A slow end to summer.

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There is a pigeon sitting on her nest in the cypress ignoring the fact it’s autumn.

I check her everyday and leave a bowl of fresh water within sight.

You see, I am filled with guilt.

Her late nesting may be my fault.

A few weeks earlier her chick had fledged and miscalculating its aim, landed on the wrong side of the fence and into my daughters garden. A garden so well enclosed (to keep Blathín, my daughters little hound in) that it was unable to get to the safety of the large grassy blackberry filled field it had been hoping for.

Baby pigeons are unable to fly for their first few days and so they hide among grasses and thickets camouflaging themselves until they are.

This little creature hid among the raspberry canes and the hawthorn and wild rose hedging.

It camouflaged itself so well that I would never have known of its presence only for Blathíns  fixated sniffling there.

Now, the baby pigeon was safe while it remained in the thorny thicket but, I knew if it tried to come onto the lawn to practice its flying skills, herself would be waiting to snaffle it.

Drastic measures were called for.

Armed with a broom in one hand and grasping B on her lead in the other (I wouldn’t have found the chick on my own) we managed to flush the creature out of her hiding place and herd her along the hedge, through the tall firs, out through the gate and down the lane.

It was an obedient little being and wobbled ahead of us much like a domesticated duck and allowed itself be guided by the outstretched broom which prevented it from scooting off to the left or right.

When we reached the field, I left her to make  her way through the overgrown grass to where her parents would hopefully find her.

But later I wondered if it was an ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’ scenario ?

Had I, in saving her from my daughters dog, actually delivered her into the hands of Mr fox.

And is that why her parents were having a second desperate go at reproducing their genes so late in the year, ignoring the fact that summer was actually over.

Then one day I see the chick, peering over the edge of the nest.

So I cannot sneer at their optimism where the seasons are concerned.

To tell the truth I too am reluctant to let go the idea that the summer is well and truly finished.

As I sit here looking across at sugarloaf barely visible in the dark and listening to the rain pattering on my window, I do what people do who cling to the memories.

I scroll through my summer photos.

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This year Summer actually began in  spring.

April to be exact. Even the cows knew that.

I headed westward to the Burren.20180428_121631

A month later complete with yellow bicycle I went to Clarinbridge in co Galway. I brought my raincoat (We were sure to get some rain in May?)

But not a drop!

June appeared and I was off again this time to Connemara where we huddled not under an umbrella but a parasol!

July was the month for contented cattle, camping at the place of the hare, a month for foraging for mussels and early morning swims, for solitudinal glasses of wine among the harebells and catching up with some reading.

But what about August you might wonder? 

Ah! August was the highlight.

August brought me my fifth grandchild and first granddaughter.

A wonderful end to a beautiful summer.

I tiptoe out to look a my pigeons nest.

Its empty.

Over the fence two fat pigeons are plucking at the last of the berries from an overgrown elderberry bush whose branches are sweeping low and entangling in the long grass.

And in that grass well hidden from fox and dog is the small form of a Pigeon chick.

the End.

 

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Slow cooked mussels at Áit an Giorrai (a recipe for colour)

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I love colour, the more vibrant the better, and my love for it is not only reflected in my bicycle, but in what I wear, how I decorate my home and even in what I eat.

And when I speak of slow cooked I’m not referring to time in the pan (that only took a minute or two) but the process of starting the recipe from scratch i.e the collecting of these molluscs in the first place.

AND, talking of slowness you may note that there are longer gaps between my stories!

This is not due to laziness but more to distraction. This time I will blame it on the shell middens of which, on mentioning below, I turned my attention to learning about, and in doing so completely lost track of time.

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I‘m standing ankle deep in water between two large rocky outcrops, the sun warm on my back. 

The surge of the sea is tugging the sand from under my feet as the tide retreats.

Balancing my bucket on a natural shelf I go to work prising the blue/black mussels off the rocks and dropping them into my utensil where they land with a satisfying ‘plop’.
I have only myself to feed today so half a bucket will be enough.

But I’m not  the first person who has been here carrying out this task.

Behind me in a sandy low cliff face is a shell midden*.

An ancient rubbish tip of discarded shells. One of many in these parts and proof that people over the centuries have stood where I am standing, foraging for a shell fish feast.

As I pick, I wonder if they also took the time to pause every now and again and look up to admire the blue sky and down to remark on the clarity of the turquoise water (which is now tempting me to put a halt to my picking and wade out for a swim.)

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(my favourite collecting and swimming place and a not very good picture of the shell midden.) 

The first time I tasted mussels I was about ten years old and we were camping in south Connemara in a place called Ballinahown.
It could have been the first time I tasted snails too but I lost my courage before I even took the first bite.
It was also the first time I fell in love.

Wild camping is a wonderful experience for children, but being gregarious creatures they love to have other children around too

We were lucky. There were eight of us, so we were never short of companionship but, while my dad scowled if people camped to close to us, the presence of others our own age was a bonus and a cause of much excitement.

We had neighbouring campers in Ballinahown.

But they were nothing like we had ever come across before.

For a start they were French!  Remarkable in the fact that this was 1966 and any foreign tourists were exotic in our young, never been abroad ourselves eyes.

(It was not that my parents were insular or that they couldn’t afford it. At the time many of their friends were going to France for a camping holiday. It was because my dad felt we should see every inch of our own country before we explored others)

Back to our neighbours.

A couple and their son (in his late teens).

And not only were they foreign but instead of having a tent, they had rented a colourful horse drawn caravan complete with ambling horse.

Making their way slowly up the west coast, they, like my father, had seen the beauty of this place and had stopped for a few days, setting up camp above us on a spot of green grass where they proceeded to unharness the horse and lead her through a small gate into the nearby field.

I was besotted.

Not just with them and their colourful mode of travel, but also with their son.

I followed him around in a puppy like fashion as he and his parents foraged for shell fish along the shore and snails from the small stone walled fields of smooth rocks and bunches of yellow irises.

It was amid these clumps of wild flowers that I hid a few days later, nursing my broken heart, as the rest of my family cheerfully waved them goodbye and the back of the caravan swayed around a bend of the boitrin, the sound of horses hooves growing softer and softer.

I remained in hiding until I could no longer that clip clop sound.

I didn’t grieve for long because for one thing, ‘moping’ was not tolerated in my family and for another, my father was now hell bent in continuing what he had learnt from them and was enthusiastically rallying his children into helping him collect buckets of shellfish.

It was all hands on deck.

They called my name again and again until at last I was forced to appear and, on the state of my tear streaked cheeks being noted, a single query was made.

‘What happened to you?’

‘I fell into a bunch of nettles’

Luckily such a deed was common among the Peppard children and was not a cause of concern.

Afterall we all knew the cure (rub the stings furiously with a bunch of dock leaves) so neither of my parents investigated the real cause of my sadness and my childish one sided love affaire remained a secret.

But to this day whenever I go collecting mussels I remember him.

Could this have been when my love for color, for the exotic started I often wonder.

(And my fashion of falling in love with foreign men).

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My exotic mussel recipe

For it you will need

  • One outcrop of mussel covered rocks
  • a bowl/bucket full of freshly picked mussels from the above.
  • Time (plenty of it)
  • Thyme (plucked fresh from the ground)
  • A bottle of white wine (use some for the cooking)
  • One onion
  • A few cloves of garlic squished.
  • Olive oil.
  • A handful of pomegranate seeds (for decoration and zest and a touch of vibrant colour)

Method;

  • Pick enough mussels for your appetite and number to feed.
  • clean the mussels and pull any ‘beards’ off.
  • Sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil using a large frying pan (I use a wok shaped one) until soft and translucent
  • throw the cleaned mussels in
  • add a good glass of wine and cover.
  • check after a minute or two.
  • the mussels will open when cooked (discard any that haven’t opened)
  • Add some wild thyme.
  • serve in a bowl and decorate with the pomegranate seeds (for colour and jest) and some more thyme.

Goes well with buttered soda bread (not having any this time) I have used soft goats cheese which is possibly too strong a taste for such a delicate dish).

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* According to my research the shell middens of this area are supposedly from the bronze up to medieval period.

 

 

 

Slow brew at Áit an giorrai (Wake up and smell the coffee).

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Morning coffee at my favourite place. Note my sisters encampment below and down wind from mine.

Damned good coffee and HOT!

So says my brother in law on his morning visit to my encampment.

Sometimes I curse the fact that my coffee is so damned good.

It draws lovers of the stuff to my tent.

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~~~~~

My tent is well hidden (from most individuals)

To the north, a large outcrop of rock keeps it out of sight from the odd walker.

To the east and south, sloping hillocks hide it well.

To the west,unless a wanderer carelessly takes their eyes off the uneven rocky path that leads to the sea and cranes their neck, they wouldn’t spot it.

In fact if it wasn’t for my love of a good cup of Italian coffee made freshly in my little Bialetti pot on a small camping stove outside my little tent I could remain unnoticed here for weeks.

But in a place unpolluted by modern smells (the strongest ones here are seaweed and wild flowers) it’s powerful aroma cannot be disguised.

Too late I realise I should have camped downwind of the crowd.

THE CROWD

More than one other camp at Áit an Giorrai constitutes a crowd.

(You can read how I gave this place its name here) Slow Swimming at Áit an giorria (the place of the hare)  

We have been coming here to camp every summer for almost 50 years now, initially as eight unruly youngsters with our parents, then as young adults, then with our children and now with our grandchildren.

From the start a few unwritten rules were made.

The majority of these rules, by my mother who, though loathe to curtail us, planned to return to Dublin at the end of the summer with all children in tow and were as follows;

Don’t swim out too far.

Pull the boat up above the tide line when you are finished with it.

keep an eye on the little ones.

Come promptly at meal times (those were the days of a cooked lunch even if camping with the minimal equipment).

Wash your dish down at the sea.

No sand in the bedding.

But the one that remains foremost in my mind was made by my father.

DO NOT IMPINGE!

I have a clear memory of my father marching down across the sand to his small boat where, yanking it crossly into the water, he proceeded to row it furiously into the middle of the bay at which point he pulled in it’s oars, donned a snorkel and mask and leaning over the bow of the boat causing the stern to lift clear of the water, plunged his face into the sea.

To the watcher on the shore this was a rather bizarre act but to my dad, a lover of nature who no longer swam, it was a good way of observing the underwater world (and of leaving the real world behind).

The cause of his upset? A very swanky caravan parking too near to his encampment (too near being probably 200 metres away)

Out of this caravan stepped a blond woman whom later (after learning that her name was Barbara)we nicknamed ‘Barbie doll’ and her equally perfect husband.

To add to my fathers fury at their nearness, when he finally came ashore again my mother and the woman were chatting away gaily .

‘What a lovely woman’ my mother said later ‘It will be nice to have another female to chat to’

‘I just don’t get it’ my father blustered ‘They had miles of space to park! why the need to impinge on us?’

‘They are not THAT close’ my mother patted his arm soothingly ‘Maybe they are new to caravanning and feel more secure near other people’

My Mother was correct. They were new to caravanning and as the days wore on and we became accustomed to their close proximity, we realized just how new.

We also watched in amazement as Barbie doll charmed my grumpy father.

‘Dear Louie, could you just show us how to… (let down the legs? fix the gas cylinder?)

And my father, not a tall man, in his wellington boots and tweed jacket no matter what the weather , would amble off totally under the spell of the tanned legged, shorts clad Barbara, to where her husband dressed in chinos and a golfing shirt, was uselessly waving a spanner or some other implement as he tried in vain to figure out the intricacies of setting up a caravan. (a thing we could do it with our eyes shut)

I must add here that it was not only my father she charmed but my mother too and they continued their friendship over many years, visiting each other regularly when back in Dublin even when it all got too much for Barbie doll and her ken-like husband and they stopped caravanning altogether.

I don’t know if they ever told Barbara the nick name we had given her.

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But back to my story.

Two other encampments lie below mine

I am familiar with their owners.

One belongs to my older sister and my brother in law.

The other to my youngest sister with her two children.

My youngest sister is married to an Italian who has NOT accompanied her and even though I do not wish to hear the dramatic loud outbursts that seem to accompany an Italian style marriage (I can never tell if they are having a row or just discussing what to make for lunch) it would have been helpful to me if he had.

You see, his coffee making skills outshine even mine and thus he could have drawn the coffee lovers over to his camp instead.

THE DAMNED GOOD COFFEE.

For me, one of the pleasures of being single (I was married for twenty years) are those pure magical morning moments when I don’t have to commune with anyone.

Those moments when I can slide from sleep to my morning swim without even seeing let alone speaking to another human.

Those moments when, with hair still wet hair from my dip, I bring my coffee to my favourite spot on the outcrop of rocks above my tent and there,  with a good view of the sea below, sit on the highest rock and sip it slowly.

Undisturbed…(sip)

At peace….(sip)

Gazing out to sea……(sip)

letting my thoughts flow and ebb much like the tide below……(sip)

Enjoying my solitude….(sip).

Good morning!

Two figures have come stealthily up over the rocks and are standing before me.

A man and a woman.

Arty types (I can tell by their clothes).

Despite the fact that it promises to be a warm day he is wearing a superb hand woven jacket and red trousers. His greying curly hair is covered by a black fedora-type hat which he wears low over his eyes

She on the other hand, in black leggings over which is donned a brightly coloured jersey frock. (I can tell the frock is made by Gudrun Sjoden without looking at the label) is hatless.

They seem a little uneasy, their eyes not quite meeting mine, but sliding to my right.

I follow their gaze.

It lands on the half finished cup of coffee I am lowering from my lips.

‘Would you like one?’ I enquire.

They nod in unison

So I stand and leaving my solitude on the rock, make my way barefoot across the hare-belled carpeted grass, through the misty morning to my tent, the pair following closely.

My Bialetti coffee pot is where I left it on the low camping table.

It is still hot so I grab a tea towel to protect my hands and unscrew the top .

I empty the middle section of used coffee grains onto the grass and without bothering to rinse the contraption, I fill the bottom section of the pot with fresh water, put a few spoons of illy coffee into the middle section, before screwing on the top again and putting the pot on my small stove in my small tent.

‘Take a seat’ I say.

They do as bid, the man hunkering down on the damp grass, the woman perching on a camping stool.

‘We can share a cup’ She mutters

‘You will not’ I say (I’m already pouring the hot dark aromatic fluid into one of two cups).

‘Help yourself, I’ll have a second one made in a jiffy’.

As I empty out the grains onto the grass and start the procedure again the woman leans forward, takes the filled cup and hands it to her husband.

‘Damn good coffee’ My brother in law takes a sips ‘and hot!’.

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Slow Swimming at Áit an giorria (the place of the hare)

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When we were young we never heard or even saw a wetsuit, let alone wore one and we swam merrily in the chilly waters of the Atlantic sea in our well worn bathing togs, staying in for hours at a time.

My younger sister and I used to pretend to be dolphins and we developed a technique where we half butterfly stroked, half dived as we made our way through the water mimicking the dolphins rolling motion.

Those hours in the sea have withstood us well and to this day I have no problem leaping into the sometimes wild, always cold, waters of the Atlantic for a swim.

I don’t swim madly or speedily.  Instead, in much the same way as I ride my yellow bicycle, I ‘meander’. 

Exploring as I go. Happy to potter, to see what I can see.

I suppose you could call it ‘slow swimming’.

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Áit an Giorrai.

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My sister is coming up over the hill when she spots it.

A baby hare, a leveret, nestled in the entrance of a disused rabbit burrow.

I am at my tent making  coffee.

I hear her call quietly

‘Steph! bring your camera here for a minute’

Oh what cruelty is in us that, no matter what fear and terror we cause it (and its mother who, no doubt, is watching from afar) we must get a photo.

The Leveret is well tuned in the art of survival. It has a trick up its sleeve and plays dead. Not a blink of an eye or twitch of a whisker gives any indication it has noted our presence.

Crouching low, I take a quick photo before we crawl away backwards delighted to have seen such a wonderful thing.

‘I nearly stood on it’ my sister whispers

‘No you didn’t’.

We don’t ‘stand on things’ here.

We don’t trample indiscriminately but rather step lightly, despite our bulky human size.

Constantly observing.

Traipsing over the undulating low grassed hills, We see hare bells, eyebright, ladies bedstraw, birdsfoot trefoil, orchids, wild thyme, and many others, all  entwining in each others roots and weaving themselves into a tight carpet on the sandy soil.

We thread even more carefully over the lichened rocks, festooned with mounds of sea pinks.

And sea birds eggs.

We return to my tent and sit under its awning looking out to sea and sipping our coffee.

After a few moments I say.

‘I am naming my camping spot ‘Áit an giorria’ (the place of the hare).

20180720_144301Come on in it’s delicious!

20180626_162900As I have already mentioned we ‘Peppard’s’ are known to be a hardy bunch when it comes to water, so you can’t blame our friends (as they stand shivering on the shore, toes barely in the water) for not believing us when we say ‘its delicious’.’

Oh Just jump in! get the initial shock over with’ We call impatiently, only our heads visible as we thread water.

Those who are brave enough have made it to knee depth and are now nervously dipping their hands in and patting the water on thighs and upper arms.

‘Come on, get IN!’ We shout bossily as we swim parallel to the shore.

‘Once you get down you’ll get used to it, you’ll LOVE it’ We lie.

‘See its not that bad’ Our ears are deafened by the shrieks of those who have taken our advice.

‘Its feckin freezing’ they splutter when they get their breath back and start to run out again.

We look at each other and throw our eyes to heaven.

Wimps.

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Slow swimming.

This morning I am alone. I make my way barefoot across the rocks to the waters edge.

I love that solitary first swim of the day. I relish it and dream about it through the short winter day’s.

Its my chance to meditate, to become  a creature of the sea, moving purposely but causing hardly a ripple.

Today the tide is well out exposing the mussel covered rocks

I wade in around them and at waist depth slide under the water. I lift my feet and float, moving with the tide. Undulating.

Then I start a slow breaststroke out to sea.

The turquoise water is crystal clear and I watch my tanned arms admiringly as they sweep in distorted circles just below the surface.

I marvel at how they look so much thinner under the water.

I might stay in here for ever.

I dive deep, eyes open, small herring fry scattering before my outstretched hands and some prawns sweeping passed, brought in on the tide.

A periwinkle shell moves across the sand, stopping every now and again to get its bearings. It’s a hermit crab.

I reach a rock with waving seaweed and see a small crab scuttle to safety.

All this in the holding of one breath.

I surface and pull a piece of the seaweed (its glutinous texture makes a good moisturizer)standing cautiously. feeling the seafloor with my toes.

A few years ago I stood on a weaver fish in this spot.

I have never known such pain and I hobbled back to my camp to ring a friend who surfed in exotic places.

‘Sounds like you have stood on a weaver fish! Boil a kettle and fill a bucket with the hottest water you can bear and place your foot in it’.

I did as instructed and within seconds the pain had begun to abate and then it disappeared altogether.

Today it is not only a weaver fish I have to watch out for.

Making my way back across the sand, I see I was not the only one slow swimming this morning. A Lions mane jellyfish lies stranded by the outgoing tide. I skirt around it and up the grassy hill to my tent.

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Slow swim over for this morning.

Time for my morning coffee.

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We see harebells, eyebright, ladies bedstraw……

From here to there and somewhere in between way (and not a green way in sight.)

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When it comes to being on a bicycle, there are those who incline to greenways and others to the open roadway.

But a few of us veer towards the small stony find your own way.Grass growing in the middle-way. Thatch cottage and stone wall way. Out of the ordinary way. Getting totally lost way. Stop and ask the locals the way. Past the old disused pump way. Clamber over the lichen covered wall way. Push your bike along the seashore way. Pass the hawthorn fashioned by the prevailing wind way. And the ancient shell midden way. Find the house of your dream way. Arrive back to where you started way. Realise that though the hours have passed and you haven’t been idle you haven’t done huge mileage  way. 

Last Saturday I woke in a small caravan along a flaggy shore.

Not Seamus Heaney’s flaggy shore, but a similar stretch of land jutting out into the Atlantic to the north of his.

The world outside my window was cloaked in mist.

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From my bed I could just make out the red shellfish dredger dangling, suspended between sea and sky and the small pier with its two idle boats.

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and finally as though the curtain of a stage was slowly lifting, the sinister ruins of Tyrone house across the bay. (NOT a good Landlord from all accounts).

I sipped my morning coffee and considered how by sheer placement he could spy on the tenants across the bay even though he would have been better looking after his own, because this side of the bay was under the reign of a more benevolent Landlord, Redington of Clarinbridge

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Yesterday I had noted that all these objects were correctly attached to land and sea, which assured me that I and my caravan had not become adrift in some ethereal land while I lay sleeping.

Despite this mist, the day had the makings of a good one and by the time I had finished that first coffee, followed by my breakfast of almond scone and coffee it had cleared.20180526_084440

Recently a ‘slow bicycle’ friend from Canada made a cycling map of his city with places of interest sketched out. I wish I had thought of doing that on this route.

Instead here is a photographic pictorial of my wanderings by which I will (instead of writing any commentary) take you along.

Just to say that the sprig of elderflower attached to my handle bars to protect me from punctures and getting lost only worked for the former.

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and that the gap in photos between the pump and scrabbling with the yellow bicycle across the low wall onto the seashore is due to the fact that I had to concentrate in wading barefoot through a muddy seaweedy shortcut to reach the field that would finally lead me to the shore. (Thank goodness for easily slip off-able Birkenstoks)

I could call my route the thatch cottage way but that would be too obvious and so with no further ado get on your bicycle and follow me!

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And home again five hours later with the sun well and truly in the sky and the mist gone.

 

 

 

Being led astray: Part two (where I lose my shoes and my wits)

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I don’t remember ever losing my wits before, but I can remember clearly losing a pair of shoes.

It was 1980 and I was cycling the wild Atlantic way.

My footwear for the journey was a pair of Chinese slippers.

Made from silk , embroidered with little flowers and held in place by a simple strap across the arch of my foot, I thought they looked very fetching, peeking out from under my petticoat.

As with my choice of clothing, some people might see such shoes as impractical for a four month journey down the west coast of Ireland on an old black raleigh bike with trailer attached, but I found them functional.

As soon as I felt the first drop of rain I could slip them off easily and put them into the shelter of my basket and then cycle on barefoot until the rain stopped.

But half way through my journey (I had now reached lisdoonvarna) my shoes and I parted ways.

Here is what happened:

The Lisdoonvarna folk festival is in full swing.

I am sitting on my colorful cotton shawl in the late afternoon sun listening to Micho Russell playing solo on the tin whistle.

Beside him on stage, a woman in a gauzy dress is dancing.

Micho is playing one of my favourite tunes ‘Going to the well for water’, but although the womans ethereal leaps and bounds are both magical and enticing (the evening sun is showing her lithe outline through the flimsy material), they are not keeping in time with his playing.

It is as though she is dancing to some music that only she can hear.

Adding to this a group of very tall men (I won’t mention from where) are clapping wildly and way too fast (as such people from that country are apt to do when they hear Irish music) which, together with the dancing, is irritating me.

But apparently only me because when I glance around the rest of the audience appears spellbound.

At last Micho finishes and leaves the stage. 

A break is announced and and I get up to go and find something to eat, along with a few hundred others (Micho’s audience have woken from the spell and are hungry.)

Now for some reason the organisers have decided to make a corridor of sheep fencing into the field and as we all try to get out at the same time a crush ensues.

Then there are the people, who having made it unscathed to the entrance, are stopping for a chat causing further blockage.

As the crowd surges along my feet are lifted off the ground and I am carried by the sheer size of the men surrounding me, (The same men who had been clapping so you can imagine the speed they are trying to move at) .

One of my chinese slippers falls from my foot and is immediately trampled into the mud by the people coming behind me.

A young man, seeing my dilemma, bends down, attempting to retrieve it but nearly gets his head trodden on in the process.

‘Leave it! save yourself!’ I call back over my shoulder in a rather dramatic fashion.

My hero doesn’t hear me (Those who have the luxury of their size, think the whole thing is fun and are singing to Michos last tune very loudly). So all he can do is shrug apologetically as I half hobble, am half carried onward once more.

Being whooshed along beside me is a worried looking woman holding a squiggling toddler. Catching hold of her sleeve, I nod to the fence and with each shove we force our way sideways towards it.

Then, hanging on to the child with one hand, I give her a quick leg over before lifting the child clear.

She catches him in her arms just as I am swept on again.

It takes a few more shoves before I get my chance. 

Gathering up my skirts at the next lull, I manage to swing my leg over the fence.

unfortunately I have now been brought parallel to a fast running stream which I don’t notice till too late and landing awkwardly in it, my second shoe comes off.

Helplessly, I watch as it swirls away in the water. 

The story so far:

I have left the brothers house after an evening of story telling and poitin drinking and getting on my bicycle to cycle home, have fallen into the ditch.

None the worse for my fall, but very aware that I haven’t taken Pats advice and put my coat on inside out and thus avoid being ‘led astray’*, I make my way back to the road only to find there was no road.

******

I can hear the gentle ssssh behind me as each wave breaks on the shore.

The wind has risen, a soft warm wind , and it whistles through the spokes of my front wheel.

I stop my search for the road to look skywards.

The clouds part for an instant and I catch a glimpse of the stars and oh, there is the moon, almost full!

Then I am back in darkness as the clouds close over again.

keeping my back to the sound of the sea, I edge along carefully, watching out for any stray briars that wait to snag my long skirt.

As I do so, I realize that it is not the the wind through the spokes that is whistling but the actual sound of a tin whistle.

And now other instruments are joining in. The sweet slide of a fiddle bow, the soft twang of a mandolin.

A seisún in someones house maybe?

I am filled with relief .

The knowledge that there is a house ahead, which must surely have a road leading to it, hurries me along with renewed vigor until a row of hazel bushes block my path.

As I inch my way along them in search of an opening the moon continues to skit in and out between the clouds allowing me short spurts of visibility.

I come to a slim gap formed by two hawthorn trees.

The music, louder now, is coming from the other side of this hedge.

I squeeze through just as the clouds clear completely allowing the moon to shine brightly.

And before me I see the strangest sight.

In a smooth field which slopes gently up and is topped by an outcrop of rock, out of which is growing a single hawthorn tree, sit three musicians.

Bent to their instruments and playing with full attention. their long dark hair is falling forward, so I can’t see their faces.

But it is not they who appear odd.

It  is the fact that a tall slim figure, whose hair is held up in place  with a fine sprig of fuchsia flowers, is dancing in front of them.

Furthermore I recognise her.

It is Charlotte (Whom I have written about in A barrel for my bed (A dreamhouse story.))

And she is not alone.

Dancing with her is a handsome elderly man, and while Charlotte with her long bony legs encased in over sized wellingtons leaps like a young one, twisting and turning in time to the music, causing the fuchsia to jangle merrily, he sways more elegantly this way and that.

And odder still again is, that standing in a circle around the couple, clapping their hands and tapping their feet in time to the music are, Tom (how has he got here before me), Mattie (Charlottes neighbour) and a man whom I have seen ‘putt putting’ through the village on a battered old motor scooter.

There are also a few others whom I don’t recognise.

They are all gazing at Charlotte in adoration, lust even, and she with a chest so flat, it doesn’t even make a ripple underneath her hessian frock as she wriggles and twists enticingly.

I watch as, without missing a beat, Charlotte lets go of the hand of her present partner and beckons to Tom

He goes forward willingly, capering and leaping with such agility that I cannot imagine this is the same man I meet, bent double, collecting sticks along the shore.

The abandoned partner stands with the others looking enviously on but after a few moments it is Tom who is abandoned while Charlotte now chooses the motorcycle man.

And now another figure appears at the top of the hill. He is vaguely familiar and I try to remember where I have seen him before.

Dark hair falls across his pale forehead. He is dressed in green corduroy trousers and a crimson velvet waist coat.

He saunters nonchalantly down the slope, hands in pockets.

Whistling in tune with the musicians, whom he appears to know, for he nods a greeting in their direction and the fiddler seeing him, raises his bow in a salute, he reaches the dancers and pauses to watch.

Charlotte is now on her fifth partner and is showing no signs of tiring.

Continuing to beckon and abandon, she is working her way steadily through her admirers.

Those waiting to dance with her have a look of anticipation, while those she has finished with continue to dance but in a more sheepish fashion.

It as though without their female partner they don’t quite know what to be doing with themselves, yet can’t stop their feet moving.

Suddenly she turns and dances off down the hill, her fuchsia sprig jangling merrily and they follow her in a dishevelled line.

The man watches them until they disappear from view.

He turns and catching my eye, smiles and holds out his hand to me.

As though seized by some madness, I am unable to stop myself and throwing down my bike, I kick off my shoes.

then picking up the hem of my purple skirt, I half dance, half skip across the soft dewy grass towards him.

He bows slightly as I land in front of him.

Without a word he puts one hand on the small of my back and with the other, takes hold of my free hand,

I let go the hem of my dress and, putting my  hand on his shoulder, we bounce once or twice on the spot as though to catch the rhythm of the music.

And we are off!

Swirling down the grassy hill in a sort of waltz.

My partner, though not as tall as I first imagined, is surprisingly strong and as we twirl my bare feet skim the damp grass, barely touching it.

But not for long.

The musicians are slightly manic in their style and constantly chop and change the rhythm and speed of the tunes as though they are testing out the ability of our feet.

So now we are capering back up the hill in a fast polka.

Again the rhythm changes and then again and faster too, until eventually we are dancing in a wild unrestrained manner.

I feel my hair whipping around my face as my plait loosens and becomes undone.

I am now completely out of breath, but there is no way my feet will stop.

Laughing with the sheer exuberance of the wild music, we dance faster and faster.

And all the time my partner looks as neat as when I first spotted him on the hill.

Finally he turns me once more and I am twirling helplessly on the spot, my purple frock, spinning out and away like a top.

At last I fall dizzily to the ground, pulling him with me.

‘Come away with me to the west and beyond’  He whispers in my ear.

‘If he kisses me I will’ I think, forgetting in that moment that I have a husband at home.

I close my eyes and turn my face invitingly to his.

******

Toms old sheep dog is licking my face.

It is early morning and I am lying in the ditch covered in dew.

My bike is lying next to me, its front wheel spinning , making a murmuring noise close to my ear.

I let go of the handle bar, I have been clinging to and push the old dog off me .

He sits back on its haunches wagging its tail.

I sit up dazedly, gathering up my hair which has come loose from its plait, and tie it into a swift knot on top of my head.

Noting with relief the road in front of me. I stand up and pull my bicycle upright, but its not until I actually step out onto the rough gravel that I realize my shoes are missing.

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* Beware of the ‘little folk’ when you wander home at night.

They will have spotted you on your way earlier and will be watching out for you as you return home a bit the worst for wear.

They like nothing better than to ‘mischief make’ .

One of their favourite tricks is to lead the unsuspecting human to where they are holding a party (usually in a field where there is a hawthorn tree growing from a faerie fort) and watch as the innocent human literally dances the legs off himself, so spellbound are they by their music.

However you can confuse them by changing your appearance e.g wearing your coat inside out or back to front on your way home.

Interestingly these ‘ little folk’ are not the same as tiny faeries. Rather they are life sized, though smaller and slighter than the average human and are thought to be the remnants of the once powerful Tuatha Dé Danann, who lived in Ireland long ago and were driven underground when they lost a mighty battle to the Milesians . They have retained their supernatural powers and woe betide any human who crosses them.(for example by cutting down a hawthorn tree).

 

 

 

Taking the long cut (An Cailleach and being led astray)

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Just as my habit of taking the long cut, eventually brings me home, so my writing, with it’s twists and turns, eventually gets to the the point.

On Lá Féile Bríde (Saint brigids day) my sister, Imelda made the above sculpture of  ‘An Cailleach’ (the old hag).

Using the driftwood she gathered, she built it on site, on a stony beach, along the wild Atlantic way,

According to folklore, this particular old hag (there are others) appears on Saint Brigids day to stock up on timber for the following winter.

If the next winter is going to be severe, she will ensure the day is bright and sunny to allow her put down enough wood to see her through it.

The sculpture appears effortless, as though some wild winter wind had swirled along the shore, snatching up scraps of driftwood and whipping them into the shape of a human.

I love how its loose easy form sifts the flickering sunlight so that, when you look away for an instant and then back, you would swear you caught it in motion.

Then, just as some stories tell how An Cailleach, when finished her work, disappears into the sea, the next day the sculpture was gone,

Washed away by the tide, as my sister meant it to be.

But what her sculpture really reminded me of was the younger of two brothers whom I got to know when I lived beside this stretch of the Atlantic way.

I shall call this man ‘Tom’

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I love to take a longcut.

Due to my curious nature, I find it much more beneficial than a shortcut.

So, after my mornings shopping, instead of going the straight route home, I choose the long slow push up out of the village.

When I reach the y junction at the coast road, I take the right fork, and freewheeling down a steep hill, brake at the bottom and turn sharply left onto an even smaller road.

A boreen really,

This takes me to the sea.

At first this boreen runs straight and looks as though it might actually end in the water, but, at the last moment, it turns right and runs parallel to the sea bringing me past the brothers cottage.

Here, turning another corner, it ends in the yard of the ‘Dream House’.

Now I should stick to my story, but I have to pause here to describe how this house earned it’s title.

The Dreamhouse sits in a sheltered hollow, in front of which, the strength of the sea has pushed the shingle into the shape of a large deep pool.

This pool, fed both by the sea when it breeches the shingle ‘dam’ at high tide, and by a meandering salmon filled river coming down from the mountain, is crystal clear and very cold.

The house, a long, one storied traditional cottage is protected on both sides by a series of neat sheds attached at right angles to both gables.

Like a pair of sheltering arms they embrace the cobbled yard on three sides.

At the open side facing the sea, a small stone bridge leads over the pool at the narrow point where the river runs into it.

It is more than just picturesque, it is cosy, familiar, sheltered.

The type of cottage, the likes of me, would dream about living in.

But back to my long cut!

Crossing the yard and going over the bridge, I continue my way which now splits in two!

One way heads along the shingle shore, a path too stony to push my bike, the other leads, to the gate of Packy’s field. (A field that features later on in my story)

Going through this gate, I follow a well worn track which makes its way diagonally across the field to another gate which in turn, brings me out onto yet another boreen.

By turning right here and cycling a short distance I am home.

It was by taking this long cut that I got to know Tom.

Tom spent a good portion of his day scuttling along the beach collecting fragments of  driftwood.

I say scuttling, not in a derogatory way, but because he was bent double from Kyphosis, which had worsened in old age.

So he made his way along swiftly and efficiently, bent near to the ground, picking as he went.

He piled these fragments into neat bundles and when he had cleared the beach of the days ‘takings’ would carry them up and over the shingle hill to his cottage.

Now the gods had not been kind to Tom, for along with this physical disability, he also had a speech impediment which must have been very frustrating for him as he always had plenty to say.

When I first met him I would pretend to understand what he was saying and nod my head every now and again, but he was shrewd and tricked me.

So once I ended up, standing there, nodding my head stupidly when, what he had asked was, where my house was.

I knew it was a trick question because being a ‘blow in’ every local person would know exactly where I lived.

After this I listened more carefully and as time went by I began to understand him or at least get the gist of what he was saying.

He talked a lot about the weather and the sea, not in the mundane fashion we are inclined to do when greeting others, but in a concerned one.

Whether that march blizzard on the horizon meant he should bring in the sheep about to lamb. How the late frost would sweeten the turnips in the ground.

And the sea!

He had a grave respect of its power.

He told me of the time when a storm coincided with the big tide and He woke to seaweed on the kitchen floor and boulders strewn haphazardly across the yard, one even landing up against the door.

‘Come down for tea come for tea for tea tonight’ is what I heard one spring day

And so I did.

******

A bottle of Poitin stood on the table of the brothers cottage and they placed the whiskey I had brought them carefully in the cupboard.

The loaf of my homemade soda bread they unwrapped with glee.

Tom took out a large knife from the dresser drawer and straightening up as best he could, held the bread against his chest. Then sawing towards his heart, cut slices as neat as those of the white sliced pan I spied when they were putting the bottle of whiskey away.

I couldn’t bear to watch, but no slippage of the knife occurred and at last a plate of neatly cut slices arrived on the table.

We had a cup of tea first and the thickly buttered bread.

I was given the chair nearest to the fire, and shared this shin scalding place with the old sheepdog who lay and twitched every now and again in the heat.

As the wind picked up and howled and darkness filled the windows, they opened the bottle of poitín and, pouring me a wee sup first, filled their own glasses to the brim.

We talked of this and that, who was sick and who had died until at last our chat turned to píseogs and old ways and being ‘led astray’.

******

Tom told his story in fits and starts.

He was coming home from the pub one night and took the shortcut through ‘Packy’s field’.

As he tried to describe how he walked around and around the field looking for the gate, his words ran faster and faster.

He was now speaking too quickly for me to understand so Pat, the elder brother, who had everything his younger brother lacked, took over the telling of it, with Tom nodding excitedly in agreement.

‘You not only put your coat on backwards but inside out too! isn’t that so Tom?’

Tom nodded frantically.

‘They (the little folk or what ever you want to call them)’ Pat explained ‘see you heading off and make note of ye.  Mark ye sort of and then await ye coming home, knowing you might have had a few and are easily caught and led astray. But, by putting your coat on differently on the way home, they don’t recognise ye. But it didn’t work in Tom’s case because they still tried their luck’.

Tom, knowing what was coming in the story, chuckled, holding his glass against his chest.

‘Around and around the field went Tom looking for the gate. In the place it should be and the place beyond where it should. But no gate. And then it dawned on ye, didn’t it Tom?’

Toms head wagged up and down again in agreement.

‘You were being led astray’

‘Goodness! So what did you do Tom?’ I asked curiously.

Again Pat answered for him.

This was serious stuff and they wanted to make sure I understood so I wouldn’t take Tom for an eejit.

And Tom allowed him continue, his bright eyes as blue as the sea, twinkling and sparkling with the fun of it, darting from my face to Pats and back again, hugging himself with delight, anxious for me to hear how he, instead of being fooled, had turned things on their tail and tricked the little folk instead.

‘Oh It was quite simple’ Pat said ‘He lay down in the shelter of the hedge and waited it out till the morning and as the sun rose there was the gate in the place it always stood. And though covered in dew, he was all in one piece and arrived at the back door just as I was putting the kettle on and about to call him’.

We sat in silence, mulling over the story as the poitín infused into our bones.

My eyes were beginning to close and if it wasn’t for Tom letting out a laugh of glee every now and again, I might have nodded off in the chair.

I knew I had better make a move so, standing up reluctantly, and stepping carefully over the sleeping dog, I bade the brothers farewell.

‘No don’t get up, I’ll see myself out’ and before they could stir, I took my coat off the hook and slipped out of the cottage.

‘Don’t forget to put your coat on inside out’ Pat called jokingly after me as I swung the old door shut.

The latch clicked and I stood for a few moments feeling the silence and blackness settle around me.

Feeling along the wall for my bicycle which I had left leaning against the gable, I waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness and eventually they did.

I was just about able to make out the road ahead.

(I had already decided to avoid Packy’s field)

Clutching the handle bars, I placed my left foot on the left pedal and scooted off.

It was as I was threading my right foot over the bar and onto the right pedal that it happened.

I toppled, falling headlong into the ditch.

It is strange the thoughts that fly through your mind when taking a tumble.

As I flew through the air I remember thinking how I hadn’t put my coat on inside out.

In fact I hadn’t bothered putting it on at all.

I was dressed as I had arrived, in a frock and cardigan.

I landed, still clutching the handle bars,the bicycle landing on top of me.

I lay stunned for a few moments before wiggling my toes and fingers to make sure I hadn’t broken anything, then, taking a firm hold of the bike and pushing it off me, I used to steady myself and standing up made my way back into the road.

But there was no road, where the road should have been, only more ditch and now brambles .

to be continued.

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My sister Imelda, an Artist, lives in the old workhouse along the Wild Atlantic Way. These photo’s of her work, are hers.

 

 

 

On becoming slim (Impetuous thoughts of a spontaneous woman)

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Recently a friend gave me a diary entitled ‘I’m doing my best’, and I am about to put it to good use.

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I haven’t yet given up on the idea of being slim.

In fact I have decided by late spring I will be thoroughly so.

Don’t laugh!

I am fully aware that most women of my age will have put such a notion to the side.

If they are still slim, they will probably concentrate on maintaining themselves at that level.

If they have ‘Let themselves go’ they will probably turn to other things of even better worth.

Art for example, and writing and films and theatre and of course, good food and excellent wine.

But not me.

At the age of 61 I am determined to give it one last shot.

And I’m hoping I wont have to put too much work into it

But the biggest downfall of my scheme is not the work. It is my spontaneity.

To go on a diet you have to be good at planning.

Being a woman of utmost spontaneity, planning is a strength I fail miserably at.

(As these few days of Red Alert due to heavy snow are proving).

Oh I can plan for everyone else!

I even rang my daughters to check that they had filled buckets with water, had candles handy, had filled flasks with hot water and had bought in plenty of essential foodstuffs.

Have you stocked up yourself Mom? They in turn asked me.

‘Oh yes’ I replied airily  ‘Indeed I have’.

But of course by day two, I had run out of food.

Now there is running out of food and RUNNING OUT OF FOOD.

The former is running out of your favorite food e.g Crisps, chocolate, wine.

Mine was the latter, a more serious type.

So basically I am on the first day of my diet and have, no milk, butter, vegetables nor fruit. No yogurt, cheese, pasta nor rice. No potatoes, chicken nor fish (I rarely eat meat so I didn’t expect to have any anyway).

What I have instead is, a half bag of flour and a bag of sugar. The bag of sugar I find by accident, shoved in at the back of the cupboard and as I don’t take sugar in tea or coffee, I suspect its left over from my daughter and her husbands recent stay. (see story below).

Nana Pepper Pot steals a story.

The sugar is a bit hard and lumpy (as though someone had being putting a wet teaspoon back into it, causing the grains to clump together like cement) but I am grateful that it is there at all.

And finally, in the fridge are three eggs, out of date by just one day.

These are also left over from my daughters stay.

Now, I am nervous of eggs at the best of times, even when in date.

You see, recently I experienced an episode of anaphylatic shock a few seconds into eating two soft poached eggs.

At first I thought I was having a cardiac arrest, my heart was going so fast. I felt really dizzy and was sure I was going to keel over any minute. But I said nothing, just sat clutching the table (and my chest) waiting for the feeling to pass.

Luckily no one noticed and after a moment or two I was able to get up and scrape the remainder of the eggs into the bin.

‘Oh yes’ my mother informed me when I told her on my next visit.

‘Sure you were allergic to eggs from the time you were little, they made you really sick. Did I not tell you that?’ she looked at my anxiously.

‘Maybe you did’ I reassured her.

(Coming from a large family it is not wise to be allergic to anything. Firstly, because food is too precious a commodity to miss out on any element of and secondly, if an allergy was discovered, how was a mother supposed to remember which of her eight children actually had the allergy and to what ingredient.)

Anyway between childhood and adulthood I never favoured eggs so rarely ate them.

Why I chose to eat the two that morning remains a mystery.

But back to my three ingredients.

I am starving at this point.

Luckily eggs don’t appear to effect me when they are incorporated into other food, so without bothering to weigh out my ingredients and after first banging the bag of sugar with a rolling pin to separate the grains, I throw the sugar into a bowl, followed by the eggs ( I sniff each gingerly before adding).

Beating them furiously until pale and creamy, I then fold in the flour and put the lot into a cake tin and into the oven.

I nearly licked the spoon but remembered just in time.

Fifteen minutes later I take out a beautifully risen sponge cake (who said you have to sift the flour) and sitting down at the table with it and a cup of tea, I open my new diary.

On the first page I carefully insert the date into the neat little boxes supplied.

Then, instead of filling in the lines with, Tuna, lettuce, Tomato, cottage cheese, a slice of wholegrain bread, or some other slimming type food stuff’s of the well planned Diet-er,

I simply write, CAKE.

So after doing my best today, I am hoping I will see a good result on the scales tomorrow.

And even though I thoroughly enjoyed the snow, I am hoping that the Red Alert will be lifted and the shops and my abode filled with tuna, tomato, cottage cheese and lettuce.

The end.

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The Super Duper yellow bicycle (thoughtless acts of kindness)

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So here comes Nanny pepper pot,

On her yellow bicycle.

Pedaling along, head bent against the wind and rain.

red cape flying out behind.

Red cape?

Ah no! that’s just her raincoat.

Super Nanny,

Shes a Super Duper Granny.

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One could easily compare the yellow bicycle to a sort of magic carpet because once I take off on her, any adventure or good deed I have or do, is out of my control.

So keeping that in mind, please don’t think I am looking for praise when I tell you the story of a true occurrence that took place a while back, when I was cycling to work.

It is an early Sunday morning in Spring.

Seven am to be exact.

I am cycling to work on the yellow bicycle.

The weather is dreadful, visibility poor because of the rain and the wind is so strong I am struggling, head bent against it.

But I am not the only one struggling.

As I reach the Blackrock shopping center, I see a man running down a side street.

His coat is open as though he didn’t have the time to button it and is flapping like a sail in the wind.

He is also struggling with a large wheely suitcase. which, weaving along behind him, sometimes overturns as he pulls it impatiently across the uneven surfaces of manholes and dips in the pavement.

This causes him to lose momentum, because, each time it does, he has to stop and right it.

I also see the reason for his hurry.

Ahead, The Patton flyer, (the small bus that ran this route to the airport before the days of the present day Aircoach) is pulling away from the bus stop.

The man rounding the corner on to the main road, is seconds too late.

‘Stop! Wait’ He shouts waving his free hand frantically at the receding red tail lights.

But it is hopeless, the wind carries his voice away.

(As a user of this service I understand the predicament he is in. This small bus only runs every hour on the hour and missing it probably will probably also mean missing his flight, unless of course he can afford to hail a taxi.)

At this stage I have come parallel to him.

and passing him, I call out.

‘Don’t worry I’ll stop the bus’ (remember I am on the yellow bicycle so this is uttered almost unbeknownst to my self)

My words are also swept away in the wind and I don’t think he hears me because he has slowed down, head dropping, defeated.

For a moment I am tempted to pretend I said nothing and just keep going to work but the yellow bicycle has other ideas and I find myself cycling faster.

And even though I know I have no hope in gaining on the red tail lights of the receding bus, I don’t give up.

As luck would have it, there is a set of traffic lights a few meters beyond the bus stop and these lights turn red.

The bus is forced to stop.

I see my chance and putting all my energy into turning those pedals around and hoping that the lights won’t change, I succeed in pulling up along side the drivers door .

I lean from my bike and rap my knuckles loudly against his window.

He glances sideways, his eyes widening in horror as he looks at the apparition staring in at him.

I see fear in his eyes (I understand what he is  thinking.)

So to let him see it is not the ‘hold up’ he imagines it to be, I pull off my hood.

Relief floods across his face as he sees I’m a woman and not a mad gunman.

Still cautious, he lowers his window slightly.

‘Yes?’ He cranes his head to speak through the small opening he has created.

‘Oh please,’ I have to shout above the wind and the noise of his engine. ‘There is a poor man back there. He is nearly having a heart attack trying to catch you. PLEASE wait for him”

To my surprise the driver smiles and nods and as the lights turn green, he pulls over to the pavement.

I look back and see that my friend, recognising he has another chance, is starting to run again.

Job done, I get on my bike and continue on my way to work.

The bus catches up with me at Booterstown and passing me, the driver toots the horn loudly.

I look up to see a dozen faces peering and waving at me through the rain covered windows.

And then I see my friend.

‘Thank you’ He mouths as the bus disappears into the rainy morning.

I hope the hairdryer is working in the nurses changing room.

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Sadly the Patton flyer is no more. Some bureaucratic problem with a licence caused it to be taken off the road.  instead its been replaced by a huge impersonal air-coach which I cannot imagine would be so good as to carry out this simple but meaningful deed.

The end.

 

 

 

 

 

The woman in the purple skirt. (Not just a kind face)

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I have always been slightly eclectic in what I wear and have no intention in changing just because I like to go about on a bicycle.

But why this need to wear such ‘spoke defying’ clothing (flowing skirts, dresses and footwear such as wellies, sandal, even bare feet) in the first place ?

The incident I am about to tell you of, might well be the underlying reason for my longing to be different.

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One day when I was about eight years of age my mother took my siblings and I into town on the bus.

It must have been for something of major importance like buying school uniforms or new shoes because I’m sure she didn’t take such a journey lightly.

It was no easy task to bring six children into Dublin city center in those days on public transport. (Not that it is any easier today but at least now you can check on your phone as to what time the next bus will arrive at).

Anyway as she was ushering us all into Clearys department store, I received a sharp slap across the cheek. The owner of the hand that slapped me belonged to a man, who then proceeded to grab me by the arm and I was instantly absorbed into a large family going in the opposite direction.

Luckily for me my mother’s sharp eye spotted what was happening . She caught me by my other arm and pulled me safely back into her fold.

The man realising his mistake began to blubber ‘I’m sorry missus! I thought she was one of mine’.

He was obviously on the verge of cracking.

My mother instinctively understood the mishap and feeling pity for him stopped long enough to listen to his story, (while we took the opportunity to play merry -go-round in the large revolving glass entrance door).

‘The wife is in the Coombe having baby number seven and I thought I’d take the kids into town for a treat. I thought one of yours was one of mine’

I was traumatised by the event. not because I was nearly abducted but because it struck me, even at that young age, that I was so lacking in individuality, I could have belonged into any brown haired, fair skinned, Irish family.

From that day on I took every opportunity to prove I was different.

(A unique individual, rather than an unimportant cog in the family workings).

For example, when it was my turn to set the table, I would put my knife on my left hand side and my fork on my right

When challenged, I swore that this was how I always ate.

‘Maybe I’m just different’ I would say, shrugging my shoulders nonchalantly.

When my dad was showing us how to find the blind spot in our eye, an experiment  he did by holding up his finger, I swore I didn’t have a blind spot.

But you must have’ He said crossly.

‘Maybe I’m just different’ but I said it to myself.

You did not argue with my dad.

Later as a teenager when others tried to copy the fashions of their idols, I did the opposite.

If the fashion said long, I wore short.

If it said short, I wore long.

Just the other day my daughters and I were laughing about the oddities of dress code they followed in their teens.

‘What kind of thing did you wear Mom?

‘I wore what everyone else wasn’t wearing’ was my reply.

I remember the first outdoor folk concert I attended.

It was in the park in Blackrock.

A sea of denim filled the slopes that led down to the stage, except for me!

I wore a long cotton nightie I had appliqued with colorful flowers and with a colorful ‘petticoat’ showing underneath.

‘Do I look at least a little bit different? maybe exotic?’ I appealed to one of my sisters twirling in front of her  in my latest creation.

‘Ah no’ she replied ‘your cheeks are too rosy, your eyes are too close together and too blue. You don’t look anyway exotic but you do have a sort of Kind face’.

I was so disappointed

Who wanted to be the owner of a kind face?

****

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My ‘Kind ‘ face seemed to draw unwanted attention

No I don’t mean that men were falling at my feet to gaze adoringly at it.

It was more the sort of face that invited people to tell their woes to.

***

It is summer and I am on the dart home after a thirteen hour shift at the hospital.  Exhausted, not just physically but mentally too.

I am what I term ‘peopled out’.

The day has been bedlam with hardly time for a tea break.

But at last I am cycling madly along the Merrion road and arrive in one piece at the dart station just in time for the train.

Happily the carriage I choose is empty.

I secure my bicycle to the rail , open the window and sit back with a long sigh.

The train stops at Booterstown and a woman gets in.

She sits down on the seat across from mine.

I can feel her looking at me even though I am staring out at the sea.

I concentrate on its color and texture and wishing I was swimming in it.

I hear her getting up.

‘Excuse me’ she leans across me to close the window.

Looking meaningfully down the empty carriage with its rows of unoccupied seats and closed windows, I say politely ‘If you don’t mind, I would like you to leave the window open. Its so stuffy and I have been stuck inside all day’

‘Oh but then I wont be able to hear you properly’

She is now settling herself down opposite me.

‘You know how it is when the windows are open? you can hear every rattle of the wheels and it makes talking impossible’

I stare at her in dismay realising what is coming but am too tired to object.

Regarding me for a moment, as though considering where to begin, she then starts.

‘I have made the biggest mistake of my life’

‘I hope you don’t mind me telling you this, but you do have such a kind face’.

She goes on to tell me that she has just recently bought a house in Salthill Galway to be near her newly married daughter, not realising her daughter had been planning to move back to Dublin.

And had done so recently.

‘So I come all the way up to visit her … see if she needs a hand and she is so annoyed that I haven’t rung her in advance that she wouldn’t open the door for an age.  She says they don’t need help and as she doesn’t have a spare bed I can’t stay with them so now I’ve to go and stay the night with a friend’.

She looks at me as she pauses for a breath and for one dreadful minute I think she might ask if she can stay with me.

The woman with the kind face.

But she doesn’t.

Instead she continues her rant.

‘I think it is very selfish … after all I’ve done for her  …. so ungrateful.. ring in advance… as though I was a stranger… have you any daughters?

She has to repeat the last question as I am no longer listening.

But she persists, so I take a deep breath and reply.

‘Yes I have two daughters, and in fairness, as we are in a digital age, whether we like it or not, the norm is to ring and check if it’s suitable to visit, so that’s what I do.

She opens her mouth but closes it again.

‘I suppose you are right’ she says at last ‘Oh look! here is my stop’.

The dart is pulling into Killiney station.

She picks up her designer bag and hoists it onto one shoulder. Her hair is impeccably groomed. Her outfit glamorous.

I catch a glimpse of myself in the window, red faced, hair array.

Then just before the door opens she turns to me again.

‘I envy you, you look so serene’

With that she hops onto the platform, high heals clicking along the stone steps.

I watch her disappear through the turnstile then practice pulling mean faces at my reflection in the window.

But its no good I just cannot change that kind serene face.

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The end

Many thanks to Nutan http://www.nutan.ie/ for the ‘Kind face’ photo’s

 

 

 

Nanny Pepper Pot and the lowly Art of Tissue Paper Dancing.

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There hasn’t been any great change in my circumstances since my last post.

I am still waiting to have my home back, but more than that the yellow bike is still standing patiently on the balcony.

 So, what could Nanny Pepper Pot do for exercise when she is not riding her yellow bicycle?

Well there is tissue paper dancing for a start.

I am not obsessed with exercise but I understand the need for it.

And, although I cycle a lot, I never equate pushing pedals around as a means of getting fit.

I cycle for the love of motion.

For the ingenious self propelled way of getting here and there.

I love that travelling on a bicycle allows me to be open to the elements and that from my saddle, I can get the sensation of my surroundings.

The smells of the hawthorn, honey suckle, dog roses can easily assail me as I sail by them. The sounds of the sea or running water can tickle my ears. The wind in my hair. even the rain on my cheeks all add to this awareness.

I love that cycling moves me at a speed faster than walking but still slow enough to allow me look at the passing scenery and stop easily whenever something small needing closer examination catches my eye.

The fact that all this is also exercise comes as a bonus.

I also realise that sailing along upon my lofty saddle, marginally higher above the ground than if I was on my feet, is probably the nearest I will ever get to flying.

*****

When I was young I had a recurrent dream that I could fly.

It was a very realistic dream and when I woke from it I could still remember the sensation of being airborne.

It wasn’t the graceful flight of an eagle or even the clumsy flight of a pigeon.

It was the best flight an awkward solid boned wingless creature who should remain earthbound could manage.

To begin the exercise I would stand on a chair.

Then, using a type of downward ‘swan lake ballet’ lower arm movement, with my upper arms flexible but held closer to my sides, I would concentrate on feeling the resistance of the air against my hands.

When I felt I had built up enough pressure, I would move my arms and hands faster and launch myself off the chair.

This was where I brought my legs and feet into action.

kicking furiously as though swimming, whilst continuing with the arm movements, I would sustain a few moments of being airborne.

Disappointingly I never managed to ‘level out’ but would continue in a slight upright forward leaning position, a few inches off the ground for maybe ten seconds.

It was exhausting.

I tried to explain it to a friend once and she excitedly told me that she too had dreams about flying.

But the type she described were the ‘romantic’ kind. The kind where she soared effortlessly like a bird over the mountains and sea.

I felt hers was ridiculously unobtainable, whereas mine might work if I kept at it.

****

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I am leaping to the music of ‘Recueredos de le alhambra’

Jumping high into the air, arms stretched upwards.

Twirling and catching the delicate white tissue paper as it floats above my head.

Throwing it up again and again to the sky

I catch one corner and zigzag it in front of me in a sort of traditional silk ribbon dance way, its tail following my hand obediently.

I raise my arm and the tissue paper follows floating softly slowly upward.

I rotate my arm in large circles, standing on tip toe, swirling the delicate piece around and around until it becomes a swirling circle.

I grab a spare piece and faster and faster I twirl them.

They are white snakes chasing their tails and at last I throw them high and two delicate doves float gently to the ground.

I fall breathlessly also to the floor, laughing.

I am doing tissue paper dancing.

But this dance was not my idea.

It is invented by my youngest grandson.

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‘Beware of the quiet child’ my mother always warned, ‘they are usually up to mischief’!

My youngest grandson, and partly the reason why my yellow bicycle is still on the balcony, has been in my bedroom for a while.

He has covered up his silence by inserting a disc into the CD player.

Yes, at two years of age he has figured out the workings of this complex old fashioned machine and surprises me every day with his eclectic choice.

We could start the day listening to something as cool as JJ Cale or Santana and by lunch time we might be on to Puccini.

To me there is no rational to his choice of material but he knows what he likes and though too young to read the labels will listen to a few strains first before deciding whether to let it play on or whether he will press the reject button.

So now, as the strains of the Alhambra fill the room, I know I should get up and check on him.

But before I get a chance to do so, he comes running into me with some large pieces of white tissue paper he has found in a box.

He stands in front of me and throws them up in the air, watching them float downwards.

His face is a picture of joy and wonder.

Then not content with just throwing he starts to run with them floating out behind in time to the music and so the tissue dance is born.

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We are in the mid dance when my second eldest grandson arrives (I have four grandsons).

This lad is a wiry nine year old who’s interest lies in hockey, football, swimming and sailing.

I think he will laugh at us or be bored by the simplicity of our dance.

But he joins in with enthusiasm adding his own version.

We watch as throwing the tissue high, he twists beneath it and blowing with all his might keeps the paper afloat.

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as it floats down again he curls low beneath it like a limbo dancer.

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and lower again

and just as we are giving up hope the tissue paper floats up again.

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and up.

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Maybe I should rename it the Limbo tissue paper dance.

But what ever it is called it has given me hours of fun and exercise almost akin to riding my bicycle.

Hmm, I wonder if I could fashion some kind of parachute from it.

The End.

 

 

Nana Pepper Pot steals a story.

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Sometimes its only when something is taken away and then given back that we really appreciate it.

In my case it was my apartment, which I always considered small.

Until my daughter and family moved in that is, while their home was being renovated.

And as they filled my place with themselves, a child and dog and all the accoutrements that goes with a family of that number, I realised just how small it was and I feared for my sanity.

But then they left and I saw I had nothing to moan about in the first place.

Once they were gone my apartment appeared HUGE, and airy and very spacious.

This family upheaval reminded me of the old story which I have stolen and put my own twist on…

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Nana Pepper Pot

Once upon a time there was a woman and her name was Nana Pepper Pot.

Now though Nana had loved many times and moved many times and lived in many places of many sizes, she finally ended up living on her own in a small apartment by the sea.

This was good because she enjoyed living alone.

She loved to write and paint and now could do so without interference, spreading her paints and writing equipment far and wide across the kitchen table and leaving them there for days on end if she so pleased.

She could come and go exactly when she wished.

She could leave her yellow bicycle beside the fire and hang her clothes out to dry on it.

She could cook or not cook depending on her appetite.

She could leave the books she was dipping in and out of strewn across her sofa.

She could place her house plants hither and thither.

She could be tidy or untidy depending on her humor.

Yes! she was very happy to live alone, but she was not so happy with the size of her  apartment.

And even though she could skip seven steps from one sitting room wall before arriving at the other,

And even though she could jump ten leaps from the kitchen before she arrived at the tall panes of glass that slid open to allow her onto her balcony. (On which she liked to spend her summer evenings, with a glass of wine, sitting hidden among her runner bean plants, gazing across at the mountain.)

And though she had a separate bedroom, with a high wide bed in which she could lie and through the window, look across at that same mountain

and a bathroom with a full sized bath,

She longed for her home to be bigger.

“But look” her friends remarked when they called in for coffee, “Even with your yellow bicycle here by the fire, you still have plenty of space.”

And did some yoga stretches to prove it.

And even when Marcella knocked the tulips off the coffee table while executing the Downward Dog (Don’t ever try drinking coffee before yoga), there was still space enough for Nana to leap up safely from the cobra pose (her favourite) and catch the flowers before they hit the floor.

And though she noted how her friends were able to put on their coats and get past each other to reach their shoes, without stepping on each others toes,  she just felt if ONLY she had more space.

When her friends were gone, she mooched about moodily, straightening the rug, washing the coffee cups, (this was one of her tidier days), watering her plants, dusting the many stones she collected from the beach on her morning walks, and as she became lost in her chores, she suddenly had an idea and wondered why she hadn’t thought of it before.

The woman of much wisdom

The woman of much wisdom lives in a large yurt on the top of the mountain.

The same mountain Nana could see from her small apartment.

No one knew the woman’s real name (It was Ann! but she knew if she admitted to an name this simple it would cause much disappointment to those that came in search of her wisdom. And though wise, it never occurred to her that she could have taken on a more exotic name for herself, one that would suit her new station in life!) so people referred to her in short as ‘the wise woman’.

She was well known to the people of the village as someone who had an answer for everything.

She also dabbled in cures, which if truth be told rarely worked, but the locals continued to come with their ailments as they knew it was in-vogue to be seen attending a healer, and no one wanted to appear to the other as odd.

So it was a common sight to see the wise woman stumbling across the mountain in her long robes and hessian sack, picking wild herbs for her potions.

On this particular day, as she sits outside her yurt in the morning sun, drinking beer from a bottle, she glimpses something yellow wending its way along the small boíthrín* leading to the base of the mountain.

She takes another sip before hiding the still half full bottle in the folds of her flowing purple garments.

(sometimes, she feels that the expectations the villagers have of her, causes her much inconvenience).

When she looks again she sees the yellow thing, possibly a bicycle, leaning against the gate from which the path up the mountain led.

After a good twenty minutes, during which, she thinks grumpily, she could have easily finished her beer, a woman appears over the brow of the hill.

A red faced woman whose hair is tied up on top of her head in an untidy fashion.

It is Nana!

And Nana throws herself down on the grass in front of the wise woman, blowing her fringe off her hot forehead and sighing.

“Phew its hot, that’s some climb, I’m puffed”.

The wise woman does not reply but instead purses her lips.

She wishes people would take a more respectful stance on approach.

She always imagined that they should walk slowly towards her, hands clasped, eyes lowered in reverence.

“Well what can you expect!” The wise woman’s best friend, Mary, also a wise woman, remarked when Ann mentioned this to her.

“You do choose to hold your sessions on the top of a mountain,

It’s the reason why I live in the wood by the river, on the flat.

My clients are able to approach with respect! Your’s are so puffed out by that climb up the mountain, they need to lie down for a minute or two and catch their breath.

I know because I have to do the same when I come to visit you”.

She was a very insightful wise woman.

But our wise woman preferred her mountain top for obvious reasons.

“How many times” she pointed out to Mary “Have you complained about your lack of privacy,

How many times have you nearly been caught unawares?

Remember the time I came upon you and you were having a sneaky cigarette?.

Ha Ha  you nearly swallowed it in fright, thinking I was a client.”

She chortled at the memory before continuing.

“Nope! I would gladly give up my clients lack of  reverence in return for not being caught on the hop!”

“Or with a bottle of hop” Her friend had a mean streak when provoked.

But now she takes a deep cleansing breath and putting that memory and her friends nasty reply aside, turns to the red faced woman lying on the grass in front of her.

And Nana remembering who she is visiting, scrambles to her knees and bowing low clasps her hands in front of her chest and explains her problem.

“Please can you advise me what to do”

The wise woman looks out across the valley as though in a trance and just as Nana, thinking the woman hasn’t heard her, is about to repeat her question, speaks.

“Is that your bicycle down at the gate?”

“It is” replies a puzzled Nana.

“Well bring it in to your apartment” the wise woman instructs.

“Oh I always do that” says Nana, wondering why the wise woman has an interest in her bicycle

“Well do you have another bicycle then?” The wise woman asks testily

“Yes” Nana replies surprised “I have a purple one. Unlike the yellow bicycle which I keep by the fire, the purple one it lives on my balcony. You see I don’t use it that often because sometimes it…”

“Bring it in too!” The wise woman snaps, cutting Nana short “and put it by the fire beside the yellow bicycle and come back to me next week,”

Still puzzled by this odd request, Nana heads off down the mountain to do as bid.

A week later, the wise woman sees the yellow bicycle approaching again, but this time she enjoys her beer a while longer before once again hiding it easily,  just as Nana appears.

“I don’t understand’ Nana exclaims when she has caught her breath, ‘Moving both bikes in has made my home smaller not larger!”

“Have you a dog?” The wise woman asks ignoring Nana’s obvious agitation.

“I don’t” replies Nana “But my daughter does.”

“Borrow your daughters dog” Instructs the wise woman “And bring the dog and her bed and her bowl into the apartment, and come back to me next week”

Nana stomps off down the mountain, very dubious of the wise woman’s advise but determined to go along with it as, everyone says she is very wise.

A week later the wise woman see’s the yellow bicycle approaching once more.

Nana, when she appears over the brow of the hill, looks so tired and tearful that the wise woman, who, unlike her friend, is actually really quite kind, has to stop herself offering Nana one of her bottles of beer.

“I really dont get it!”  whimpers Nana, when once again she has caught her breath “I now have a dog getting in my way. Her bed is taking up a lot of space and every night I step in her water bowl when I get out of bed to pee.”

The wise woman closes her eyes.

She wishes people wouldn’t use such crude words in her presence but she understands it is part of the healing process.

She also wishes she could take one gulp of the now warm bottle of beer hidden as usual in her garments just to sooth her nerves.

Really! people came to her with the oddest of requests, this being a particularly difficult one.

She takes a deep cleansing breath and opens her eyes again.

“Do you have any children?” She demands.

“Well Yes” replies Nana “I have the daughter who owns the dog and another daughter who is also married with three children. In fact it is my eldest daughter, who owns the dog, lives nearby and she is married  to my son in law and my grandson is two and really so sweet and they are renovating their house at the mo…”

Again the wise woman cuts her short

“Bring your daughter and grandson and their bedding and clothes and your grandsons toys into your house and come back in a week.”

So once again Nana trods down the mountain and goes home to do the wise woman’s bidding

And arrives back a week later.

This time her hair is on end and her eyes are red from lack of sleep and she doesn’t pause for breath.

“Really this is getting ridiculous” She shouts, sorry that she has ever come to see the wise woman. “My apartment is now so crowded you couldn’t swing a cat in it”

This gives the wise woman an idea and just as she is about to enquire if Nana knows anyone who owns a cat, Nana throws herself onto the grass and continues with a loud wail.

“AND my daughter is missing her husband and my grandson is crying for his father and they are keeping me awake at night”

“Well duh” says the wise woman “Bring your son in law in too so!”

‘Oh and come back in a week!’

These last words she has to shout after Nana’s departing figure.

The following week the Nana appears unexpectedly and the wise woman barely manages to hide her bottle in time.

“Where is your yellow bicycle?” She demands testily “I didn’t see it coming along the boithrin”

Nana is that cross, she can barely spit the words out in reply.

“My home is now so crowded with the two bikes, my daughter, grandson, son in law, the dog and their accoutrements, there was no room to manoeuvre  the yellow bicycle out the door. I had to walk all the way.”

The wise woman thinks deeply

“Ok” she says after a few moments have passed.

“Go home and send the family back to their own house, along with their dog and all their accoutrements. Then, put the purple bike AND the yellow bicycle out on the balcony and come back to me next week”

Broken, Nana turns slowly and with head drooping goes back down the mountain.

She is actually looking forward to the long walk home, so dreading is she at the thought of trying to squeeze herself into her over crowded apartment.

A week later the wise woman smiles to herself and quickly tucks the just sipped at bottle into the folds of her garments.

She has just spotted the yellow bicycle jauntily wending its way along the boithrin.

Ten minutes later Nana hops up over the brow of the hill as sprightly as a daisy.

Her cheeks are glowing.

Her silky smooth hair is swinging tidily about her face.

“You are so WISE and so AMAZING” She says, not one bit out of breath.

“I did as you bid and sent everyone home and put both bicycles out on the balcony and now my home feels so spacious and roomy and LARGE.”

and with that she flings herself at the wise woman and gives her a big hug.

and if she feels a bottle of beer hidden among the folds of robes she gives no indication.

“But the people of the village say you take no payment?  I MUST bring you something in return for your wisdom”

The wise woman looks across across the valley

“Well” she says, after much thought.

“A six pack would be nice,”

THE END

*Boíthrín; small road or lane way, usually with grass growing down the center.

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That’s NOT where it belongs (death of a yellow bicycle)

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Due to the circumstances I am about to describe, the yellow bicycle has been removed from her usual place by the fire (when not in travel mode she forms a means of drying clothes) and now stands on my balcony at the mercy of the elements.

As I sit writing I can see her gazing dolefully across at sugar loaf, whilst also managing to cast baleful glances through the window at me.

Why is she being so dramatic?

Bicycles are outdoor creatures!

Its not as though she can catch her death of cold.

I have mollycoddled her too much.

I draw the curtain so that I can write in peace.

Who moved my coffee!

A while ago I wrote a piece about what happens when I get too involved with my daughters lives.

Moving in teabag by teabag ( Here’s your bicycle and what’s your hurry)

Now the shoe is on the other foot

My eldest daughter and her husband are extending their house.

It is nearly Christmas and the build has run into a few delays.

At first the plan was that they would be able to live in the house except for a day or two when the new floors were being laid as they would both be at work during the week.

But a few days before the job is due to finish they realise how dangerously dusty it has become and they set about looking for somewhere to stay in the interim.

I come up with a solution

There are three of them and a dog.

There is only one of me.

It makes more sense that I move out and stay somewhere and let them have my small one bed-roomed abode.

After all it is only for a few days.

They arrive with a lot of stuff.

Not their fault.

A working couple need their office clothes and leisure clothes, night wear, hygiene stuff. laptops, phone chargers.

A child need toys and clothes and nappies and baby wipes,

A dog needs her bed and food bowl ( if I stand on that water bowl once more!)

Did I mention my apartment is small?  Did I mention they were staying for a few days only?

Time marches on. Another building delay. The few days turns into a week and another week and they are still here.

I really don’t mind.

That much.

Its just ….

Well the yellow bicycle hasn’t a hope of returning to her place by the fire before Christmas.

and someone keeps moving my coffee.

The tidy scoring system

I am a tidy person.

on a tidy scale of one to ten I would probably score a six.

This might not seem such a high score for my profession as a nurse.

But anything over a four is high in our family.

In saying that, I do have a daughter who scores an eight.

She could score a ten except that she has a black Labrador who sheds a lot.

And if you should meet that daughter she is most likely to have a sweeping brush in hand. (Been caught with accoutrements of tidiness can lower your score because it does not give an accurate reading.)

But I wasn’t always tidy

To be perfectly Honest

Growing up I shared a bedroom with my sister.

Now the bedrooms in our house were utilitarian. My father, an architect, was ahead of his time where interior decor was involved.

So while my friends bedrooms sported fake velvet headboards, chintzy bedspreads, dizzymaking carpets of multicoloured floral patterns and those kidney shaped dressing table with a three sided mirror, (Not encouraged to gaze at ourselves we had no mirror in bedroom) ours consisted of homemade bunk beds designed to leave as much floor space free as possible, a sleek built in wardrobe and ….

well that was it!

A bed and a wardrobe on (you guessed it ) a floor of wooden boards.

So ashamed was I of my minimalist room, that whenever I had a friend over, I would haul one of the beautiful mahogany bespoke chairs down from the open plan dining room and place it beside my bed to give the semblance of extra furniture.

I didn’t realise until years later that my friends considered my bedroom amazing. and looking back it was.

The wooden floors were solid oak. the sliding wardrobes the best mahogany and the beds handcrafted.

As clean and crisp a room as you would find these days on Pinterest.

Any way my sister was as tidy as I was untidy so, to prevent friction, we drew a line across the floor,(Did I mention we were allowed, encouraged even to draw on anything that didn’t move)And from then on her side of the room remained ultra tidy with clothes folded neatly (On the floor?) while my side remained strewn with abandoned garments.

Now though as handy as it might seem to just step out of ones clothes there was a downside.

As I lay awake in the semi dark (did we even have curtains?) dreaming of boys, the folds of clothes on the floor began to take the shape of faces.

Evil faces.

The more I stared the eviler they became until at last, unable to bear them any longer, I would creep from under my warm covers into the cold (why would you even consider that we might have central heating) and move them around.

Facing those Demons

I like a clean bed as much as the next.

Maybe even more than the next.

One of my favourite pleasures in life is a deep bath followed by a climb into a soft bed bedecked with fresh sheets.

Nothing wrong with that you say, but the problem was I would feel so languorous after my bath (others might call this lazy) I didn’t bother removing the old sheet.

Instead I would just lay a clean one on top.

None of the rest of my family noticed or at least no one complained.

Maybe they didn’t bath or change their sheets as frequently and I carried on this habit for quite some time.

Until my sisters wedding,

It all comes out in the wash in the end

My sister is getting married.

And with some of her friends planning to stay at our house, she sets about making up spare beds for them.

And quickly runs out of clean sheets

‘Nonsense’ exclaims my mother. ‘there are plenty of fresh sheets in the linen press’

I overhear this conversation while munching on toast and marmalade from the depths of my (very soft) bed.

As my sisters footsteps gets louder (oh those bare floorboards) I slide slowly and guiltily, lowering my self under the warmth of my blankets, creasing the many layers of sheets as I do so.

At last only the top of my head is visible.

But I continue eating, frantically munching on my warm safe toast (did i mention I eat when I’m stressed)

”STEPHANIE”

Before I get a chance to reply she rips the covers off me and the evidence is exposed.

Not only is my plate of crusts and crumb covered top sheet visible to the public but the twenty something under sheets as well.

The truth is out and the shame.

‘You are not only lazy but untidy too’ My sister shouts.

She spots the heaps of clothes on my floor.

‘How can you BEAR to live in such a mess! And what am I suppose to do now? ‘

‘Quickly quickly, wash the sheets?’ I hear you say

Ah! normally that would be a good idea, but you see we had no washing machine.

We can blame that on my mother.

On going out to buy one, she passed an art gallery and popped inside (just for a quick look she told us later).

She emerged after a while and nestled in her purse where the washing machine money should have been, was a receipt for an original Gerard Dillon or it may have been the T P Flanagan, to be delivered to the house the next day.

So mostly she washed by hand (no doubt gazing lovingly at her purchase) and every once in a while she would send one of us down with a bag of larger items to the locally washateria.

This bag being too heavy to carry was placed on a pram and I cried bitterly when it was my turn (my childhood shame was never ending)

Oh how I would have gladly cast aside my shame and willingly pushed the pram of sheets down that day.

But the wedding was now imminent and the guests arriving soon so there was no time for even that.

I cannot remember what the final outcome was.

To allay my shame and possibly have an insight into my continued martyred approach to life I like to think I spent my sisters wedding, Cinderella-like, washing sheets while everyone else was having fun.

But the reality was my used sheets were probably reused.

Maybe if you were one of those guests you could throw a light on this?

or I could ask my sister but I’d rather not remind her……

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Its that time of year again (No not Christmas!)

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Once again it’s time for my scans, bloods and mole check.

And once again they are clear.

I go down to the sea and shout a thanks to the sea birds, seals, dolphins and whoever wishes to listen and rejoice with me.

You are probably wondering why I want to keep reminding myself of my illness, after all it is eight years ago since my diagnosis and probably high time to put it behind me.

But having to face these scans every year won’t allow me to forget and anyway sometimes it’s good to feel that panic and fear again followed by the relief.

It reminds me of those promises I made to myself if I survived……

To stay healthy,

To lose weight,

To not stress so much.

And to dare!

”Two pots of homemade jam,

a cup of tea and a hug”

Maybe he said a cup of tea in a mug

Yes! that must have been it.

She must have misheard.

******

”To dare is to lose your footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose your whole life”

So said Soren Kirkegaard.

I have ‘dared’ many times but getting cancer wasn’t one of them.

And even though some people consider my journey with cancer as daring.

I don’t see it so at all.

Daring is when you open up to someone knowing you may be rejected.

Daring is to allow yourself be vulnerable.

Daring is when no matter how many times you have failed you are prepared to try again.

With cancer I dared to take on the journey only because I had no other option.

But maybe I was too daring with the other things that were going on in my life at the time.

Maybe I kept too much of the stress and pain of that time to myself.

Maybe it was my daring that gave me cancer in the first place.

063

The signs (a true story)

Preface

Mary and I are sitting on the grass under a large chestnut tree behind the hospital.

We are (two nurses) on our lunch break.

Mary is picking daisies and I start making a daisy chain from them, piercing each stem and threading a flower through.

As she hands one over she says

‘This is when you were born’

Handing  another one she continues,

‘and this is when you fell in love’.

and another..

‘This is when you got married and this is when your daughters were born’

I  correct her

‘I had my daughters first THEN I got married’

‘Whatever’ (she is not interested in the details of my personal life)

‘This is when you got divorced.

This is when you started working here!’

There is one daisy left….

‘And this is when I die’ I say taking it from her.

I am joking of course.

A week later I am diagnosed with a life threatening illness.

THE REST OF THE STORY;

Its early April 2009 and a beautiful sunny spring morning.

I am pushing my new yellow bicycle along the Merrion road towards Blackrock.

There are two reasons why I am pushing (as opposed to cycling it)

Firstly, I’m crying so much I can’t see where I am going.

And secondly, the radiologist I have just attended has warned me against cycling.

(In fact he is not one bit happy that I haven’t organised someone collect me.)

There is good reason for my tears too.

I have just had a suspicious lump in my groin biopsied.

But even without results, the outcome is already fairly certain.

A metastatic melanoma.

Having a fair idea of my diagnosis I want to grieve alone, to wail as loud as can.

To shout ‘Noooo, not me’.

I want to throw myself on the rocks beside the sea and graze my skin on the small innocent barnacles.

To draw blood.

To feel totally and utterly sorry for myself.

And I don’t want any of my family or friends witnessing my grief.

I want to be miserable in peace.

So ignoring the anxious faces looking at me from passing car windows and with much snivelling, I wipe my dripping nose and eyes alternatively on my sleeve and the hem of my dress and push along.

Now there is only so much crying you can do and eventually I have no more tears to shed.

At this stage the local anaesthetic is beginning to wear off and I am developing a dull nagging ache.

Good! I want pain.

I am also fed up walking and even though I don’t care about strangers seeing me crying, I do care about the fact that they might think my newly acquired bike is just for show.

That I’m not able to ride a bicycle at all or worse still that I don’t dare to cycle on such a busy road.

So looking furtively behind me (I am still close to the hospital) I put my left foot on the left pedal and scoot off with my right one.

But it isn’t the sharp pain that stops me threading my right foot over the bar and onto the other pedal.

There may be butterflies!

Something catches my eye.

Something fluttering in the nearby Hebe bush.

I hop off the bike mid mount and hobble over for a closer look through red and swollen eyes.

A dozen or more blue butterflies are feeding on the purple flowers of a large Hebe bush growing on the side of the road.

I stand and watch them, amazed not only at their fragile beauty but the fact that I cycle this route at least three times a week and have never noticed them before.

With a small glimmer of wonder, I hop on my bicycle and cycle down through Blackrock village towards the sea.

Dolphins in the bay.

The road through Blackrock is a busy one but I am fearless.

After all I am probably going to die shortly so why worry.

I remember a fisherman in the west once told me that even though he couldn’t swim he wouldn’t wear a life jacket.

If his boat went down he wanted to go with it!

‘If i’m going to die, what better way than off my bicycle’ I decide.

But I get through the village without mishap and after turning left follow the road as it runs parallel to the sea.

An RTE van passes, giving wide berth to the crazy woman wobbling along (it is hard to pedal evenly with a thick dressing in the way)

‘I hope he realises how lucky he is to be alive and well and going about his daily business with no concerns’ I think crossly.

I pass two girls chatting. One stops and throwing back her head gives a bellow of laughter at something the other has said.

I am incensed.

How dare they take life so frivolously.

I cycle faster, pushing against the increasing pain.

I turn left again over the railway bridge, past the martello tower and am down at the sea at last.

I see the van parked beside the green.

The RTE man is setting up a tripod and and pointing the camera on it out to sea.

I follow it’s line and that’s when I see them.

A pod of dolphins.

Many many of them.

They are swimming in wide circles, leaping out of the water every now and again, the sun flashing blindingly off their wet backs.

I lean the yellow bike on its stand and limp across the grass for a closer look and somewhere to sit (my thigh is now throbbing painfully)

The only seat is already occupied by an elderly man but there are plenty of large rocks so I aim for them.

But as I pass he turns towards me and sliding over pats the space beside him.

I sit beside him nodding my thanks and hoping he wont try to strike up a conversation.

I can feel him looking at me curiously but he says nothing.

The camera man, focusing on his leaping jumping target, has not given any indication of our presence.

The fact that we three strangers are in such close proximity without a word between us would normally make me feel uncomfortable and I would have to make some remark to break the silence.

But today I am different.

I feel a sense of calm washing over me, and all sense of social awkwardness leaving me.

The rhythmic sound of the waves drowns out the distance noise of traffic and I am only aware of the sea and the sounds of our breathing  as we focus on the those leaping splashing forms in the bay

“I’ve lived here all my life and I’ll be 90 next week”

I jump.

The elderly man is speaking as though to himself.

He doesn’t wait for my reply but continues, shaking his head as though in disbelief.  “but in all my years I have never seen dolphins this early in the bay nor so many”

He turns to me

‘Did you know that dolphins symbolise protection, hope, some would even say rebirth?’ He takes my look of amazement for a smirk.

‘Ha’ he smiles ‘Bet you didn’t think I would be into that sort of malarkey. My wife used to laugh at me. ‘Arty farty” She called it.

Before I can reply that I am not laughing at him but am very grateful for his words, the camera man turns to invite us to watch the dolphins through the lens.

If he recognises the wild women wobbling dangerously he has passed earlier he is polite enough not to mention it.

I turn to the elderly man. He was here first.

‘Ah no you go on love’ He stays sitting

So I stand beside the camera man and look through camera as he zooms the lens in on them.

They are swimming in tighter circles now moving nearer our side of the bay.

As I watch, one leaps with a mighty push, clearing the water and as though in slow motion its body twists and spirals upwards.

Then it straightens and appears to be suspended for a few seconds before slapping back into the water.

I suddenly remember the blue butterflies so when I return to the seat I ask my new friend about them.

‘Blue butterflies’ he replies without hesitating or looking surprised ‘are a sign of healing!’

He looks at me with sudden concern “Are you all right? You look a bit pale”.

I smile

‘I’m fine’ I reassure him ‘In fact I have rarely felt better’.

And to prove it I leap onto the yellow bike and waving a goodbye to him and the RTE man, cycle up the hill and home.

THE END.

 

This is a true story without embellishment but when I read back over it I can’t think why anyone would believe it.

It was almost fairy-tale-like in its happening.

But happen it did and it was the day I was going to survive.

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A penchant for pumpkins (And pots of homemade jam)

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Penchant; A strong habitual liking for something or tendency to do something.

AN INTRODUCTION.

Most of us have a penchant for something.

Mine is for telling stories and my yellow bicycle.

Recently I came across someone with a penchant for pots of homemade jam.

This reminded me of another penchantier of not only homemade jam, but of the pumpkins his jam was made from.

And as it is the seventh anniversary of that time, I thought I might tell you the tale of Monsieur l’abbe and his penchant for pumpkins.

For those of you who may be concerned that their penchants are abnormal I hope this story reassures you….

But first we must go there (to France and the journey across it on the sturdy yellow bicycle)

After leaving the two Irish Moira’s of Montelieu and their tiny house in the middle of that village, and with their recommendation, (you MUST stay at the old abbey, they insisted, nodding their heads vigorously and smirking knowingly at each other) I cycled over the mountain and down the other side to the ancient Cistercian Abbey now a Chambre d’hote.

Arriving at an enormous pair of iron gates, I spotted a notice nailed to one of the gate posts beside which hung a worn but still thick rope.

TIREZ FORT ‘ I read.

So I did as instructed and pulled hard on the rope.

The sound of  a deep bell echoed through the innards of the building.

I could hear a dog barking and after a short wait, a tall man of indecipherable years wearing pale linen trousers and a white shirt, approached the gate.

He wore a wide brimmed black felt hat pulled down so low over his brow that I could only glimpse a shadow where his eyes should be.

‘Ah the woman on the yellow bicycle’, he called out as he pulled the gates open.

‘The Arteeste’ (The two Irish Moira’s had obviously filled him in, exaggerating my skills but this wasn’t the time to correct him )

‘Entrez! entrez! Holding the gate open for me, I pushed the yellow bicycle through passing quite close to him.

He smelt of something familiar. but I was too busy mumbling ‘bonsoir’ to pay much heed to it.

Any way he had already turned on his heel, and was leading the way into a large dimly lit coach house.

‘You may leave your beautiful yellow bicycle ici’.

At first I couldn’t see where he was pointing to but, as my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, I saw it was to the only space clear of huge pumpkins.

He stood patiently while I fumbled with the buckles on my panniers and basket and then taking the heavy items from me headed back out into the fading light.

I trotted obediently after him.

Down a cobbled path we went and then through another door and up a stone stairs.

He strode purposefully along a windowed corridor , where on each windowsill lay a beautifully carved pumpkin.

We passed rooms with various names on the doors. The ivy room, the oak room, the magnolia room, I tripping along trying to keep up with his long legged stride.

Finally he stopped at door which read ‘the rose room’ .

‘You will sleep here’

And opening the door he laid my belongings on the bed and bid me goodnight.

I waited till his footsteps had faded before throwing myself onto the bed.

I was exhausted but as I drifted off to sleep, I became conscious of that smell again.

What did it remind me of?

That night I dreamt I was back in Co Sligo in my old house by the waterfall, wandering up through the ferny dripping hazel woods, clambering over moss covered rocks to gather bags of loam made from centuries of broken down trees and leaves for my garden.

Dark, damp, earthy, crumbly loam, smelling of ancient woodlands….

 

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(the blue shuttered window of the Rose room, forth shuttered window from the right)

The story

La Monsieur de L’abbey had a penchant for pumpkins,

A fascination for the oddness of their shapes.

A passion for the soft blues, greens, orange colors of their skins.

They were everywhere!

Painted, sculpted, engraved, carved into bowls, jugs, even lampshades.

That morning at breakfast there were at least four different varieties of pumpkin jam.

Some made with added rosewater, some with Cointreau.

The hovering black fruit flies were drunk and in ecstasy.

We had to keep brushing them off our bread.

‘ Ah but you must try this! Le Monsieur’s face loomed close to mine as he pushed a teaspoon of the sweet syrup against my mouth.

‘Ze summer of 2008, best year for pumpkins… you like it?’

‘Mmmm’ I said widening my eyes for effect.

His were dark brown and very shiny.

‘And ziz’? He persisted dipping the spoon into another pot

‘Ziz did not turn out as I wanted… too sweet! So I added some ginger what do you think? Interesting flavour n’est pas?’

‘Qui, qui’ I murmured savoring the hot sweetness ‘very interesting’

He smiled.

His teeth were very white.

‘So today’ he announced ‘you must paint!’

‘No more gallivanting about on that yellow bicycle, I have hidden it!’

‘Today you must stay in the garden and paint pumpkins, come I will show you the best place’

I followed him out into the coolness of the morning.

His sandals made a slapping sound on the ancient flags of the cloister floor.

Heading up some steps , He crossed the dewy grass towards a Grecian style tower.

A few birds were up as early as us, singing in the nearby magnolia tree but otherwise all was still

At the base of the tower and covered by its first floor but open at the front to the elements, was a small courtyard screened from the abbey by some giant bamboos.

An ornate pond glistened in the morning sun.

I could see the shapes of goldfish flitting and hiding under the lily pads.

The soothing sound of trickling water over stones had an almost soporific effect.

Three old iron bed frames were placed, one along each of the three walls.

On the rustiest of the three lay some green pumpkins of rather bizarre shapes.

The remaining beds were covered in luxurious throws of some exotic fabric and a few cushions of Japanese silk were strewn casually against the heads of the bed frames.

A small bamboo table stood in the centre.

‘You may sit here’ He patted one of the cushions. ‘This is your studio. But first you must go and fetch your materials!  vite! vite!’

And so I, normally such a strong and independent woman, found myself scurrying off to do his bidding.

I hurried back across the lawn , past the bird filled magnolia tree, past a blue telephone box filled with pumpkins, passed a zany zen sculpture made of willow winding around a heap of pumpkins, passed a blue wheel barrow overflowing with pumpkins .

Down through the cloisters I ran and in through the door and swiftly up the stairs.

The mirror on the landing showed the flushed face of a woman of middle years smiling like a teenager.

Back in the garden Le Monsieur stood waiting.

In my absence he had replaced the black felt hat of yesterday with a Monet style one, white and wide brimmed, complete with black ribbon and looked for all the world like a great impressionist master.

On the low table now sat an elegant basket its lid fastened by silver clasps.

He undid the clasps and lifted the lid with a flourish

I peeped curiously inside.

A dainty teapot and two equally delicate china teacups nestled in the padded silk interior.

He lifted one of the tea cups out and placed it carefully on the table.

Then he lifted the the teapot and with all the ceremony of a geisha poured out a cup of fragrant green tea.

Steam coiled up and diseapearred into the rafters above and the scent of jasmine wafted into the air.

A soft breeze rustled the bamboo and the sunlight flitted and played with shadows across the spear like green leaves.

A few late butterflies danced, dipping and swaying among the hibiscus flowers.

The clinking of wind-chimes hanging in the peach tree broke the silence and every now and again a leaf broke loose and sea sawed through the air landing gracefully on the pond surface with a soft sighing sound only to be caught by the breeze where it sailed like a small boat across the pond.

‘Harrumph’ Le monsieur cleared his throat wakening me out of my daze.

I looked up at him

He smiled from beneath his brim

‘And now I will leave the artist to work’

And before I could reply he lifted my hand and bowing low over it, kissed it briefly.

He walked away and turning once by the willow sculpture he raised his hand in farewell

I caught that smell again.

Earthy, deep, dark and loamy and suddenly I remembered.

The smell of perfect compost for growing pumpkins in.

I lifted my brush and began to paint.

The End

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The woman in the purple petticoat (What the Victorians saw)

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Weaver weft me a of piece of cloth

of your purist cotton

for linen is harder to dye they say

and I wish to dye it purple,

 

Dyster dye my length of cotton

but do not use the madder*

for i do not wish for fabric red

but the colour of the heather,

 

seamstress sow me a petticoat

of the the cotton i have you handed

and insert in the folds the light of the sun

and i will gladly wear it

 

basket maker make me creel

of the finest willow grown

and i will fill it full of turf

and bring the turf safely home

 

Artist paint my petticoat

not red nor blue nor yellow

but Paint it in the finest hue

the colour of the heather.

 

So he painted her skirt of the finest hue

and kissed its hem so dearly

and she turned and walked with her creel of turf

into the morning early.

(A tongue-in-cheek poem penned in the style of the romantic Victorians)

The Victorians were a romantic bunch as I have recently discovered when attending a series of lectures given in conjunction with the Frederick William Burton exhibition in the National Gallery of Art in Dublin.

But I will start at the beginning.

Long before the yellow bicycle I loved a purple skirt.

I loved it not only for its colour but for the way it hung.

It was made of gathered cotton and its folds caught the light as it billowed out and flowed beautifully when I walked.

I was never one to obsess over clothes (I would rather be off camping in the wilds of Connemara then spending a day shopping for them) So I couldn’t understand the draw it had on me.

It was only later I came across the significance of purple (mystery, magic and creativity not to mention passion and royalty)

I only knew I loved it entirely and wore it till its hem frayed and its colour faded.

Finally it became too threadbare to wear.

‘Make a cushion out of it’ One of my more practical sisters suggested, laughing at the horrified expression on my face ‘or give it to mom! She’ll cut it into squares and use them in one of her quilts’

What was my sister suggesting!

Didn’t she understand it was made to be free and flowing?

Made to live a life billowing out in the west of Ireland wind?

I could not allow it end its days being sat upon or lying crumpled on some bed.

No! I planned to bring it up and throw it, kite-like into the air where it could soar to the heavens or maybe I would hang it on a hawthorn tree beside a holy well where it could continue to spread its magic to those who came there to pray (for the cure of the eye or a bit of passion in their lives) .

But sadly I did neither.

Life changed, divorce happened, I moved from the west and somewhere in some box or bag lies the remnants of my beloved purple skirt

But all is not lost

Reorganising my book shelves last Sunday before I headed out to the above mentioned lecture, I came across an old magazine entitled  ‘Ireland of the welcomes’ .

It was the May-June  issue dated 1987

And on the front cover, for all to admire, was my beloved purple skirt.

How well the photographer captured its billowing fabric.

I go to my lecture.

Apart from the interesting facts of mapping by the ordinance surveyors of the time, the romantic portrayal , by artists, of the Irish colleen, wearing a red petticoat and carrying a creel of turf (or pitcher of water) in the west of Ireland was mentioned frequently.

It appears romantic remote landscapes were all the vogue in Victorian times. They loved what they considered ‘picturesque wildness’. they could not get enough of paintings on its subject.

They were also curious about people they considered different to themselves. The locals.

They had been to the orient and were now turning their attention to the west of Ireland which though physically nearer was actually harder to access due to lack of roads and ‘Gentlemens seats’ (the big houses where the gentry could spend the night).

Artists went to the west to capture this picturesqueness. Some went of their own accord but others were sent by journals such as Halls pictorial.

Petrie, James Arthur O’Connor, francis Danby and the man who my lectures were about Frederic william Burton to mention a few.

Tourism had come to the west of Ireland.

I wouldn’t dare give accurate dates or which artist came first because even though I scribbled notes I found it hard to concentrate.

Every time the lecturer put up a slide of one of these colleens, the image of my purple skirt (and me in it) with a creel of turf sitting jauntily on my hip floated in front of the screen reminding me that things hadn’t changed that much in 100 years of tourist advertising.

The End.

*Madder is a plant from whose roots red dye was obtained and was used extensively to dye the traditional petticoats of the women of the west of Ireland. It is a very ancient form of dye, seemingly used by the celts, who loved to wear colour, and is certainly mentioned in the ‘Book of Lismore’ 1408-1411.

Purple is a man made dye first produced  in the mid 1800’s.

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P.S I wish to apologise to Nutan who took these photo’s, for the poor transferring of them from magazine to camera to laptop. In doing so I have, unintentionally, lost some of their magic. (Nutan I owe you a pot of homemade jam).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is more to life than riding a yellow bicycle (That’s no diet for a growing woman)

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There is more to weight (loss) than riding a yellow bike

or so I’m told.

turning pedals alone just won’t cut it. 

But, unless I spend the rest of my days monitoring every morsel I eat

(How boring)

I  will be as my genes dictate.

And so I am going to blame it on my mother.

*****

Next month I face the great man himself (My Oncologist)

Nope, not god, but almost so.

And my mother will not be there to take the blame.

Not that she wouldn’t or couldn’t.

My eighty six year old still alive Mother of eight (All alive) herself overweight, who continued to cycle her bicycle whilst her six slim best friends  (ironically now all dead) were driving around in BMW’s.

My avid gatherer of clutter and objects d’art mother. (When raising her family my father gave her the money to go and buy a washing machine. She gaily headed off on the bus into the city and came home with an original painting by Gerard Dillon instead)

My reader of Darwin, Dawkins and Dostoevsky mother, with a brain as sharp as a pin, would be well able to put her spoke in (pardon the pun) and stand up for me.

But no I will sit motherless with head bent.

And he will sigh and look at me and say

‘I didn’t save you from cancer only to lose you to heart disease’

and I will mumble something about my genes and how I can’t understand it because I am ALWAYS riding my yellow bicycle

and he will say (as he says every year) that that is not enough.

SO with this upcoming dreaded yearly appointment I start a frantic weight loss program.

(How much weight can one lose in a month?)

And to settle my nerves l take off through the autumny trees on the strength of the above pictured breakfast

and arrive home STARVING only to discover there is nothing there to eat but the leg of the table.

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Thoughts about a beach as the summer ends.

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 If you blind folded me, spun me around a few times and then placed me on a beach I would instinctively know if I was on the Atlantic ocean or the Irish sea.

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I am very fussy about my beaches

But before you label me a beach snob let me explain what I do not need from them.

I do not need my beaches palmed fringed no matter how white the sand.

I do not require umbrellas and sunbeds (no matter how colourful the umbrella or bespoke the bed).

I have no wish for thatched beach bar huts no matter how tempting the cocktails.

I do not need my beaches sun scorched with sand too hot to walk on barefoot.

(Though some sunny days would not go amiss, I am also partial to the odd stormy wild one)

And though I like clear water, I do not require shoals of exotic coloured fish

Six foot waves do not appeal even when decorated with handsome surfer lads.

I do not require a nearby car park (I will be arriving mostly by bicycle)

I find long flat beaches boring even though they say they are good for walking.

But

Give me the unexpected beach.

The one I come upon by chance when cycling grassy boreens or crossing green fields.

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The distant spotted  ‘wonder how the hell I get to it’ beach.

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The hard earned beach

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with white seaweed strewn sand.

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And coloured shells

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And crops of rocks containing clear pools filled with sea anemones and sea urchins

and shrimps caught by the tide.

The ‘mountains in the distance’ beach

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The ‘windswept hat snatching with rocks to shelter behind’ beach

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The beach that stops me in my stride as I watch its perfect curling waves

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Or when my eye is caught by a seal who is following my progress.

or a diving gannet or noisy terns,

a lone oyster-catcher,

a pod of dolphins (if I’m lucky).

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a flock of Sanderlings who lift and wheel seaward at my approach. only to swing around and land noisily behind me again

A beach whose crystal water entices me to more than paddle no matter what the season.

A west of Ireland beach

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A wild Atlantic Beach.

 

 

 

 

Tackling a Haiku.. seven five seven (or should that be five seven five)

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Ronavan writes Haiku Challenge?

Of course with my dyscalculi I got the syllable count the wrong way round.

but here it is……

In all its dyscalculuss-ness (The prompts being ‘September’ and ‘Late’)

~~~

Cycling Autumn berried lanes

In late September

Lace strewn gossamer the gorse

 

 

 

Blown-away bread; A recipe (Make it if you dare)

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You would be forgiven for thinking Blown-away bread is so named because the eater was ‘blown away’ by it’s deliciousness.

But that is not the case.

It got its name due to a mischievous gust of wind that blew it off the plate when I was about to serve it to my first customer.

“Hey my bread! it’s blown away” (needless to say I was serving it out of doors and by the wild Atlantic sea)

I quickly picked up the offending bread, shook the sand off, put it back on the plate and coolly replied

“Of course it has. That’s why its called Blown-away bread!”

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Picture this!

you have just spent a glorious but tiring day cycling along mountain and bog roads and are positively STARVING.

Passing through a small village you decide to call into the butcher and buy a piece of steak.

Then, cycling the last down hill to your small tent by the sea, you set about lighting a fire.

You pull out a frying pan and throw a slab of butter into it followed by the steak.

That done you, pouring yourself a lavish glass of red wine, you stretch out your tired feet to the fire and wiggling your muddy toes (you cycle in sandals) sigh with contentment.

As you lean forward to turn the steak you become aware, above the sizzling of the pan, of the sound of voices in the distance and note (alarmingly) that they are getting louder.(A sure sign they are headed in your direction).

With sinking heart you hastily consider your options.

The first (which isn’t even a possible one but in your panic you consider it anyway) is to grab pan, steak and fire and run and hide (there are many sandy dips and hollows in this place) but you know that no one has ever manage to move a fire and live to tell the tale so you discard that one.

The second is to grin and brace yourself for the onslaught.

And here they come now .

‘Hi mom what are you doing?’

‘Hi granny’ (there are little ones in tow)

‘ooh that smells delicious’

It’s your family and without any invitation they plonk themselves down in unison beside you on the grass.

Now mothers are, by there very nature, selfless beings and it would be unacceptable to sit in front of your genes and devour a steak if you hadn’t enough to share, so you have to think quickly.

Mothers are also very innovative when it comes to feeding their young during a food shortage (think of the pelican) so without further ado you find yourself inventing a dish that although it would turn every cardiologist in the country white with fright, would have your children (even those whose diet mainly consists of avocado and almond milk) calling out for more.

The name of the dish? Blown-away Bread and you can find the recipe below.

 

THE RECIPE:

Accoutrements:

  • One large frying pan into which you can fit two slices of bread comfortably.
  • one fire preferably by the sea.
  • one medium sized family

Ingredients:

  • one Ilb butter (I use kerrygold)
  • One small steak
  • a small drop sea water (instead of salt)
  • A bottle (or two) of red wine (mostly for drinking but a small amount for cooking)
  • a loaf of thickly sliced bread (as many slices as there are people to feed and more)

Cooking time:  as long as the fire lasts.

Method:

First build a small circle of stones slightly smaller than the base of the frying pan and with an even finish so the pan can balance on it.

This done, light your fire inside this circle using turf /gathered drift wood/ dried cow dung etc

Allow the embers to die down.

Place your pan on the fire and when hot, add a good dollop of the butter.

As soon as the butter is frothing, add the steak browning it well on both sides

Allow the steak to cook thoroughly.

Discard the steak (either eat, give to the dog or throw to the seagulls. It’s no longer needed for the recipe)

Add more butter to the pan

Add some wine and a tablespoon of sea water and reduce

Carefully place two thick slices of bread in the pan.

Allow the slices to crisp on one side before turning over, ensuring they are thoroughly coated in the meat/butter/wine juice/seawater juice.

Crisp other side then lift on plate (watch that wind) and serve to your first two customers.

Continue adding butter/ wine/sea water/ bread and serving in that order until everyone has had a slice of substitute steak.

Keep going for as long as you have bread/fire/family/wine oh and calm weather.

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Waiting for the embers to die down. The wine? Oh that’s for cooking with of course.

The End.

 

 

 

 

By the wind camping (Wild camping with benefits)

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Wild camping/stealth camping! Call it what you will!

It is indented into my genes as it is into my children’s and grandchildren’s.

And IT was born out of necessity due to the love my parents had for camping and the lack of campsites in Ireland when they were young and full of energy even with eight children in tow.

Indeed lack of campsites not only did NOT deter them but actually encouraged them to head off summer after summer in search of that perfect wild spot preferably beside the sea where we could throw off our shoes and not put them back on again till the day we had to head, weeping and wailing back, back to civilisation.

But as children grew up and marriages occurred and partners who had no wild camping upbringing, became embroiled in this tradition, something had to give. 

and something eventually did.

And  from it ‘By the wind camping’ was born.

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Each spring, as early as February the conversation begins.

‘Everybody going down this summer?’

But this year my younger daughter (the one with husband and three children) replied.

‘We are! but we’re thinking of renting a house!’

She glared at us defiantly.

‘A house? how could you? ‘

That came from my older daughter.

But then She frowned.

‘Oh my god’ ! She put her hand over her mouth and opening her eyes wide looked at her sister in sympathy.

‘I had forgotten! oh remember what happened Tom (not his real name but the husband of my younger daughter) last year?’

A vision of the normally calm Tom appearing at the door of my tent, hair on end, eyes wild and staring, shouting ‘where is she’? came to mind.

And we, who were sitting chatting and drinking wine in the above mentioned tent turned to look at him in surprise.

‘Whats wrong’ we asked in unison

‘I can’t do this anymore’ was his frenzied reply.

All eye’s were on him now, some of us glancing at his hand which was clutching a food laden knife.

‘Tom!’ My youngest daughter said sharply.

‘Pull yourself together’  her tone was one of admonishment but she was also embarrassed.

‘But, but’

At that stage Tom has started to babble incoherently.

‘Excuse me’ she turned apologetically away from us and standing up, removed the knife from his hand and tossing it to one side, put her arm around her husband and gently steered him away.

‘Its OK, everything is OK’ she spoke gently as though to a frightened child, and soothingly led him back to the tent where their children were sleeping and where, outside was strewn a huge jumble of dishes.

Greasy but scrubbed clean with sand, they lay waiting to be rinsed in the pot of water  which was heating on the fire.

I understood what had happened.

Not being born into wild camping, Tom (whilst down at the shore scrubbing the pile of above mentioned dishes with sand and then hauling the basin of ware back up from the beach to the waiting pot of hot water) had allowed his mind to drift back to a time when a holiday meant relaxing by a pool in some sunny clime with a beer in his hand.

Silly man!

That memory was his big mistake.

The undoing of him.

I have seen it happen to other in laws of our family and it is not a pretty sight.

Most get into the swing of it within a year or two.

Some even stop pretending to and actually begin to enjoy it.

But some, like Tom, were a lost cause and though he had tried over the years he was only getting worse.

After much discussion we agreed that a house for Tom would be a good idea.

And so ‘By the wind camping’ was born.

How does it work?

Well those of us who could, would wild camp, while others, like Tom, who couldn’t face it, would rent a house as near as possible. Then they would ‘day’ camp with us and at the end of the day, under cover of darkness, retreat to the house only to reappear clean and refreshed at their tent the next morning giving all the appearance of being a wild camper which in fairness they would be for 60% of the time.

But some of us fell between two camping stools.

And on nights when the wind rose and the rain fell and white horses appeared in the bay and our tents groaned and flapped and bent and leaned away from the prevailing wind, I found myself, under the excuse of needing some implement from the house, cycling up to it.

And as I was there, I reasoned, I might as well snuggle into one of those soft mattress duvet covered beds.

Just for a while anyway.

‘I’ll head back down around midnight’ I promised myself.

But mostly morning would find me still in the warm bed.

Sure as I’m there why not avail of a warm shower (as opposed to a splash in the cold sea) and it would be a pity not to make a quick coffee on the electric hob (instead of lighting a fire).

And that done I would sneak back down to my tent at the crack of dawn and pretend I had slept there all night.

And so what ensued was the best summer ever.

To be continued ……

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Study of a small boy sitting in a doorway (Unexpected Item in the bagging area)

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Its OK to change your mind.

It is even healthy, now and again, to throw old notions to the wind.

Recently I have realised that a lot of my notions were due the ‘bin’.

Especially the preconceived ones which, other than ‘sitting right’ with me at the time, had no fact founded basis.

Things I was adamant about, I can now look at with a more levelled eye.

Things that I thought were the be all and end all, are becoming less significant.

The dream I had of living in a small cottage in the west of Ireland I can admit to being just a dream and no longer holds the same importance as it did say ten years ago

And as I grow older different dreams take its place.

And changes are happening

I can’t even take credit for these changes.

They slip into my life as it twists and turns and settle mostly barely noticed.

until recently that is…

I always said I would never child mind my grandchildren full time.

Love them? of course and dearly.

Take them for treats? now and again.

Babysit them? at the drop of a hat

I had a good job, an easy lifestyle and plenty of time to see them but I cherished my own time for heading off with my bicycle, traipsing around the country.

I relished time spent alone. writing, drawing, painting.

Then one day a request, an opportunity, a decision and a commitment changed all that and I am now nanny for my youngest grandson, four days a week

I call him my ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’.

Unexpectedly and delightfully he has changed my view of life.

To be continued…..

 

 

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.

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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.