Back Home

Returning home after a holiday is always an anticlimax. It’s nice to be home, but we’d still prefer to be doing something different, somewhere else. The journey home was uneventful, but bitty.

After breakfast and a chat with our host, Noreen, then

  • We walked to the tram stop and caught a tram into Dublin city centre, then
  • We walked around the corner and caught a bus to the airport, then
  • We walked to the gate, via the shops, then caught an airport bus, then
  • We walked to the aeroplane and up the stairs and flew to Gatwick, then
  • We walked off the plane and caught a bus to the terminal, then
  • We walked to the station and caught a train to Clapham Junction, then
  • We walked to a different platform and caught a train to Tolworth, then
  • We walked across the road and caught a bus to Gosbury Hill, then
  • We walked around the corner, home, sweet home.

Interestingly, we walked straight out of Gatwick airport, nobody and no machine checked our passports. It was a bit of a shock to be out on the concourse with hundreds of members of the actual public.

Liesel declined my invitation to come for a walk the following day, despite it being sunny rather than the predicted wet. And walking around the streets of Chessington, I was reminded why I usually take out my phone and play music or radio programmes. The sound of traffic is inescapable, even away from what might be described as main roads. The birds around here have to squawk really loudly to compete with the traffic. Walking in the forest last week was so peaceful, heating the birds singing without having to shout. And the silence in between was only disturbed by the susurration of the wind in the leaves.

Today was the day we caught up on all of our admin, not very interesting really, having to pay bills and check bank accounts and process all the mail, throwing a good 75% of the paperwork straight into the recycling bin.

As far as the house-move is concerned, some progress has been made. We responded to our vendor’s enquiries and our seller’s solicitor has answered some of ours. One thing that is a little disconcerting, that we hadn’t previously even contemplated, is the question: Is our new flat likely to be affected by the impact of the High Speed Railway (HS2) from Birmingham to Manchester?

While away, we tried to follow the Giro d’Italia but now we’re home, we can watch it on TV, or at least, the highlights. Sean Yates has been leading for most of the race but today, he cracked on the final climb, so, excitingly, it’s all to play for! (As they say.)

Today is the final day of the service provided by Which.net, the site of my first websites and our first email addresses. Over the years, I’ve said farewell to a number of different email addresses but I still have a soft spot for some of them:

  • delphinus
  • more-chocolate
  • dark_horse
  • mickeydoodah
  • mick_the_wonder_horse
  • mickey_moose
  • mickeydoooodah
  • mickeydoodledoo
  • mick.freed (yes, one of those had to go because it clashed with an American who shares my name)
  • cc_s435 (my very first one, at Kingston University)

Dublin again

Two days in Dublin’s fair city and yes, the girls are pretty. The city itself though will look a lot prettier once the referendum is over and the big ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ posters are taken down. At Heuston Station, we apologised for not being able to vote as we were just visiting, but we assured the ‘Yes’ campaigners that we were on their side, for what it’s worth.

When we first went to buy tickets for Kilmainham Gaol Museum, the only timeslot available was for 5pm, so we decided to buy tickets for the next day instead. Managing the queues to get inside to join the queue to buy tickets was a tough job. Dave coped quite well, though, even turning a group of six away who would not get in this day.

It would be easier to get into this gaol by committing a criminal offence, I thought.

No? Dave the queue handler wasn’t too impressed by this throwaway line either.

Today we retuned and after a quick coffee (but no cake) in the café, we joined a group of about 40 in the holding cells. Pat was the guide’s name. He showed us around the old gaol, telling us about its history and indeed the struggle for Irish independence. There was a lot of history here that I certainly didn’t learn at school. Sometime it’s hard to be English when you learn how we treated peoples from pretty much everywhere else on the planet. Plenty of tragic stories to be told, here.

The museum, as is often the case, had too much to digest in one visit. Lots of documents and photos.

Just down the road and through the park is the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Its design is based on Les Invalides in Paris. I noticed a sundial and the following dialogue took place:

Mick: Looking at the sundial, I reckon it’s about ten past twelve.

Liesel: But the Sun’s not even out.

Mick: So? Not bad, though, my Fitbit says is 12:02.

Sundial at IMMA

Temple Bar is a famous name and we spent some time in this pub two days running. On the first occasion, there was a small band playing Irish folk songs and other songs. Today, there was a solo performer, also singing Irish folk songs as well as songs by Cat Stevens, Johnny Cash and George Harrison. On both occasions, we heard about Molly Malone and about The Belle of Belfast City.

Cornucopia was a good find, a veggie restaurant on Wicklow Street. So good, we went there twice, too. The weather was OK both days, not a lot of sunshine, not much of the predicted rain either, but today was very close, very humid, and we were flagging by mid-afternoon.

Our main mode of transport has been the Luas Tram network. The signs and announcements are all in two languages, and after a while, you get a feel for the Irish words. Some are similar to English, some are similar to French and other langauges, but nearly always, by English standards, there are far too many letters in Irish Gaelic words! It’s easy to love the Luas Tram Rad Line with colourful station/stop names such as Blackhorse, Goldenbridge, Bluebell and Red Cow.

It’s usually taken us to and from our b&b in Tallaght, to the south of Dublin, but I don’t know if we would have chosen to stay here if we’d known its etymology: plague pit.

But today, after our meal at Cornucopia, we caught a 49 bus, knowing it would cross a tram line at some point, where we could change. But, fortuitously, it took us all the way to Tallaght, and a ten-minute walk later found us back in our room, preparing for our early departure tomorrow, listening to the radio and looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Emerald from the bus
Emerald from the bus

Dublin

In Dublin’s fair city
Where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through the streets broad and narrow
Crying “cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh”
Molly Malone Statue
Molly Malone Statue – we did not stroke her boobs, although it seems many people have done so

Well, Molly Malone wasn’t the first person we saw in Dublin. Not the tenth, not the hundredth. There are thousands of people in Dublin, more than we’ve seen in the last 10 days or so. We’ll get used to the crowds soon enough, but it’s a bit of a shock to the system after having the Irish countryside and the roads pretty much to ourselves for so long.

Sadly we missed the great event of the day, but as we drove through Foxford on our way to Dublin, we noticed that they were setting up the world-famous Goat Fair. By the side of the road, we saw goats, chickens, rabbits and other food waiting to entertain the people.

The drive to Dublin was far easier than we’d expected: we dropped our bags off at the new b&b, returned the hire car, and spent the afternoon walking around the capital city. It was a beautiful day, we’ve been so lucky with the weather, on the whole.

We found St Stephen’s Green and had a lie down under an oak tree for a while, watching people, trying not to rest our eyes too much.

We read about the royal wedding, Harry and Megham, the American preacher, the dress, the choir, the crowds, but we were very happy where we were, thank you. Mrs Beckham (see previous post) was there, not really enjoying the ceremony, apparently.

Thanks again to Catherine and her beautiful family for putting up with us over there in Ballina for the last few days. That’s Bally-nah, not Balleener, like something you’d get out of whales. She and her husband, Fionn, whom we first met last night, ran a half-marathon this morning and it’s a shame we couldn’t stay to cheer them on. Or join in.

We’re now in Tallacht, south-west of the city, and it’s quiet here (apart from the motor bike) and the view to the south is pretty good considering we are so close to the city.

The good news is, we found the missing binoculars, in exactly the same place that we’d found a wallet that went missing for a couple of days. There is some kind of gravitational anomaly under that driver’s seat: someone else’s problem, now!

Downpatrick Head

Maybe it was too much fresh air yesterday, maybe it was the beer I drank in the evening (not Guinness), but whatever it was, I am very grateful. For I won a radio competition to help Pink Floyd finish off their latest album, Dark Side of the Moon.

I went to the studio and was told to go into the recording booth with Roger Waters and Roger Dean. The three of us were to sing “That was the news”, one after the other, and this would become the refrain for one of the songs, Our Beauty. In fact, so that I knew what to do, Roger Waters played me the track from the CD.

Meanwhile, in the corner, sat a young girl reading the news. In the opposite corner sat (Jimmy S)a vile man blowing vile cigar smoke into the room.

As the news finished, I heard my own voice singing “That was the news”. Then everyone started laughing! The joke was on me: the radio station just wanted a post-news jingle and I’d unwittingly provided it.

Even within the drean, I then realised that (1) CDs weren’t around when Dark Side of the Moon was recorded (2) There is no such track as Our Beauty on it (3) Roger Dean wasn’t a member of Pink Floyd and (4) The Roger Waters I’d met was an imposter.

Dreams are strange phenomena: you make them up in your own mind and yet you can still be surprised by the things that happen or by what people say. They might come up with a perfectly reasonable answer to a question that you hadn’t thought about.

For example, there was the time I met Victoria Beckham.

“Oh, hello, Vicky”, I said.

“I hate being called Vicky”.

“Oh, sorry. What about Victoria?”

“Oh no, you don’t know me and I don’t know you.”

“Well, what should I call you, then?”

“What’s wrong with Mrs Beckham?”

That was me put in my place.

Today was our last full day in the west of Ireland and I think it’s fair to say: we’ll be back. We’ve enjoyed it immensely, but there is so much more to see. Even apart from that, we just enjoy being here, appreciate all that nature offers and love the friendliness of the people.

We went with Catherine to her favourite place, Downpatrick Head, on the north coast. In fact, this was the furthest north we’d visit on this trip.

It’s a cliff-top, windy place for a walk, and on a stormy day, the sea has been known to wash over the cliffs. Lots of birds, such as guillemots, are nesting on the cliffs and if I were a rock-climber, I’m sure I would want to climb the sea-stack.

Downpatrick Head Sea-stack
Downpatrick Head Sea-stack

The geology of the place is fascinating, some of the rock has cracked into squares, different from the hexagons at Giant’s Causeway. Who knows, maybe one day I will go back and do the Open University Geology course, which I once considered, but I chose another Maths course instead.

There are a couple of blowholes too which I’m sure are exciting to see on a good day, but for now, we were just happy to admire the views.

Liesel and Catherine
Liesel and Catherine adding to the natural beauty of Downpatrick Head

Back in Ballycastle, we enjoyed coffee and scones at Mary’s Kitchen, a really cute little place. According to the menu, Mary has turned grey over the ten years since she arrived, but her husband hasn’t, yet!

We had a quick look in the local gallery, Ballinglen, which had a display downstairs and a library upstairs where I could have spent a long time browsing through the books.

Catherine had to return to work, so Liesel and I set off towards Sligo but in the end, Easky was as far as we went. Knowing we have a long drive, back to Dublin, tomorrow, I think we were both happy to stop here, coffee, millionaire shortbread for me and a sandwich for Liesel, and a walk to the beach where we explored a 811-year old castle and watched a surfer fail to really get going.

Easky Castle
Easky Castle, built in 1207, now incomplete

Belleek Forest Park

Melinda was mine ’til the time
That I found her
Holding Jim
And loving him

So begins Neil Diamond’s song, Solitary Man, which shuffled into play in the car a few days ago. This song went through my mind today when I was in the depths of the forest. Not that I’m a solitary man, and I don’t think I’ve ever known a Melinda, but I was making the most of my solitude.

Today is the seventeenth anniversary of Sarah’s departure from us. Another Thursday 17th May. In some ways, it’s a lifetime ago but in other ways, it’s such a recent event.

I took advantage of the opportunity to go for a long walk my myself, while Liesel went shopping, did some cooking and otherwise had a relaxing day.

Within walking disance of Catherine’s house in Ballina is Belleek Forest Park. It was quiet, peaceful and I saw very few other people. The paths are well maintained, well sign-posted and there is a lot to look at.

I followed the river Moy for a while too, thinking I might get as far as where it enters the Atlantic, but looking at a map afterwards, that was far too ambitious.

The Crete Boom is a ship made of concrete that was used by the Royal Navy but now sits gathering moss and seaweed in the Moy.

Crete Boom
Crete Boom

I was surprised to see warning signs of Japanese knotweed in a couple of places: not the vegetation I would have sought out. The forest was of course full of trees, some of which I could identify and some of which I identified from the flyer I’d picked up. Sycamore, lime, beech, oak, willow, elm, hornbeam and Monterey pine trees are all there, standing tall and proud. And putting all the world’s problems into perspective: I didn’t want to think about Brexit, Trump, Iran, North Korea, Israel, Palestine, plastics in the oceans. I wanted to spend time with Sarah, who has missed out on all our adventures over the last seventeen years, missed out on meeting her grandchildren, and I tried not to go through the cycle of thinking how unfair it all was, and what if, and if only.

Instead, I recalled the happy times we’d had together, with regret that those times didn’t last longer, but equally pleased that we’ve all moved on. I am so proud of Helen and Jenny and I’m sure their Mum would be very proud too.

There are red squirrels in the forest, but I didn’t see any. I didn’t see any rabbits either, nor any other animals bigger than birds. But it was a beautiful day to commune with nature while my thoughts meandered backwards and forwards through time.

Hmm, yes, I was enjoying communing with nature. Meanwhile, some other folks had been closely communing in nature.

Ring Fort with a used condom packet, some folks have all the fun
Ring Fort

When I left the forest, I walked along the road for a while, having seen a sign for Moyne Abbey. I thought that would be a good place to stop, but after every brow of a hill, I could see no sign of an abbey. So as a last resort, I looked at the map on my phone and realised I was still an hour’s walk away. I went back to the forest, again saying hello to the cows and the bulls and the donkey and standing well to the side of the road when a tractor appeared.

In the forest, I followed different paths until I found Belleek Castle. Yesterday, Catherine had said there was a coffee shop here, so that became an urgent destination. Coffee and a scone. I recalled the holidays Sarah and I had had BC, before children, often in the Cotswolds, often in the rain. Tea shops rather than coffee shops usually supplied the scones for afternoon tea, but it’s funny to note how things have changed over the years, but not much, really.

Belleek Castle
Belleek Castle

Yes, I’m sure we will always miss Sarah, she and Liesel would have a lot of laughs at my expense, I’m sure, if they’d ever met.

Back at home, we enjoyed the pasta salad and the banoffee pie that Liesel had made, along with a bottle of beer from Catherine that Lochlainn has chosen for me!

Solitary Man? Not me, I’m a very lucky bloke, I’ve met and fallen in love with two wonderful women, I have two beautiful daughters and two fantastic grandchildren. This is what’s important, not the stupid stuff that I tend to whinge about a bit too often.

So, a million thanks and lots of love to all of you who have made and who continue to make my life as fantastic as it is.

Achill Island

There really is no point in trying to come up with more and more superlatives. If you need more, find a thesaurus, look up ‘gorgeous’, ‘lovely’, ‘awe-inspi\nring’ and ‘incrediy moving. It was a pleasant drive to Achill, on good roads, with little traffic, in the sunshine.

There were some sheep on the road, we had the beaches pretty much to ourselves, we had a picnic on a beach but on the whole, we just enjoyed looming at the stunning Irish landscapes.

Keem
Keem
Rush hour traffic
Where’s Liesel?
Mulrahanny

Ballina

Oh what a miserable start to the day. Grey, drizzly dreich. So the perfect day for a long lie-in.

Yesterday in the car, we played the last of the radio programmes I’d downloaded. So now, we’re playing the other music, songs and albums, on shuffle. And it’s wonderful what pops up and, equally, how well it matches he countryside we’re passing through.

Fisrt off this morning, we heard Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ New Boots and Panties, almost in its entirety but including the bonus tracks that appeared on the CD. I say ‘almost’, because I wondered whether, in a rare moment of prudery when I was listening to music at work, I might have deleted Plaistow Patricia. But no: when I checked later, it was there. It just never came up on random shuffle, while other tracks repeated a few times before we pulled over to change from the one album to a random selection of all songs.

We had planned to drive from Loughrea to Ballina via the west coast, Westport, Connemara, but in the end, because of the weather we just headed straight north. Beautiful roads and probably gorgeous scenery too, but we couldn’t see much of it.

Instead, we sang along to the likes of Rosanne Cash, Neil Diamond, Camille O’Sullivan, Van Morrison, Bic Runga, Björk Guðmundsdóttir, Beatles, Bee Gees, Dusty Springfield: all the hits and more. One or two were geographically apt: Over to Ireland by Martha Tilston and a gorgeous tune by James Galway.

We stopped in Charlestown for a coffee and instead of cake, I had a bowl of chips. Liesel had a scone because there were no muffins!

We reached Ballina, a cute little town, which would be our home for the next few days. We’re staying with Catherine, with whom Liesel used to work. There are three lively, young children here too: Eoin, Siuna and Lochlainn.

And as the day draws to a close, the Sun has made an appearance. All we want to say is, “you’ve left it a bit late, mate”.