Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Before and After

Hotel H is bursting at the seams this week; the mice are still in residence - I'd like to think there are fewer of them, but Lord knows how many more are in search of a snug new home in a cosy loft - and we have visitors. The bathroom facilities here are currently,erm, basic, which is interesting, but we did manage to finish the kitchen just hours before this week's guests arrived. 

So from this...

Through this (when you think it's never going to be finished...)

We finally got to this. Hurray.

And now, I'm boarding up the study door and writing!

(But, before I do, another quick note about the font. Since the new improved Blogger interface thingy arrived, I can't make it work and I don't have the time to fiddle with it, so, dear Blogger, the restoration of my old template would please me no end. Thank you.)

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Strangers in the Night

It’s three in the morning and I wake suddenly, disturbed by the sense of something wicked happening a few feet away from me.  Paranormal activity?  Every nerve fibre’s pricking and I hold my breath and keep very still under the covers.  And there it is again; the tiny, but blood –curdling sound of claws scratching at plaster. Tom’s snoring quietly beside me, but I can’t bear to listen to this on my own.
Muffled protest.  He carries on sleeping.
Loud protest.  ‘What?’
‘Shhhhh!  Listen!’
 ‘It’s outside,’ Tom says, snuggling down.
It’s true that a party of magpies have taken to tap-dancing on the flat roof of the bedroom’s dormer window but they’re much clumpier.  The scratching becomes more insistent; now it sounds as if the horrid creature’s got a pick axe and is close to breaking through.
‘That’s not outside,’ I insist.
Eventually, Tom agrees that we are not alone.  It seems that the two dead mice found curled up so forlornly in a socket by our electrician in July have live relatives.  In July, however, when the house was being taken apart in the first stage of renovation, I could accept the occasional mouse or two might have wandered in to explore the cavity walls and ceiling voids.  Now that many of the gaps have been filled by new wiring and smooth plaster, I’m not at all happy at the thought of little teeth chomping through them.
‘Humane traps,’ someone suggests on Twitter, ‘take them to a field and release them.’
Hmm, maybe that explains how we’ve acquired our new guests; our house is surrounded by fields!  Clearly all the mice that other people have released there have skedaddled over and re-homed themselves!
Research in B&Q suggests that this is a common problem in west Wales; there’s a bewildering number of solutions – shelves of it.  I quite like the idea of the electronic repeller that uses ultrasonic sound to drive them from the house clutching their little ears, but it’s an expensive option so we reluctantly choose a more traditional method.  The next night there’s no noise.  At all.  Have the mice gone quietly or are they just playing hard to get?

ePainting is ‘Fuchsias’ by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Return to Ireland: Beyond the Mist

Friday 30 September

It’s our last full day at the cottage so, naturally, the mist lifts.  We seize the chance to take a look at the rugged scenery of the Ring of Beara and the spectacular Healy Pass.  It’s a bit of a whirlwind tour, but it’s wonderful to finally see the breathtaking views that are such a feature of this lovely county.  The fuchsia hedges that Fennie remembered from a trip to County Cork, and which are so characteristic of the area, line many lanes.

Ma wants to visit the wool shop in Bantry to see if she can find some emerald green wool to mix in with the blue she bought in Dingle last year.  Inside the shop, where wool tumbles out of every cupboard and shelf like a wool avalanche, she tells the owner what she’s looking for.
            ‘I have some baby blue,’ says the owner.
            ‘I’m looking for emerald,’ says Ma.
            ‘Beige?’ the owner offers, plunging into a woollen lucky dip.  ‘Brown?  Red?  Black?  Purple?’
            After Ma has rejected what feels like every shade of wool in the shop, the owner trots off and returns with exactly what Ma is looking for.  It’s as if she’s been testing Ma to see if she’ll weaken and take an alternative.  There then follows an almighty haggling session, the clash of two immovable forces, before the owner concedes heavily on the price of the wool, but gets her own back with the cost of the pattern. 

It’s market day in Bantry and we take a stroll to marvel at the stalls.  A man and woman are sitting on the kerb with their fat, jolly baby, a scruffy dog and a cardboard box that clucks and squawks.
            ‘Don’t go too far,’ the woman tells the scruffy dog which is sidling off in search of an adventure.  Meanwhile, the man is lifting his jolly baby into the air.
            ‘Sure, she thinks she’s at the fair, so she does,’ he tells us, when she beams uncertainly at us.  ‘Bejeesus, she says!’ he laughs.

Eating out is prohibitively expensive, so for our last meal in Bantry, Tom makes End of Holiday Stew, using everything left in the cupboard and we enjoy the other half of our fecking bargainous eppel teyrt with custard for pud. It’s a magnificent end to our stay.

Saturday 1 October
As we load the car, we finally get to see the view from the cottage, which turns out to be rather lovely.   

Having stopped briefly at Cork on the way down, we plan to explore more of the city at our leisure on the way back and take in a return trip to the Crawford Art Gallery.  

During our stay, Jack Yeats’s painting, ‘A Fair Day, Mayo’ has been bought for one million euros, making it the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction in Ireland.  Unfortunately, we’re not the buyers, since Ma’s lotto tickets turn out to be duds – not a winning number between us.  I do very much like Yeats’s work The Small Ring which hangs in the Crawford.  It depicts a young boxer looking at his felled opponent and I like it for the way Yeats captures the stillness of the moment. There’s also a magnificent but eerie sculpture gallery, the kind of room I wouldn’t care to be alone in after dark, although I’d happily spend lots of time in the Crawford Gallery CafĂ©.

Alas, the weather halts further exploration of the city; it’s absolutely teeming down and not much fun for walking. We seek shelter in the English Market, but everyone has the same idea.  It’s a fascinating market which has been trading since 1788, but it’s too full of hot, wet people to linger.

The rain hammers down all the way to Rosslare, but at least the sea state is calm.  We board the ferry and Tom takes Ma off for a hot meal. On their return, I order a toasted Panini at the bar and, after only a moment’s hesitation, a Jameson to go with it. ‘Is it for yesself?’ asks the barman.  It is indeed, all for mesself and it hits the spot very nicely.  Here’s to Ireland.

PS Apologies for any crazy formatting in this; I've struggled to get it to play!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Return to Ireland: Part Two

Tuesday 27 September, contd.
‘Stop! This is me!’our new friend announces some four very smelly miles down the road as we reach the village of Goleen. Tom opens the door to see him out and they shake hands.
   ‘What?’ Tom asks, climbing back in to find me and Ma sending him accusing stares.
   ‘I could have been knifed!’ Ma says, with ghoulish relish, even though she’s laughing.
   ‘Oh, he was mostly harmless,’ says Tom.
   ‘But smelly,’ I add. ‘I was nearly sick.’
   ‘Well, I couldn’t smell anything,’ says Tom, winding down the window to allow the lingering miasma to escape.
   'I just hope he didn’t have fleas,’ says Ma, as if we’ve picked up a stray cat.

At Barley Cove, Tom and I take a walk along the swaying pontoon bridge that conserves the dunes. Ma’s poor brittle back and injured arm mean that she’s too fragile these days to risk joining us, but she’s happy to sit in the car and wait, albeit still clucking about the low standard of boyfriend material we’ve procured for her.

Wednesday 28 September
As Britain basks in the steamy heat, we are still blanketed in mist. We drive through Ballydehob, Baltimore and Skibbereen all similarly cloaked in wispy fleece. At Skibbereen, we give up trying to see the sights and go shopping in Lidl. Judging by the amount of people filling their trollies there; it’s the thing to do. It’s a bit ironic then that this area was one of the worst affected by the Irish Famine.

Back at the holiday cottage, we meet the owners freshly returned from a weekend in Lourdes. They tell us that amongst other matters, they’ve been praying for success for the Irish team in the rugby world cup. I’m no expert, but I’d assumed prayers were meant for cures for cancer and an end to world poverty, not any ole stuff. And since, as I write this, the Irish lads are now on their way home, perhaps I’m not alone in considering the request a tad frivolous.

I put the kettle on and go off to find Ma, who’s sitting in the conservatory, lifting her face to a sliver of sunshine which has slipped through the clouds. I ask her if she would like tea and cake and her expression lights up. Ma has extraordinarily beautiful eyes – very clear with deep blue irises – and a gap between her two front teeth. Right now, her smile radiates a childlike joy and she looks about six. I drop a kiss on her hair and go off choked because she’s so pleased by something that’s so easy to do.

In the evening we watch RTÉ Prime Time featuring interviews with the seven candidates for the Irish presidency. The candidates include Dana Rosemary Scallon, sometime Eurovision Song Contest winner and Martin McGuinness, sometime IRA member, though not since 1974, he says. All are quizzed on what their unique suitability is for the post is and about their greatest personal weakness. They’ve all read the bit about turning a negative into a positive in the ‘Get the Job You Want!’ handbook, but it’s an interesting exercise for all that.  

Thursday 29 September
We take up our hosts’ suggestion and drive up through the mountains to picturesque Gougane Barra (‘the rock cleft of Finbarr) where a large lake in a glacial valley reflects the autumn trees and an amazing Cavalry is pale and startling against dark evergreens. Continuing up through the mountains, the mist descends yet again so we cut our losses and walk round the pretty, touristy town of Kenmare. Ma optimistically buys two lotto tickets.

Next... the mist lifts.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Return and Return to Ireland

Hello. I dropped off the radar for a while there, didn’t I? The trials and tribulations have continued at Hotel H, along with a dollop of heartache caused by a stone flying into the deep, dark Pool of the Past, creating quite a few ripples. We’ve also been hit by the great ‘BT Service Outage’, resolved after five days, not by technology, but by the application of a sharp object to the router. And we’ve also been back to Ireland with Ma, but this year’s experience has been, well, different...

Sunday 25 September
Wake up in Bantry, West Cork, to an abundance of soft rain. Somewhere outside is a view, although the mist is so thick it’s hard to tell what it might be. Never mind, the view inside is interesting too, with plenty of fierce ornaments to keep us entertained. The cottage is large and well-stocked, although the initial fridge-like temperature that comes from the place not having been occupied for a couple of weeks, means we have to burn a small peat bog to stop our teeth chattering.

Monday 26 September
Tom and I are exhausted from weeks of yet uncompleted house renovations and Ma’s recovering from her brush with the dustcart. We decide that a return trip to Killarney, which we loved last year, will help in our quest for the craic. A drive through the Cork and Kerry mountains and the stunning Caha Pass affords us tantalizing glimpses of wonderful scenery through the swirling mist and drizzle. We try not to think about the heat wave that we’ve left behind in Britain. The ailing Irish economy and a poor exchange rate have taken their toll on prices. Two toasted sandwiches, a slice of cake and tea and coffee for tea in the adorable Miss Courtney’s Tea Rooms, see off the best part of €30.

Tuesday 27 September
We trudge round Glengariff, famed for its beauty, in the continuing mist and drizzle along with a coachload of bewildered Americans blinking at the eye-watering prices in the gift shops. ‘Don’t even get close,’ we hear one man say to his wife as she’s about to pick something up, ‘that’s way beyond you!’

In an optimistic drive to try to see some of the scenery towards Mizen Head, we make a new friend. An Irish Rab C Nesbitt alike is standing in the middle of the winding lane, waving in a manner that suggests there is a large obstacle in the road ahead. ‘If you’re going to Goleen,’ he says, leaning in through the window when we stop to see what the matter is, ‘I’ll take a run along with you!’. It seems that he is the large obstacle.
‘We’re going to Crookhaven,’ Tom says.
‘Sure, ‘tis on the way,’ says our friend, climbing in beside Ma.

He wears the sweet, decaying odour of Eau de Farmyard, which cheesily permeates through the car and, taking no account of our shocked faces, he warmly engages us in conversation. He is amazed to hear that we’ve been as far as Killarney. He’s heard that County Kerry is very nice, but he’s never crossed the mountains to go there. Maybe if he gets a car, he says, he’ll take a couple of days out and go for a bit of drive to explore. He’s also something of an economist, our new chum. When we remark how expensive we're finding Ireland, he passes on his conversion tip, ‘being that it’s hard for you, since you’re Touristies and that,’ . He advises us to take a fifth off the euro price (he’s not quite up-to-date) and we’ll know what it is in pounds. ‘So if it’s five euros, you take a fifth off and you get...’ some time passes here, ‘well, call it about four pounds!’ he announces triumphantly. Warming to his theme, he gives us an example. ‘Say you have an apple tart (‘eppel teyrt’), that’s four fecking euros, so just take a fifth off and there you have it!’

Oh well, it least it explains the stampede for the eppel teyrt in Supervalu last night, when the price was reduced from four fecking euros to two.

To be continued... assuming BT plays nicely.