Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In Nantwich, Cheshire

The home lawn
Back in the home town, sleeping in my old bedroom at the back of the house. My family moved here when I was eleven from the other side of town, and in those days the street light didn't reach to my bedroom windows - the orange ones had yet to make their glaring appearance. The room at night was pitch black and full of ghosts and monsters. You wouldn't dare to put your toe or finger out of the severely tucked in sheets and blankets with eiderdown on top.

Outside was still dark enough to be able to lie on your back on the front lawn and see the milky way splashed above you. My Dad's lawn always looked the way it does in the photo. My own lawn isn't really a lawn but a collection of green things most of which are weeds pretending to be grass. Ok from a distance but not so great for lying on. The weeds include thistles.

Nantwich square
I walked round the town with a camera yesterday. I don't think I've done that before. It was bank holiday so not too many people to litter up my shots. I felt like a tourist. I often feel like that these days, and I don't talk like the locals any more so they assume I'm from elsewhere. I almost want to wear a placard saying 'I grew up here unlike most of you blow-ins'. Ha ha. I don't really. But the town has changed. It seems to be full of people on buggies or with sticks, but it's probably just that I go out with my parents at times when the coffee shops (of which there are many) are full of retirees. You start to see the world through the eyes of the elderly and infirm.

I still like it here though. The picture is of the square. The rickety shop in the middle used to belong to my friend Sara's grandad who was a pharmacist. We both had Saturday jobs there. He used to send us upstairs to get new stock. It was exciting up there. Dodgy floorboards and pigeon shit and spookiness. He also used to send us to the draper's in Welsh Row to buy him longjohns. We found this disgusting. Just the idea of a man in longjohns was disgusting. Unless he was a cowboy in a television western. The draper's was old fashioned even then. There were faded packages and posters in the window and a smell of under-the-stairs inside.

The church where Joe and I were married
There's a scandal afoot in the town at the moment. A little shop next to the church had a fire - didn't burn the building down thankfully - it's one of the ancient ones from when the town was rebuilt with help from Elizabeth I after the fire of Nantwich. But someone was arrested for it at the weekend and my Auntie Susan says it was the owner. So it must be true.

Off to a garden centre today. After coffee in the town. Garden centres are a big favourite as they have cafes attached. Actually I like going to Bridgemere, even though it's been taken over by a big company. It's huge and where I used to go to buy plants for the garden. Half the plants in my garden in Clare originated there. Anyway, they have a new show garden so I'm looking forward to seeing that. And we can get a nice cup of tea.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


'Yes!!!' I thought, with all those exclamation marks. These people are doing A Good Thing.


But then I realised they'd done this thing about grammar as a wheeze for a travel book, a bit like that fellow who travelled round Ireland with a fridge so he could call his book Round Ireland with a Fridge. I would have liked them to be proper eccentrics reported on by somebody else.

Steam boats, bats and butterflies

Enthusiasts being enthusiastic
We were in Crom the night before we came back home along with more than half a dozen steam boats. These shiny shiny things are owned by enthusiasts, much, I imagine, like the people who do things with steam traction engines.

The people we met were mostly (all?) from the Steam Boat Association, formed in 1971 in the UK 'to promote the enjoyment of steamboats and to represent the interests of steamboat owners'. I feel there should be small print saying 'Enjoy steam boats sensibly'.

The shiniest, prettiest of the steam boats.
The varnish on these boats made me want to hide Winter Solstice under a tarpaulin. It was as though they had been French polished. And the engines were on show with not a drop of oil upon them. The Association members were recently on a trip to Lake Windermere in Cumbria, half a milk carton of which was emptied into Lough Erne. A sharing of the waters.

Swallows in the morning mist at Quivvy Marina

I had a mutual guilt experience on the way home. We'd just left Quivvy Marina where there are no rubbish bins - the one downside of staying there. So we stopped in Belturbet and I walked to the bins with my bundle of newspapers and white plastic bin liner. There was a fellow mowing the grass. I thought one of those pathetic wimpy thoughts I have when in the presence of anyone in uniform, albeit only a grass mower - is he going to come and tell me off. And the bugger did. 

'Those bins are only for people on boats to use,' he said.

'But I am!' I exclaimed. 'We're just on our way home but we were here all week and the boat's just up the river and isn't this a fantastic place we had such a great time and we were at the Fleadh in Cavan...'

'Oh I'm really sorry but we get so many people dropping their rubbish and....'

'I know and we have the same and you're doing exactly the right thing...'

He was an incredibly knowledgeable fellow called Brendan. Lots of local history stuff. I left ten minutes later, each apologising to the other. I still feel guilty though.

The garden is full of butterflies. There's a few varieties, but this afternoon Small Tortoiseshells are everywhere. This must be the hatching from the little black caterpillars that colonised a bunch of nettles in the garden.

There was also a bat in the house. Just before we went away the last time, every evening at dusk a bat appeared in the glasshouse that the sitting room/study door opens onto. This door was open, so we never knew if the bat was getting into the glasshouse or into the sitting room. Today it appeared in the sitting room. Flew into the spare room and round and round. Eventually back into the sitting room, into the glasshouse and out. Ho hum. Not sure where it's getting in. They're tiny and climb into little cracks to get into the roof space. It's getting in from outside but for some reason has taken to a morning exit into the house.

The difficulty is that Joe doesn't like bats. At all. This was after a nasty experience in a belfry. And I'm going away to Blighty for a few days tomorrow. Further posts will be from Nantwich where I'm visiting the parents.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Missing things

Crowds and crowds
The station in the garden
Can't get the photos in the right place! Something wrong still.

The River Erne
We weren't planning to go in to Cavan again. Instead we went off to Galloon where they have a pumpout for the holding tank, planning to go back to Quivvy, then home the next day. Starboard engine wouldn't start - flat battery. No prob as we can start one engine off the other, but the boat needed a good run to charge everything up.

Did the holding tank job. Messy business with hoses and unsavoury odours. They're building a new toilet and shower block at Galloon. It's a tiny place, and there never seems to be anyone there, but I suppose there is the infrastructure for such things. It's a beautiful spot. Looks like nothing from the water, but when you're tied up, and the sun comes out after a torrential rain shower, and it's flat calm and there's a little bunch of swans in the distance it's fabulous. There's an interesting little graveyard here too. It's very old, and some of the gravestones have a skull and crossbone symbol on them. We were told these were masonic graves.

So Joe said will we go into Cavan tonight to see Sharon Shannon? She was on the Gig Rig. We could get the shuttle bus in, he said. Eat in town. And maybe we don't have to go home tomorrow. We could stay another day.

Ok. So sudden change of plan. I don't always like that, but this one sounded good. Off we went back to Belturbet. Our space was still free. It was getting late though. The shuttle but was going every hour, so we got on the nine o'clock. Arrived into Cavan around twenty past. Into a little Italian place on a side street and ordered the food. Hoped to get to Sharon for the last half hour of her set. Then there was the winner of the Céilí completition and then there were to be fireworks.

We were a bit late, but should have got the last twenty minutes or so of Sharon. But the guards had a barrier across the street. Too many people, they said. Not letting anyone else in. It's dangerous. Then it came out that she'd finished anyway. We went around the back and got close to the stage to see them packing up. No Céilí comp winners. They were playing in the Dome (which isn't a dome - it's a very big and very angular marquee). And no fireworks either. The space they were to set them off from was full of camper vans.

This has been the story of our week going to the Fleadh in Cavan. Just missing everything.

Heard this morning that they'd cut Sharon short because of the crowds.

There's more to Belturbet than we'd realised. You can tie up at the end of navigation at the bridge. A delightful spot. It's where steamers used to tie up at the old quay. The quay was built for the SS Belturbet. Later the SS Knockninny Rock and the SS Countess of Milan used it. SS means Steam Ship. The steamers used to go up to Enniskillen and Knockninny. Beyond the bridge is a walk along the river and back - they've put in decking in places, and a footbridge. Halfway back there is the site of a Motte and Bailey built by Norman invaders in 1210 or 1211. It's on Turbet Island, a strip of land where the River Erne splits into two channels. Belturbet was of strategic importance, as it was the only possible fording place on the River Erne.

There's part of the old railway station in someone's bungalow garden down near the river. Looks a little out of place. Every time we walked past we'd talk about why someone had such an ornate thing in their garden. Was it a band stand? Was it a strange sort of car port?

At the Fleadh in Cavan

Street mobs at the Fleadh in Cavan
Saturday night and we drove into town around six. Looked like nowhere to park, but on the road out near the pub we were going to was a lovely long stretch of empty kerbside with No Parking cones along it. At the end were two cars. If you just move that cone back a foot, said Joe, we'll fit in nicely.

Grabbed some street food, then into the Abbey Bar in the hope that we would finally be on time for a good session. The front bar had been the best place the night before. This night we found roaring sessions in the back bar and in the beer garden. Some sweet music in the front bar that looked like it was just ending. In we went and got seats. A change of personnel. Had a couple of hours of great tunes. There was a young woman in there on the whistle and flute. Very well dressed in beautiful clothes, very made up. Black Cleopatra hair. One glass of white wine after another. And another. In and out she went as we all grabbed our drinks to stop her tipping them over.

The bank with burning windows. Amazing business with a projector.
Fish in the window.
Another fiddle player came in and worked his way into the corner. Let's call him J_. Started a few selections of tunes that only he and S_, another fiddle player knew, but then back into more common stuff. His friend on the flute was sat next to us. He was eyeing up Ms Tipsy's seat as she was increasingly not in it. She would put away her whistle and he'd get fidgety. Then out it would come,  she was playing again and he'd sit back in despair. Amazing she was still getting the tunes. Then up she'd get to go for another drink. And back to the seat.

When we first arrived there was a fellow in there called T_ who we've often seen at sessions. He went off to get something to eat, so there was this empty seat with his fiddle case underneath it. Eventually a flute player came in and grabbed it. Ignored J_ telling him that belonged to someone. Who'd been gone now for a couple of hours. Then an influx of another fiddle and two more flutes. They started playing a rake of tunes Joe and I didn't know at all. From the Dublin sessions, we thought.

So then Ms Tipsy decides she wants to be sitting on the other side of the room (it's a very small room so just across from where she was). She squeezes past Brian on the fiddle who's stuck in the middle. There is nowhere to sit in the place she's aiming for. J_ stands up and looks bemused, then annoyed. Ms Tipsy is also annoyed. She is asking J_ to swap places with her because she'd like to sit where he is. She abuses him mildly then staggers back to her seat.

Peter starts playing a reel and looking at S_. It's a tune nobody else but she knows. He follows it with another. Some Donegal stuff. And another. Ok. So that's what's going on. He doesn't want these Dublin fellows in here so he's getting rid. Time for us to leave. Can't be bothered with that sort of thing, and it's getting unbearably hot. We need air. There's fellows in high viz vests on the door. If you go out you won't be let back in, they said. They were working a queue system. One person out, and another could come in. Why don't you go to the beer garden, they said. So we did. Joe had a beer and we cooled down, then said we'd go back to Belturbet. I could have a drink then. Passing the small front bar there was J_ and S_ playing away, with the flute player in between who'd been there from the start. Fucked off everyone else.

Walked back to the car to see a cluster of cones in the middle of the long empty stretch of kerbside. Cars parked all along it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fleadh in Cavan and other stories

No photos alert. It won't upload. Damn it. No more time. Battery low on computer and Joe and dogs impatient in car.

Days later get a couple of pics into this post. See below. Can't get them to sit in the place I want. Don't know what they're doing to the photo uploader.

We really had planned to move. We arrived back at the boat in Quivvy Marina on Sunday in amazing sunshine. A whole day of it without showers. We had a half arrangement to meet up with friends at Crom Castle on Monday evening. On Monday it rained. And rained. And rained in that persistent, disconsolate way it sometimes (often?) does when you know it's in for the day. The friends couldn't make Crom so we stayed put. Crom is gorgeous, but not the place to be on your own in the gloom.

We still haven't moved. This is because the Fleadh Cheoil na h'Éireann is on in Cavan ten miles down the road. We were at two of the Fleadhs when they were held in Tullamore and had a brilliant time watching the whole pageant of it and playing tunes. It was particularly fabulous because the Grand Canal runs right through the town so we were in the middle of things, but able to escape (very necessary) at the same time. We didn't think we'd do much at the Cavan one with having to drive to get there, but somehow it's become compulsive again. And we can still escape.

On Sunday night the town was noisy but it was rock music leaking out of pub doorways, not trad. But by last night things were in full swing. The streets are full of young musicians in search of sessions, or teenagers in little clots bitching about each other - no no no, sorry, discussing the finer points of the reel and the jig. The pubs were full of children playing to an astonishingly high standard. But we were on the hunt for a grown-up's session.

We'd done a bit of scouting the night before and the White Star seemed a good bet. The Blessings was suggested as another venue. In the end we were in the White Star when a couple of fellows came down from the upstairs restaurant where they'd been given dinner after playing tunes that afternoon. 'You can play, can't you?', said one of them. Shit, I thought. What's the standard going to be here. We just want a few tunes. Turns out he was a guitarist who needed someone to accompany, and the other lad was a six-string banjo player with hardly a trad tune to his name. Ho hum. Guitar man also had a banjo. Joe has a banjo. So a flute and three banjos. I was delighted when a young American on a piano accordion joined us. Accordions can be good in these situations as they are loud, and this lad was competing at the Fleadh so was good. We stayed until the bodhrán player arrived. That's usually the time to leave, and we needed to spring the dogs from the boat.
Joe mending the dinghy

We were going to go sailing again this morning - had a grand little potter about Quivvy Water yesterday. Except for the bit where we got caught up in weed. There's a huge amount of weed suddenly appeared in the waterways. It was round the rudder and round the centre board so we had to get out the oar. Thought it would be an outboard job, but suddenly we started moving and escaped. Can't sail this morning though. The gaff which has the main sail set into it is splitting and the sail is coming loose. Joe has just been glueing it together, so we'll have to see if it holds enough to go out tomorrow.

Seagull at Quivvy
We're quite settled here now, and getting used to the idea. We've paid David for a year's berth after endless to-and-fro discussions. Would we stay here? Would we go to Cootehall? Or somewhere else? Decision made thankfully. That's part of why we're in no rush to explore Lough Erne further. We have until the beginning of July next year. It's exciting to be on a different waterway with time to get to know it. And we're in excellent company. Another beautiful timber boat lives here. This is Seagull owned by Jonathan and Daphne Shackleton. She's coming up to 100 years old, and is looking in fine form ready for the big vintage boat event happening at Crom Castle at the end of August.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Stinging Flies on Runaway Courgettes

This is what happens when you go away and leave your garden to its own devices. Monster marrows instead of petite courgettes like this normal sized one above. Courgettes are the thugs of the garden. They terrorize their owners. You have dreams about them at night in which they invade your house and tie you up in stickiness. Ahem. Better get a grip. The main thing is not to panic. This is helped by having a compost heap on which you can throw the outsizers and, in a real emergency, the whole plant.

The red Val Doonican stool at Bar Eight @ the Museum
I was in Galway on Thursday night reading at the Stinging Fly's west of the country launch. But this is not about that as much as about the venue. It was in the Museum Café which is run by the same people who run Bar 8 down beside the harbour. This is why it's called Bar Eight @ the Museum. We had lunch there the other day and it was delicious if a little pricey.

It worked really well as a venue. Big windows, easy to get out for a breath of air and a great view, comfortable and, above all, spacious. And we got to sit on a Val Doonican stool. I loved the wine bar above Sheridan's cheese shop but it was impossibly small. So here's the plug. On September 10 my poetry group is launching its anthology there. Watch this space.

We're off to the boat again tomorrow. Hurray! This will be our last week of it. Joe's back teaching soon and the summer is at an end. Sigh. I hate all those Back to School signs the shops and papers trumpet with such glee. But not as much, I suspect as the school children and teachers do.

Just for the hell of it here's a picture of one part of the garden. This is called the Grove because when we moved here thirteen years ago it was full of huge fir trees and out-of-control laurels. The people we bought it off called it the Grove and so do we. I also kept digging up bits of old shirt, buckles, the odd shoe and other detritus. There's a car buried to one side of it too. An old mini I think.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

More tunes in Feakle

Session at Pepper's Bar - NOT the one so scurrilously described.
Sessions have a very particular etiquette which can get you in trouble if you don't know what it is. It's one of those things, though, that nobody tells you. If you do something wrong you just feel an atmosphere. You won't be asked to leave unless you're really out of order (dancing on the table, shouting, vomiting) but you might be frozen out. Told you're out of tune. Or sometimes everyone stops playing until you go. I was once listening to a session where every time the victim started playing, three other musicians set off a cacophony of notes. Thankfully that has never happened to me, but I know people who have come a cropper because some bollix thinks he's the king of world, or some queen bitch has an inflated view of herself and no manners.

Nice spot for a tune.
This all makes for interesting people watching at a festival where drink is taken and some people don't give a toss anyway. Change Of Session is a good one. Two or three musicians are booked by the publican and get paid to run the session. €50 is the present going rate, though I suspect if you're A Somebody as opposed to an Ordinary Local you get more. So we're in one of the pubs (this is going to be annonymous) with a couple of musicians from the 2.30 slot still going strong when the 5 o'clock boys arrive. There's shuffling. The 2.30s pretend they don't know they have to be out of the way for the newbies. The newbies go outside for a bit. It's 5.30 and 2.30s are not giving up. The bar is full of musicians waiting to play some tunes with the newbies, instruments still in their cases, and there's an air of waiting.

Attentive audience.
Eventually the three newbies come in the door all smiles.
'Am I moving you out of your seats lads?'
'Oh. You want to sit here.'
'We usually do.' Smile smile. An age putting away instruments. Change of the guard.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

More Feakle Festivalling

The drawing room at Caher House
There are stuffed animals all over the place in Caher House. This fellow looked at us throughout the concert. I wouldn't have liked to be the one sitting beneath those antlers. The concert was lovely. It was a gas too. The support act was Dave Flynn on guitar who we'd heard about through Erin. He's boyfriend to her housemate, but we'd never met, or so we thought. He came on stage and I took a couple of photos of him tuning his guitar with his back to us. When he turned round to begin his set Joe and I both said 'Oh! It's him.' He was someone we'd met in loads of sessions, usually at the Feakle Festival. We called him the man with the deer stalker hat, because he used to wear one (sadly lost, he said). I think he used to call us Feakle.

Dave Flynn tuning up
His guitar playing was beautiful.

The quartet were excellent too, although I'm not always mad on a mix of traditional and classical. I like my jigs and reels as diddly eye jigs and reels. They did do two pieces I really liked though. The first was a song cycle sung by Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill. The music was composed by the quartet cellist Neil Martin. The words were by Cahal O'Searcaigh and I wish I undersood Irish. Especially Donegal Irish.

The song cycle was about that brutal old church law which stated that children who had not been baptised could not be buried in hallowed ground. The songs are from the point of view of a mother whose child was not allowed a burial in a place where she could visit the grave, but was on an inaccessible island among the other unbaptised dead babies. The inspiration for the songs came from a small island off the Donegal coast - Oileán na Marbh - where such babies were buried.

The view over the lake from Caher House
The other piece I liked was inspired by WB Yeats and his unrequited love for Maud Gonne. That one made me think about the house as it must have been when children were living there, and the place was full of servants. It also made me think about how it must have been difficult for Maud Gonne being the object of the unrequited stuff. If you just don't fancy a guy, you just don't fancy him, and having him all doe-eyed at you could really piss you off after a lifetime of it.

We were at the concert last night. Or at least I was at the first part. This was Eddi Reader and she was wonderful. A great performer. I didn't think I'd like her but she has an amazing voice and presence. She does this fabulous thing with her hands and arms. Joe was busy taking arty photos and got her shadow on the wall.

Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill
Then there's the hair. I'm still talking hair. Martin Hayes, the fiddle player, has amazing hair. Martin lives in the States but he comes from across the lake from us and is a celebrity in these parts. He's a really lovely fellow as well as being an astonishing musician.

Martin and his music partner Dennis Cahill were the second part of the concert. The church was completely packed. The concert was sold out. People idolise Martin Hayes. Joe was being artistic again. I thought I was having a bad hair day. Look at this.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Feakle Festivalling

Looking down the main street in Feakle
It seems like weeks since we were last on the boat but it's only eight days. Or is it nine. This is because we've disappeared into the parallel world of traditional music. It's the Feakle Festival and we're on the late shift. This means going to bed at quarter to or quarter past three (for some unaccountable reason) and getting up around eleven. We have the camper van parked next to the mortuary in Feakle. There's a choice of the mortuary or the graveyard, but the road by the mortuary is flatter.

Looking at the view from the hall while waiting for paparazzi subjects
We went to the festival opening last night. Well, we went to the bit where you get wine and cheese and chat to people, and I took some photos for the website (I'm the Feakle Festival webmaster. See what's on here!). Then we snuck out. It was a film about a lovely singer, but I have to confess I really don't much like a lot of traditional singing. I'm a tunes person through and through. We went back to the van and heated up the moussaka Joe had made in the afternoon while I was crisis weeding, had a glasseen or two of Pinot Grigio and walked the dogs. Then off to Shortt's to the session.

We didn't intend to stay out so late. After all, it's only Wednesday and the beginning of the festival, but it was a great session with Ged Foley and Paul Smyth (Mr Specsavers Limerick as it happens) and so it was quarter to three. Or was it quarter past? Maybe. Anyways, I had to make up the beds in the van (tedious job involving lifting the backs of the seats into the front) because Joe was a little tired and emotional. Truth be told, I'd drink taken myself, but not as much as himself.

Caher House in last year's sunshine. It's raining this year. Yuk.
Concert tonight in Caher House. Caher House is a gorgeous old mansion on Lough Graney just down the road from us that was done up a few years ago when the old man, who'd allegedly lived in one room, died and the place was sold. We're going to see the West Ocean String Quartet, and it'll be in the drawing room so we'll be all cultured instead of diddly eyed.

PS. The haircut was a success. It looked pretty good when I came out of the hairdresser. Unfortunately I had to wash it today and, although not quite Bad Hair it's not great.

Perhaps I'll have to buy the 'product' Melissa used
on it. It only cost €28.

PPS This was the sign in the car park at Ballyshannon. Do they take you away in shackles I wonder.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Bad hair days

So we're back home and I am in desperate need of a haircut. I'm nearly as overgrown as the garden, about which I am trying not to panic. The hair is another matter. That is definitely something to panic about. And I don't like going to the hairdressers.

For years I cut my own hair. I'd put it into a plait and chop the end off. That was easy when it was nearly down to my waist. Then I thought I'd get a chunk cut off and deal with the (many) split ends, so went to a nice woman in Limerick. She was lovely and all was reasonably well. I had it cut shorter - something approaching a style instead of a mess that I tied up every day. But then my nice lady left. I changed to Andrew, a delightful fellow who had a boat. Oh joy! That awkward hairdresser-talk problem was solved. We could do boat-talk.

The trouble was he was more interested in boats than in cutting hair. The cut steadily got worse as the salon became emptier. No more bored girl sweeping up the hair. In fact hardly a customer at all. Time to find someone new.

So I took advice and went relatively local. Not too local though. Didn't want to be sitting there in the bright lights with scraped back hair and feeling exposed when one of my students walked in. Or anyone I knew for that matter. She was good, this hairdresser. Took care about the job. Not too much small talk either. Excellent result for the first two visits. But then there came the frumpy cut. The one that made me look like a throwback to the seventies, or belonged on the head of someone trying to look middle-aged.

At the next visit I explained I felt frumpy while trying not to sound like I was complaining. I'm such a wimp at complaining. The cut was better, but a bit short. Nobody recognised me. I quite liked that.

After the next cut I came home and Joe said I looked like a nice middle-class lady. So that was that. A new hairdresser has to be found. Once again I took advice and have an appointment in Galway on Tuesday. I have high expectations but no doubt will be coming home and washing my hair/hiding/wearing a hat as usual. I don't necessarily blame the hairdresser. I just have bad hair.

Now I have to go and do some crisis weeding.