how he not only pickles it but adds it to his breads and cakes .

His cakes are beautifully presented in unbleached cake cases, each decorated with a swirl of seaweed on the top.

I choose one and he puts it carefully into a paper bag even though I want to eat it straight away.

Suddenly his gaze shifts and he lifts his hand to greet someone behind me. I look around and there he is!

Jeremy Irons, tall thin dark haired with a touch of grey, a beaked nose wearing a white linen cap and crumpled white linen suit with a slash of a yellow silk scarf around his neck. He is holding a cup which, when he reaches us, he passes to the German.

‘You are not Jeremy Irons so?’ I ask in that round about way now that I see him at closer quarters.

‘Sorry to disappoint’ He smiles ‘but sadly no I am not, but you are not the first person to think so’

He says this in french but I can tell its not his native language.

‘He is an american in Paris’ laughs the German ‘or should I say Roscoff’. He takes a sip of the coffee whilst the American slips easily into our conversation.

We talk about Ireland. The american has been there often. His wife is from Brittany and they love all things Celtic especially the music.

A few clouds begin to build up above the stalls.

Will it rain I wonder excitedly (I have my new rain coat at the ready)

‘Non’ they look up ‘Pas de pluie aujourd’hui’.

I roll my new coat up and stuff it disappointingly into my pannier.

In the side that is not filled with cheese and lettuce and tomatoes and now seaweed baguette and cake.

~~~~~

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The market is well underway and becoming crowded. Women are forming a queue at the seaweed bread/cake stall so I wave goodbye to my new friends and make my escape.

The town is very pretty and I could linger but I need a bit of space.

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I follow a road through the town which brings me out to the coast road.

I follow the coast road past the parked campers.

I am happy it is just me and my bike again. I have talked enough for one day.

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At a castle I spy a small lane way cutting across the tidal inlet

It’s my kind of road!

sandy and narrow.

what can I do but see where it goes?

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And now dear reader, I could continue to describe my day in words but you are probably tired of them so maybe it would be nicer if I showed them in pictures and you can find your own descriptive words.

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Suffice to say it was a wonderful sun filled day with clear sea’s.

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Those looming rain clouds knew that this cyclist now had an adequate rain coat (thank you Regine and the market) so they stayed away.

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Yes, my day slowly filled with bicycling along the coast, the warm wind in my hair, stopping for a swim here and there,

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and further along stopping again,

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for a wonderful bowl of Moules mariniere with copious glasses of white wine.

Quelles Formidable!

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And finally catching the last ferry home.

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Cycling tiredly over the hill and homeward bound, I see a small triangular figure in the distance walking in the same direction, weighed down with a full bag on each arm.

Like the coward that I am and feeling very guilty for being such, I brake and wait till the figure disappears around the corner and out of sight before continuing home to unpack my wares, have a cup of tea and take stock of the day.

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To be continued……..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can’t see the sea for the Agapanthus Day 5 (The story of the Three Wells)

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My dad had an odd sense of humor which veered towards puns and spoonerisms.

When we were young, He would ask us…

‘Did you ever hear the story of the three wells?’

Some of us had, having heard it from him umpteen times before, but as there were many of us he probably couldn’t remember who he had already told.

And anyway it was wiser to humour him!

So we answered ‘No’

‘Well! Well! Well!’ He would shout triumphantly.

Now that he had our attention this would be followed with, 

‘And did you ever hear the story of the three eggs?’

Again we would chorus obediently ‘No!’

‘Two bad’ and he would laugh uproariously.

On the Island of Batz I found three Wells,

and well…..here is the story of my search for them…

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It is day five on the island and anyone following my story will see how, as the days pass by, I relax and grow more comfortable with spending time alone, doing nothing more exciting than wandering the Island on the yellow bicycle.

Now and again I have a brush with humanity and this mostly takes place as I join the morning queue at the boulangerie for my pain au raisin, my pet de nonne and my baguette

I think madame keeps them specially for me because now that the school has opened, there is an increased demand for pastries, and even if I am last in the door, she hands me the warm bag before I even get a chance to make my request.

Although done out of a chance to practice my french, I am grateful that I no longer have to rush up the hill but can take time to observe the bay not only for 16th century french Galleons but now also for that 18th century Corsairs ship too (See previous posts)

After the boulangerie, is the cycle up the hill to the supermarket for the filling for my baguette.

After which ‘Le Monde est mon huitre’ (The world is my oyster)

Originally my aim was to head out, each day, in a different direction, no plan, no map, just a spontaneous following of the small roads that crisscrossed the island.

However, after my discovery of Le Trou du serpant yesterday and the story of Saint Pol driving the beast into the sea and giving one of the Island Wells the cure for blindness, I decide to try and find that Well (and any others I can find along the way)

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And so off I go, picnic in panniers, ready for the days findings.

At the crossroads I turn right. This road brings me down a narrow street and onto a small square in the center of which stands a circular stone structure.

Although it is now filled with agapanthus, it looks suspiciously like a Well, not just because of it shape but also because of its position in the middle of the triangular square (My dad loved a good paradox too)

But I may be wrong and unfortunately my french does not extend to discussing such subjects. Plus the only person I meet is an elderly man and he is heading in the opposite direction.

I think I will count it as one of my three wells anyway.france-2016-433

With the first Well in my pocket I’m off again, turning left and passing some lovely blue shuttered cottages, one with the tiniest window imaginable.

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In Ireland, An old high stone wall in the countryside usually indicates the presence of ‘The big house’

So I am surprised to see a similar type wall on this tiny island

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I follow it along curiously and soon reach a gate that allows me to glimpse inside.

I can see a square walled field with rows of cauliflowers not yet in bloom and huge mullein plants growing from the base of the wall.

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I move past the gate and come upon a very exciting find.

Inserted snugly into the wall, its roof and bowl intact and protected by the ancient moss covered walls which jut out on both sides like a pair of sheltering arms is a beautifully built Well.

I have found Well number two.

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Maybe this type of structure was to stop cows and other domestic beasts getting in an stirring up the water or maybe it was for resting the waiting buckets on. Whichever it is a thing of beauty and a very practical design

But is it the well with the cure for blindness? St Pols well?

Again there is no one around to ask so I dip my fingers in the algae covered water and pat my eyes just in case. france-2016-604

Further along I catch a glimpse of the extensive roofs of  the big house and turning left at its entrance I follow the high wall as it twists around the property.

Ahead, in the same way that the Well is inserted into the wall, is a chapel. I can only presume this belongs to the big house because it was common in the 18th and 19th centuries for houses of wealth and power to have there own chapel for members of family and staff.

france-2016-608Again no one around to ask.

The lane leads back into open country again and down the hill towards ‘the wild side’

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I cycle along a bumpy road that could be straight from the west of Ireland, passing a tethered Connemara pony (I know a Connemara when I see one), feeling very much at home when I notice to my left, a track leading off towards a flat stone slab.

I recognise that familiar shape too and arriving breathless and slightly shaken from the uneven surface I find Well number three.  It is so reminiscent of an Irish Well that, together with the wild landscape and the Connemara pony, I have to remind myself I am actually in France.

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This is surely Saint Pols Well!

Its position is perfect. A triumphant Saint Pol having successfully thrown/ enticed /ordered the serpent into the sea, would have strode this way, clapping his own back (Remember the agreement was if he managed to get rid of the serpent the island was his) as he headed towards the town.

It would be no skin off his nose to give the Well the cure for blindness as he passed it.

Again I dip my hands in to the water and splash it on my eye’s and looking up from my task I see a path of smooth flat stones leading to another structure.

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How clever! The Well feeds water to the communal washing area Le Lavoir

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But all this searching for wells and mulling about the history of them is hungry work.

I lay out my picnic and sitting on the low stone wall, look back at the lavoir, trying to imagine the scene where the women of the village would gather to do the weekly washing.

The facility is so well laid out with the smaller pool for soapy water perhaps and the larger for rinsing.

The overflow spouts between the pools, I presume, kept the water flowing, clearing the ponds as it did and the low walls were just made for sitting and gossiping on.

Sadly now it is full of algae and I have no one to gossip with.

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A familiar blue figure catches my eye.

It’s Regine and when she spots me, she hurries over kissing me on both cheeks and greeting me like a long lost friend, her ancient Pentax camera bouncing against her chest, her lashes an even more startling blue than I remember.

‘Tomorrow’ she exclaims breathlessly, before I have even time to say Bonjour. ‘The market is on in Roscoff!’

‘It is not to be missed’ She frowns as she takes off her rug sack and rummages in the pocket of it, pulling out her small note book.

Regardez! I have a list of the tides and the boat times here’

She runs her finger down the timetable.

‘If you get the 10.30 boat, the tide will be coming in and you wont have to make the long walk along the jetty’ (when the tide is out the ferry cannot get into either the island harbour or the mainland one and instead it moors at a long pier which means the passengers have to walk about half a kilometer to the shore)

‘Are you going? I ask her

Bien sur‘ she nods furiously. ‘It is fantastique

Mais maintenant, I am going to meet my friend at the Creperie Du Phare! Please join us. The proprietors are tres sympathique, the food is formidable!’

And because I miss having someone to gossip with and I like the sound of sympathetic proprietors and formidable food, I decide that I will.

france-2016-653to be continued………..

Can’t see the sea for the agapanthus Day 4 (a very ordinary day)

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Looking back I realise I was drawn to the Island because of its size.

Or lack of it.

I needed to be free but I needed to be contained too.

Without containment I might get on my bicycle and just keep cycling. (This is what happened when bicycling across France a few years previously. Promising I would regard every Saturday and Sunday as rest days, I couldn’t help myself and ended up cycling on those days too.)

A small Island would do the trick. The sea would put a halt to my gallop.

Plus a small Island would surely be a place of small happenings with few distractions (I could get a bit of writing and painting done too)

No large heroic adventures would be found there.

Just the simple, the ordinary.

And yet I found as the days went on the happenings on the island invited better attention to things that would elsewhere be passed over as mundane.

I was becoming absorbed in my examination of every simple ordinary mundane detail.

My daily visit to the boulangerie, was as captivating as any play by O’ Casey or John B Keane or Beckett

I could write a novel about the people waiting for the supermarket to open.

Each lace curtained, coloured shuttered window, each winding sandy lane, each neatly rowed cauliflower-ed field, had the makings of a story, a poem, a work of art.

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And to pay heed to it all I found that walking became my correct pace.

Cycling my upright slow bicycle was now going too fast.

I feared I might miss things travelling in that manner.

I would still bring it with me, but push it along like a sort of work horse for carrying my drawing materials, my picnic, my towel and swim suit and most importantly my bottle of wine.

And I did cycle it every now and again up those hills. (I needed to continue working off those pain au raisin and Pet de Nonne’s).

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The sign at the end of the ‘wild beach’ to the west of the Island shows a symbols of a bicycle within a round circle and a red line through it.

Anxious to obey the rules of the Island (there is no Gendarme here and I don’t want to be the reason for one arriving) I lean the yellow bike against the nearby fence (no need for a bicycle lock) and stuffing my picnic into the front basket, I lift it off my handle bars and proceed up the path on foot.

The trail is of sand over a layer of soft turf and is gentle on my feet with a slight bouncy feel to it.

Not so kind the gorse, which snags my ankles every now and again.

But I’m used to that from following such trails in the west of Ireland and this place is very reminiscence of there.

After a while, the trail forks, one path turning inland and up a steep slope.

Always curious as to what lies at the top of a hill or around a corner, I take that one.

At the top of the hill is the remains of a stark stone cottage. Not quite a ruin, its roof and walls are intact. But its doors and windows are empty of frames.france-2016-628

I peer inside.

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A large stone fireplace lies at one end of the single room and the man who once warmed his toes at the fire was Balidar, the Famous or Infamous Corsair (Depending on whether you were French or English!)

I know the house was once an old customs shelter built around 1711 but am not able to find much information about Balidar on the island.

Not having internet access either to do my own research, I imagined him to be a swashbuckling type, dark and handsome with perhaps a dashing moustache, swinging across masts and tangled sails, a poignard between his teeth, boarding the deck of the enemy ship and taking the captain by surprise.

Below is a shortened and translated from the french version of what I found about him when I got home

Balidar was born in Portugal and from an early age was engaged in the Portuguese regiments of Oporto.

At one point he was taken prisoner and deported to France. Blaming English politics for his demise he joined the Corsairs of the channel.

He obtained a ship and crew (probably other Portuguese deportee’s)and this he lay at the ready downwind off the island.  

And when his watchman, observing the seas from the north shore, for enemy ships, signalled him, he would slip anchor and sail swiftly, cross wind and catch his prey by surprise off Ile de Batz. He tackled and scuppered many an English ship and sold his ‘catch’ to Roscoff or Morlaix.

What interested me more than the Career of Balidar was the fact that due to the lack of timber on the island, wood was a precious commodity.

 

So much so that the islanders would steal any bit of timber they could lay their hands on and a door or window frame of an unoccupied house was very tempting (The roof of this house had no roofing timbers and was built solely from stone).

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The only way the owners of such houses i.e The french authorities, could deal with this was by removing the windows, shutters and doors, when the occupants were leaving and any new officials or guards would have to bring their own door, two sets of windows and shutters with them.france-2016-616

Further along where the path runs down to the sea I pass a lane, its way barely marked by the old crumbling walls.

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Was this the road along which Balidars servants (I imagine, due to his success at sea, he was becoming quite rich)  pulled the cart, containing the door etc?

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Oh and here is the wild sea he thrived on.

~~~

Further along the coast and east of the Corsairs house I come to Le Trou Du Serpent

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The story goes that in early christian times there was a great Serpent/dragon on the Island causing havoc and mayhem, terrorizing the inhabitants and devouring the women and livestock as dragons do.

In the 6th century Paul Aurélien, a christian monk from Wales who was evangelizing Brittany at the time happened to arrive in the area and was offered the whole Island if he could get rid of the beast.

Walking up to the raging serpent he calmly put his stole around its neck and led it to the western tip of the Island where he ordered it into the sea.

Although it was never seen again it is said the noise of the pounding sea at the huge rocks where it entered the water sounds like its hissing breath.

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But Paul (St Paul de Leon) wasn’t satisfied with just dealing with the dragon. He also ordered a well to appear on the island which has the cure for blindness.

Tomorrow I will go in search of it but for now my ordinary mundane day of Privateers on the high sea’s and Monks fighting dragons has left me quite hungry.

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I sit on the cliff top looking out to sea enjoying my baguette and cheese without fear of monsters from the deep and in a while retrieve the yellow bicycle and cycle swiftly home to my house of the blue shutters before anything else exciting happens.

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To be continued…….

 

 

 

Can’t see the sea for the Agapanthus Day 3 (Resisting that plate of nuns farts)

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It is my second morning waking in the house of the blue shutters and I am up at cockcrow.

I didn’t sleep too well as I feel there is a nightly presence in the house whom I have disturbed.

But no time for that now.

I don’t bother with the view.

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I know the boats will be slumbering in their usual fashion. I am up earlier than yesterday and high tide will be about an hour later so nothing can have changed that much.

But as I rush out the gate and around the corner and lean the yellow bicycle against the wall of the not yet opened boulangerie, I feel a pang of shame that my fear of being too late for a pastry is making me presume my morning view will be the same as yesterday!

What if this is the morning a viking boat sails into the bay?

Or four Galleons.

On the morning of August 13th in the year 1548 the people of Roscoff, on the opposite side of the bay, woke to see such a sight.

Four French Galleons dropping anchor.

One of these was the ‘Royal Galleon’ belonging to the King of France and it was carrying a very important person.

At only five and a half years of age Mary Stuart was already Queen of Scotland and was now engaged to be married to the heir apparent to the french throne, The Dauphin, Francois II.

The Galleon had carried her from her home in Dumbarton near Glasgow and, avoiding the English fleet, landed safely after an apparent rough crossing.

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The next morning the people of Roscoff gathered again to watch as the small boat containing their future queen, her four handmaidens (all also called Mary and all also only five and a half years of age) , their housekeeper and their nanny, pulled up at the slipway from where they proceeded to the church to give thanks for a safe crossing.

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The sound of the boulangerie door being unlocked brings me back to the present. I may have missed some excitement in the bay but nothing as exciting as being first in the queue.

‘Bonjour Madame’

‘Bonjour’.

~~~

As Madam pops the still warm pain au raisin into a bag, she looks back over her shoulder to regard me, one eyebrow raised, hand still hovering over the heap of cinnamon smelling pastries and enquires ‘Deux?’

I dither.

There are more than two hills on the island. At least four I would think, and I remember my calculation!

Two hills = one french pastry!

I feel the now gathering queue shifting restlessly behind me.

‘Hold on! I’m not delaying things with idle chat like you lot did yesterday’ but of course I don’t say this out loud (I wouldn’t have enough knowledge of french to anyway)

So I nod.

‘Deux pain au raisin s’il vous plaît’

My accent is improving

‘Et une baguette’ I add (remembering that ‘Baguette’ is feminine)

‘Une seulement’? she calls back over her shoulder as she plucks one baguette from the basket in which the deliciously crispy breads stand upright. She remains poised.

Again the queue shifts

‘Qui…. une.’ I nod.

‘C’est tout?’ Madam enquires, She is back at the till, holding my order in one hand whilst the fingers of the other hover over the keys. She senses my weakness and is still not convinced I am finished.

My eyes scan the delicious treats in the glass case in front of me.

Brioche a téte, Pain au chocolate, Clafoutis aux cerises, Chausson aux pommes, Tarte BretonTartes aux fraises, Tarte Tatin, Tarte au citron, Far Breton. Laid out neatly in mouthwatering rows

Oh and look! a plate of Pet de Nonne (literally translated as ‘the nun’s fart’) a sort of small chocolate covered profiterole which I adore.

But my oncologist is also there looming in the impatient queue, his fictional presence more powerful than her real one.

I drag my eyes away.

‘Oui….c’est tout’ I reply firmly.

~

So Day two of my day on the Island and I’m once again pushing the yellow bicycle up the steep hill though not as far this time.

This time I have managed to cycle about one quarter way up to the supermarket before the hill proves to steep and I have to dismount.

Once more I am on my way to buy my filling for my picnic baguette.

Did I really eat all the Camembert yesterday AND finish the whole bottle of sancerre? (Four hills equals one Camembert. 12 kilometres equals a bottle of white wine)

I am well within the perimeters and breath easily.

This time I buy some brie instead and a piéce de saucisse and a bottle of Chablis.

Then with my shopping complete I take a different route, no map needed.

I am getting a sense of this Island.
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I always dreamed of living the rest of my life in a small cottage by the sea where I would spend my days writing, painting and tending the garden.

I always imagined it would be in the west of Ireland but I actually found it here on Ile de Batz.

At the end of a small gravel road which heads north west from the village, I come on a small blue shuttered cottage. The sea in front of it, a sheltering hill behind, It is built in a place of complete perfection.

I would willingly give up one years supply of pet de nonnes for it

Unfortunately someone has found it before me and I know that even if they loved these small profiteroles as much as I did they would not part with it.
france-2016-773I sigh sadly but then I see something that cheers me up!

A small sandy track leading on passed the house. Immediately my sense of exploration takes over and without further ado I’m off again, pushing my bicycle along it as it winds up and around a rocky headland.france-2016-502 I am now approaching the ‘wild’ end of the island.

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And I find the perfect place to sit and have my picnic.

And its while having this picnic that I meet Regine (I could have used her real name as she will hardly read my blog for when we talked about computers her face took on such a look of disdain it led me to presume she is not in favor of using them. Instead she pulls out a small note book from her pocket which is filled with the neatest painstakingly tiny writing and proceeds to slowly add the name Stephanie and a description of the yellow bike using, I note, the older bicyclette rather than the newer word Velo.)

It is hard to tell her age but I would imagine she is about 65.

She has dyed blond sholder lenght hair and bright blue mascara and is wearing a frock. An ancient Pentax camera hangs round her neck and she has a small faded rugsack on her back. She is here for two weeks, walking and taking numerous photos with her vintage camera. Her sentences are filled with such words as incroyable, formidable, fantasique, fabuleux which she pronounces slowly emphasising each syllable

She is intrigued and delighted with the yellow bicycle

‘Is it your mothers?’ she asks excitedly

I tell her its not and go on to explain that though it looks rusty it is actually not that old, just has spent too much time at the sea.

She looks so disappointed that wished I had lied to her.

‘Are you sure it isn’t your mothers’? she is circling  it reverently as she points her camera this way and that at it.

She stops to run her hand along the rim of the basket.

‘Incroyable’ She exclaims.

The day is wearing on. we talk some more and then I make my excuses. I still have a swim to fit in and I had passed a well on the small beach with stone steps leading down to it, which I wanted to go back and get a better look at.

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She waves goodbye

‘A toutes alore’

Yes I suppose I will see her again. The island is too small not to.france-2016-427

As a cloud passes over the sun, I pass a group of old men playing boules in the middle of the road.

‘Bonsoir Madame’

‘Bonsoir’

A woman whizzes down towards them on an old moped, face wrinkled by the sun and hair dyed bright auburn, helmet-less, a cigarette hanging from her lower lip which is a slash of bright red.  Leaving behind a trail of petrol fumes mixed with the smell of Gauloise’s .

I pass the now familiar windows as I head home to my blue shuttered house.

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I am beginning to feel part of the island.

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To be continued…….

Can’t see the sea for the Agapanthus Day 2 (Two hills equals one Pain au raisin)

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Looking out my window across the garden. The tide is out.

Part 2

The first night in my little house of the blue shutters and I sleep ‘comme une buche’ (Like a log).

When I wake the next morning the rain has cleared.

Through the window I can see that the tide is out and boats and yachts are strewn across the sand on their sides as though also sleeping. (Except for one or two larger yachts propped up by stilts. They stand about looking ridiculous like proverbial fish out of water.)

And whilst they (the boats that is, not the fish) have to wait for the incoming water to right them again, I dont have such an imposition and I’m down into the kitchen and out the door in a matter of minutes.

The smell of fresh baked bread and cinnamon leads me to the boulangerie (Actually I already know it is around the corner, having passed it on my arrival the day before but even if I didn’t, my nose would have brought me there).

There is a queue of four in front of me and I hold my breath and shift impatiently from foot to foot as ‘Madame’ puts up her hand again and again to lift yet another large fresh crisply browned cinnamon smelling shiny pain au raisin from the slowly diminishing heap on the shelf.

It takes a while. Things must be discussed. Relatives enquired after. The usual etiquette of chat in a country shop must be followed, whether in France or in Ireland. (The talk about the weather is the same here as at home).

But finally it is my turn and I am in luck.  With a quick twist of the bag she smilingly hands me the last remaining pastry.

I buy a fresh baguette also for my picnic

‘Merci Madame’ I sing adding ‘Au revoir, bon journée’ (you can see I am getting into the swing of things even though I’m only one day on the island).

Back at my house where the terrace looks across at the sea, the sun is beginning to hit the small rose filled garden below.

I choose the terrace for breakfast and as I sit, sipping my coffee and relishing the sweet crumbly, raisin-y, custard-y, melt-in-the-mouth, texture (so unlike the commercial Cuisine De France ones at home, not that I EVER buy them) I find myself wishing that there had been two left when it had come to my turn.

But I have a small niggle in the back of my mind which I try to swallow with each delicious crumb

Though I may be on holidays, a time when traditionally calorie counting is ignored, I am conscious that when I return home I have an appointment with my oncologist who, at my last review a year previously, had indicated, that though he was delighted with the lack of recurrence of my melanoma, advised me to lose weight. (He said he didn’t want to lose me to diabetes or heart disease instead).

I banish all thoughts of him and lick my lips for the last few crumbs and as I stand and brush the remainder (The ones too tiny to pick up) off my lap, I remind myself that the island is hillier than I expected.

Surely two hills equals one french pastry.

That calculation figured out, I hop on the yellow bike.

I have a baguette to fill.

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The first hill.

I push the yellow bicycle up a steep slope.

The supermarket at the top opens at nine and I arrive at just five to.

There are two elderly farmers ahead of me.

Both are in wellingtons, one with a plastic bag folded and wedged under his arm and leaning against a tractor whose trailer is filled with fresh seaweed, the other holding on to a small pulley shopping basket.

They watch me approach and when I’m near enough greet me with ‘bonjour madame’

Madame?

Now I feel really french.

I stand pretending to admire the holly hock cottage but am really eavesdropping on their conversation.

Of which I understand ‘rien’.

Inside, the camembert I choose is the smelliest on the shelf.

Along with a bottle of organic Sancerre and a few peaches I have the makings of fine picnic to go with my crispy baguette.

Now all I needed is somewhere to eat it.

But I have one other port of call.

Every Sunday morning there is a tiny market at the square in Vernoc, which is beside the bakery and just around the corner from where I am staying. It is setting up as I arrive, not that there is much setting up to do. It is a simple tractor with trailer and awning affaire.

Fresh vegetables sold direct from a local farmer grown without pesticides or herbicides in fields manured by seaweed.

I buy a head of lettuce, four carrots, a bunch of shallots, a head of garlic, a few tomatoes and of course a kilo of smooth delicious potatoes that the island is famous for. I add the tomatoes to my picnic basket and drop the rest of my market purchases off into the kitchen of my house.

That done I am free to explore.france-2016-272

The second Hill

I like maps.

I use them a lot, but in a backwards sort of way.

You see I like to explore first THEN look at the map later and see where I had been.

So after dropping my shopping off and on purpose not taking the map of the island,  I once again face the hill and reaching the top, stand at a crossroads before choosing to  head north along a sandy track towards where I had caught a glimpse of the sea on my way back from the supermarket.

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The road (I’ll call it a bóirín) passes the ‘butterfly house’ where the butterflies surround a buddleia like snowflakes

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and arrives at a a small bunch of clustered higgledy piggledy houses.

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just beyond I am delighted to discover a ‘mannin like’ beach (As a family, loving the west of Ireland we compare every beach we come across with a particular set of beaches in connemara).

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I have arrived at my perfect picnic place.

france-2016-316Now they say that pictures speak louder than words so here is a picturesque story of my next few hours as I picnicked.

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went for a swim,

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Spotted others on an interesting cycling path,

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Found my own interesting path,

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Took a side path suspecting there is another nice place to swim,

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I am right!

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After that second refreshing swim and further on along the track I come upon the restoration work to the Chapel of St Anne.france-2016-368

Tired now I head home passing one of my favorite shuttered houses

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And so ends my first day on Ile de Batz…..two hills and many kms completed I think I have well worked off that pain au raisin .

Tomorrow I will be up earlier and first in the queue.

Part three coming soon……..

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I can’t see the sea for the agapanthus Day 1 (slow cycling round a small island)

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“Happiness is the biggest window a house can ever have”                                                                                                              Mehmet Murat Ilden

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Part One: I arrive on The Island.

The first thing that struck me as I stood in the rain waiting for the small ferry that plied backwards and forwards between Roscoff and the island, was the happiness of the people around me.

It may have been bucketing down from the heavens but they piled on that boat, laughing and chatting as though it was the sunniest day the summer could offer them.

Old ladies with pulley baskets, elderly men with shopping bags, glamorous people with beautiful dogs, walkers with the correct gear and a crowd of teenagers hauling tents and their belongings.

And not a scowl between them.

The handsome young man who lifted my heavily laden Yellow bicycle as though it was as light as a feather and of no inconvenience to his strength, smiled and placed it carefully along with the other two on the front deck.

It stood forlornly, water dripping off it’s panniers (and into them too as I discovered later) while the other two bicycles, if bicycles could, were smiling along with everyone else.

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Some people leaned forward, regarding me with interest as I took my seat and greeted me with a merry ‘Bonjour’.

I would guess this was not because they recognised me as someone not from the island, (I’m sure there were others like me coming for the first time) but because I was the only one NOT smiling.

Rain belonged in Ireland for heaven’s sake and you see I hadn’t accounted for it here in France.

I also didn’t expect everything to be so straightforward and had giving myself too much time when arranging meeting the woman of the house to collect the keys of what would be my home for the next week.

I could expect to be out in this rain for another three hours.

But I found I couldn’t help smiling back at them as I replied to their greeting.

The second thing that struck me, fifteen minutes later, as I pushed the yellow bicycle with its sodden belongings up the hill from the harbour and past an old church, was the Agapanthus.

It grew so profusely that in places it blocked my views of the sea.

But it got away with being a nuisance by the sheer beauty of its flowers

Blue stars reaching to the heavens.

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I was beginning to smile again.

Then there was the perfect rows of cauliflowers, fennel bulbs, kohlrabi, potatoes, growing in small fields fertilized by sea weed which I spied through the misty rain and between the gaps of the clusters of houses (the fields that is not the seaweed)

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Add to that the wild sea which I could now get a glimpse of (I had reached the brow of the hill) and surely that was a white beach in the distance reached by small sandy roadways scattered without plan.

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The rain was beginning to ease now.

The last thing that struck me (but should have been the first that I mentioned) were the gorgeous colorful shutters surrounding small lace curtained windows that I whizzed past as I freewheeled down the other side of the hill.

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And for the length of my stay those windows stopped me in my tracks time and time again and me smile.

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“Happiness is the biggest window a house can have” wrote the poet, Mehmet Murat Ilden.

Well that must be so, as it did not seem to matter that the windows of the houses here were small because the people continued to exude happiness the whole time I was on the island.

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The Island of Ile de Batz lies a 15 minute boat ride off the town of Roscoff which is on coast of brittany.

It is the only small island (and I have been on a good few of them) where even cycling is going too fast.

I had been planning a larger cycle along some of the greenways of Brittany when I spied this tiny island on google maps. The more I read about it, the more I was drawn to it and soon booked a small house in its village for the week.

My plan was to cycle, walk, swim, write, draw, paint and take photographs.

Oh and eat good food and drink fine wine.

And I am inviting you to join me.

To be continued……….

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Leaving before the swallows.

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Last night the sky was a fiery red over sugarloaf.

This morning the colour is faded to a pale pink. The swallows, having successfully nested and reared their young between the iron girders of the balconies below mine, are already up and chasing flies across the sky.

I am grateful that my neighbours either don’t notice the nests (and the swooping birds) or are lovers of swallows too.  It would only take one self righteous occupant of these fairly new apartments, to alert the Health and safety department .

It would most likely be someone who didn’t use their balcony.

Someone who didn’t plant runner beans and grow bamboos on them.

Someone who didn’t store their bicycle there.

Someone who didn’t stand there in the evenings to watch the sun drop behind sugarloaf or the grey clouds form a lacey shawl around her shoulders.

Someone who didn’t even realise that there are swallows nesting there until their attention was drawn to them.

So though we may ALL be on the side of the swallows (I suspect we are but daren’t risk finding out) the subject is taboo.

For the birds safety best turn a blind eye to them. Get them nested, mated, fledged and flown without the fanfare they deserve.

When we meet in passing, we speak about the weather and the increased traffic and how the little man I had rescued (I found him clinging to a lamp post in the storm, hanging on for dear life, afraid to let go for fear he would be bowled by the wind across the carpark) has got over his fright and is doing well.

Yes, we talk about everything but the swallows.

The elderly and very dapper gentlemen who lives below me and has the greatest number nesting on his balcony, holds the door open for me gallantly.

‘How was your work day?’ He asks, a swallow skimming the top of his white thinning hair.

‘Busy’ I sigh, as though it was the wind that causes it and his moustache to ruffle.

‘Feet up and a nice glass of wine so’ he smiles as a second swallow poops just missing his ear.

‘How did you know that is exactly what I need’ I smile, pretending not to notice him brushing something off his sleeve.

Sometimes we nearly let the cat out of the bag

‘I saw you clapping your hands at the magpies again this morning’ My neighbour across from me states, staring at me intensely.

She is seventy five and is studying chinese and history and I feel would be very amenable to the swallows.

I open my mouth to explain that I am sick of them attacking the swallows nests but, though she is already smiling and nodding in encouragement, I stall at the last moment and mutter something along the lines of performing some sort of tai chi on my balcony every morning that involves clapping.

No! we don’t trust each other when it comes to the swallows safety.

One word to the wrong person would be their downfall and we cannot imagine a summer morning without their magical presence. I imagine if they were got rid of a lot of us would leave too.

Anyway another two weeks or so and they will be heading on their long journey south

And I am sorry to be leaving before them.

I feel guilty, for as my neighbour has noticed, who else but the mad woman that I am, will step out on the balcony in the early hours clapping her hands wildly to chase away the marauding magpies from their nests, when the small finch, who keeps  constant watch from the nearby hawthorn tree, sounds the alarm.

Hopefully she will take over but I daren’t ask her.

Instead I have told her the exact day I am going hoping she will get the message. I think she has for she nodded furiously and told me she would come out every morning and make sure the magpies were not attacking my RUNNER BEANS.

We smile at each other for a long time.

The reason I am going is, my much dreamed about sojourn to Brittany is looming.

My panniers are out and waiting to be packed.

The last time I made such a journey to france was six years ago when I had just finished my interferon treatment.

Back then I had flown with the yellow bicycle to Bordeaux to cycle from the Atlantic to the mediterranean.

This time will be different. A slower getting there.

This time my journey will begin when I wheel the yellow bicycle out of my home and cycle down the road to the train station and haul it up the steps and over the tracks to platform two and catch the 10.30 train to the port of Rosslare.

One of the loveliest train journeys in Ireland I am told.

The boat journey from rosslare to roscoff takes 16 hours and in celebration of my 60th birthday in November I have booked myself a cabin.

Not just any old cabin, but a cabin on the 8th deck with a window looking out at the sea.

A cabin that promises a complimentary bar and bowel of fruit.

More used to wild camping than such luxury, I pressed the key on my laptop nervously.

Then spotting a small island just 15 minutes by boat off the coast of Brittany(coming from an island and loving all things islandy I suppose it is only natural to be drawn to another one) I found myself once again pressing the key.

I now had a little house to stay in on a little island.

‘Oh I can get the boat back to the mainland every day and do some cycling on the greenways’ I explained defensively to my sister, anxious she wouldn’t see me as opting out of my original plan of cycling across Brittany.

‘Or’ she laughed ‘You might just relax and put your feet up!’

I am adding my laptop, drawing materials and paints to the bundle by my panniers.

Bon Voyage.

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The yellow bicycle resting at her journey’s end (The mediterranean) the last time we were in france.

Tales from a chaotic Bicyclist (to be taken with a pinch of salt)

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My chaos with numbers, words, letters and even facts is not infrequent or specific to any area of my life. 

I wonder if that year on interferon has made me worse though maybe it has actually improved me. I’ll never know because I didn’t pay much attention to the disorder until I really started living my life mindfully eight years ago after being diagnosed.

Recently I met someone who had just come back from Venice (Vienna is of course what I really mean).

As he described the city and its history, I turned to my colleague (we were at work at the time) and said: ‘That reminds me of a brilliant book I read called ‘The rabbit with the red eyes’

‘You mean ‘The hare with amber eyes?’ she replied after a puzzled pause

‘Yes that’s the one…I lent it to you!’

‘Actually’ she laughed ‘I lent it to YOU ! ‘

So there you have it!

Almost right but not quite.

The reason I’m confessing this is that maybe you should take a lot of my writings with a grain of pepper because what goes into my brain from reading comes out on paper slightly off kilter. Near enough for you to understand what I mean AND said with such conviction that you question yourself for a second before realizing…..

It also gives me the excuse to add links. (I have only recently discovered how to do this so there will be no stopping me now) which will allow you to read the true facts yourself.

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~

‘As I roved out one fine summer morning

to view the sea and sky and all

what did I spy but a far off island

as she lay out across the bay.’

I changed the words to suit my first view of Omey Island but it can still be sung to the tune of Andy Irvine’s song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l06ozEXOSaY

As I roved out seems to be the start of many a folk song which would seem to indicate that unless you rove out you won’t have much to sing about (Or indeed write about).

It has come to my attention that this year has not been filled with rovings and therefore has been my least written about one.

This summer I decided to put an end to that and make as many rovings as I could fit in between my work as a nurse and family time.

But nursing is how I earn my daily rind and takes up a lot of my time. And family time is very important to me and included in family time are visits to my mother.

Visits which mean learning more about my family.

My mother is well in her eighties and is an avid reader with a sharp memory. (When she tells a story, talks about past family happenings, or describes a book she has read, she gets it right.)

On a recent visit I read her the story of my take on St Deirbhile and we talked about wells and springs and I told her about my latest cycle which was in search of Saint Féichíns well.

She didn’t find my obsession with wells in the least bit discerning, reminding me that my grandfather was skilled in the art of water divining and so the interest in searching for water could be in my genes.

She went on to tell me of a spring well near where she spent her summers on her Aunt’s farm.

The water from this well, she remembered proudly, once won first prize in the Royal Dublin Society spring show (The biggest annual agricultural show held in Ireland and sadly no more.) for being the best and purist in Ireland.

As she described where it was and urged me to visit the area and see if it was still in existence, and if it was, to bring her back a bottle of water from it, it struck me that a jug of the clearest freshest water in the land was way more deserving of a prize than the biggest turnip or the straightest parsnip, the whitest cauliflower or best filled pea pod, the highest milk yielding cow or the glossiest horse.

I had a vision of how the contest would go.

On a scrubbed table in a white marquee, open on all sides to allow for a wide audience, would stand a row of jugs, brought from every corner of the country and filled to the brim with the best each spring well could offer.

Lined up neatly they would wait to be sipped by the judges.

The jugs would be of glass and though plain (any distraction by showing your water off in fancy crystal would disqualify you) would twinkle like diamonds due to the natural brilliance of the water within.

And as the judges would reverently hold the first jug up to the light, checking for any impurities, a series of awes and gasps would come from the hushed audience. Then each of the five judges, one from each of the four provinces of ireland and one a neutral judge, probably from Vichy or Evian in France and brought over at great pomp and expense, would take a turn in lowering their heads and sniffing and filling their nostrils with hints of mint or meadowsweet or tones of turf or limestone, or silver in the case of my mother’s one. (Wicklow was renowned for silver).

Then each would pour some of the crystal fluid into the clean glass and taking a small sip would slowly roll the drops on their tongues and smack their lips in delight before spitting it out and moving on to the next jug.

Eventually they would put their heads together and try to agree on the winner.

Maybe they would have to do a second round of tastings just to be sure, and reeling and slightly drunk from the sheer sweet purity of the stuff, nearly fall on top of each other before swaying to the jug that held the water from the well my mother used to be sent to fetch from.

But maybe that’s not how it was done at all.

Maybe they just had a water analyzing machine. I shall have to ask my mother next time I have time between roving out and family time.

~~

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Which brings me to St Féchín’s holy well.

My interest in to St Feíchín was due more to that well than of the saint himself, though the origin of his name also caught my attention.

Seemingly he received his name when his mother came upon him gnawing on a bone and exclaimed ‘ ‘My little raven’ Mo Fiachan.

Now St Féchín was born in Ballisodare Co Sligo. His mother was Named Lasaire (The radiant)and of royal munster line. More recently it is thought he was born further south in connemara and on researching more about him I realised how far he travelled in his ministery (He was hot on the toes of Saint Derbhile, who had probably travelled the same route 100 years earlier) https://thewomanontheyellowbicycle.wordpress.com/tag/st-deirbhile/

He set up many monasteries, Including the one on Omey where he ended his days, and the monastery of Fore co westmeath. (the most famous and which I plan to cycle to in the Autumn) and was only in his thirties when he died.

I dont have a lot of sympathy for his early death as he and his colleague monks set about bringing, by means of prayer, the yellow plague, as a way of getting rid of some of the riff raff in the area and he caught it himself.

I found a very interesting article about his life (see below)

http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T201005.html Which I will let you read yourselves as I just know I will not get it quite right.

~~~

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At last getting to what I REALLY want to tell you about.

Omey is small tidal island which lies in one of the bays of connemara and when the tide is out it is easy to walk to or cycle to as I did (though the ripples on the sand cause by the receding water made for a teeth rattling experience). Many drive over and the way is marked by blue sign posts

There is only one road which circles half the island and as I sped along between the fuchsia hedges and stone walls, I caught glimpses of the mainland to my left.

After a misty start to the morning, the sun was coming out, lighting up the beaches between the rocky shore line and turning the shallow sea to turquoise.

A black curragh tied to a rock had just enough water to continue bobbing about.

The road swung around to the right and though the gravel petered out it continued as a grassy path.

Ahead lay Cruagh island dangling mauvely above a grey sea (the sun had disappeared behind the clouds.)

20160802_112649I realized I was going in the wrong direction for the well and Teampaill Feíchín (Saint Feíchíns church). But I believe that when cycling there is never a wrong direction so I continued on and had my picnic on a smooth rock looking across at the Cruagh

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(and wishing I had a boat because there is a spring well on that island too). After my lunch I turned and made my way back.

On my left, where the grassy path met the gravel, a small track led to a beach and, pushing the yellow bicycle across and up the other side I came to Saint Feíchíns well.

The water from Saint Feíchíns well is supposed to have the cure of the skin (Maybe as an apology for bringing yellow fever onto the peoples of the island) And as I was now well into remission from my melanoma and wished to remain so I was anxious to get hold of some of it.

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Unfortunately there was none to be had.

I lay down and shoved my arm as far as I could into the well and all I came upon were some round wet stones. Feverishly I rubbed the stones then rubbed my wet hand on my ‘effected’ leg hoping that that would do the trick and stood up…

And stepped back into a rabbit hole.

That same poor leg now sank down as far as my knee causing me to sit down with a jolt. Stunned I remained like that for a minute before I realised I could feel a trickle of water running over my toes.

Was it my imagination or did I hear the monks laughing.

Over the brow of the hill came a husband and wife. The husband broke off from the telling of his funny story and the wife stopped laughing as they came over to help me up.

‘There has been no water in the well for some time now’ the husband (he was from nearby Claddaghduff) informed me.

His wife who hailed from Co Clare (A place of hundreds of holy wells) pointed me in the direction of Teampaill Feíchín.

I was able to cycle along the sandy track, by a small lake and, carefully avoiding the rabbit burrows, kept going up over a hill and down the other side and there lying in a large grassy hollow, sheltered from the elements, lay the ruin of the medieval church which was built on the early monastic settlement founded by Saint Feíchín.20160802_122002

I knew by now the tide was on the turn so saying goodbye to Saint Feíchín and his bunch I made my way back across the grass, onto the road and back across the teeth rattling sand.

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Up the hill and turning left at the church I stopped for the best cure of all.

A bowl of seafood chowder served with brown soda bread and a glass of guinness in Sweeneys pub in claddaghduff.

http://www.sweeneysbarcladdaghduff.com/

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Coming off the island ahead of the tide.

The End.

 

 

When the shoe is on the other foot (Wild camping barefoot style)

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Crossing the beach at low tide is the only way to Omey Island. I am in search of Saint Féichíns well (Ordnance map no:37). The only need for my shoe is to stop the stand on my bicycle sinking into the wet sand. Below is st Feichíns well in which disappointedly there was no feckin water.

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I can stay in the grandest of hotels with the best of them but give me wild camping anyday and I will really feel at home.

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The yellow bicycle proving her worth as a means of sheet drying.

Wild camping is very much in vogue these days but for me it is more an addiction than a fashion. I have wild camped year in year out since I was a child. In fact I have been reared on it and every year around the same time my head turns westwards and I sniff the air and pack my tent.

I can’t help myself.

When we were young my dad who had a great ‘grá’ for the west would do the same. One day he would be happily rowing around our local lakes (Actually we would be rowing he would be fishing) the next, he would give the command and the process of packing for a  month or two of wild camping would begin (Again it was my mother and us who did the packing, my dad just organized his fishing gear) and we would head westward in search of the perfect place that would allow him fish and do his watercolors, my eight siblings, swim and explore and my mother keep tabs on us all.

Now, my parents didn’t wild camp because they chose specifically to do so , It was something they just did.

They didn’t need to give it a name.

Even if there had been campsites back then my father would have shunned them.

He could not see the point of lumping a crowd of people together in an enclosed area full of tents. (We are enough of a crowd on our own he would say, as he escaped across the bog towards some small lake, creel over his shoulder, Hardy rods in hand and proverbial tweed jacket which he only removed on the warmest of days about his body, its pockets filled with his small water color box and brushes, to fish peacefully on some small brown trout filled lake away from his feral children).

We camped wherever there was water.  By rivers and lakes and sea. On the sides of mountains where streams splashed over rocks and once in the grounds of the ruins of an old abbey (with a lake nearly at its doorstep) where my mother heard the long departed monks sing at night.

But mostly we camped by the sea. On strips of unfenced land running down to white shell encrusted beaches and turquoise oceans. And we would abandon our shoes and run barefoot for the summer.

A week ago I found myself once again in such a place re pegging down my tent as gale force winds did their best to deny me the certainty of a bed for the night.

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But I was not concerned for it was not new to me. (‘Tent battling’ is considered by many of us wild campers as a sport and we relish it in the same way two people in a proper camp site with shelter and electricity might relish a game of cards as a way of passing the evening).

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The night after the storm when the wind calmed to a gentle breeze I took out my notebook (Wild camping =no electricity=no laptop) and jotted down a list of my tips on the art of wild camping.

These tips will soon alert you to the fact that I do not wild camp in the south of spain nor on the greek islands but rather in the wilds of the west of Ireland.

  • DON’T check the weather forecast before you go (or you will never go)
  • Umbrellas do NOT count as part of rain gear. (They will be turned inside out, spines broken and carted out to sea in less than a minute of unfurling them)
  • Abandon shoes and other conventional footwear. This is your chance to kill two birds with the one stone (Wild camping and barefoot living go hand in hand…Pardon the pun)
  • You may wear clothing (Ireland is too cold not to)
  • Prepare to spend a lot of time standing on a hill holding up a wetted finger (the old way of telling which way the wind is coming from)
  • Dry bedding is a priority (As opposed to a tidy looking tent interior) and gets priority of place even if it means giving up your new camping chair for it.
  • Bring lots of bread, butter and jam (They are a comfort food and you will need lots of comfort food)
  • Bring lots of drink (I mean wine and whiskey not water)
  • In fact bring more drink than food.
  • Forget about your five a day (There is nothing worse than dreeping peaches in a small tent, squished lettuce underfoot, sticky oranges when water is only for drinking (don’t use wine to wash your hands unless you love ants)
  • If you ARE obsessed about your five a day, remember wine is made from grapes so drink five glasses of wine)
  • Expect to come back from your rainy walk and find a group of random people sheltering in your tent
  • Understand that it is normal not to know these people personally.
  • Remind yourself that that it is ok to allow them stay (you may find yourself with the same need sometime)
  • Remind yourself also that random walkers (no matter how irritating) are likely to carry chocolate in their pockets and maybe willing to admit to this and share it with you in return for a half hours shelter.
  • Remind yourself that it is ok to search their pockets if they refuse to admit carrying a chocolate stash(due to the tightness of the tent they maybe unable to stop you doing this)
  • Give them a generous nip of your whiskey (drunk people on the whole are more compliant)
  • Don’t Try to detain them when they wish to leave. No matter how lonely you are after a week or so without the company of another human being (Drunk random walkers carry swiss knives and may not hesitate in attempting to cut themselves out of your tent if you refuse to unzip it by conventional means)
  • It is allowed to take whiskey in your Irish breakfast tea. (Whiskey is made of wheat and so is toast but a toaster has no place in the list of wild camping equipment)
  • Don’t forget your Kelly Kettle (Thank you Kelly brothers from Co Mayo.)https://www.kellykettle.com/kelly-kettle-history.
  • If you eat tomatoes prepare to find (the following year) a crop of such plants where you dug your toilet hole.
  • Dig your toilet hole between showers (there is nothing quite as unfulfilling..Again, Pardon the pun, as getting drenched whilst carrying out such a boring chore. No one has ever to my knowledge being rewarded by finding treasure despite digging a super deep hole).
  • Bring your ordnance survey maps.(see reason below)
  • Search for a spring well, of which there are are over 3,000 in Ireland (marked in red on Ordnance survey maps). The water from such a facility is so sweet and well worth the search.
  • But don’t always expect to find water in the well. (I spent a half a day searching for Saint Féchins well on Omey Island only to find there was no feckin water in it)
  • Remind yourself that it is permissible (even advisable) to lick your plate after each meal.
  • Increase your wine intake as the day progresses and the wind strengthens.
  • Bring earplugs (To cut out the noise of the flapping tent)
  • Actually don’t bring earplugs (you will need to be able to hear if you need to abandon the tent)
  • Familiarize yourself with the tent noise EWS (early warning score) This system is an internationally recognised scoring system devised to alert nurses on the stability of their patients with a view for the need to send them to the High Dependency Unit. Being a nurse I use it on a daily basis and have tweaked it for my own wild camping use.(See below)

Score of one: The odd mild flap (to be expected on the calmest of summer nights)

score of two: Flapping of front section only (nothing to get excited about just watch your cooking table doesn’t get upended)

Score of three: Continuous flapping of whole tent (check out a more sheltered spot but no need to take action yet)

Score of four: Annoyingly loud flapping with parts of tent blowing inwards (check guy ropes and tighten if necessary)

Score of five: flapping loud enough to prevent you having a normal conversation. Yes talking aloud to oneself is considered normal whilst wild camping. (Strongly consider move to that sheltered spot)

Score of six: Loud flapping preventing sleep and finding your nose constantly tickled by the now flattening inwardness of your tent. (In the field of nursing this score would warrant ALERTING the patient to HDU staff and taking necessary actions for imminent transfer) So begin your move to the more sheltered place as follows:

Remember it will be pitch black and probably raining

I suggest going naked because their is no point in wasting precious dry clothing.

Prepared to get drenched.

Leave your bedding intact in tent.

Pull up all pegs and free all guy ropes. Allow the wind to catch it. The wind will blow the tent in the direction you want. You just need to hold on and guide it.

When you reach your sheltered place (around a hill or even a hummock) Pull the tent around into it and re peg .

Reward yourself with a nip of whiskey, dry your body briskly with towel and snuggle back into bed. Sleep soundly.

Score of seven: Ripping sounds from tent and snapping of poles (Evacuate! you obviously didn’t read the above, have left it too late and don’t deserve to be considered a wild camper)

As I lift my head from my notebook I note the wind has swung to the north west, Time to light the Kelly Kettle and make a cup of tea.

Now where did I put that bottle of whiskey.

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The kelly kettle is the one in the background left. In this photo I am boiling some potatoes in my conventional kettle. A kind farmer gave me a gift of a bag of turf. Yes they ARE firelighters in the basket. It’s perfectly ok to cheat now and again.

Healthy as a trout (a cure for laziness by bicycle).

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I spot the giveaway signs of an ancient well  (the heap of rock, the lone hawthorn tree) and go to investigate.

In ancient times water, springing up through sand or rock or grass, was seen by its very action, as mysterious.

It was believed that by flowing up from the ‘underworld’ this water was not only pure and uncontaminated, (The restorative powers of drinking clean water to maintain a healthy life may be taken for granted by us nowadays but not back then), but also supernatural, containing powers that promised healing to those who drank it, splashed it on afflicted areas of the body or paid homage at it.

Sometimes these springs ‘puddled’ and formed wells and when a trout, eel, or best of all, a salmon appeared in them, the phenomena was further enhanced.

Such fish were viewed as the keepers of the well.                                       Holding wisdom and knowledge, they could be consulted in times of trouble. 

Wells with a keeper were held in the highest esteem and bad luck to anyone who interfered with their inhabitants. (even if it was just a lowly frog)

Every so often a bird swooped down for a drink and dropped the hawberry it was carrying.

The next year when a tiny hawthorn sapling appeared, and (despite the hungry hares) survived and grew to maturity, the people were further convinced of the powers of the well . This tree would then come in handy for hanging pieces of cloth from the clothing of an ill person (After first dipping the material in the water in the hopes that it would bring good health) These tree’s became known as raggedy bushes and again bad luck to anyone who tampered with them.

http://treecouncil.ie/treeregisterofireland/83.htm.

When christianity came to Ireland in the 5th century the monks were clever enough not to alienate themselves from the local beliefs and seeing how they [the locals] revered such places, gave the wells the names of saints.

These saints in turn, promised to continue the cures and here the division between paganism and christianity became blurred until finally these wells became known as ‘holy wells’.

To this day pagan and christian rites at such wells remain entwined. (When praying at a well it is also advised to walk clockwise with the sun)*

There are said to be over 3,000  holy wells in ireland and if I were to cycle to every one of them in order to obtain the cures they offer I would probably end up healthier than the trout that sometimes dwell in them.

Now though I don’t doubt my good health would be due more to the action of cycling than to splashing water on my various bodily parts, I still like to believe there is an element of truth in these cures.

Plus I do like a good destination and what better one to aim for than a well with a promise of something more than just a refreshing drink.

It has also occurred to me, as I pedal along boreens that rise and fall, twist and turn, taking me passed curious horses in fields and clusters of small cottages, that maybe these cures are subliminal.

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For example in searching for a well with the cure for sight (There are many of these) I am forced along such pleasant routes that I cannot fail to have my eyes opened by the beauty of the scenery around me.

And if I come upon a well with the cure for hearing or sense of smell, I could  leave it feeling its waters had benefited me when really it was because I was on my bicycle and therefore alert to the sigh of the breeze, the sound of the sea, the scent of the honeysuckle in the hedgerows (As opposed to being confined in a stuffy car where I couldn’t hear or smell anything).

Now a good bicycle is a cure in itself and I have never lived without one or even two of these simple instruments of healthy travel. (Though unlike Marieke below I have also never been able to cycle more than one at a time.)

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Its not as though I’m a very sporty person! Quite the opposite!

In fact I would label myself as being a Lazy ambitionist (or should that be an Ambitious laze?).

Although I spend days pouring over OS maps, I will eventually get up and go places but I like to do so slowly and without too much effort.

The fact that when I decided to cycle across france, I chose to do it as flatly as possible is proof of this.

Landing with my bicycle at Bordeaux, I cycled to Arcachon, then dipping the wheel of the yellow bicycle in the atlantic, I headed  back to Bordeaux and I followed the Garonne river as far as toulouse, where I picked up the canal du midi and cycled along it (with the odd diversion into the Montagne Noir) as far as Sete on the mediterranean, knowing well that neither river or canal flows upwards.

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But before I give you a picture of being slothlike, I will remind you that I cycled the wild atlantic way two years running on a single speed old black bicycle with a little wooden trailer carrying my camping gear and other accoutrements attached .

(Though because I had a picture of the map of Ireland on the classroom wall in my head, I chose to cycle from north to south feeling there must surely be more downhills than uphills when going in that direction).

But back to holy wells of which Ireland is as riddled with as the shiney new colander hanging in my kitchen (which I haven’t quite got around to using yet).

A recent visit to Saint Deirbhiles holy well in Co Mayo has re wetted my appetite for such places.

A cure for the eye with water (cycling to St Deirbhiles holy well)

So recently and armed with an O.S map of the area I headed to Co wexford and found three holy wells.

Two of which were not in use.

The first was down a small road leading to the sea in the townland of Glascarrig.

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To get at it, I ignored the sign stating that the water was not suitable for drinking and pushed open the rusty gate.  Trampling aside the hog weed that was smothering the well I dipped in my cup for a sip. (Noting later that not only did I NOT suffer any ill effects from the drinking its water but sustained NO blistering from this toxic weed. (Has this well the cure of the skin?)

The next well was harder to find but I met an elderly farmer who directed me in its general direction.

When I asked him if he knew what it had the cure of, he replied with a straight face ‘ I do! It has the cure of the piseóg’

Despite his directions I had difficulty in finding it as the steps up to the embankment where it was supposedly situated were overgrown with ferns.

When I eventually did, I saw that it was covered with broken branches. Under the branches lay a piece of tarpaulin held in place by cement kerbing.

The children’s song ‘ Farmer in the well’ came to mind and I hastily replaced the branches and slithered down the embankment.

I would check later in the paper for any missing bodies in the area. Meanwhile I headed across the field to a site marked on the OS map as a moated site.

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The third well was easier to find (though I would say I far prefer to search for the less obvious)

The gate was newly painted and following the line of trees along a worn path through a field, I skirted an ancient walled graveyard.

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A further gate led me through a small wood and there ahead and recently whitewashed lay Saint Machains well.

What ‘cure’ this well holds I cannot tell you, but I drank some of its water anyway.

And suddenly I have an urge to get the boat to Brittany with my yellow bicycle and go cycling over there in search of some french Holy wells.

Maybe St Machain, who himself appears to have travelled from here from Scotland had the cure for that laziness of travel I mentioned earlier.

I just hope Brittany isn’t too hilly.

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FIN

*P.S I am not an archeologist or a folklorist or any other ‘ist’ that may through the study of Holywells have a more researched knowledge of them. These are my thoughts, some gained from reading the history and geography of Ireland, some through reading Irish Mythology but mostly from going out in search of and finding them.  

A cure for the eye with water (cycling to St Deirbhiles holy well)

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Deirbhile, (pronounced Der-vil-a) the daughter of Conor Mac Daíthí, was of noble lineage. Having decided to devote her life to God and wishing to escape an army chief who intended to marry her, she headed westward.

So here comes Deirbhile astride her donkey (bicycles had yet to be invented) on the run from would be suitors.

She rides side saddle, enjoying the passing scenery but thinking mostly about the men she has left behind and not feeling one bit guilty about her thoughts.

She is not a saint yet.

A handsome woman with beautiful eyes, her trim figure causes no hindrance to the donkey who trots briskly westward.

Her astronomer maps their journey and at night points out to her the various constellations he is using to guide them.

But though she smiles and nods politely as if in agreeance, (for she is gentle and kind and wouldn’t like to hurt his feelings) she knows it is really God who is directing them.

As for the Astronomer? well he is wise, and knowing that she takes his science with a grain of salt, does not remark upon it, for, being a bit in love with her himself, he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings either.

He also knows that Deirbhile has given up on men and is giving herself to God instead so he is aware that his feelings for her are in vain. And being a man of rational accepts this and keeps his feelings to himself.

Yes, there she goes! trotting ahead of the posse (She has a large posse for she is a noble woman and her material needs of clothing, good hygiene, soft bedding, food and drink, must be met) and reaching the band of land which prevents Belmullet being an island she kicks her sturdy beast forward.

Not far to go now.

Her entourage traipse along behind her mostly on foot. Pulling along by the bridle, the other donkeys who in turn pull wooden wheeled carts piled high with the accoutrements for such a trip, they camp out most nights, only sometimes choosing the hospitality of the new monasteries which have begun popping up here and there enroute.

The year is 508 AD.

It is late spring. The peninsula of belmullet is probably a very different shape than it is today.

Infact it is probably more of a headland than a peninsula. Thickly forested with Birch, Oak, Alder, Willow, Ash and Scots pines, it is sparsely populated. Small wisps of smoke indicate the odd dwelling and these wisps are few and far between.

This is a wilder place than she has ever known.

The forest comes to an abrupt end and before her lies the sea.

Banks of short grass grow now instead of trees, which in turn give way to gentle undulating dunes beyond which lies a fair sized beach.

She notes that the sand is scattered with good sized stones, ideal for building.

She lifts her head to smell the salt air and as her donkey breaks into a trot down the hillside (she, giving unlady like yelps of glee) the sun breaks through and across the sea she spots the mauve outline of an island which appeared to hover over the water in a heavenly manner.

Oileán Acla (Achill Island)

Reaching the edge of the sand she slides off her donkey and lets the beast of burden free to crop the short grass but instead the donkey kneels and then lies down, rolling onto her back, legs kicking wildly in order to get rid of the feel of the saddle.

It has been many many days of travelling.

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‘This the place my lady’

‘It is, God willing’ she smiles at her Astronomer and with that her entourage follow suite and soon the area is littered with tents and contentedly grazing beasts (Two cows, a young bull, a small herd of goats, a flock of chickens).

A young boy is given the job of herding the animals up the hill a bit and out of the way and keeping an eye on them.

He does so sulkingly, for he would rather be helping to hammer tent pegs into the ground. Sitting on the sandy grass, he roots around looking between the shells and stones and flowers for something of amusement.

At one particular place he noticed the ground is moist and spongy.

As he scratches at the soil, a pool of water appeared and he leans down to taste it. Excitedly he pulls the wooden beaker free from his belt and dips it in the watery hollow which was now filling rapidly.

He is not mistaken, it is fresh water with a sweetness of which he has never before tasted .

‘I have found good water’ he calls out proudly.

Deirbhile comes running across the grass and he reverently wipes the lip of the cup clean with his sleeve before passing it to her to taste.

‘Arah don’t worry about that child’ She chides taking the half wiped cup ‘We are all in the same boat here’ and she drinks thirstily.

‘Well done lad’ she ruffles his hair and calls for some implements and a helping hand.

Her women, down dipping their tired feet in the sea, whilst also picking shell fish for the tea, come running back up across the sand and between the lot of them they dig back the scraw and reveal the spring.

The children are given the job of finding smooth stones and they carefully line the hollow turning it into a deep clean well.

That night they sit around the fire eating a supper of fish and shell fish with various seaweeds and praise the wonders of God (The astronomer praising the wonders of nature though naturally under his breath) while the boy who doesn’t care one way or the other, has place of honor and is the center of attention.

His small belly is filled to bursting as they fuss and feed him as though he were a prince.

Over the days that follow, Deirbhile leads them in the hard work of marking out an area for the church, two fields away at a place called Fál Mór.

They set to with stones and sand and when thirsty fill their cups with the sweet well water.

Late spring moves into summer and they are happy in their work.

Then one day the boy who had been attending his expanding flock (The cows have calved successfully,some eggs have been saved and they have hatched and the goats have kidded) comes running over the hill.

‘Look over there! A man on a horse!

Deirbhile who has thrown off her veil and tied up her long tresses (making it easier to place each stone eveningly) straightens up from her work and shading her eyes looks in the direction the boy is pointing to.

Finbar, an army chief has been her most persistent suitor.

Not one to give up easily and certainly not a fellow to like being denied what he wants, he has at last tracked down his would be bride.

He slips off his high horse and lands with ease on the soft ground of the dunes.

Sweeping off his hat he bows low to Deirbhile who, despite streaks of mud across her pink cheeks and hair that was cascading untidily down her back looked as beautiful as he remembers.

‘I have already said no, and no means no’  Deirbhile stamps her foot.

‘It has always been presumed that when women say ‘no’ they really mean ‘yes’! She places her two hands defiantly on her hips’Well I say that is a load of tripe’

She glares at him and continues

‘We are busy here and everyone knows if they are offered mead and they say no the first time, they won’t be asked a second time. We have done away with that silly irish tradition of saying no to things first time round for fear of appearing greedy’.

‘When I say no! I mean no’

‘NO NO NO!’

She pauses to catch her breath whilst he thinks she looks even more beautiful when she is angry.

‘What is it you find so beautiful about me anyway’ she enquires waspishly

His gazes at her countenance with admiration.

‘It is your eyes’ he sighs at last ‘They are as blue as the sky and as clear as the sea in front of us’.

‘Oh really?’ She retorts ‘Well here! have them so’

And with that she gouges out her eyes and throws them in front of him.

Being a very squeamish man, with a leaning more towards poetry than war he is horrified and leaping on his horse, he gallops away, the hooves of his horse spraying those nearest with sand, so fast does he leave his intended.

And he is never to be seen again.

As the pain begins to set in, and Deirbhile starts to regret her hasty action, the boy, tears streaming from his own eyes, runs with a cup of water from the well to cleanse her bloody cheeks.

And as soon as the water touches her eye sockets, and before the eyes of her weeping followers, her sight is returned.

I like to think that this is the sequence of events though the story says that where her eyes hit the ground water sprang up through the ground to form the well and her sight was then returned, but I think that’s a bit far fetched.

And just because I love a happy ending (and because I have already taken an artists licence with my telling of the story) I like to think she marries her astronomer (though she also continues to be devoted to God) and they adopt the boy and all live their happily ever after in a large commune beside the sea.

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1,508 years later, I sail down the very hill she trotted down (except I am on the yellow bicycle instead of a donkey) and as I gaze across the same sea at the same cliffs on Achill island I can imagine how she felt.

It’s a most beautiful vista.  The sun sparkles on the water. The Minaun cliffs, mauve against the blue sky, sweep down dramatically before dipping into the atlantic.

I stand for a while breathing in the salty air.

Then crossing the patch of short sheep cropped grass, I lean into her well and splash some of the sweet spring water on my eyes.

Cycling back to the church at Fál Mór, I pass a heap of stones and read (without glasses) that this is known locally as ‘Glúin an Asail’  the place where the donkey knelt upon her arrival all those centuries ago and rested after her long journey.

Three weeks later and I STILL don’t need reading glasses.

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The end.

 

 

 

Abundance In Fish (A pictorial cycle of Bhealach Na Iascaigh)

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Imagine if someone told you they were from the village of Abundance In Fish.

Wouldn’t you want to go to see such a place?.

Even if you didn’t like fish wouldn’t you be curious? for surely such a name conjures up the magical imagery of the rivers, lakes and seas that Ireland is famous for? Especially the west of Ireland.

The Irish word for Easkey is Iascaigh, meaning just that! an abundance in fish and it’s a small village situated on both river and sea in Co sligo. A village renowned not only for its salmon but for its good surfing too.

Campers and vans park along its scenic drive, sporting surfboards and wetsuits and if you cycle along no matter what the weather or the season you will see people standing gripping cups of coffee and staring at the sea as if, by doing so, they will be able to summons up the ideal wave.

You will also see a rocky shore line whose flat slabs bear fossils of siphonophyllia coral and others dating back millions of years.

Looking to your left (if you are heading west)the hazy mauve silhouette of sliabh Gamh (the Ox mountains) will stand low and undulation, And though Ox is a misnomer (GAMH is the irish word for storm, DAMH is the irish word for Ox) it is near enough in sound but far from its true meaning, as are many irish place names that have got lost in translation over the centuries .

Across the bay is Knocknarea (Cnoc na Ré …hill of the moon),  On top of which a large cairn, supposedly the place of Queen Maeve’s burial, can be seen. They say she was buried, standing upright, in full battle dress, facing north. 

(Again this is a much disputed translation, some saying the name is Cnoc na Riabh? or Cnoc na riogha or even Cnoc na riaghadh? which would have  totally different meanings).

But I’ll hurry along as that is not what this post is about.

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PART 1 THE WAY

These days it’s all about ‘THE WAY’.

Every country seems to boast of them. The Camino, St Francis’s way, St Paul’s Way and that’s only a tip of the iceberg.

Here in Ireland, The wild atlantic way and The green way trip easily off our tongues.

So this morning I am going to offer a pictorial account of a cycle along a way that, though short, I think includes everything ‘a way’ should.

I might even find a story on my journey .

Now I could call it ‘Small boreens with descriptive irish names and their meanings way’ but that’s a bit too long.

So instead I’ve decided to name it  ‘The meandering way’ or maybe ‘Bhealach na Iascaigh (The way of abundance in fish)’

~

The Old Workhouse in dromore west. (Droim mór meaning big hill). Built during the famine, burnt down during the troubles, it is now the home of my sister and her husband, both artists, and despite its sad history, a warmer more creative and colorful place I couldn’t wish to stay in and it is thanks to their hospitality that I can make my start from there.

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I head out the door.

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down the avenue and through the gates of the workhouse on a dull morning.

20160605_100835-1and turning right along the mainroad, I cycle a few hundred meters before taking a left up the Clooneen road (Cluainín meaning Little meadow) then the second right onto the moorland road.

After passing three or four houses, gables to the road, I am out into open country.

In front of me, across a bog dotted with yellow gorse and swathes of bog cotton, is the sea, behind the mauve of the ox mountains (Sliabh gamh)  

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The road, a boreen really, has grass growing down its center and its low hedges are filled with goat willow, ox eyed daisies, purple vetch and orchids.

It weaves along in a meandering fashion, not in any hurry to reach its destination and carries me with it. The song of the skylarks and swallows accompanying.

I love these virtually car free roads. They allow for slowness and mulling of thoughts and the letting go of any sorrow or worry. I cannot feel anger or depression or loneliness on such roads, only peace and contentment.

I feel the stress of my recent days at work flow off my shoulders as I watch the breeze pick up the tresses of the bog cotton heads and blow them about, like one hundred bog nymphs dancing and tossing their hair in delight.

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All too quickly (despite my slow bicycling) we reach the junction where this small boreen meets the coast road and we turn left in the direction of Easkey.

Its easy going for the yellow bicycle now with perhaps the hint of a downhill.

Being sunday morning and too early for the church goers the road is empty.

The sun comes out as I coast along picking up speed and I am so enjoying its warmth on my back and the wind in my hair that I almost miss the split rock at Killeenduff (Cillín dubh meaning Small black church or even Small dark wood)

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The legend goes that Fionn mac Cumail and other members of the Fianna were traipsing around the ox mountains hunting when they spotted two giant boulders. One of group challenged Fionn to a rock throwing competition to see who could throw the stone as far as the sea. Normally it would be no problem to Fionn but his heart wasn’t in it as Grainne whom he loved was about to marry Diarmuid. When his boulder did not reach the sea he flew into a rage and struck it in anger with his sword and split the rock in two.

I turn right at the next crossroads and speed down the hill to the scenic drive.

Ahead of me the commonage is alight with yellow bird’s foot trefoil . A brilliant contrast to the blue of the sea and the even bluer of the sky. The road levels out and I pedal along more slowly

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The road winds along the coast and I stop now and again to take in deep breaths of fresh salty air and gaze out to sea knowing there is nothing between here and America.

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As I reach the end of the scenic drive I hear a car coming up behind me and move over to let it past. But it stops and my sister, a fair weather cyclist, hops out and takes her bike off the rack on the back.

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We are going to have a coffee stop at Pudding Row in the village of An abundance in fish.

At the end of the scenic drive looking out to sea, stands O Dowds castle (Caislean Ó Dubhda) but my eye is distracted by the new rusty (can there be such a thing) sign.

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As myself and my sister discuss the merits and demerits of this sign (Apparently the plan is to place one at every beach along the wild atlantic way) a woman passes by.

‘Isn’t this wild atlantic way thing just wonderful.’ she enthuses, as though it had just recently been invented.

‘It is, but then it HAS always been there’ my sister replies dryly

The woman appears puzzled but we have turned our attention back to the rusty sign.

‘It looks as though something flew into the end of it and crumpled it’ I remark.

‘It looks like a medieval means for hanging the raiders of the castle’ my sister says cheerfully.

‘It looks like a flag pole’ I say loudly, in case anyone overhears her

(Or an instrument to ensure the castle isn’t tilting? this input comes from my niece later)

Just then a small bird alights on the crumpled end of the sign and looks as though it is letting us know what is missing.

‘What a pity they didn’t put a metal cutout of a seagull or better still a jumping salmon. A sort of windvane effect at the end of each sign. They could use whatever animal/bird /fish is common to the area.’ I am thinking out loud.

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But my sister has had enough talk about the sign. After all she has to live with it.

We cycle on along the path by the river to the village.

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And over the bridge under which flows the Easkey river (An Abhainn Iascaigh).

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And I always find if I cycle for long enough I will come upon a story.

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PART 2 THE STORY

We are coming out of Pudding Row following what started off as a coffee but ended up as a hearty breakfast. (If ever you visit pudding row, which I strongly recommend you do, prepare to abandon any ideas of just coffee) and are about to mount our bicycles when a man sails in between us on his.

He throws himself off his bike and onto the seat behind the two sculptures that my brother in law Cillian Rogers made all those years ago and yanks off his bicycle helmet impatiently.

His hair is stuck to his head. His face is a serious shade of red and being of ‘that age’ I am hoping he won’t suddenly put his hand to his chest.

He doesn’t! Instead he asks us the question that is on the mind of every middle aged cycling man.

‘ladies, how far have you come’?

‘Not far’ is my sister’s reply.

‘and how far are you going?

‘Not far’ my sister repeats.

She isn’t giving much away.

It doesn’t seem to perturb him for without even acknowledging her answer he launches into his own travels.

He tells us where he has come from (Ballina),  Beal an atha…mouth of the ford . Where he is going to (Trabhui)Trá Bhui …the yellow strand. How many kilometers it will be. How long it has taken him so far.

He continues by informing us how cycling is the best way to get rid of rich food.

(He doesn’t seem to hear my sister’s suggestion that it might be easier just to give up rich food) He alerts us to the danger of sugars. How it causes cancer and did we know that weed killer causes cancer of the liver.

At this point my sister throws her eyes up to heaven and makes her get away but I am left standing, nodding and clutching the handlebars of the yellow bike, not wishing to appear rude by leaving too. (The story of my life when it comes to men)

He pauses for a breath.

Then…

‘Are you a nurse?’ He enquires.

I am taken aback at his accuracy.

‘How did you know?’

‘Oh it’s the way you speak’ he nods sagely managing to look smug as well.

I don’t like to remind him that I hadn’t, up to that moment, spoken a single word. (again not confronting men is another of my life’s stories).

~~~

So with my story finished and my sister gone back to her car and home to make dinner, the last part of my cycle is up the ballinahown road (Baile na habhann… the mouth of the river)

Another few kms along and more bog with far off stands of trees sheltering small cottages.

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From here it’s back onto the main ballina road where the sight of the workhouse is welcome…

I haven’t a clue how many kilometres I’ve covered, nor how many hours the Bhealach na Iascaigh has taken me. But I do know that I have a hunger on me that could only be satisfied with a large amount of rich food.

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THE END

 

 

The Van.

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“The end of life for a caterpillar is a butterfly for the master.”

This quote came to mind recently and though it might not seem the most applicable one for the post I am about to write, in a vague way has something to do with it. 

For I have passed the caterpillar phase. Even passed the butterfly phase.

Now the third phase of my life (signified by the selling of my small green camper)is about to start. 

I have sold the van!

‘Please don’t call it that’ my younger daughter sighs throwing her eyes up to heaven. ‘It’s a camper not a van!’ (Which makes me wonder if the word ‘van’ has connotations that I am unaware of?)

But she is right! It’s more than just a Toyota hiace van its a CAMPER!

And it is efficiently fitted out with double bed, cooker, sink, fridge, storage cupboards, a passenger seat that swivels (to make a comfy armchair.) and a table to dine off.

It is turquoise green to match the color of the sea on a stormy day and, to make it look as though I have just driven through a cherry orchard, I have painted pink blossoms along its sides.

It did have a an awning but sadly all that is left of that is the holes where the bolts held it in place. (Gentle awnings built for shading one from the mediterranean sun are not capable of withstanding connemara storms as I discovered one night)

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The bike rack on the back is invaluable for carrying my yellow bike and even my pink and my purple bike and when I’m heading west and am stopped at traffic lights, children in the back of the cars pulling up beside me point and smile and wave.

Once when I pulled into a petrol station, a very large and shiney audi jeep pulled up on the opposite side of the pump. As we filled our vehicles, our eyes lifted from our task and met across the metal tank.

‘I’m admiring your jeep’ I smiled at the well groomed blond woman.

She smiled back ‘My children and I think your camper is wonderful and want to do a swap. What a happy way it must be to travel’.

‘But yours looks so comfortable and new and shiney’ .

‘Things are not always as they seem’ she grimaced.

I wanted to enquire further but something in her eyes told me not to delve any deeper.

So I held my whist and instead waved at her children who are madly craning their heads for a better look

Yes it was such a happy way to travel and I am parting with it in sadness.

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The lane down to my favorite camping place is narrow and potholed

I drive carefully, my two hands gripping the steering wheel. I already have a large dent in the sliding door where I hit a rock that had disguised itself as a fuschia bush.

To  my right, as the lane straightens out and over the stone wall, Jo’s garden is doing well with its rows of carrots and onions and spuds standing in neat lines.

I am drawn to a halt by a gate tied shut with a length of rope. I pull the brake, jump down and untying the rope, lift the gate open

Not being on hinges it is heavy and unwieldy but I don’t mind

The struggle is worth it. I follow one of the sand roads across the commons and it’s not by luck but from years of camping here that it leads me to my favorite spot.

I tuck the camper in behind ‘whale rock’.

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Now though the west of Ireland is the favoured haunt of the green van camper, It is happy to explore further afield.

Driving from calais we too have been swept along with the flow of caravans, Cars pulling trailer tents and other campervans.

With registration numbers from Finland, Denmark, Sweden, we too flew like migrating geese in formation, heading south in search of warmth, sometimes passing and repassing each other at a speed my van camper has never known in ireland.

And she is able to keep up with the best of them except for once.

A tiny 2cv driven by two ancient white haired women shoots past us. Two worn leather suitcases tied to the back jiggle madly and look in danger of flying off as the small car bounces along like an out of control pram.

They disappear from sight in a swirl of dust. I fear for their safety but needn’t have worried.

When I pull into one of the ‘Aires’ to stretch my legs I see them again.

The tiny car is parked skew ways and is taking up two spaces.

Its two occupants are already settled nearby on a tartan rug in the shade of some pines.

An open picnic basket lies beside them and the slimmer and taller of the two is in the process of pouring coffee from a flask . Seeing me examining their car (It had a right hand drive and the reg which I had presumed was french but couldn’t quite see in the blur of their speedy passing was actually scottish) They wave me over.

‘Your from Eire, we passed you earlier! sit here, have a coffee with us’

They tell me their story.

Two sisters in their late eighties from Edinburgh who love all things french are heading to their house in St Tropez which they had bought 10 years previously.

‘We didn’t always live together but when our husbands died within a year of each other we decided it might be a good idea’

It worked well they told me. They couldn’t get on each other’s nerves because the younger one was a night owl and the older one an early bird so they didn’t have a chance to get in each other’s way. They shared the housework and then the younger did the cooking and shopping whilst the older ‘did the Bins’.

I didn’t think ‘doing the bins’ equalled the cooking and shopping and said so

‘Oh yes it does. Bins entail a lot of hard work’ The ‘bin ‘ sister explained. ‘You have to sort the rubbish, wash all the tins and jars, not mix the paper and the plastic, fold the newspapers, breakup and flatten any boxes, remember which day which bin goes out out on AND be up early enough to have it out on time.

She pauses to catch her breath

‘I would hate having to do all that’ the younger one frowns

‘And I would be bored cooking and shopping’ her sister replies.

They both smile at me, their ancient eyes still bright blue and their white hair in soft curls, seated elegantly on their tartan rug with their cardigans draped across their shoulders and tweed skirts pulled modestly over their knees, the pines shading their pale skin from the mediterranean sun.

‘So you see’ They say in unison ‘It works very well indeed’.

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So goodbye dear van with your stories and memories of which there are too many to mention in a single posting.

I am sad to see you go.

But I still have my yellow bicycle and now am off once more to cycle the small roads of the west of Ireland in search of what the third stage of my life will bring.

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The year of the cockerel

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Me, before ‘The year of the cockerel’ when I looked neat and tidy and also kept a tidy rick of turf.

During the years I lived in the west of Ireland many animals came my way.

Hen’s, goats, horses, ponies and dogs and I learnt something from them all.

Most lived out their natural life with me, but a few didn’t.

One such a beast was a large and colorful cockerel of brilliant hue and savage temperament.

He first arrived in the innocent guise of a helpless fluffy chick and thus fooled me completely.

Being the only male in a clutch of females, his mother spoiled him and though this saved him in his youth (the fox that got his mother and the rest of his siblings probably didn’t dare tackle him) it was the undoing of him later.

Initially he grew up like any unruly teenager but I should’ve guessed by his arrogant gait and half strangled sounding crow as he strutted around the front garden that he spelt trouble.

Unfortunately I didn’t recognise the signs.

The cottage I was living in at the time,  was up a long narrow lane well away from the village. It was the typical three roomed cottage of the area though it had an add on bathroom and kitchen out the back.

The original thatch was long gone and a corrugated roof stood in its place.

At the front, a small lawn, dotted here and there with apple trees, (the very ones the goats in my previous tale attempted to climb) lay and beyond that a stand of conifers whose purpose was to act as a shelter belt.

It was on the top of the tallest of these trees that ‘the bucko’ would roost, crowing at an unearthly hour and viewing his domain with a mean eye.

To the right of the cottage was an open turf shed in which lay a heap of neatly stacked turf (my work) and an untidy pile of wood, some already chopped for kindling, some still awaiting the blow of the large axe which stood at the ready embedded in a block of timber.

A clothesline, strung from one end of the shed to the other, was handy for hanging washing on on rainy days.

Back towards the lane, another strip of grass with a second washing line, strung between two tall scots pines, ran. These tree’s with their tall red colored trunks were quite ancient and stately and I had placed a chair under one of them making it my favorite place to sit.

For the first while, I lived a peaceful existence there. The only sounds were the odd maaaa of the goats, the bird song, the wind in the tree’s and the early morning call of the cockerel whose crow, I noted, grew louder and more raucous as he grew larger.

Being new to the area and not knowing many people other than my sister, who lived a couple of miles away, I had few visitors and I spent my days happily reading, painting, writing, working to clear the garden and gathering herbage for the goats.

It was a halcion life.

But not for long.

One fine sunny day while stretching up to peg washing on the line, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye.

It was probably my new ‘peripheral vision and extra sensitivity to sudden movement technique’ I had learned from keeping goats, that saved me and I ducked just as the cockerel launched himself, spurs extended, at my head.

As I did, I picked up the long stick that acted as the line prop and gave him an almighty thwack before abandoning my washing and running for the house.

I heard him gather himself with a flurry of ruffled feathers as he prepared for a second attack but I had made it through the door just in time.

Looking back I felt that if I had stood my ground at that first attack he would have learnt who was the boss and we could have continued to live together in harmony.

But instead I caught my breath and looked out the window to see him disdainfully picking up my underwear in his beak, tossing it into the air and trampling it in the grass.

Then he strutted away fluffing and shaking out his colorful feathers before flying back up into the conifers.

It was obviously his way of declaring war and I had already lost the first battle.

From that moment on whenever I went outside, I carried a broom to defend myself.

And while his method was to lie low and wait until my guard was down before attacking, mine was purely of defence.

As the days passed every tree and shrub became an object of potential danger. (I never knew what he would be hiding behind) my beautiful scots pine was no longer a place to sit and relax under.

My once favorite chair now lay desolate on its side (the result of a particularly fierce battle one afternoon) the grass growing up through its arms.

I even kept my bicycle inside as it became one of his choice places to launch an attack from.

He had cleverly recognised its strategic importance. After all without my bicycle I couldn’t cycle for more rations to keep my strength up.

I still worked in the garden though as I always had a tool at hand.

The sight of a hoe or rake or spade, prevented him from trying anything. Instead he would just perch on the gate, glaring at me, every now and then emitting an ear piercing crow which, like the baying of the hounds of the baskervilles, instilled cold fear into my soul and sent shivers down my spine.

My garden began to suffer.  Vegetables planted with stressed quaking hands do not flourish well.

By now I was rapidly losing ground. (His domain from apple tree outward was expanding whilst mine was ever retreating towards the house.)

He began playing with me mentally. There would be a day or two of no attacks, of no crowing from the height of the conifer as though a ceasefire had been declared  but as I was always on edge during these silences, his ominous non appearance was psychologically worse than his attacks

Sometimes he chose to do battle in the open.

Like a duel, with pistols at dawn, we would face each other. He armed with his beak and spurs , me with my broom.

With glorious rainbow colored hackles raised and one wing spread wide, he would advance in a sideward movement, the spread wing sweeping the ground, dragging pieces of gravel with it, making a rattling machine gun like sound, while his small, mean, calculating eye remained fixed on mine.

And I would stand, holding the handle of the broom firmly in both hands, taking the the stance of a samurai warrior and we would glare at each other for some time, neither of us breaking eye contact as the minutes ticking by.

Other times he circled, forcing me to spin around which made so dizzy that when he did attack I could only flail my implement in windmill fashion giving the appearance of one being attacked by a swarm of bees.

When the battle was starting into its third week my sister came to call.

Pulling up at the door, she preceded to hop out of her little brown morris minor.

‘Watch out!’ I shouted. But too late!

Himself had been lying in wait.

‘What the?…’  my sister shouted as he launched himself at her over the open car door.

I pulled her inside to safety just in time.

As we clutched each other catching our breaths she looked at me in horror.

‘What ever happened to YOU? you look a fright!’

I glanced at myself in the mirror behind her.

My cheeks were streaked with grime, my eyes red and wild, my hair looked as though I had been scrambling through a briar patch (I probably had).

Sitting her down with a cup of tea I told her my story.

‘What ridiculous nonsense!’ she said as I finished my tale.

‘Imprisoned in your own home by a BIRD! I was wondering why I hadn’t seen you for so long. You haven’t cycled over for two weeks. I was getting worried.’

Two weeks! I couldn’t believe it. My days and nights had blended into one long nightmare. I had no idea of the passing of time.

I hung my head in shame admitting that it was indeed ridiculous but she was no longer listening to me.

Instead she leapt up off her chair, marched out the door and headed confidently towards the turf shed.

There, she kicked aside a few clods of turf (my turf rick was no longer tidy as I often had to use the sods as hand ammunition) and pulling the axe out of its timber block, swung it over her head in one hand as she approached the cockerel, who was now lurking in an not so brazen manner behind the scots pine.

I watched the evolving scene through the window, heart in mouth, fearing for her safety. But I needn’t have worried! He, sensing that he had met his match, took flight and half running, half flying, cleared the barbwire fence and took off across the fields, my sister after him.

And that was last I ever saw of him.

But the picture of their silhouettes against the evening sky, disappearing over the brow of the far off hill, himself with his neck stretched, wings flapping madly, my sister with the axe aloft, gaining ground, will be forever imprinted on my mind.

The end

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‘The Bucko’ in his heyday.

 

 

 

Seeing the ditch through the eyes of a rabbit.

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Rosibelle Moonshine in her heyday (now sadly pushing up daisies).

It started it out with a goat.

Or two.

I hadn’t fully made my mind up, hadn’t said a final yes.

In fact I distinctly remember my words being ‘let me think about it’.

But the owners of the goats, one long haired and shaggy, the other missing half a horn (the goats that is, not the humans) were obviously desperate to get rid of them as they appeared later that day with the pair in the boot of their station wagon.

Knowing that they had driven quite a distance and that one of the couple, being french, may not have have understood me correctly, I felt I couldn’t at this stage say no, so instead I stood there dumbly with a fixed smile as they swung open the door of the boot and set the occupants free.

Non! They wouldn’t stay for tea. (They had some urgent business to attend to). Mais non! they wouldn’t take any payment! absolutment! wouldn’t hear of it! and they really had to be off.

So I remained stuck to the ground choking and spluttering as the wheels of their rusty vehicle churned up the dust on the laneway and they shot around the corner with the skill of a boy racer, the back door still swinging open. I heard the car stop in the distance and the slam of the door. (I also thought I heard some wild laughter but that may have been the wind whistling through the conifers).

Meanwhile the pair wasted no time in attempting to scale a nearby apple tree stretching their scrawny hairy necks and nibbling at the fruit buds.

Later I became very familiar with the extent of their climbing abilities but now, grabbing the collar of the less nimble, I noted with disappointment that they in no way resembled the sleek Saanens and Toggenburgs with large udders and gentle slope from hip bone to tail that promised good milkers (as shown in my goat husbandry book).

My new acquisitions had kidded a few weeks before but with all that hair I couldn’t even catch a glimpse of udder, large or small.

However all was not total despair and by the time spring had headed into summer and I had fed them well and brushed them daily, they had lost their rough scraggy hair to reveal a smooth summer undercoat and indeed began to look more like the beasts I had drooled over in my book. They even managed to give enough milk for the household, including the makings of soft cheese and yogurt.

I began to form a positive relationship with them.

They also formed a firm attachment to me and would come when called and I could let them into the lane to graze the briars knowing that they wouldn’t wander too far without me.  The downside to this however was whenever they spotted me cycling to the shops they would give chase and no amount of shouting and waving of arms and, I am ashamed to admit, even the throwing of the odd stick at them, would make them change their minds.

The gate at the end of our lane was no deterrent, they just scrambled up the bank and cleared it and the only hope I had of arriving in the village without looking like a modern day version of Heidi was to pray that the willow tree enroute, whose bark they could never resist, would keep them distracted until I was out of sight.

The following year I decided to get the one who most resembling a pedigree in kid.

Felix moonshine performed the honourable task.

A beautiful specimen of what a pedigree british saanen should look like, my only concern was that his feet were muddy (By this time I had built my ladies a shed and on rainy days I kept them inside on a bed of clean straw, whereas Felix was an outside kind of goat )

Two things happened because of this. Firstly I formed a wonderful friendship with the owners of felix which is still going strong  a quarter of a century later and secondly as I cycled the laneways on those wet days collecting foodstuffs for the pair I began to see what grows in ditches through the eyes of a goat.

I have read that goats can only see yellow, orange, blue, violet and green. They cannot see black and white so when down on my hands and knees pulling dandelion leaves and bunches of succulent vetch or reaching up to cut saplings of willows, rowan wild crab apple and ash or yanking couch grass and unravelling it though patches of thorny briars (a most accomplished and satisfying task) I began to lose touch with the human world and its black and whiteness.

And as I cycled further into the countryside and the noise of traffic dwindled, I got the chance of sinking deliciously into the animal world of the textures, colors, scents and sounds.

I have also heard that goats are extremely sensitive to movement and I began to note every beetle, tiny spider, and insect threading its way in this verdant world and tried not to gather them up as I went about my business of keeping my ladies producing the sweetest and most nutritious of milk.

My journey to shops took longer and became weightier not because I was impeded by two loyal goats, (now that I had a goat shed I could put them in before I set off) but because I got distracted by the growings of the wayside.

‘Ginny would love that’ hopping off my bicycle at the sight of some crunchy wild borage and stuffing a bunch of it into my saddle bag.

‘Daffodil daisy would relish those’ I’d sigh with pleasure getting out my secateurs (never go anywhere without a good pair) and snipping off some willow branches and tying them to my back carrier.

I became a goat human so much so that my goat friends gave me a present of beautiful REAL pedigree Saanen female kid.

Rosibelle Moonshine became one of my herd and in the years that followed showed my pair a thing or two in the art of kidding and milk production.

And the pair recognising royalty when they saw it showed no signs of jealousy at this interloper who went on to win champion goat of the show and produce further REAL pedigree british saanen kids for my expanding herd.

Years passed, life changes when you are busy rooting in ditches.

My goats are well pushing up their own daisies by now, but recently my daughter got two lop earred rabbits.

So I am off on this soft spring morning scouring the lanes of wicklow for succulent dandelion leaves.

Yes I have begun to look at ditches through the eye’s of a rabbit.

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‘Come away o human child to the waters and the wild’. (A true story).

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I am sifting through old photos, trying to put some order on them when one catches my eye causing an unexpected memory to come cropping up.

A memory that causes me some consternation not just because of my loss of the place but also because of an incident that occurred there and which I couldn’t decide was true or if I had dreamt it!

I ring my younger daughter to find out.  

‘Of course it was true!’ she exclaims somewhat impatiently (she is expecting a call from the garage to say her car is ready and she does have other things on her mind like being on time to pick up her three boys from school). 

Really?’ I asked again ‘And you quite sure I didn’t dream it?’

‘Sure I’m sure’ she sighed ‘A small boy with blond hair, his arm in a cast down in the ravine! Mom you must remember! I was about eight at the time And I can remember it as clearly as though it was yesterday now PLEASE get off the phone , the garage is probably trying to contact me …….’

 

There is a waterfall in Glencar.

Not the famous Yeats’s waterfall but another and to my mind more splendid one.

Poised high on a cliff on the south side of Benbulben on the sligo Leitrim border, it is set in a magical enchanted place.

A place, so filled with hazel groves and windswept hawthorn trees and rocks that have tumbled down the steep mountain sides and settled long enough to become covered with thick blankets of soft moss that would put the gardens of Kyoto to shame, it’s no wonder Yeats wrote about it.

Even the way the waterfall flows is in the hands of the gods, for when the rain has been plentiful and the wind is from the south the water is blown backwards up over its top.

The Irish name for it is ‘Sruth ar áit an airde’. (The stream against the height.)

The locals call it ‘The mare’s tail’.

When the wind is blowing from any other direction, the water falls straight down into a large pool-like basin and from there, down a further series of pools until it forms a river and flows out into glencar lake.

But when there has been no rain for a while, it loses its might and becomes a trickle. And the ravine, gouged out over thousands of years, is calm and the moss dries on the rocks so you can climb them without slipping and sit among the ferns and dip your toes in the pools.

I know all this because I had the pleasure of living beside it for many years.

On the day of my story I was out working in the vegetable garden.

That’s where I first heard the singing .

A high ethereal sound as though of a child blending its song with the wind and the sound of water. I stopped digging to to listen more attentively.

‘Can you hear it?’ I asked my youngest daughter who was busy popping the peas she was supposed to be picking for the dinner into her mouth

She stopped mid chew and nodded.

Yes she had heard it too. I wasn’t mistaking it.

‘It’s coming from the river’ She looked at me half in delight, half in fear.

We crept out through the small gate and peered over the edge of the ravine.

Sure enough down below us among the pools and rocks we saw a small boy climbing confidently, blond hair dappled in the undergrowth, singing to himself.

He turned for an instant and I glimpsed an elfin face through the ferns, then he was gone again, his song mingling with the trickle of water.

I glanced at my daughter. Her eye’s were wide with delight and without a second thought began slithering down the steep bank, using the large bunches of ferns as footholds.

I followed close behind.

‘Shhh, Don’t frighten him’ I whispered as we reached the bottom and moved quietly, following the sound of the singing and avoiding the deep pools that lay scattered along the dry river bed

There he was, just ahead of us, hunkered on a rock, peering into one of the pools.

He couldn’t have been more than five or six, a sturdy boy. His lower right arm encased in a mud splattered plaster cast. He had stopped singing and was concentrating on the spread of water in front of him.

‘What’s them beetle’s called?’ He asked looking up, not one bit surprised or alarmed by our arrival.

’Water-skater’s’ my daughter replied perching on the rock next to his.

‘How d’you know ?’ He looked at her dubiously.

‘I saw them in my book, It’s all about beetles and nature and things’.

‘Cool’ He breathed.

Together they squatted in silence their knees touching their chins as only children can do and watched the small beetles skimming across the surface.

‘How did you get here?’ She demanded after a moment ,

‘I flew’ He grinned cheekily at her, demonstrating a flying motion with his arms, the plaster cast making the movement awkward for him.

‘I fell out of the tree house’ he explained proudly, noticing her staring at his arm. ‘And I broked me arm. In TWO PLACES! It was sore but I didn’t cry’

‘Where are your parents?’ my daughter persevered. She was eight and very practical.

‘Back at the picnic place’ he straightened up, balancing easily on his rock and pointed east.

My mouth dropped open.

The picnic place was two kms away at the other waterfall , a tough trek through the swiss valley which was the only way he could have come.

‘With the baby’ He frowned, trusting one hip forward and putting his good hand on his hip. ’Oh Annabelle you’re sooooo cute’ He mimicked adult voices

I tried not to smile.

‘I’m hungry have you any chocolate biscuits?’ He looked at me hopefully.

‘lots’ I laughed ‘come on’

He grinned confidently, taking my hand in his small one.

I could see the Headline ‘Child lured from family picnic with promise of chocolate biscuits’

Back at the house, he wolfed down three and a glass of milk. I saw him slip a forth into his pocket.

Then we drove to the other waterfall following the curve of the lake.

The mountain, reflected in the still water, looked dark and brooding.

Distracted by two fishermen in a boat, I nearly hit a car hurtling in the opposite direction.

The driver swerved and stopped just in time as I pulled into the ditch.

‘It’s me Da’  the boy shouted eagerly.

A large red faced man leaped from the car.

‘James!’ He shouted angrily, but there was relief in his voice too.

’Where the hell were ya? Yer Ma’s been worried sick and I’ve tramped all over the bloody mountain searching for ya! look at me good shoes! they’re ruined! now get in the car!’

He tried to give his son a smack but the boy ducked and jumped into the back of the car.

I could see a teary faced woman through the windscreen.

A blond curly haired baby was waving it’s fists in the back.

Before I had a chance to explain the man muttered a brief thanks and they were gone, my little fey boy grinning mischievously out the back window.

He waved goodbye with his good arm, then as the car disappeared around the corner I saw him pull Annabelle’s curls and hold the chocolate biscuit teasingly above her head.

This is the end of a true story.

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The old photo of my daughter in the vegetable garden with her friend picking peas. To the right in front of the cart is the way down to the ravine. The top photo is of us with some friends looking down into the swiss valley.

The Improbable positivity of the Peppard woman.

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(Now and then it did occur to me, as I wrestled my tent in some windswept place, hanging on to it with one hand while hammering pegs into the stoney ground with the other or cycling my bicycle through the misty drizzle that sometimes hangs around for days, that I actually enjoyed it!  Yes I will admit there was indeed an element of stoic endurance attached to my holidays.)

It was only when my divorce was finalized that my older sister lost her nerve.

She rang my mother in panic to inform her that I was about to have a nervous breakdown.

‘Nonsense’ my mother retorted ‘Peppard women don’t have nervous breakdowns.

She was right!

I may have been elated with the relief that it was over but I definitely wasn’t having or even contemplating having one.

Our sisterly friendships are strong and though often interspersed with squabbling, forming opposing groups, reconciling again, we support each other unconditionally when trouble occurs.

We are also hugely loyal and would certainly never speak ill of each other in public.

Therefore, when I attended a writers group and was told that, if I had to be careful of what I wrote for fear of offending my family I may as well not bother writing, I voiced my concern. Such concern, my teacher replied, Will only make you selfconcious and spoil your spontaneity. As long as you don’t say libless things about any of them you should just tap away. And if a family member disagrees with the happenings of an incident you have written about just remind them it was written from your memory of the incident.

So with bated breath and a nervous sense of permission I write the following piece.

Stoicism is an ancient philosophy, a school of thought which feels that if you push emotion to the side then you can deal with things in a more rational clear headed way.

The modern version of the word is used to describe people who endure without complaint, people who are forbearing, resigned, fortuitous and most importantly, people who do not have nervous breakdowns.

It would be a word that comes to mind if I was ever asked to describe the women of my family and I believe it stemmed from when we were little.

Every summer for as far back as I can remember, my parents took us what is popularly known now as, wild camping or even more recently, stealth camping.

They were not trying to be cool or different!  It was just that they loved the wilds and camping and, as there was enough of us, we had no need to seek the company of others, so that’s what we did.

Mostly we camped along by the sea on pieces of common land where the beaches stretched for miles and where there wasn’t another sinner in sight.

But the odd time, if my dad felt that the look of a lake or a river showed promise of good fishing, we would set up camp in such a place.

Being respectful of ownership and never presuming his right to plonk himself (and us) down wherever he fancied, he would always get permission first from the nearest farm house and was never denied it.

In fact we made some lifelong friends this way and each Christmas we addressed cards to faraway places with names that sounded songlike.

Inishmicatreer, Inchigeelagh, Gougane barra, Creeslough.

Looking back I’m sure these farmers could never understand why a Dublin man (An architect with a grand car at that) would haul his wife and eight children across fields and set up camp beside the lake.

That while they, not by choice, were without car and had no indoor plumbing, this man would send his children with a bucket to get water from the pump and expect his wife to feed her family from a tiny stove in a caravan, when they suspected he had a perfectly well built house back in the suburbs complete with toilet and bathroom.

But they held their council and their wives sold my mother fresh milk and eggs, and buttermilk to bake brown bread in her tiny oven (my dad refused to eat shop bought bread). And the women, when they had a chance, would slip down across the fields, and have tea with my mother. Sitting out in the sun on camping stools they would chat and compare notes about children, and housework and the difference of their lifestyles and I know my mother welcomed these interludes as a break from preparing and cooking of endless meals for her energetic family. And while they talked and their husbands cut the meadows and my dad fished, we found adventure in everything even our most mundane of chores .

I remember the farm at lough Acalla, where we would be sent to collect the milk and eggs. It was one of our more exciting jobs as it contained an element of danger.

Peering over the gate we needed to check first and see if the pigs, a huge sow and boar were asleep. If they were then we would ‘run the gauntlet’ hoping to make it to the backdoor in one journey.

More often than not they would wake and come lumbering angrily towards us and we would have to scale the giant haystack in the barn (the halfway point) and sit there patiently till they fell asleep again before running the rest of the way.

It was the same on the return journey but miraculously we never lost an egg or spilled the milk and always arrived home unscathed.

It didn’t occur to us to mention the cross pigs to our mother and therefore she was probably unaware of the risk it involved. We presumed, seeing as we were allowed to row boats around the lake without wearing life jackets and never had to say where we were going when we went exploring, such incidences wouldn’t concern her.

And Just as, when my dad whistled and we dropped what we were doing and came running to do his bidding, we assumed this is how it was in every family (Mostly it was for something to do with fishing! Fetch his waders or to hold the boat steady while he filled the engine with petrol, a job that only took one child but the rule was, when dad whistled we ALL came running.)

Once a fisherman placing oars in the rowlocks of his boat watched us arrive and set up camp.

He gave an account of it later, describing it as an exercise run with military precision.

He told of how, when the entourage pulled up, children of all sizes and ages tumbled higgledy piggeldy out of the car, righted themselves and with no apparent orders got to work.

The tallest tugged two large containers from the car boot (out of which clambered two more children) and set off in search of water.

The second tallest proceeded to unhitch the caravan from the towbar and with her father swung it into a suitable position. She then jumped in through the caravan door before reappearing with a winder and proceeded to wind down the four legs.

The third tallest (me) gathered the remaining children and herded them down to the lakeshore where she kept them out of the way, passing the time by examining small beetles and water skaters. The father unloaded his fishing gear, (Hardy rod, fishing creel, waders) and carried them down to the boat.

Meanwhile glimpses of the mother could be seen through the curtains organizing the interior.

At this stage, and with no sign of being called, the children, herded back from the shore, were lined up in a row and as various pieces of camping equipment, chairs, basins buckets and spades were passed out through the door by the mother, they stowed them neatly under the caravan.

A few minutes later the tallest girl reappeared, this time walking slowly with her burden.

Stopping now and again she carefully placed the two heavy cans on the ground and rested her arms. The second tallest seeing her struggle ran to help her.

A short while later the air was filled with the glorious smell of fried meat and onions at which point the father, having bailed out the boat, fitted the rowlocks and slotted in the oars, came back up to have his dinner before heading off again for the four o clock rise.

Sometimes the menagerie contained not only children but dogs, cats and even once my pet black mice.

(The mice didn’t come home with us. They had multiplied with abundance and my father decided the hay fields they were a far happier place for them than the cage. Having nothing but school and shoes and concrete pavements to look forward to once we got home how we envied them.)

Back at school I would compare notes with my friends and as they recounted apartment holidays in sunny spain I would feel so sorry for them. Where was the fun in that I wondered but I kept my thoughts to myself.

Last summer once again I found myself hanging onto the guy ropes of someone’s tent. This time it was my youngest sisters (she was belting the storm pegs into the ground). We carried on a normal conversation, the rain and wind whipping our hair about our faces. Now and then she would stop hammering and lift her head to check that the three small figures running in and out of the waves were not being washed out to sea. I had been here  a week before her and the weather had been glorious, but high winds and rain were promised for the weekend. Yet here she was unpacking bedding, unloading boxes of food,  crouching to fill a saucepan with water, placing it on all the small stove as the wind dipped the tent inwards, emptying a packet of pasta into the boiling water. The children could now be seen running back up across the sand. Their heads low as they struggled against the elements, their childish voices snatched away in the storm. Their trousers wet to their knees.

I looked at her bent head as she grated parmesan onto the cooked pasta.

‘Did you check the weather forecast before you set out? ‘ I asked her.

‘what?’ she looked up at me puzzled ‘No! why?’

I knew the answer

When we were children, before he set out on a day’s fishing, my dad would lift the phone and dial the number of met eireann. Listening intently to the recorded message he would frown crossly and slamming the receiver back into the cradle would announce ‘Nonsense, load of rubbish’ before storming towards the door with his waders looped over his arm, his fishing creel across his shoulder and his hardy rods in his other hand.

‘If you were to worry about the weather forecast in this country’ he would call back to us ‘you would never go anywhere’.

The End

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Keeping up with the Genes(es) .

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My local village is really just a crossroads and a not very successful one at that.

An ariel view shows it as an untidy spider with a long bendy body.

Hills and streams prevent the ‘cross’ being exact, so the road entering from the north has to travel around a bend before it meets its opposing one, which then travels down steeply until it crosses a river, rounds another bend before climbing up and out of the valley.

And maybe because the first road missed its chance, another road further along, tries its luck and arrives where the village pump stands, but now you would have to walk back the way to find the opposing road and as you do you will pass my favorite cafe.

When I moved to the area, the village boasted only one functioning pub, a second one, due to its location on the bend I just mentioned, stood a better chance of business, but had been closed long before I moved here.

One day, when I was cycling by, I noticed a builder’s van half parked on the narrow pavement half on the road, and some workmen were hauling bags of saws and electric drills out of the van and in through the doors of the old building. (You notice much more when cycling a bicycle).

The next time I passed, a man was up a ladder painting the exterior. The ladder was taking taking up the whole width of the pavement and a second man was standing at its base holding it steady.

I was wheeling my bicycle at the time and although they offered to move the ladder for me I refused. Instead, taking a deep breath, whilst pushing all thoughts of superstition aside, I passed underneath it.

This gave me the excuse to stop and make my enquiry.

Yes someone had bought the pub. Yes they expected it to be finished in a few weeks.

But that was all they could tell me.

I hopped on my bicycle and cycled speedily down the hill, across the bridge and up the other side to where my younger daughter lived.

‘I think the old pub is going to open again’ I said excitedly. (Not a lot happens in these parts you see.)

‘So I’ve heard’ my daughter replied. ‘But they say it’s going to be a cafe not a pub and I hope that’s true. It would be wonderful to have a place to sit and have a coffee between pickups’. (My grandchildren attend the school just down the road).

I began to pass OUR pub/cafe more frequently, keeping a sharp eye on it’s progress.

It was coming along nicely.

The exterior wall was now painted a soft grey and the window frames, a contrasting charcoal, were gentle and inviting and interesting.

I became more and more curious as to what it would be.

My daughter still betted on a cafe but I wasn’t convinced.

Becoming impatient again I took another spin up that way and saw that a vintage bicycle had been added as decoration.

Leaning nonchalantly against the grey wall, its basket was filled with flowers.

Surely this was a sign of its nearness to completion.

I didn’t have much longer to wait.

The day after the appearance of the old bicycle, a glorious aroma of fresh coffee, danish pastries and newly baked bread wafted down the hill , across the stream and up the valley.

My daughter had been half right, It WAS a cafe but also a bakery.

Our favorite place is the long table at the small deep window which looks out across the road at a pair of old black wrought iron gates secured by a heavy lock. This gateway leads to a deserted garden filled with a large overgrown orchard and the sad rusty remnants of a wheel barrow and lawnmower.

I know this because one of the joys of being out on a bicycle is that you can see the gaps in hedges and hidden pathways that you may not notice when driving a car and I have explored this area thoroughly.

But back to our cafe.

I was sitting recently having a coffee there with my daughters, listening to them chat about this and that, watching my grandsons concentrating on their cinnamon swirls when it hit me!

An incredible sense of contentment.

And then it dawned on me!

It had all worked out so well.

After many years of living away from each other in different counties, different countries even, we had ended up settling down within a few minutes of each other.

Now we could meet up at the drop of a hat and my four grandchildren were near at hand, so I could see them frequently.

I sat, not moving, letting this feeling of well -being settle over me.

~~~~~~~~

I always said that once my children had grown up and become independant, I would do the most wonderful things.

I had planned see the world from the saddle of my bicycle.

Or maybe I would travel across the steppes by horseback.

Spend time at a buddhist retreat high in nepal even or work as a nurse in some disaster zone.

It’s not that I didn’t do wonderful things with my children.

I did all the usual ones ! The storytelling. The drawing and painting. The making and doing.

But I remember it was baking they loved most.

As every surface in the kitchen turned white with small floury hand prints and the floury footprints patterned the floor so widely that even the dog couldn’t keep up with the licking and cleaning up of them, they went sort of into a baking trance. Being in ‘the flow’ is how it is termed these days.

Creating and recreating creature upon creature out of pieces of dough, which became greyer and more inedible with the overly enthusiastic handling they got, my children spent hours, heads bent in concentration, until just as I would be about throw the lot in the bin and making a fresh batch, the artists would decide they were satisfied enough to allow their work be laid out on a baking sheet and placed in the oven and had no problem afterwards consuming their well browned offerings  even interring them proudly into their lunch boxes for school the next day.

We also did our fair share of wild camping and exploring.

But I had planned on self time once they were independent.

What I hadn’t reckoned with though, was the darwinian bit of my brain or whatever it is that is that makes us want to ensure the continuation of our genes.

That deep instinct which you have no idea about until you have grandchildren.

One would imagine that by having two daughters and they having sons, that my brain would recognise how well secured my genes were and I would be free to pursue my dreams .

It is surely our new right that, as we no longer drop dead at forty five, worn out by childbearing (as was our role in the past) and with our longevity and good health due to an easier lifestyle, better food and medical assistance, we owe it to ourselves to head off selfishly and do what pleases us.

But I am unable to do that.

It’s not that I don’t trust my daughters and son in laws to keep my grandchildren safe.

It is something more primal.

or maybe it’s just very simple.

I want to spend time with my grandchildren.

Lots of time.

I try to explain it to friends who have no grandchildren and who admonish me for my loss of adventurous spirit, but I can’t.

And I am sure there are probably lots of grandmothers who say yahoo, kick up their heels and head off before the dust settles on the birth of their first grandchild.

I am at a loss to explain the strength of my grandmotherly instinct.

Maybe I have inherited too much of this gene thingy.

I’ll just have to go with it so.

And look at that, It’s eleven o’clock! I’m off down the hill, across the bridge and up the spidery road to meet them all for our sunday morning coffee at our favorite cafe on this sunny spring morning.

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(the magical secret garden of my local village)

 

 

 

Here’s how I see it. (On nearing Sixty)

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Nobody warned me that one day I would be sixty.

No one mentioned how quickly it would happen.

It always seemed so far away.

When I was young, Insurance companies waggled promises of large pension policies in front of me and I laughed and shook my head at the ridiculousness of thinking that I would ever reach retirement age.

My Friends thought differently and in hindsight more cleverly.

I remember them saying, as each year I took a few months leave from work to head off around Ireland or europe on my bicycle, that I was mad! They wouldn’t dream of breaking their service.

They were saving for houses and such. Objects they considered to be the important things of life.

‘Boring’ I laughed as I flew down the road, my hair blowing out behind in the wind, my bicycle packed with what I would need for the months ahead on the road.

‘Careless’ They exclaimed!

‘Irresponsible’ they cried when I paid no heed to them, though kindly because I was their friend.

‘Dull’ I retorted, but gently because they, in turn, were MY friends.

Was it my imagination or were there more words for how they described me than for how I described them?

I never found out for I was long gone, the wind at my back, my saucepans a rattle, sending them postcards from faraway places.

And when I got back they introduced me to the men they had met and married and showed me round their houses and

‘Doubly Boring’ I thought though I didn’t say it aloud and anyway it was the houses and the settling down I was referring to , not the Husband’s who were really nice.

But now the shoe is on the other foot or rather the wheel is on the other bicycle

Now I have no house (and no man either) Well at least not anymore.

‘Been there , done that’ is an expression from the seventies I believe.

Though I still cycle on my bicycle with my hair blowing out behind in the wind.

~~~~~

When a company sends out invitations to it’s clients for a seminar, the visuals are important.

Indeed it may need to employ another professional from a different kind of company to give advice with the layout of the invitation/brochure and on the order of presentation. And most certainly on the appearance and photographs of each presenter. (The cost of employing such a person is of course none of the business of the clients)

No one in their right mind will be interested in listening to a overweight frizzy haired untidily dressed woman with no makeup on, giving a talk on ‘Wellness and achieving a greater work/life balance’.

Therefore the photo of the presenter must match the talk.

And not only must the talkers look presentable. They must also smile in a friendly and encouraging fashion, if they are trying to sell us something, or look serious, if their job is to warn us of what will happen if we don’t buy what the company has on offer.

I am perusing such an invitation.

Book-like in size, there is enough reading matter in it to catch my attention for more than a few seconds.

The light blue and green colours are well thought out, not only are they fresh and pleasing to the eye but they also give one a feeling of the approach of spring, of hope, of optimism.

The heading is clear and the glossy paper itself of good quality.

It is an invitation that means business.

An invitation to a seminar by our pensions company, and It takes place in the local hotel just down the road from my place of work. (No excuse for awkwardness of distance)

I read that they are kindly giving us a free light lunch.

I note the word ‘light’ with concern (I presume that rules out a glass of wine) though I suppose having heavily food and wine filled middle aged nurses dozing on their seats is not the purpose of this talk.

These people wish to be listened to.

And just for safety, from their point of view, I note that the most important presentation is cleverly given first when I am wide awake.

Though it doesn’t mention it, I expect I may well be given a cup of coffee when I register to ensure this

Yes, a smiling young Lady will talk about ‘Options with your pension plans on retirement’ And when she gasps and looks at me in pretend horror on realising how small my pension will be due to, yes you have guessed correctly! All those cycling breaks of service in the past, she will swiftly swoop in with sympathy and an answer.

‘Don’t worry, All is not lost, You can buy Additional Voluntary Contributions …. from us’.

Has cynicism along with age crept upon me?

Perhaps. But why else would they invite me to this talk six years before I retire.

Maybe I am being unfair.

But there is more.

Next up is a kindly looking and clean shaven smiling man.

He will help me get organized on financial matters, advise me on prudent use of my retirement lump sum.

I will be getting a retirement lump sum? I perk up a bit at that good news.

Next another smiling but nearer to my age lady, who despite my cynicism, I really like the photo of!

She looks like someone I would choose to have as a friend. Someone who would fit in with my other arty/ bookey / philosophical minded friends. And she will tell me what I consider the most important piece of information, ‘How and when to apply for OAP’.

Once I know this, I can put the whole affaire out of my mind until nearer to my retirement date.

I look across at the next page.

Things now take a graver turn!

I know this because the photos of the next two presenters are not smiling.

A young serious looking Lad will advise us on eating healthily and nutritiously on, in my case, a much lower income.

He will advise me on weight loss techniques. I am presuming that this is because research has shown that lower income people are more prone to obesity.

Yes! everyone knows it is cheaper to fill yourself with slices of tesco’s brand white bread and jam than a plate of organic lettuce, grilled chicken, avocado and spelt bread from your local organic shop and bakery.

And although he is young he will know all about staying fit in retirement though I must wonder how he will have any concept of pains and aches caused by years of lifting heavy patients in the days before manual handling courses became compulsory.

And last but not least an even more serious looking man, wearing glasses to leave me in no doubt of his seriousness, will talk about self discipline. Self resilience. Building mental fitness and getting more energy (from one’s slices of white bread and jam maybe)

‘But I know all about self resilience’ I want to shout at the brochure as I consider the happenings and overcomings of the nearly sixty years of my life so far.

Of course I don’t, Instead my eye’s skim down to see what time the light lunch will be at.

Or more importantly what it contains.

Organic lettuce, grilled free range chicken, avocado and a slice of organic hand milled spelt bread?

More likely sliced pan sandwiches and a cup of tea.

Oh please take the above with a pinch of salt.

It is written with tongue in cheek.

Because of course I won’t go.

Instead I will invest in a day’s cycling to the beach, where I will walk as far as the bird sanctuary and watch the brent geese grazing peacefully and the swans dabbling their beaks among the watercress and collect some stones to bring home and later when I sit down with my glass of wine and my grilled chicken salad, I will paint them.

And as I leave my financial worries for another day, my friends will throw their eyes to heaven and say ‘ Careless, irresponsible!’ and they are probably quite right.

The End

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I don’t want to win the lotto but if I did..(Concerns of a dyscalculic)

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Dyscalculia is the mathematical equivalent and lesser known relative of Dyslexia.

And I am a prime example of a Dyscalculic.

Being no good with numbers (and that includes money) is only a small part of this trait.

Being confused by them, especially if they appear in sequence, is a larger and more significant part.

Lists of words are involved too.

It always made more sense to me to read a list from the bottom up rather than the top down and when I was younger I presumed everyone did the same.

At school when copying rows of sentences from the blackboard, I was lost the minute I looked back up to find the next line.

I would either repeat a row or miss one or two entirely.

Certainly the work I handed up to my teacher was not written in the order in which it was presented on the blackboard but I got away with it because of my beautiful handwriting. (My Dad, a man of visuals, who didn’t believe in the school system, taught all his children how to write in copperplate).

In more recent years I can forget about looking at the flight information boards.

They flummox me altogether.

I can stand forever under them searching in vain for my flight, my eyes leaping wildly from line to line but never in any systematic order.

Having a poor sense of direction also features in the Dyscalculic. You would imagine with all the bicycling I do that it would be a nuisance but luckily I enjoy getting lost and have found the most wonderful places in my hours of  lostness.

And finally there is the poor budgeting skills which anyone who knows me knows I am to be despaired over when it comes down to the nitty gritty of managing my finances.

So as you can see anything connected to numbers or lists or money makes me dizzy, confused and uncomfortable and therefore I have no wish to win the lotto .

‘Well Just don’t buy a lotto ticket so!’ You might say.

Ah! but It’s not that simple!

I have this recurring and very lifelike dream in which I sleepwalk down to my local shop and buy a lotto ticket.

So I need to plan what I would do if my dream became a reality and I DID win.

I don’t have to think too long

In fact I don’t have to think at all.

I know straight away what I would spend it on.

I would buy a cafe.

~~~~~~~~

The second year I cycled  the Wild Atlantic Way, all those years ago, a storm hit the west coast just as I reached clifden and I took shelter in kings pub on the corner.

Sipping my drink, probably a guinness for strength and nourishment, I got chatting to a group of people my age.

As we cosily compared notes about our adventures and places we had been, our chat turned to describing the dinners we had made on our journeys.

Silence fell on the group as I described what I had fished and foraged for and the resulting stir fries I had made on my wonderful wok.

I presumed everyone did more or less the same, but it appeared they all had been opening tins or packets to sustain themselves.

As I described in detail a recent dish of moules marniere I had made just two nights ago, on an open fire and from mussels I had gathered at low tide, they began to drool and before long one of the woman in the group made a suggestion.

In return for a  bed in the hostel upstairs I would cook for them some of the dishes I had described.

She ran the hostel and had the say.

Everyone agreed immediately and it sounded good to me.

My own plan of heading back out into the storm and finding a sheltered place to put up my tent had lost its appeal, plus I hadn’t seen anyone in the last few days and was ready for some company.

I was escorted by my new fans upstairs to the dormitory.

‘Choose a bed! any bed’ The owner urged.

I chose a top bunk beside the window, with a view down to Clifden harbour and climbing up I opened the window (I was used to sleeping in the fresh air) and nobody objected when a blast of sea air swirled around the room. (I suppose they didn’t  want to upset the new chef or she might turn on her tail and refuse to cook.)

The plan was put in place. I would write down on a sheet of paper what I was planning to cook the next night and leave it on the kitchen table. Anyone interested in joining the evening meal would write their names down and leave out the amount they could afford and what they felt the meal was worth to them.

How innocent we were then.

No one cheated or quibbled or expected accounts to be kept and all I wanted was to be covered financially for the food

Some days I made a small profit and I added this to the next day’s list of ingredients and bought something extra luxurious.

Once I managed to cook a few lobsters (the cooking of which was not worth all the tea in china).

Everyone who stayed at the hostel put down their names. New people arriving were told of the system and joined in with gusto.

It was a full table every night.

Dinner was served at about eight and after the first evening, when I made a vegetable stir fry served with rice, I became more adventurous and abandoned the simplicity of throwing everything together in my wok and started using the sparkling ovenware and the new oven in the hostels kitchen.

Now I could really come to grips with my ‘friends of the earth cook book’ which I had brought with me (Along with Richard Mabey’s ‘Food for free’).

‘Freshly picked off the rocks from the local beach mussels’ cooked with onion, garlic, white wine and cream’ I wrote on the white sheet. ‘Served with brown rice and foraged salad greens’. No one talked that evening till they had eaten their fill.

The dish I most enjoyed making though was my blue cheese spinach souffle.

A cheese sauce made with danish blue cheese instead of cheddar was allowed to cool.

To this I folded in stiffly whipped egg whites and chopped spinach and popped the resulting souffle in the oven. I served it with twice baked potatoes (Bake the potato, cut off the top. Scoop out the insides into a bowl. Reserve the potato skins. Mix the potato insides with the left over( from the souffle) egg yolks, salt pepper and butter and spoon the mixture back into the potato skins. Put back into a hot oven for another twenty minutes.)

The table in the kitchen was a long wooden one weathered from years of use (I think it had been rescued from a convent refectory) I set it correctly with cutlery and glasses and placed candles (yes stuck in Mateus rose bottles), and a bunch of daily freshly picked wild flowers on it .

I gained an admirer.

I was never quite sure if his admiration was for me or my cooking . But whichever it was he became my assistant.

His name was Stefan and he hailed from austria.

He was very handsome but more importantly was prepared to head into Galway whenever I asked him to do so.

The journey of 50 miles on a bus that went halfway around connemara was no small feat.

And with the reed basket from the front of my bike, the shopping list and the precious money tucked safely in his pocket, he went off in search of the more exotic ingredients that the tiny town of Clifden lacked (Green peppers for example were only just making their appearance in the bigger towns.) I was indebted to him.

And while he was away I headed down to the shore in my raincoat to pick mussels off the rocks and gather rock samphire or buy some fresh mackeral off one of the fishermen.

The days flew by and Stefan and I worked side by side each evening producing dishes that delighted our clients and as we worked, we planned our future.

We would set up a hostel that provided evening meals somewhere in connemara and in our naive dreams we decided that the only people we would admit were those who had walked, cycled, come on horseback or with a push, hitched.

We would call it ‘The Pedal-Pushers Rest’.

But one evening  about ten days into our food based relationship, while peeling the spuds, Stefan wept and informed me that he had to return to austria and do military service.  His tears mingled with the peelings.

At this stage however I was getting cabin fever and was anxious to be back on my bicycle. But our lips had been wetted. We had got taste of the culinary and that taste has lingered.

For me at least.

There was one sad letter from stefan waiting for me when I reached home after finishing my cycle.

He wrote how he hated his new life. How He quivered in fear each morning. How he was made for the kitchen, not the army.

I wrote back but never heard from him again.

I hope he survived his time and it didn’t kill his culinary aspirations.

So yes if I sleepwalked to the local shop and bought a Lotto ticket and won the Lotto, I would buy a cafe.

Though I won’t call it The Pedal Pushers Rest!

but maybe something simpler like  Stef an Stefan.

and you would all be welcome to come in and have as much tea or coffee and cake for free and sit and chat for as long as you wish or browse through the books that fill the shelves and the music will be eclectic and not too loud.

And I will have no intention of making a profit

Being Dyscalculic and all that.

THE END

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Paying bigger attention to smaller things (while wearing a bonnet with a bee in it )

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In 1979, when times went slower and things were simpler, I paid more attention to that slow simplicity and cycled the wild atlantic way.

It took me four months to do so but that didn’t matter.

I was in less of a rush in those far off times and didn’t spare a thought for the worries that cross my mind nowadays. Worries like savings and pensions. (Forty years on and I am about to pay the price for breaking my years of service).

As for the small bit of savings back then? well I continued to cycle until it ran out. This usually happened around five months and then I went back to work and started to save again until I had enough for the next time.

In 1980 I repeated my journey. This time it took me a bit longer to complete for no other reason than that I had acquired a small wooden trailer.

Hitched onto the back of my single speed black raleigh bicycle it was a clever contraption.

It had Hinges at its four corners and a metal lip at the bottom of each side panel which meant the floor could be lifted in and out allowing the trailer to fold. The floor could then be used as a table.

It was a wooden affair and heavy by today’s standards but I suspect we were of stronger body and mind back then (or maybe it was just because youth was on our side) and were blissfully unaware of the lighter and easier towable ones that would eventually come our way (along with lighter tents, mattresses that self inflated and clothes that folded down to the size of a euro coin) .

I filled my new requirement not only with my tent and sleeping bag but also with a small blow up bed.  Never before had I known such comfort while on the road.

The Cooking Wok had just made it’s appearance into Dublin’s hardware shops around that time so I added one of them to my trailer and it proved a godsend, acting not only for cooking up stir fries( mostly from bits and pieces foraged from the sea and roadside) but also as a basin for washing clothes and for steeping seaweed in to make seaweed showers. As an added bonus the rounded base allowed it to sit happily down into a fire without tilting and spilling out its precious contents.

Once at a festival I was waiting for a friend and knowing it could take a long time for him to find me (this was before mobile phones) I made a fire and started stir frying in my wok. A crowd gathered drawn by the smells of cumin and fenugreek( I think they mistook me for one of the Hari krishna gang who followed the festivals back then, cooking large amounts of brown rice and vegetarian meals for the festival goers in the hopes of a few converts). At last my friend found me but had to elbow his way through the disgruntled and hungry queue that was forming.

‘Easy! I just followed the smell of a good stir fry’ he replied when I commented on how quickly he had found me.

Needless to say with all this extra paraphernalia I was slowed down but that didn’t worry me as things have a way of evening themselves out and by bringing such luxuries I was encouraged to stay longer on the road.

My one regret is I did not have a camera.

But what I did have was a copybook which I used as a diary and sketchbook and a great memory. The diary along with my small felt purse containing my bank book and passport occupied the basket which hung from the front handle bars

This basket was handy for all sorts of things, including wildlife.

One day I spotted a small bird lying stunned in the ditch. (When cycling slowly you have time to spot such things). Though its eyes were closed I could feel its small heart beating and reluctant to leave it lying there for nature to take it’s course, I carefully made a bed with some toilet roll in my basket and laid it in it gently.

Whether it was the wind through the gaps in the weave or the shuddering caused by the potholed road or possibly the fright of being taken away from its territory, I had only gone a half a kilometer when it recovered and flew off.

I was saddened somewhat, romantically imagining having a pet bird as company on my journey.

Envisaging it perched on the handlebars of my bike, singing contentedly as I whistled accompaniments and sailing through small villages to the delight of the local children.

Ah well! I was happy too that it was of an independent by nature.

And it was just one of the many happy moments as I pedalled along.

Sometimes they were more of the human sort.

I would be hailed by a family turning hay in a field. The woman, looking anxiously at the sky would enquire if I would help get the hay in before the weather broke. I might stay a few days helping with other chores. footing turf on a bog, helping to get the cattle to the local market on foot.

If there was a handsome son I might be enticed to stay longer otherwise I would be on my way after a few days of being fed with spuds and cabbage.

I also met up with friends at the festivals that happened to be in my path.

Ballyshannon, Ballisodare, Lisdoonvarna. The fleadh in Ennis.

I had company when I wanted it and solitary times when they suited me.

Some days I covered many miles. Other days just a few.

It was a magic time and I remember it as clearly as though it was yesterday.

~~~~~

I have a bee in my bonnet and a vision in my head.

Imagine this!

The wild atlantic way is not the tarmacadamed car/bus/motorhome filled road it has recently become but a simple boreen walked or cycled by travellers.

Starting at the most northerly point of donegal and wending its way southwards to Cape Clear

A spiritual journey for pilgrims who wish to connect with nature. The pilgrim’s destination being Skellig michael or Saint Finbarr’s oratory in Gougane barra or the Gallarus oratory on the dingle peninsula.

And just as many travel beyond Santiago to Finisterre, those who wished could keep going to cape clear island itself.

A sort of Irish Caminho de la Compostela

With small cheap hostels to spend the night enroute and where the traveller could get a decent meal and a good glass or two of wine.

Where the laneways would be pollution free and the sounds of the wind and sea were not drowned out by the noise of traffic.

The wild atlantic way is big at the moment and is geared (pardon the pun) for cars rather than bicycles and walkers. Even its sign posts are designed to catch the eye of a driver and a fast one at that(as opposed to the simple shell of st james).

Its advertisement shows an ariel shot of a jeep complete with surfboards atop winding its way along a road towards a beach. On one side of the road the waves are crashing and on the other the mountains are dark and mysterious

All very romantic looking though I hope the jeep will fit under the height restriction barrier that delightfully furnish many of our beaches these days.

Yet to see it by bicycle or foot or horseback is a far better way in my opinion.

To be able to stop, pop off your bicycle and look at whatever view you choose, wherever you please as opposed to being imprisoned in a car where you have to hope you will find a pullin that is not already filled with other cars.

And if it is, then, by the time you do find an empty spot and everyone in the car has agreed by general consensus that it is a worthwhile place to stop, that the view will not have been passed and the driver won’t say ‘ ah sure we’ve missed it ! we might as well keep going so’.

When you travel it by bicycle or foot or horseback you can:

Stop whenever you want.

Breath in the fresh atlantic air.

Take heed of the scent of honeysuckle, wild dog rose and meadowsweet.

Catch sight of small flocks of chaffinches and stone chats cheekily keeping you company as you cycle past red flowered fuchsia hedges before they disappear noisily over the brow of a hill.

Spot a stoat wiggling fluidly between a gap of a moss covered stone wall,

Watch peregrines soar high over mountains.

Or gannets plunge kamikaze- like into the wild ocean.

Smell turf smoke from nearby houses.

See small dots of people footing turf on the bog.

Paddle hot feet into clear rivers.

Lean your bicycle against a cliff wall, look over and see a seals head far below breaking the surface.

Notice also the shadows of basking sharks in the deep waters off the dingle peninsula.

Watch a pod of dolphins as they chase a shoal of mackerel who in turn chase a shoal of herring fry.

Camp overnight on some small patch by some deserted beach which you have found by exploring some small unsignposted lane apparently leading to nowhere.

Watch the sun drop behind High island.

All these things (If you are not knocked down by a large vehicle enroute that is).

~~~~~~

I have no wish to cycle the wild Atlantic way again.

It has lost the appeal and magic it had forty years ago when I didn’t gather a mile tail back queue of cars waiting their chance to whizz past and nearly knock me  into the ditch and fill my lungs with exhaust fumes.

Instead I will focus on the hauling of my bicycle over bog ways and un-signposted way’s and down small grass-growing-in-the-center ways and if I want something civilized I will cycle the canal pathways and the greenways.

And I will leave the wild atlantic way to the SUV’s and the cars and the touring buses.

It’s the big difference between a bike and a car.

I admit a car will give you the bigger picture and faster too.

But I am more interested in paying attention to smaller things.

I will continue to refuse to be told by large white and blue signposts which way to go.

I will continue to go my own way complete with a bee in my bonnet.

And the lack of a decided destination and the discovery of small un-signposted boreens will continue to suit me and the yellow bike just fine.

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Part Three; Simple wealth (The four Yoku’s)

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1002( Where I learn to count my blessings, remind myself that one doesn’t need money to be happy, which may annoy a few people, and swear never to mention the stuff again )

Oscar Wilde said ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The morning Matilda Maracella awoke in the ‘turkey house’ and watched the swallows fly through the holes in the roof, she wept with despair.

Although the mattress she lay on was comfortable and the small table beside it held a lamp, a jug of water and a glass, she had never been in such a helpless position, had never been at such a low ebb.

But as She lay there, her head resting on her tear soaked pillow, small thoughts of an optimistic kind began to wheedle their way through her head.  And as her moments of delving into Buddhism came to mind, she remembered learning about impermanence.

Whatever IS will be WAS.

‘If I feel at my lowest now‘ she reasoned, ‘the only place I can go after this, is up! 

Holding onto that thought, she let her eyes stray over her surroundings.

The thick walls of the old building were of grey stone, seen here and there where the plaster was peeling off.

They swept solidly upwards towards a cathedral like ceiling and halfway up, the blackened indentation of a fireplace indicated where the second floor had been . The remainder of the joists were also visible in the wall.

The long windows had lost their glass and were boarded up with sheets of corrugated iron from the outside, but the wooden window frames were still in good condition . Her eyes followed the walls on up to the ceiling.

Here the swallows nests poked out between the exposed rafters.

Where the roof slates were missing, she could catch glimpses of early morning sky.

‘Things can’t be that bad if I have my sight’ she told herself comfortingly.

As another swallow skimmed over her head and was greeted by the frantic chirping of hungry young she realised no matter how despairing she was feeling, the rest of the world was going to keep on about it’s business.

By now she was tired of feeling sorry for herself. It was becoming boring and a waste of a lovely morning.

She thought she should store this memory so that when things DID improve, she could pull it out as reference to how far she had come since that morning.

She also thought that luckily so far, none of the swallows droppings had landed on her and whilst keeping this optimistic view she wiped her eyes, scrambled off the bed, folded the blanket neatly, hopped on her bike and cycled off down to the sea for a swim.

and as her legs spun the pedals and the road flashed under her wheels it occurred to her that she still had a lot of blessings to count. 

I have inherited my mother’s optimistic view of life. She never worried, always believing that change of feeling/ circumstance/ money would come from somewhere at the last moment.

My mother always said she would have liked to have been a quaker but I felt that she was more buddhist like in her thinking.

She didn’t feel the same about me! Once when we were discussing this and I mentioned I would like to be a buddhist she laughed and said ‘Maybe, but you have you considered how much you like to talk’.

Of course as with a lot of things my mother didn’t realise how open minded and forward sighted she was.

I have watched her face huge challenges where she would look thoughtful before answering.

-Hmmm let me see now…..

-Maybe if you….

-Have you considered…..

-Don’t panic! why don’t you….

and her best one of all

-Sure nothing stays the same, It’ll be different tomorrow…..

This didn’t mean she sat back and did nothing. Far from being passive, she would tackle any challenges she knew she could change for the better but she didn’t allow herself to worry about misfortunes that she recognised to be beyond her control.

And if she didn’t understand certain aspects of OUR worries she would read up about them.

‘Guess what I am reading at the moment’ Was how she often greeted me, waving a book about some far out belief, idea, concept in my face.

She greeted the news of my divorce with nothing short of delight.

‘Now’ she said happily ‘you can reinvent yourself’ ,

I think she meant find I could find myself again.

And so I did.

*****

I have lived a life no more extraordinary than the next person.

The night spent in the turkey house all those years ago was just a blip and I still look back on it with fondness.

It was my turning point.

The point in my life when it struck me that when I have money I am happy and when I have no money I am happy too.

I heard recently about a farmer who had won the lotto. It was a large lottery that week.

Millions in fact.

Can you imagine his face when he discovered he was a multimillionaire? Can you imagine what went through his mind as he ate his porridge that morning.

Did he shoot off and buy a mansion in the caribbean complete with yacht, helicopter and fast cars as many in his shoes would have?

No he did not!

First he responsibly paid off all his children’s mortgages and then he bought them all new cars.

And still he had a few millions left.

So he scratched his head and thought for a while before doing what every farmer does, he decided to buy more land.

Now his neighbour and and best friend, (they were from adjacent farms and had grown up together, helping each others dad’s bring in the hay and the turf, wrestling with each other on the heaped up hay in the barn , being rescued together out of bog holes when helping foot the turf) thought that HE would sell him some of his.

Not a lot mind. No point in losing the run of himself where money is concerned. He was a sensible man. Yes he would sell him the few acres along the river. They were prone to flooding anyway and not of great use.

And to make it worth his while he would ask for double the price.

His friend could well afford it, he reasoned, as he rubbed his hands together.

Fair is fair.

Now we can  both be rich.

So they came to an agreement on a price that actually ended up being three times the value of the land.

The acreage was transferred over and that was that you would have thought.

But the friend had morals and too late they got the better of him and began to niggle at him and he felt ashamed and could no longer look his friend in the eye.

He began to avoid him.

And the Lotto winning farmer knew he had been fooled and felt hurt that his friend was not honest. He was also saddened by his greed and the realization that his friend was not the man he thought he was.

Soon that hurt turned to resentment and he glared at his friend whenever he came upon him and refused to speak to him.

Of course now they could no longer meet for their evening pint in the local. A custom of theirs since they had lied about their age (and got away with it) at sixteen!  So they both began to avoid that pub for fear of bumping into each other.

The millionaire farmer began to go to one far beyond the valley.

And because he couldn’t afford to be stopped by the guards with so many pints on him (yes losing his friend had caused him to take to the drink more thoroughly and no amount of money could buy off losing your licence due to a drunk driving charge) his shiney new land rover stayed parked at the house whilst he battled the elements on his old black raleigh bike.

You might think one of his son’s would drop him over and back but they were too busy hosting dinner parties for their new posh friends (did I mention they all demanded larger houses)

Meanwhile the other regulars stopped going to the local pub too. The craic was gone from it they moaned.

Sure weren’t the two farmers the finest storytellers in the land and night after night they lifted the rafters with the laughter caused by their jokes and tales.

Without them there was nothing to talk about but the price of hoggets and the austerity measures of the country which made them all wander home depressed and shout at their wives who, in return, refused to bake them rough brown soda bread so they had to resort to white shop loaves instead which made them constipated.

So they began to take their custom to livelier quarters and indeed half of them followed farmer One to the pub far beyond the valley and the other half followed farmer Two to the pub on the other side of the mountain.

By this time the owner of the local pub, getting only a smathering of business went bankrupt and he cursed the millionaire farmer to the end of his days for causing his demise.

….then a year went by and the sons felt that they should upgrade their cars to the present year. oh and possibly bigger models! And his daughters in law complained about the size of the houses so mayb……..?

By now the millionaire farmer was becoming more bedraggled as he cycled the countryside, his coat smelling of damp, his beard long and tangled, looking for a pub that would serve him. (At this stage most proprietors took him for a penniless tramp and turned him away).

Oh and before I forget, the final straw was, that his wife left him.

Unable to bear the sad specimen of the man he had become, she took off with the pub owner from the local and her half of the money.

And if gossip is to be believed they have bought a beach shack in thailand and are running a very successful business serving mojitos and all sort’s of foreign sounding drinks that would be unpronounceable let alone heard of back home .

So indeed, not a happy ending for our millionaire.

Before he died Steve jobs admitted that despite being rich he wasn’t a happy man. He also realised too late that no amount of money could save his life.

So what do I do to keep myself happy when I have no money?

My Yoku’s of course!

I have four favorites.

Shinrin yoku is the japanese word for the art of forest bathing

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It doesn’t mean bathing in the true sense but really bathing the senses by going for walks deep into the forest to absorb the strength and calmness of the tree’s and to listen to the sounds of nature.

Kaze Yoku : Wind bathing. (This yoku I have sort of made up, though I’m sure it is already in existence).summer 2013 289

To practice it you need to find a rock overlooking the sea preferably along the west coast of Ireland. It works best if the wind is coming from the northwest and strong enough to cause white horses on the sea. Taking care not to wear too much clothing stand on your rock close your eyes breath deeply and let the wind pour over you.

Hadashi Yoku: barefoot bathing.DSCF5728

For this yoku I head west to the burren. Best practised on a sunny day. Remove your shoes and slowly at first, paying careful attention to the undulations of the smooth marble like limestone, wend your way across the sun warmed terraces, letting your feet soak up the energies of the stone and enjoy their freedom away from the confines of shoes.

Jitensha Yoku : bicycle bathing.

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This one is simple. Just get on your bicycle and pedal along in whatever fashion pleases you, where ever pleases you. Choose country roads, off the beaten track Boreens. Push through gates that lead down dubious looking paths even if they end up leading nowhere.

And do fly down the odd hill with the wind in your hair and the sun at your back while you are at it.

And when you practice these yoku’s you feel like the wealthiest and happiest person on the planet.

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Modern Poverty or involuntary simplicity Part Two (The other side of the coin)

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Part two: Involuntary simplicity.

(Where I decide If I can’t change my financial circumstance then I must change my attitude)

Picture this:

An apparently demented woman is seen tossing stones indiscriminately off the balcony of her third floor apartment onto the carpark below.

Before she throws each stone (according to the bystanders watching from a safe distance) she holds it up and chants ‘ Does this stone bring me joy?’

The stones (some bystanders have braved the deluge and managed to rush in between throwing spree’s to pick some up) are all smooth and uniform in size. some are hand painted with beautifully intricate designs. One stone barely misses the news reporter who has just arrived on the scene along with a TV crew.

Dodging it, but bravely refusing the bicycle helmet a passing cyclist is proffering him (he is overheard saying that bicycle helmets are useless) he turns breathlessly to face the camera and shouts into his microphone, trying hard to be heard over the noise of splintering glass as the stone hits the windscreen of a nearby parked car.

‘Here behind me’ He shouts ‘you can see the scene of utter devastation. The ‘stoned’ nurse responsible is reported to have ‘lost it’ after studying the japanese art of konmari.  We have been told, however, by a reliable source that her apartment is now tidy, organised and stone free, so, hopefully this will be the end to this scene of dreadful carnage’

‘ This is…Paddy Mullallemey reporting to you live from Greystones Co Wicklow’

He gives the thumbs up to the cameraman who pans his camera around the carpark and zooms in on the scattered stones and shattered windscreens.

‘Them cults are dangerous things’ a elderly bystander remarks to his grandson who has been clapping his hands in glee from the depths of his buggy at each sound of splintering glass.

Far away the approaching sounds of sirens can be heard and the crowd disperses, heading home for lunch.

It seems everyone has heard of ‘Konmari’ except me.

‘Oh it’s a distant cousin of feng shui’ a colleague said airily, when I mentioned it at work.

‘Well a distant neighbour, really seeing as feng shui is Chinese, whereas Konmari is Japanese’ said another.

As a matter of fact they are not related at all.

Feng shui, along with the celtic geomantic traditions (Newgrange being a prime example*), Vastu Shastra in India and Dai Ly in Vietnam, is about the orientation/positioning to the natural elements when planning and building and is very ancient.

Probably between 5,000 and 6,000 years of ancientness.

Whereas as far as I can tell Konmari is the japanese art of organising and tidying one’s home or office and as I cannot find the history of it anywhere (correct me if i’m wrong) is not very ancient at all.

But this post is about simplicity and already I am making it complicated.

It was while chatting to a friend the other day about living simply that I first heard the term. She mentioned she was going to start practising it as a means of making her life easier.

‘Kon what?’ I asked confused.

‘Oh it’s the japanese art of getting rid of things you don’t need, organising stuff, tidying. Seemingly you pick up each article and ask it if its sparks joy. If it doesn’t then you throw it out. It’s simple. Google it’ she instructed.

I did and it sounded great until I looked at the dozens upon dozens of stones I had collected from the beach

They were perched on every available surface and some on the floor.

I imagined how long it would take me to pick up each one in turn and ask it if it made me joyful or not. I suppose the answer would depend on whether or not I had managed to avoid stubbing my toe on them that day.

My mother, I have always maintained, was ahead of her time.

She practised konmari before it was even invented.

As children we were all encouraged to draw, paint, cut out, glue together and as there were eight of us and we were very prolific, we who could go through a lot of expensive paper at one sitting so, my mother used to save the cardboard cereal boxes cutting them into useable pieces for drawing on.

Some days while we were busy at our art she would decide she was going to tidy and organise the living room.

(We called it the living room as opposed to the sitting room because we did a lot of living there and it opened onto a dining area with a large table at which we worked).

This open plan meant she could keep an eye on us therefore ensuring we would not take each other’s eyes out with a scissors or sharp pencil and she could still tackle the tidying.

This usually meant going through all our works of art which were kept in a large pile, decide which ones to keep, make a neat pile of those and put them in a corner of the room and throw out the rest.

As the day passed all that really happened was the large pile moved from one corner to another as my mother obviously found joy in each piece and couldn’t bear to throw any away.

Was my mother an enthusiastic but failed Konmariest?.

But back to my conversation with my friend about simplicity.

She had become worried that my financial whinging (See part one) was making me depressed and was making every effort to lift me out of this depression.

‘Why don’t you write 20 goals to be achieved during 2016 that won’t cost you anything or at least very little and I’ll do the same. They must be simple! Then when we have our lists written we can compare notes’.

I felt 20 was a lot but she was so enthusiastic I rallied round and after a while got into the swing of it.

Over the days that followed, as my list grew longer, I realised there were a lot of things I no longer did that were simple and affordable.

My sister joined in.

Put down ‘go to an island’ She ordered. My sister can be bossy at times, ‘Everyone should spend some time on a small island at least once a year’.

So I added ‘ Visit small island’ after number 22 which was ‘Cycle the green way again in the spring, when the hawthorn blossoms are on the hills’

Later picking up some groceries in my local shop, I glanced at the cover of a magazine by the checkout (an item I definitely couldn’t afford) which showed the face of a handsome young man beside the face of a beautiful young woman.

‘I don’t want Cheryl’s money’ read the headline .

‘Do you realise?’ I said to the woman’s photo ‘I can’t even afford the magazine you are featured in let alone imagine what sort of money you have that would make your boyfriend deny wanting to have it in public’.

As I stood there (the queue was long) images of large mansions in the south of france, yachts on the med, rolls royces in the garage, a field of thoroughbreds, floated through my mind.

But for some reason I couldn’t blot out the vision of goal number 22.

Cycling from Achill to Westport along the greenway in late spring when the hawthorn was in bloom on a sunny day, the wind at my back, a picnic in my bicycle basket kept appearing in front of that french Chateau and the field of thoroughbreds kept turning into the small island boreen (goal number 23) which was lined on both sides with fuchsia and creamy meadowsweet, and along which I walked, my swimsuit and towel thrown over my arm on my way to the beach.

I realised the only things of wealth I needed were, my legs, my sight, my health and of course a robust bicycle.

At that moment I had to move aside from the magazine rack and make room for an elderly shuffling couple who were using their trolley as a walking aid.

They stood behind me.

‘Do we need rashers’ The woman asked her husband. They both leant on the trolley for support while they pondered over the trouble and effort of fetching such an item and I was just about to offer to go and get it for them when the husband replied ‘Ah let’s just keep it simple? let’s have scrambled eggs and toast for tea’

With that they both perked up and moved purposefully towards the check out.

And I stood back and let them skip the queue.

The end

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*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newgrange

 

Modern Poverty or involuntary simplicity (WARNING! This post contains strong language of a whinging nature)

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PART ONE

MODERN POVERTY (where I decide to get a car)

Last april I decided to get a car.

(Make no judgement all ye who cycle until you read below)

Three years of getting up at cockcrow, cycling to my local train station, cycling from the station to my place of work, working 13 hours, cycling back to the station, getting the train back to my local station, cycling from the station to my home, was taking its toll on me.

It was not so much the physical energy (there was that lovely fifty minutes of sitting in a warm train looking out the window)but the impact on my sleep.

I wasn’t getting my eight hours!

You see if I made the 20.40 train at the end of my shift then I would be home at 21.50, have a shower and be in bed by 22.10. Then I would have to get up at 5.30 the following morning. 

Sometimes I likened it to a quick turn around Ryanair flight. 

Or a sort of triathlon (Work,cycle,train)

And this was on a good day when all went to plan.

But sometimes the train wouldn’t run. (Snow on the track, leafs on the line, gurriers causing obstructions, rock falls between Greystones and Bray ) and a bus would be supplied instead.

I couldn’t take my bicycle on the bus so I would have to leave it at the station.

This had a knock on effect on the other side.

I would be late or at least just barely make it in the door of work but, worse still, I relied on my bicycle to get me to that 20.40 train at the end of my day.

If I had to walk I would miss my train and would have to wait for the next one at 21.10 and I would not get to bed till 22.40  and then have to be up at 5.30 again.

Not even seven hours sleep.

On top of this was the weather of which I will not go into detail. Suffice to say I live in Ireland.

My colleagues at work thought I was mad! 

‘Get a car’ They urge (and stop whining)

~~~

‘I am Poor’ I sometimes complain to whoever will listen.

I draw out the word pooooor and accompany it by a moue so I won’t be seen as a whinge.

And I am strangely amused by my poorness.

Or maybe bemused.

It shouldn’t be so.

I work full time.

A 39 hour week (thank you government for giving us back the 2.5 hours per week we fought so hard to lose)

The government is supposed to make things pleasant for its citizens or at least feasible. They seem to have forgotten this. I must remind them sometime.

But that’s a job for another day.

‘So what makes you think you are poor?’ I hear you ask.

well…..(If you didn’t ask, please skip the next four paragraphs, which I will run through as speedily as I can)

Deep breath

Firstly I am taxed mightily because my children are grown up and independent a positive and celebratory fact indeed for me and my children but no regard is given to the fact that I am still paying back loans for them I have to pay my rent (getting a mortgage is not an option at this stage of my life (see previous not so whiney posts) did you know that the word ‘Mortgage’ is old french meaning ‘Death pledge Which brings me to my health insurance

Pause for breath

even though one would imagine that giving the area I work in and of which I won’t mention here it might be given as a bonus as some other businesses which I also won’t mention do but no No health insurance is paid by my emploiters this is not a spelling mistake

Pause for breath

then there is my union fee in case things gear up and the rebellion takes off and we try and get back our lost hours or fight for more staff or better wages the usual things one fights for when on strike On top of that the bank looks for it’s cut (every three months) for what Oh yes to give me back some of my money when I ask for it by way of a machine

 

Pause for breath.

Then there’s the Gas electricity utility bills they call them come next My phone bill! Yes I talk a lot It all adds up and I am not left with much by the time these have all been paid Not enough to go away on a holiday or to afford a car.

Breath normally again

‘OMG’ another car-less full time employee friend of my years exclaimed when I told her of my plan.

‘A car!! thats a HUGE expense’

This rocked me slightly. I hadn’t owned a car for nearly three years.

Surely affording a car was normal for someone in full time employment?

So ignoring her, I got my car!

AND I’m running into difficulties already.

You see, so excited was I, sitting in this lovely smart machine out of the wind and rain, that I lost the run of myself, pressed the accelerator too enthusiastically and went very fast along the stillorgan dual carriageway.

A simple mistake, it being 6.30 on a saturday morning and no other traffic on the road to flash me or in someway alert me to the fact that this was not acceptable driving practice.

Some Days later a brown envelope drops onto my mat.

Being a modern woman of up to date technology I rarely get paper post so I rip it open eagerly

It’s a speeding fine. Eighty euro and three penalty points.

I am stunned and feel victimized.

How grossly unfair to target my type of employment.

‘If I had been in an ‘nine to five, monday to friday’ job, this would not have happened’ I moaned to myself.

‘I would not have been on the road so early or on a saturday when the road is so empty, instead I would have been inching along in a traffic jam unable to even reach the speed limit and therefore never have to worry about getting a speeding fine’ I grumbled loudly

‘If I had been in an nine to five monday to friday job the train and my bicycle would have suited me fine and I wouldn’t have needed to get a car in the first place.

And hey just a minute!

Whatever happened to the days when a siren went off and you saw the blue flashing light in your mirror and pulled over’

(after a bit of a chase of course.)

‘At least if you are going to get a speeding fine let there be some excitement involved’.

‘Those sneaky speed camera’s are no fun at all’.

I am sitting muttering these random ludicrous thoughts aloud, gazing out the window at the rain, brooding over my ill luck when ANOTHER brown envelope plops damply on my mat.

I shake the drops of rain water off and open it nervously.

The new water charge bill!!

~~~

I remember last january seeing a small well dressed woman standing at the junction of dawson street and Nassau street shyly holding forth a begging cup. A homemade sign hung around her neck saying please help.

After giving her whatever coins were in my purse, getting her a tea and scone from the local cafe, curiosity overcame me and I asked her why she had to beg on the street.

She giggled into her glove as she admitted  buying her grandchildren christmas presents and now she explained there were a few bills that needed paying which she couldn’t afford.

There are more of us than I imagined, in the same boat.

Part 2

INVOLUNTARY SIMPLICITY; THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN (where if I can’t change my circumstance then I can always change my attitude).

To be continued.

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Surviving or thriving. (An adequate resolution)

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The shoreline, wooded here and there with alder, hazel and yellow whins, curls its arms protectively around the bay. Those stoney arms, too short to meet in the middle, leave a gap, wide enough for the sea to come and go with comfort and when the tide is out the bay is filled with small islands of smooth humped sand.

Around these islands, sandbanks really, channels of seawater wind their way like medusa’s hair.

When the tide creeps in, which it does so coyly, the islands slip under water without any fuss, like slumbering whales, only to reappear with the next low tide. 

Beyond the gap the atlantic spreads out westwards.

I realize that the two small moving dots I have been watching out in the bay are not cormorants as I originally thought but more likely the heads of two seals swimming slowly in my direction.

Though as they get closer I realize that to be seals they would have to be giant ones.

I wish I had a pair of binoculars but I don’t so instead I sip my coffee and sit patiently (A new thing for me) by the window, waiting for the mystery to be revealed. 

~~~

It’s the first day of the New year,

There have been a few crisp sunny mornings after christmas when I have managed to get to the beach with my daughters dogs but mostly it has been wild and windy.

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Storm ‘frank’ has passed , bringing with it sheets of rain, flooding many areas but the seabirds at the back of my local beach don’t mind and the swans happily graze the abundant water cress .

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2015 finished yesterday with a splendid sunrise which I was lucky enough to be down on the beach to catch.

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But now as the rain pelts down once more, I feel I should a least make some sort of an effort to choose a new year’s resolution and maybe one that will suit being confined indoors due to the inclement weather.

I resolve to be to be more organised in 2016!

Hopefully then I will have more time for writing.

I start straight away (attempting what I have often tried to achieve on such a wet day but have never succeeded in completing).

I pull all the books off their shelves with the idea of putting some order on them.

As with previous suchlike endeavours, I hadn’t got very far when a book catches my eye and I sit back on the book strewn floor and start to turn the pages.

Way way back when I found the courage to leave my husband, a friend gave me a book called ‘Simple abundance’

Basically it suggested ways of being fulfilled using simple inexpensive means.

One example she suggested was picking a bunch of wild flowers and putting them on your table (presuming you had a table).

Another was to corner off a space in a room to give yourself a ‘Virginia woolf’s room of one’s own’  that is presuming you had a house or even still, a room, (at some point along my divorce journey I had neither)

I remembered reading through the book half heartedly and before focusing on one page

Every day, write a list of five things you are grateful for.

At that time I couldn’t think of much to be grateful for. I was concentrating on surviving.

Walking away from my large house by the lake with its woods and mountains hadn’t been an easy decision and the small cold and damp wooden house I found to rent was a far cry from the large stone well heated one of my marriage.

Divorce in Ireland at the time was seen as a huge shame filled failing.

If the man instigated it? it meant that there was something desperately wrong with the woman.

If it was the woman then it meant admitting she had made a mistake in her judgement by choosing the wrong person.

Though I felt like crawling away in shame and going into hiding, I had to continue to work,  so telling nobody at first, I tried to keep my dignity and privacy.

But living in the country leaves you open to much gossip and curiosity.

It was immediately noted that I was coming to work from a different direction and no longer on my bicycle, but instead, in an ancient battered toyota starlet.

I decided to get it over and done with so I told everyone.

Got it out into the open in one fell swoop.

In doing so I hoped that my circumstances would soon become old hat and the gossipers would move along to someone else.

Some people were genuinely sympathetic. Others, the begrudgers, pretended to be but I could see underneath they were delighted at what they saw as the downfall of another.

Though indeed it wasn’t long before they had moved on to their next victim (where is the fun of gossip when it’s out in the open) I still had to endure their pitying looks for another while.

I entered my first line in my gratefulness diary!

I am grateful that I found the courage to divorce my husband.

followed by

I am grateful that I have had the courage to tell everyone about my circumstance.

It was only two things out of five but it was enough to get started on.

Afterall I was still just about surviving.

~~~

The wooden house though cold and damp, was an oasis of peace. It was well off the road. Quite overgrown at the front which kept me hidden from the outside world, and from the back it looked straight out across a sheltered bay and beyond that the atlantic ocean stretched.

In fact it stood so close to the water that I could watch the seals swim by it’s windows.

Those seals brought a soothing rhythmic element to my day and the more I watched them the more I relaxed and felt my stress being washed away.

On my second day there, after I had lit fires to to get some warmth into the place, I sat in the small sun room with a coffee looking out to sea.

The two small dots on the horizon which I initially thought were two cormorants on a rock got larger and to my surprize I realized they were canoes.

I watched curiously as they made their way across the bay towards me.

Disappearing and reappearing, they navigated their way along the channels caused by sandbanks that appeared at low tide.

It was on those sand banks that my seals rested. The elders lay in that distinct pose with tails held high warming themselves in the sun while the young splashed backwards and forwards along the channels.

Every now and again an adult seal would slip gracefully off a bank and give chase.

The canoes were nearer now and making their way steadily to the small jetty below the house.

Curiously I waited until two smiling faces appeared at the sunroom door holding aloft a cake.

Two  friends who lived across the bay had seen the smoke from my chimney and had come to welcome me to my new abode.

That evening I added:

Good friends. Damp (but damned good) cake. Entertaining seals.

I had hit my five a day quota.

Sadly I eventually had to leave the seal house when it was put up for sale, But every morning from that day forward without fail and no matter what sort of a roof I had over my head I wrote my five things.

As the days became weeks, my list got longer.

I had no need anymore to suck the tip of my pen and stare into space.

I could easily find five, then six and seven, eight, nine, TEN things to be grateful for and I could have continued on.

I was no longer just surviving, I was thriving.

~~~

But look! The rain has stopped, the wind has eased.

I close the book and heap it along with all the rest, higgledy piggeldy back on the shelves.

It’s time to get outside, to walk the beach, to leave the past and concentrate on the present and my life ahead

And as I walk, the dogs running happily along the water’s edge,  it dawns on me, I don’t need to be more organized!

Continuing to thrive is adequate.

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On being the observer.

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If you think you have your life planned and are fully in control of it , think again. You can wake any day and find (as I did) that life has something else in mind. I am sure this Rock Samphire did not plan to be any particular shape. It just grew, but wind and nature formed and changed it into a heart. So let go your plans! Just live and see how life intends you to grow.

I am not lazy.

But I am not overly industrious either.

I prefer to get around on bicycle or on foot.

And I like to make things or paint things or write things.

(Though I’m not good at finishing them).

Leaving ‘stuff’ undone fills me with great happiness and gives me the feeling that I will live a long life with plenty of time to tie up loose ends.

On my time off from work, I don’t usually plan what to do, preferring to see what the day has to offer me, watching it unfurl.

It always gets filled to the brim.

On such days small nondescript things catch my eye.

The pattern left by the dregs of my cup of cappuccino as I sip it when chatting in some cafe with my daughters.

The shifting creams of the stones on the beach.

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The striation marks on a washed up log.

The layering of stone, water and sky, broken by the flight of four swans.

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The distorted black tree trunks in my local woods. The skeleton of the flower of the sea holly.

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The shoreline changed by the storm. The silhouette of a seed head.

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Water like the lace of a wedding dress. The turn in the river as it reaches the sea.

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I gather stones and pieces of wood here.

But mostly stones

Small oval grey ones.

And after planting a stone flower garden,

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I struggle off the beach, my pockets weighed down.

My home is filled with them.

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And when the humor takes me I draw white patterns on the smooth surfaces.

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But not all need my attention.

Some have zen like white markings of their own.

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When life becomes problematic, I hold these stones in my hand and watch with interest as my worries come and go.

I do nothing more.

Some would call this inertia

I call it curiosity.

I am the observer rather than the participant.

And anyway Life changes constantly.

When going through a bad patch I console myself that it won’t be forever.

Two things can happen, It can either get worse or get better.

But it definitely won’t stay the same.

Some people embrace changes.

Others struggle first before succumbing .

When I started to write this blog I thought I was at the beginning of such a change and I set out enthusiastically, writing weekly, maybe even oftener. Documenting.

My pieces were too long for some.

We live presently in an era of speed when there seems only time for short sharp posts, allowing the eyes to skim swiftly.

(One reader remarked how she loved my blog for its photo’s but never had the time to read it).

But the length of my posts were not a conscious doing.

I didn’t do a word count and say ‘Nine hundred words so now I’ll stop’.

The words flowed effortlessly and came to a conclusion by themselves, usually at one sitting.

If I was enjoying the writing of the post in an exceptional way, I might hold back, draw it out over a few days, relishing it like a chewy toffee.

But as I wrote post after post, I realised I was not at the beginning of a great change.

The catalyst in my instance had been my illness and now healed, I had come to the end of the great upheaval and with the help of the yellow bicycle have ridden the storm and arrived at a more stable place.

So what now?

I will observe its stability with interest

And wait and see.

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A GPS for my birthday? I don’t think so!

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It was my birthday recently and I was chatting to some same aged friends about heading towards sixty. We admitted to showing signs of weakening sight and the odd episode of memory loss. Then one of us (not me), mentioned how she had got a gps for her car. ‘It’s wonderful’ she exclaimed ‘No more worries about not being able to read a signpost or remembering which streets are one way’.

‘We’ll get you one for your birthday’! my friends laughed, seeing the look of horror on my face ‘You can put it on the handlebars of your bicycle’.

‘If one of us succumbs. the rest will surely follow…. even you’

They were teasing of course, knowing full well my thoughts on such an instrument and my passion for heading off exploring small unsigned roads with no idea where I am going to end up.

In my opinion

Signposts spoil spontaneity.

And even though I love Maps, they may also help lose the magic.

The magic that is ‘getting lost’.

The Loveliness of being fully aware of your surroundings as you pedal along looking left and right over ditches, along beaches, over small pot holed boíríns.

The importance of the journey rather than the destination.

If there were neither sign nor map we might stop a stranger to ask the way, strike up a conversation which could lead to a friendship or at least  brighten up or add somewhat to each other’s day.

Or better still come accidently upon an unexpected mystical place that no signpost could have directed you to.

It is how I have found many of the hidden gems that John Creedon, in his tv series ‘The wild atlantic way’, asked us to tell him about.

Needless to say I didn’t for two reasons: Firstly if I did they would no longer be hidden but secondly I wasn’t sure if I could find them again myself.

Which is what makes them magical.

I remember back to a time when most smaller roads had no sign posts and you took your chance as you meandered cautiously along them.

My dad, despite his multitude of Ordnance Survey maps, relied a lot on appearances when it came to road directions.

‘This doesn’t feel right’ He would mutter as we sat quietly, for once, in the back of our overloaded car trying to ‘feel’ whatever it was that would tell us if we were going in the right direction.

Or

‘The sun’ He would moan ‘should be on my left’ (or a mountain on my right or the sea in front/ behind).

Getting lost in the west of ireland was part of our summer holidays.

It just wouldn’t be the same if all went smoothly and we arrived at our destination too quickly and, as my father often took different roads to avoid tractors on hills through small villages, or markets or other festivities which could cause havoc trying to get through, it happened often.

My mother, with her astute sense of direction, didn’t get too involved.

She hummed and held her youngest on her lap and enjoyed the passing scenery.

From past experience, she knew that she wouldn’t be listened to. (When she had given her advice, my dad just snorted and went his own way, ending up at some farm gate where we couldn’t turn and had to unhitch the caravan (did I mention our trusty caravan) and maneuver the car around it. (I won’t go into that proceeding, a story in itself) as he had never learnt to reverse with any sort of trailer attached.

But she didn’t mind.

Her younger children were snoozing quietly in the back.

The scenery to her artist’s eye was beautiful.

The car was moving, giving her a changing vista of mountains and rivers and sea which she stored in her mind for future work and the baby, who had been fretful at the start of the journey, was sleeping. She was content to sit back in comfort and let the day evolve(my mom was ahead of her time in the the living in the moment techniques).

For my second eldest sister in the back it was a different story. She was the appointed navigator (we were all an appointed something or other)

Struggling to spread the map in a space filled with her siblings , she tried to keep her finger on a point as the car hit numerous potholes.

‘Next left’ she called and duly a side road came into view through a gap in the willow and alder filled ditch.

‘Nonsense! can’t be!’ My father proclaimed dismissively clinging to the now bouncing steering wheel and once again we were lost.

‘We’ll ask the next person we see’ But now he sounded doubtful. The air gone out of him.

After another half an hour during which the road got progressively worse, we spied an old man pushing a bike, a matted sheep dog following. He stopped and turned to see the cause of such a racket.

My dad came to a halt beside him and rolled down his window. They went into negotiations.

‘Lovely day’ My Dad shouted even though the man was no more than a foot away from him.

To ask him for directions directly would have confused him. The subject of our demise needed to be broached slowly, giving him time to place us.

‘t’is! Aye t’is a grand one indeed’ Was the reply as the old man took in the packed car and the equally ‘filled to the gills’ caravan.

My mother smiled across her husband at him and he tipped his cap at her.

His dog meanwhile sniffed the tyres and relieved himself against the front one, an action which caused my dad great annoyance, but my mother put a restraining hand on his knee, a gentle reminder of who needed who here the most.

My dad held his tongue, understanding he was in no position to complain.

Meanwhile the man, giving up up trying to place us and acknowledging to himself, that we were indeed strangers, continued cheerfully, ‘Rain promised tomorrow’.

We knew it wasn’t.

My dad always rang the long term weather forecast before heading out.

Not that the promise of a storm was going to stop him going anywhere and even though he always shouted ‘rubbish’ into the phone , which made us  wonder why he bothered ringing in the first place when he obviously wasn’t going to believe the report, he knew it was correct.

The weather would be fine but he understood where the old man was coming from! It wasn’t good to sound too sure of it as that could well bring the rain in. Just as it wasn’t wise to sound too proud of your field of spuds or your crop of barley in case you drew bad luck on them.

‘Is that so’ my dad answered respectfully.

‘Aye’ said the man.

They spoke some more about getting the hay in and if the turf was dry enough to bring off the bog yet (my dad, though a city man, had an avid interest in all things country)

At last my dad came to the point. ‘We are looking for the road to….

At that the man pushed his cap back on his head and scratched his forehead distractedly.

He looked up the road and back the way we had come. He frowned as though deep in thought.

He pondered and looked up to the sky.

We sat waiting impatiently in the car.

Then his brow cleared.

‘I know the place yer looking for, but you’ve gone too far. Ye should have taken a turn to the right a couple on mile back.

My sister nudged me, smirking into the map.

My dad caught my eye in the mirror and I knew better then to return her triumphant nudge.

‘But sure there’s a small laneway further on that would bring you there too, be the back roads’.

‘Thank You kindly’ my father was already releasing the brake.

But too late!

The old man carefully lays his bicycle in the ditch and ordering his dog to lie down beside it, comes back to the passenger door.

‘Sure tis easier to show ye’.

Seat belts were unheard of then or if they did exist my father forbid us to use them. ‘What if i’m turning on a pier and I reverse into the sea by accident’ he said rationally. ‘How would you get out of the car if you are tied in by a seatbelt?’

We knew the drill from old, it wouldn’t be the first time a turf smelling old man squeezed himself into the back of the car.

We shuffle over obediently.

It could have been worse!

We often had, on similar lost journeys, a manure smelling dog squashed in at our feet as well.

The End.

The end of an era.

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(Pedalling the yellow bicycle along potholed roads has taken its toll)

The yellow bicycle is upended in my sitting room in front of  the fire.

It lies in an undignified manner resting on its saddle and handlebars, wheels in midair. Rather like a large beetle who has fallen onto it’s back and cannot right itself.

Whenever I pass it, I spin it’s wheels compassionately.

Apparent only to my sharp eye, as they turn I watch a barely discernible wobble, the rear one more so than the front.

I know this bicycle so well.

You see a fair few spokes are broken, some even missing entirely.

All that cycling along bumpy roads and being hauled across mountains and bogs has taken it’s toll and I have sadly come to the conclusion that I must to buy it a new set of wheels.

I am emotionally attached to the old ones for they have carried me many miles over the years.

I also realize that without the yellow bike there is no blog! so, while I wait for the new wheels to arrive I have abandoned my writing and taken up reading instead and luckily someone has sent me an extremely interesting book

Atul Gawande’s book Being mortal is a curious book for a nurse to read. It dwells on the subject of dying and how these days we push the very thought of death to the side.

We must stay alive.

We must not contemplate death.

God forbid it is ever part of our conversation.

The book reminds us that in the past we lived nearer to death but in these times of good sanitation and nutrition we need reminding that we all must die at some point.

It suggests that even if being actively treated with chemotherapy or radiotherapy or surgery, It is no harm to have an alternative plan up one’s sleeve in case these modern treatments don’t work.

And to accept the fact that sometimes we are, with modern medicine, actually only prolonging the process of dying which is all very well until fear and pain become part of it.

We should be permitted to talk about what we fear most and very importantly, how we would like to die but there is this underlying sense of shame and even failure especially by the person who is dying so therefore no one is willing to bring up the subject.

When I initially started reading, my nursing hackles rose, for as nurses we are trained to boost and reassure our patients, to keep them going, to make them at better at all costs.

But the evening I finished the book I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Insanely, in my course of work I had almost felt a personal failure when my patient did not get better.

~~~

I passed the book on to my mother.

I should mention here that my mother is an avid reader on a wide range of subjects.

The fact that she read Ivan Illich’s ‘Deschooling society’ while rocking my youngest sister, then a baby,asleep well into the night, should give you some indication of just how wide.

My mother is also a practical woman who realizes and fully accepts that having ever increasing heart failure she is on the downward slide towards inevitable death.

But she has still aways to go as long as she is not run over by a bus or falls over a cliff.

She is delighted with the book and was alreading reading steadily and turning the pages with glee , nodding her head in obvious agreement when I left her, barely raising her head when I said goodbye.

I am glad the book pleases her though whether my siblings will see it in the same light is another matter.

Encouraging my mother to embrace death may not be a good idea in their thinking.

I now wait for the onslaught for my action.

We are a large family of eight children and, though for the most part we get on well, when it comes to my mother we are very territorial.

Let’s say we are divided into two halves.

The town half, who live beside my mother and the country half, who live, well….in the country.

And this is where the problem occurs.

The two halves are very judgemental of each other.

The town half think the country half don’t do enough for my mother and the country half feel the town half are ineffectual with her care

My mother is partly to blame here. She is not only stoic, but stubborn too and will often put her foot down and refuse help of any sort.

She clutches her wad of medications as close to her chest as she does her ailments and none of us have any idea when she develops a rash or abrasion or if she even takes her tablets. She is also too strong still for even my oldest and manliest brother to wrestle them physically from her.

When a recent row broke out between the townies and the country ones over the absence of a promised public health nurse to dress a tiny ulcer on her leg, she stayed silent and watched until things began to get vicious before stating, that the hospital had actually rung with an appointment for her to get her leg looked at by the diabetic team.

We all stopped out of breath and in a sweat to stare at her.

‘But why didn’t you tell me’ one of the townie sisters asked her crossly.

‘Ah there was no one around to bring me in’ my mother answered defiantly.

‘That’s not true’ my sister retorted ‘I was here all morning.

‘Well I didn’t see anyone’ my mother said petulantly.

‘Why didn’t you just ring me’ My sister was so exasperated that I thought she would explode

Instead she turned to us ‘See! that’s exactly what I mean! you just can’t win’.

‘No One’s blaming you’ my counrty sister replied disdainfully.

And we were off again, our voices pitted against each other’s.

‘Oh stop it the lot of you’ my mother’s voice sounded hail and hearty above the bedlam.

And we did as she bid.

You see, to be fair, my mother just wants to be left to disintegrate in peace.

And that’s the reason why she won’t let any of us ring the doctor or she won’t keep appointments in the hospital.

She is not depressed and while she slowly disintegrates, she lives a happy and pain free life (thanks to a morphine patch which she does or doesn’t remember to change as the humor takes her).

She points out with pride how her friends, who minded themselves more carefully, are all dead but in the next breath says, that she is happy to die when her time comes and then she reminds us how hard it is to die even if you want to.

~~~

But back to my siblings.

Besides being halved by orientation, I have also taken it upon myself to score us in terms of practicality.

My eldest sister, who lives in denmark, gets a two out of ten.

(The two is for her phone calls and letters to my mother)

She is a daydreamer and lives too far away to be of any use.

Plus she joined a convent a few years ago and they confiscated all her worldly possessions, so when she decided she had enough and left, they kept her stuff and now she is quite poor and can’t afford to fly home too often.

Interestingly when she joined the convent she thought that, being an artist, she would be allowed paint icons and holy pictures for them.

Instead she was sent to work in the kitchens peeling vegetables.

A lesson in humility was the explanation when she queried it.

My mother does have one photo of her whilst there.

The slightly blurred image shows her wearing a brown habit and a veil, which is perched sideways on her head. She is pushing a wheelbarrow in which another novice similarly attired is sitting.

They are both laughing at the camera and look happy and carefree in a ‘sound of music’ sort of way but maybe that’s because they were hatching their plan to escape or maybe their smiles were just for the photographer.

And who would blame her for wanting to leave! It was a luxury denied life because apparently when my mother sent her over some foot cream for her cracked heels (they wore leather sandals summer and winter) it was confiscated.

Anyway she is happy now to be free, even if poor and unavailable to take a turn in looking after my mother.

Next on the list is my sister from sligo who gets a ten.

She gets a ten because she is the queen of practicality, renovating a workhouse and turning it into a beautiful home almost single handed, there is nothing she cannot do.

Being the nurse in the family, I follow close behind with a modest eight (as I am doing the scoring I can’t very well give myself a nine, though I would like to).

My youngest sister deserves an nine too but is extremely busy running around after her  young son and twins and cannot be counted on.

My second youngest sister would also gets a nine but lives too far away.

For my long suffering sister who does the most for my mom( lives beside her and gets the least thanks) I will score a five (remember the scores are on practicality) I gave her this score because when we talked about helping my Mom have a shower, she said she would have no problem getting into her bathing suit and going into the cubicle with her.

This image did not sit quite right with me.

I burst out laughing, envisaging her wearing a snorkel, goggles and even flippers whilst my mother shivered nakedly but stopped quickly when I saw my sisters vexed face. (She saw nothing wrong with her suggestion)

‘It is easy to shower another being when you are fully clothed (I as a nurse know this)’I pointed out ‘But also it seems a bit unfair that the older person would be naked whilst the younger be more modestly attired and I can’t imagine our mother partaking in such an undignified setting.

To give her her due she saw my point and even smiled and then started to laugh in a way we once did when we were young.

Roaring with mirth about absolutely nothing, my father would get annoyed at our silliness and demand to know what was so funny.

‘nn nothing’ we would stammer, gasping and clutching our sides and rolling about and the crosser he got the more we would laugh helplessly until at last he would snort and march out of the room banging the door behind him.

~~~

On the day I brought my mother the book, I had also bustled in with nurse like efficiency to change the dressing on her leg.

She then, to my surprise, let me wash her long hair over a basin.

My sister stood with mouth agape in admiration.

Today I was the golden girl until I finished toweling her head dry.

‘Ach!  I think i’ll cut it off’ my mother said impatiently as I began to tease out her wet hair.

I was shocked.

My mother’s hair, initially a glossy black and now a soft grey, wrapped around her head in two neat plaits, had framed her face since time immemorial.

To cut it off was surely a sign of nearing the end.

‘It’s actually more manageable for you this way’

I plaited it deftly before she could reach for her scissors.

‘Sure you could do it in your sleep at this stage’  my brisk words were tinged  with sadness.

Surely my feisty mother was not giving up just yet.

One week later I haven’t heard any feedback from my mother on her thoughts about how and when she would like to die or from my siblings annoyance at me bringing up the subject.

Just as the wheels I have ordered have still to make their appearance.

The end

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Running around on bikes.

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Last week I was chatting to a friend who had just come back from a visit to Groningen (A university town in the north of Holland).

When I asked him what he thought of it he replied. ‘It’s a dangerous town!’

‘Dangerous?’ I was taken aback ‘Are we talking about the same place?’

‘Well’ He explained ‘If you happened to accidently look in the wrong direction before stepping onto the street you are likely to be killed by a bicycle! EVERYONE is running around on them.’

‘I mean of course CYCLING around on them.’ He Laughed, correcting himself.

But his description made sense.

When I think about it, running around on bikes is exactly what I do.

When I’m not flying about that is. Or even scooting about!

Now Einstein once said ‘Logic will get you from A to B but imagination will get you everywhere’. He didn’t mean it literally but I will take it so because I never seem to cycle straight from A to B.

I may intend to head directly home but am often drawn to interesting side roads especially those where I can’t see what’s around the corner.

So there you go!

Imagination gets me everywhere when I’m running around on my bicycle!

AND when I do run, fly or scoot to the shops, don’t expect me back for some time.

~~~~~~

summer 2013 057

For many years my extended family (brothers, sisters, in laws, children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren) go on an annual camping trip to connemara.

It’s a Tradition. A sort of gathering of the clans.

I call it the trip to our summer hunting grounds. A wild and barren place without a tree or bush for shelter.

The grass, short and undulating, forms hollows here and there and it is in these hollows we peg down our tents hoping to gain refuge from the prevailing north westerlies.

It is also these Hollows we squabble over, as some are more favored than others.

Those having easier access to the strand are in high demand for family members with young children. Those more off the beaten track are the ones looked for by the quieter members . Some nearer to the spring well are for the laziest of us.

But all have views of the sea.

Over the years they have gained names. Big hollow. Shallow hollow. River hollow. Stephs hollow. Mels hollow. First beach hollow. Far beach hollow.

It is sort of a first come first served basis and there maybe a day or two of frigid coolness towards the one who took the hollow you were planning to inhabit only they got there before you.

But after a while we settle down and return to our normal family friendliness, joining each other for early swims and visiting each others hollows for coffees and chats.

If you join us be prepared ! There is a large lack of privacy and not much time for solitude, even though our place of camping is remote.

We often eat our evening meal enmass. Each camp bringing their contribution.

It is not uncommon to see children still in swimwear running barefoot across the grass carrying a plate, cup and fork, followed by an adult with a steaming pot to the hollow of choice (one potted meals are always a good idea as it’s up to every child to take its used plate to the river and wash it it leaving one pot for you to do)

On the day in question (The Einstein day) it was my brother’s turn to host the occasion.

As, for once, it was a relatively calm day, He decided a barbeque would be a good idea.

So in the early afternoon I ran (cycled) into clifden to the butcher to get our contribution.

My shopping completed with plenty of time to spare, I branched off at Ballinaboy bridge and taking the first turn right I cycled down a boreen which had aroused my curiosity before but I had yet to explore.

‘Just see where it brings me’ my imaginative brain instructed. ‘It may well join up with the main road further along’.

‘If not’ replied my logical brain ‘Sure I can always turn back’

I cycled along the gravel swerving now and then to avoid the potholes. A line of grass appeared, thin at first but getting wider the further I went, until there was more grass than gravel.

‘Beware of a road with grass is growing in the middle’ I remembered my father’s wise words ‘unless of course you are going fishing or for a picnic or a day’s painting plein air’

The hazel and alder hedges on either side thickened and became alive with birdlife.

Tiny stonechats and finches chastising me.

The road must have twisted slowly and, unknowingly to me, southeastwards because suddenly the sun, which had been warming my left shoulder, was now doing the same to my back.

Around the next corner a lake appeared and the road came to an end in a swirl of uneven gravel at its rocky shore.

I stopped to admire the stillness of the water.

But still I wasn’t turning

A small track led to the right of the lake. Made by sheep or man, I didn’t care.

Without thinking I pushed my bike along it.

At one stage I nearly lost a sandal, at another I had to lift my bike across a drain.

My logical brain told me I was mad, the track was obviously going nowhere and I should give up and turn back!

My imaginative brain told me this was exciting and to keep going.

Without thought for the steaks in my panniers which were probably by now cooking in their own juices, I listened to the latter.

The track, hidden in places by overgrown heather, twisted uphill.

It was heavy going and there was no opportunity to cycle. In fact the track was so narrow it was impossible for the yellow bicycle and I to fit side by side so I had to walk in the heather in order to push it along.

I paused  for breath and turning watched a heron fly across the lake far below and land awkwardly on a small island.

With renewed determination I continued to push the bike upwards.

Suddenly I was at the top of the hill.

Here the heather gave way to sheep cropped grass and what looked like the remains of an old fort on the top . I could see why a fort would have been built here for sitting resting on one of its stones, the sea stretch out in front of me and away across, High island, inishturk and to the north west what looked like clare island lay calmly in the blue water.

A fine lookout post this old stone circle was.

But no time to linger. I followed the easier path down to the other side and there ahead I could see the alcock and brown memorial white and shining in the now dipping sun.

A small track led me past it and I was back on a gravel road again this time without grass or hedging. Instead ricks of turf lined the one side of the boreen and small ponds filled with waterlilies reflected in the bracken water lined the other. The track opened out onto the main road.

Ahead was my turn to the summer hunting grounds. I was nearly home.

As I came across the beach I could make out a row of anxious faces looking at me from the brow of the hill in the evening sun.

‘ Mom what delayed you? You’re just in time!

‘Granny where WERE YOU? we’re STARVING ‘ Three small boys looked at me hungrily.

‘I have been on a magical journey’ I told them. ‘I’ll tell you about it at the fire’.

We joined the rest of family members and looking like a tribe of ancient celts with our blankets (for sitting on) slung around our shoulders and our bags of food we hurried hungrily across the grass and over the hill in the direction of my brothers sheltered hollow.

I took a discreet sniff of my bag of steaks before handing them over where they were placed alongside a plethora of different meats on the large grill.

My daughters produced a saucepan of freshly picked mussels cleaned and ready for cooking.

‘Just in case you didn’t return with the shopping ‘ They explained ‘We didn’t want to arrive empty handed’.

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(Pausing for breath and looking back I saw a large heron landing awkwardly on a small Island in the middle of the lake)

 

A barge, A yurt and whatever you are having yourself.

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may day 024

A friend of mine lives in a small cul de sac of pretty red bricked houses at the end of which is a well mowed green area watched over by an ancient larch tree.

It is a rather grand part of town. The houses are well maintained with manicured gardens and wisteria trailing artfully around the doors.

Recently she told me of how an old man had arrived and standing under the tree eased his bag off his shoulders.

He then proceeded to unpack some rolled up cardboard and spread it onto the ground. On top of the cardboard he carefully placed a large piece of tin foil and finally a sleeping bag which had no zip.

Watched with curiosity and maybe slight alarm from behind the french lace curtains of the various windows, he eased off his shoes and then his socks which he hung carefully over the lower branches of the great tree.

No one approached him and he whistled a merry tune as he went about his business.

Daylight faded and so did the interest of the residents of the cul de sac, plus they were the polite type who didn’t like to cause a scene.

All the same, they double checked their locks that night.

The man, I shall call him a tramp not because he had a long beard and his coat looked as though it needed a good wash but because the word ‘tramp’ to me means someone who spends his life walking, an admirable trait, had a small dog with him. A terrier of sorts.

And the last thing he did before he lay down for the night on his makeshift bed was to tie the dog’s leash around his ankle. The dog then curled up happily at the foot of his master.

The idea of this last manoeuvre was presumably if approached at night the dog would jump up barking and in doing so alert the man.

The night passed peacefully and in the morning the tramp was, once again, watched with interest as he placed another piece of tinfoil on the ground . This, my friend told me, he filled with twigs and a few cones from the tree, which he then lit and when he had a nice hot fire going, he placed a battered old pan on it and proceeded to fry up a load of rashers and sausages.

Thats where he made his mistake!

That’s when he passed the unspoken acceptance barrier.

A makeshift bed on the ground is one thing, but a fire means a home and a sign of settling in and the good people of the well to do area, though prepared to turn a blind eye to an overnight stay, could not tolerate anything that looked more permanent!

By the time he had finished his fry (half of which he shared with his dog) the guards had arrived. and he was ‘moved along’.

‘Do you know who reported him?’ I asked my friend.

She shrugged ‘Probably one of the men. I’d say it’s a long time since a fried rasher was allowed in any of houses round here, their wives watch their cholesterol like  hawks. they were probably jealous!’

I thought a lot about the tramp and which was the most undignified thing for him. Sleeping in the open, or the indignity of being hustled along by the guards?.

I’d imagine the latter.

The next time I was invited for coffee, I stood for a while under the tree and wondered what would happen if I, a normally dressed person, slept under it for the night and made my coffee on a small fire in the morning. Would  the guards be called or would I be left in peace?

‘Don’t you dare’ my friend laughed over coffee when she saw the gleam in my eye.

There are many places I would love to live in before I die, and though under a tree is not one of them, there are a few near enough (once when coming through a park I noticed a very cosy clump of laurels that had a dry circle of earth in the center underneath the canopy of glossy leaves and the thought struck me momentarily that if I got locked in the park by mistake I’d have a good place to sleep for the night).

To those of you interested , here is my list of appealing abodes: A yurt, a barge, a tree house(though i’m getting a bit too old for scaling a rope ladder) a vintage caravan.

I often wonder if their is a bit of traveller* in my blood, but, coming from norman stock, that is highly unlikely.

We were trampers of sorts. With our sturdy legs we traipsed uncomplaining across England, stopping for a while near oxfordshire before arriving and settling in royal meath and becoming ‘more irish than the irish themselves’

Though….

When my second youngest sister was getting married, the reception was held in an country house hotel in connemara.

Right on the sea.

The hotel and church was far from Dublin, and we, being Peppards, saw the opportunity of making a weekend of it and mass booked the rooms.

As we queued at the reception to register and get our keys, a conversation was overheard between my mother and the receptionist;

My Mother (gazing round at the foyer) ‘ oh such a lovely place you have here’

The receptionist leaning over her desk confidently ‘it is indeed! but a bit shabby, needs a bit of refurbishment’

My mother( regarding the comfy old couches surrounding a fire) ‘Oh no I wouldn’t touch it. It’s gorgeous as it is’.

Then equally confidingly she leans forward and says ‘we’re used to the caravan you know’

The receptionists eyebrows shot up under her fringe! ‘Goodness is this a travellers wedding?’ she asked

My mother needless to say was horrified…….

I better add here that my parents loved to head away in their little caravan to connemara where my father would fish and paint watercolours of the various lakes and rivers they camped at, and my Mother would knit and read to her heart’s content.

A sort of traveller’s life I suppose you could call it.

the end

*Traveller; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Travellers

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I am an emotional Empath (And a damn good one at that!)

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‘You may be good at your job but is your job good for you?’

Most people head off for a long walk when they have a concern to mull over, I head off on the yellow bicycle.

And I had pedalled many miles mulling over the above question (put to me by my wise daughter) before I reached a conclusion.

As a nurse my work involves ill people and I love taking care of them, helping to heal them, mend them.

But after each long day with them I am so emotionally drained that I can’t sleep.

I lie awake, well into the night, thinking about who I had cared for on that shift. Feeling their fear and fright and pain.

When I am eventually due my days off, usually after two or three twelve hour shifts, if anyone asks me to meet for coffee, I feel it’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Couldn’t my family and friends see that I was emotionally spent? That I  needed to withdraw from all human contact and build up my emotionally energy for the next round?

Why were they bothering me with such mundane things as coffee and chats? Could they not see I had bigger fish to fry?

‘But you hardly go anywhere anymore on your days off and you are getting worse about it’ My younger daughter proclaimed.

‘Yes I do and no I’m not’ I answered defensively.

When I thought about it, I saw that she was right and worse still what I did in my head and what I did in reality were very different. ‘Oh yes I would love to meet up’ I promised my friends.

‘Where, when?’ I would ask them enthusiastically and then pull out at the last minute using some pathetic excuse.

‘I’m just not good at going out anymore’ I told a close friend sadly ‘Maybe it’s an age thing’

‘Nobody will bother coming to your night out when you are leaving’ Someone once said to me crossly as once more I made my excuses for avoiding the christmas party.

I didn’t care.

In fact I would suit me just fine.

And so little by little I curled up inside and on the outside spent more and more of my free time alone, cycling, walking by the sea, exploring remote places.

Then, after a day or two or three on my own, I would return to my ward revived and ready to listen, reassure, maybe advise and put myself in their shoes again.

The answer hit me like a ton of bricks!  (I had just come around a corner and had to duck to avoid a large branch of green and glossy leaves which were growing out across the laneway, nearly sweeping me off the yellow bicycle) As I stopped to remove leaves from my hair I realised what I was doing wrong.

I was putting myself in their shoes! Too much so.

I was literally becoming them. In my empathy I was feeling what they were feeling. fearing what they were fearing.

And I had developed no barriers by which to protect myself.

Along with my almost non existent social life, I was becoming sleep deprived and was overeating to try and keep my emotional energy levels up.

I don’t agree that labelling someone is the answer to anything. (we all have disorders of some kind to a certain extent) but I realised I needed some sort of a label to understand why I had such a high degree of empathy that I was literally allowing myself to become the person I was caring for and what I could do to protect myself.

I googled ‘Empath’ and there I was on Judith Orloff’s piece. ‘ http://www.drjudithorloff.com/Free-Articles/emotional-empath-EF.htm

I researched further.

I read the lists slowly, ticking ‘yes’ to nearly every trait.

And things began to make sense.

A colleague at work once mentioned that I thought too deeply about things, that I over analysed and was overly sensitive.

And I thought I made the decision not to own a TV because it would distract me from my art work and my writing! Now I realised it was also because I found violent, cruel or tragic scenes on the news too unbearable to watch and If I did I would put myself in the shoes of the violated to such a degree that I would vividly imagine it was myself or my family involved.

I noticed that loud noise upset me. I couldn’t talk to someone if the radio was on for example.

Strong smells especially chemical perfumes make me feel ill.

I found it hard to remain in crowds for long periods

I would always bring my own transport to a night out so that I could leave early if I began to feel uncomfortable.

I was highly attuned to how others were feeling, any confrontation between friends or family no matter how subtle made me uncomfortable and I would do anything to keep the peace.

Sometimes I felt I had a ‘tell me all about your woes’ sign written on my forehead as I was often approached by strangers who did just that.

And the worst thing of all I would get a feeling of dread and then I would hear about a major catastrophe.

In fairness to myself I had recognised some of these traits before and had made a half hearted attempt to move away from the kind of nursing that was draining me, but as time went by and there was no sign of any posting in any new area, I settled back into my old routine. Listening, feeling the emotions of others, reassuring, and of course putting my large feet in my patients sometimes dainty slippers.

(Then spending my days off nursing my own emotional exhaustion)

I find in life if you are patient, things usually fall into place when you least expect them.

One day a place became available on a simpler floor.

A floor where the patients were ‘well’ for the most part and came in for simple procedures like hernia repairs (instead of having half their lung removed or half their bowel excised) and went home the same day.

I was advised by my manager to go away for a day or two and think about taking up the new placement.

Instead I stood in front of her, shut my eyes for two seconds, then opened them again. ‘I have thought long and hard and I will take it’.

It was only when I headed off on the yellow bicycle that I took fright over the speediness of my decision.

But I knew if I had done as my manager bid, I may have over analyzed, felt guilty for letting down those sick people, lost courage and stayed where I was.

A farewell dinner was held for me.

To my surprise (and not as the cross person had predicted) many people turned up for it.

I was very touched.

At the end my manager presented me with some lovely gifts and made a speech.

Emotions ran high as, one by one, I hugged them all.

‘You’ll cry now’ One friend said, wiping her own eyes.

But I couldn’t rustle up a single tear

Did I not mention it?

When it comes to themselves, Empaths have little empathy.

THE END

I may have come across here as some kind of mad woman or someone who is trying to appear special. I’m not! In fact I am quite ordinary but am very relieved to find it so, as some of my traits worried me and infringed on my life. Now t