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.

Lead, Foam and Ice Cream

On Saturday, before returning home, we had breakfast with our family in Chorlton. The drive from our Airbnb took a long time as we’d been advised to avoid the M60 motorway.

But slowly, slowly, all these little places, towns, villages, suburbs around Manchester and Stockport are coming together in our mental map. I think today for the first time, I learnt for sure that Chorlton is the same place as Chorlton-cum-Hardy. And we realised that we weren’t all that far from Northenden where we will soon be living.

We’d planned to meet up at The Lead Station for a late breakfast, or brunch, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the food. We’ll definitely be back! It was a warm day and I regretted listening to my wife and not bringing my shorts: she’d said it was supposed to be cold all weekend. On the contrary, we might be having the warmest May Bank Holiday weekend, ever!

Liesel and I parked the car and as we were a bit early, we stopped off for a coffee just down the road at the Foam Coffee House. The coffee was lovely and I’m sure we’ll go back for cake or toast or something one day. We might even go along and play the board games. They had one that I’d never seen before: Subbuteo Table Rugby. I’m intrigued, how does that handle throwing the ball, drop-kicks, scrummages?

There’s a nice little park just down the road too. Very small, is Beech Road Park. Bijou.

Beech Road Park, Chorlton
Beech Road Park, Chorlton

The previous day, we’d taken the children to The Ice Cream Farm, a bit further afield, towards Chester. Martha had a whale of a time in the indoor water play area, Europe’s biggest, apparently.

And I had a whale of a time too, playing with my new Samsung phone, learning how to use the super slow-mo feature, which requires some dexterity with the aged fingers. It was a gorgeous day, and I wish I’d been wearing my shorts… have I said that already?

Here’s the first go:

It’s been edited for duration but the picture is too big for this page. Things can only get better.

That’s Impossible, Mummy

I went for a walk in Chessington a couple of days ago. During that time, I chatted with four former colleagues at Royal Mail.

Our own Postie, Michael, is very helpful and we’re happy to return the favour, to make his day-to-day duty a little bit easier.

Duncan, the Delivery Office Manager, had a hip replacement last year and says he hasn’t felt this good for a long time. Royal Mail senior management don’t get any better. Duncan has just been copied in to a long thread of emails discussing the sale of Chessington Delivery Office and moving the staff into the spare space the Epsom office. All the plans have been made, values estimated, timetables agreed. But there’s just one problem. Royal Mail sold this office ten years ago and have been paying rent ever since.

Paul usually works indoors, serving customers who come to collect items that couldn’t be delivered. He also prepares the up to seven, yes, seven, door-to-door leaflets (unaddressed junk mail, pizza menus mostly) that have to be delivered to each house. 99% of which go straight into the recycling box.

Steve had two knees replaced last year and is recovering well. In fact, he chose to retire a few weeks ago too and syas he’s loving it. Not having to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning. Not knowing what day of he week it is. He thinks he might get bored one day, in which case he’ll look for a very part-time job.

But he has grand-children too and I have a sneaky feeling he will be spending more time with them.

It’s a funny feeling spending time with our Martha and William, knowing it’s never going to be enough time, but also planning to leave them for a year while we go travelling.

William has just turned 5 months of age. He has a gorgeous, cheeky little smile and if he doesn’t become the number one joker in his class at school, I’ll be very surprised. He will be able to pick us out in an ID parade, no problem, given the amount of time he scrutinises our faces, while trying not to laugh.

And here we are now, boasting about Martha, just over 2 years old. She is incredibly bright. Not only can she count from 1 to 10, she knows when he has 2, 3, 4 or 5 balls in front of her. Proper counting.

Playing in the garden today, she slipped on the slide, and when her Mum asked if she was alright, she said, “I’m fine.” She usually refers to herself in the third person, as Moo-moo. So, pronouns too.

And when her Mum asked if she wanted to climb up the slide, for the second time in two days, and we just looked at each other the first time, she said, “That’s impossible, Mummy.” What a concept for a 2-year old.