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

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.

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”.

Dingle Peninsula

A good night’s sleep and we woke up to rain. The bungalow is bigger than our own house, but much quieter. The only sounds from the outside world, other than the rain, are the Atlantic Ocean, some sheep and some lovely birdsong: heard but not seen.

In the kitchen/dining area, we found an extensive CD collection. Christy Moore and The Pogues. So we can at least drown out the sounds of nature.

Except the Christy Moore CD case is empty, and inside The Pogues’ 30:30 we found Now That’s What I Call Pop CD Three. How disappointing!

But the good news is, The Pogues’ CD was found in the CD player, and the CD player actually works.

But then again, this was the only one from the 2-CD set.

Yesterday in the car, I think it’s fair to say we were both disappointed with RTE Radios 1 and 2. Too much talk about Repealing The Eighth. It’s an important issue, yes, but we want to be entertained. And the music wasn’t to our taste, except on the Gaelic station, but the signal wasn’t as reliable

Also, the Vote Yes and Vote No posters on every lamppost don’t do much to enhance the beauty of what we’ve so far seen of The Emerald Isle, even the ones that aren’t blatant lies.

We took our time getting ready to go out, hoping the rain would ease, and that the Dingle Peninsula would live up to its reputation.

And it really did. Bright green fields, glacial valleys, mountains plus all that the Atlantic could throw at the coastline. We stopped at Inch and took a mile: in fact, we walked over three miles on the beach there, despite the wind. I think the word is ‘bracing’. But fortunately for us, the rain had stopped a long time ago.

Speaking of miles, we saw a poster for Ryan’s Daughter, the film, in the local café, and for teenage me, the big star of the film was Sarah Miles. It was filmed in the area, and they are very proud of that.

We had coffee and carrot cake at the café, part of our c-food diet, following the crisps and curry yesterday. As it’s not the full tourist season, the outside toilets were still locked up and there were no rubbish bins: recycling bins, yes, ordinary litter bins, no.

Inch Beach

This guy was the only one fishing on the beach, we have no idea if he caught anything but a few sea-birds looked hopeful. Lots of people had driven along the beach though and I made sure that if future archaeologists inspect the fossilised footprints, they’ll wonder just how 21st century walked.

After a cheese sandwich for lunch, we drove to and through Dingle itself and further west. We stopped several times to admire the views and there are not enough superlatives available, so just imagine us saying ‘wow’ on repeat.

At Dunmore Head, we joined the sheep and walked up and over the headland to within spitting distance of the furthest west point of mainland Ireland. It would be a terrific place to watch the Sun set, but that happens so much later than at home.

Dunmore Head
Dunmore Head

Tig Àine is probably the café with the best possible view anywhere. How anyone that works there does anything other than look through the window is beyond me. We had more coffee and cake while watching the waves crashing on the rocks, watching a group of five ducks amble by and admiring the pictures painted by local artists. Yes, we would have liked to buy one, but no, we didn’t, the overall plan is still to de-clutter.

After yesterday’s disappointment with the local radio offerings in the car, today I connected my phone via Bluetooth so we were able to listen to some old BBC radio programmes. Tony Blackburn’s Golden Hours is the fastest show in the world, apparently!

The drive back to base was gorgeous too and for supper we had a fry-up.

We could spent days here to be honest.

Two Gigs and More Music

At the River by Groove Armada has just been played on the radio. It took me back to the late ’90s, listening to GLR while doing the washing up. The sky was blue, the sun was out, I could hear the waves crashing on the beach, the sound of gulls squawking in the distance, and feelings of comfort and warmth. Nostalgia. It seems along time ago, now, twenty years in fact, but it’s funny how hearing a song can evoke all those feelings from so long ago.

The previous song was Blues in the Night by Rosemary Clooney. Not many songs remind me of my Dad, but this one did. Far more songs remind me of my Mum, Dad just wasn’t interested in music, apart from a very select, short list of songs.

Thanks to Guy Garvey on BBC 6 Music for proving that mentally at least, time travel is possible.

Talking about music, this week, Liesel and I went to two gigs. Not on consecutive nights, that would just be too much for these old bones.

Martha Tilston appeared at The Half Moon, Putney and showed us her new film, the Cliff Top Sessions, in which she invites a group of fellow musicians around to her place to play and sing.

Afterwards, she performed some of her own songs too, both old and new. I think we’ve seen Martha play live more often in the last twelve years than any other musician and she’s always good value. We bumped into her Mum too, but never did get around to having a long catch-up.

O’Hooley and Tidow are rising stars from Yorkshire whose songs are usually about real people and real events. They have great harmonies and Belinda O’Hooley’s keyboard playing is fantastic (classically trained, surely?) and their on-stage presence is lovely, very friendly and funny. They were at The Ram Folk Club based in a sports club in Thames Ditton, not a stone’s throw from where we live. We wish we’d found out about The Ram Club years ago but somehow, it’s been under our radar. And just before we move away, too. How’s that for rotten luck?

Sadly, on this day in 1993, Mick Ronson passed away. He was in David Bowie’s band in the early 1970s, during the time most of us fell in love with the science-fictiony, strange new music. When I went up to University in 1973, there were very many Michaels so to differentiate, I chose to be called Mick, in honour of Mr Ronson. I shared a room with Nick. Mick and Nick, well, it made sense at the time. The only people to carry on calling me Michael or Mike were my parents and official bodies such as banks, the NHS and the passport office. I still feel like a ‘Mick’ and when someone does call me Michael, I still expect to be told off for something. I remember seeing Mick Ronson join David Bowie on stage at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992, a very moving event in many respects.

63: better than 57 was

Liesel and I were in a shop and she asked me what sort of doughnut I wanted.

“Oh, a normal jam doughnut, with the jam at the back, please.”

As she was being served, David Jacobs walked by us, said “Hello” and walked behind the counter into the kitchen. Well that’s strange, I thought.

Then Liesel looked at me in horror and said, “Mick, you’ve spilt coffee on your shorts”, in a manner that implied I was always spilling coffee down my otherwise pristine, white shorts. I looked down and was horrified at the large brown stain. Then I realised, it was a map of the world, printed on my shorts at a quirky, jaunty angle. But the map is meant to be on the back: yes, I’d put my shorts on back to front. The text is meant to be on the front of the shorts.

Then of course, I woke up and realised, hooray, it’s my birthday.

I don’t know if dreams really mean anything but in this case, it was half right. I did meet David Jacobs just the once: at a Kingston Readers’ Festival event, he asked me if I knew the way to the lavatory.

When I was a child, sometimes as a treat when she took me and my sister shopping in Guildford, Mum would buy us a doughnut. I could never understand how doughnuts worked. Wherever I took the first bite, I wouldn’t find any jam until I’d nearly finished. It was always at the back.

On the other hand, I haven’t worn lily white shorts for a few decades, not since I gave up playing squash. And I have certainly never worn shorts adorned with a world map, nor any other decoration. And I don’t think I’ve spilt coffee on any of my shorts. The living room carpet, yes; the shorts, no.

Back to real life. Today was Mick’s birthday and we had a fun day in London with our friends Helen and Steve.

In the morning we enjoyed Abba Super Troupers: The Exhibition at the Southbank Centre. We walked through nine immersive rooms, taking in the music and creativity that saw four talented Swedish musicians shoot to international stardom. There was plenty of memorabilia, lots of music, and an opportunity to remix one of the songs in a replica of their recording studio.

In Gabriel’s Wharf, we ate all, well, some of, the pies at Pieminister. It had been warm enough briefly in the morning for me to take my coat off. Nobody else did. But walking around in shirt sleeves, albeit briefly, is a sure sign that at last, maybe, possibly, finally, Spring is on its way.

We continued our walk along the South Bank stopping at the Tate Modern for coffee and cake. Not birthday cake, but close enough, thanks for asking. While sitting in the café there, we saw the royal barge Gloriana heading towards Putney for the University Boat Race tomorrow. I think that at the speed it was travelling, it wasn’t being rowed and should therefore not be allowed to compete.

There was a group of people filming on the South Bank beach. Maybe a film, maybe a TV programme. But if in a drama, you ever see someone fishing in the Thames with a rod, let us know, we were there!In the turbine room, the current exhibition is Superflex One Two Three Swing, lots of swings each of which has room for three people, so Liesel and I had a go. Great fun: it’s so good to be allowed, even encouraged, to act like children once in a while.

Steve is a big, big fan of buses, so we went for a quick bus ride to pass some time, catching the RV1 from near the Tate Modern to Tower Gateway, then a 15 to Aldwych, then another RV1 back to the Southbank Centre.

At the Royal Festival Hall, we enjoyed the London Concert Orchestra playing music from James Bond films, and other related films and TV series. The two singers Louise Dearman and Oliver Tompsett did pretty well: we’ll never see Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Matt Monro, Lulu, Louis Armstrong and all the others performing their James Bond film songs live. Yes, I was nudged a few times for singing along, but come on, it is my birthday.

Abba Super Troupers runs until April 29th.

Superflex One Two Three Swing runs until April 2nd.

And if you’ve got this far, you may be wondering about the title. Why is 63 better than 57 was?

Today was a great day, in the greatest city on Earth, all good, nothing bad. It was my 63rd birthday. 63 going on 29.

But I had to work on my 57th birthday: and that was the day I got bit on the bum by a dog.