Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Apple Day

Seed Savers tree - a cooker without a name - in my own garden

A few weeks ago I had a phone call from someone at the Irish Seed Savers Association asking would I volunteer to help out at their Apple Day. At this annual event the public are invited into the gardens to look around, taste the different varieties of old Irish apples grown by the organisation, learn how to make apple juice and cider and buy young trees. I said yes.

It was a gorgeous September day - amazing in itself. I think we've come to expect the worst of weather this year more, even, than previous years. I was to do an afternoon so turned up in good time outside the National School in Scarriff. The road to the gardens is tiny and twisty, so small buses are used to transport visitors in a one-way circuit.

On arrival I was given a Seed Savers t-shirt worn by the volunteers but not a job. I could have a look around first, then come back to find out where I would be. There was a gluten-free cookery demonstration going on in the marquee close to the entrance so I popped in there first. It's always interesting to see how other people do their gluten-free cooking. The chef was demonstrating how to prepare quinoa and talking about how to make pastry. I think she was American and was doing her measurements in cups which always loses me a bit, but at least you get a sense of the proportion of ingredients. There were only half a dozen of us in the audience, but the largely elderly crowd was interested and asking questions. I didn't stay long though - I wanted to see the gardens. It was ages since I'd been there.

Back at the desk and it was all a bit uncertain, but Marianne decided I should go to the Apple Tasting Tent where staff and volunteers would be glad of a changeover. I was with Ute (pronounced Oota) and we had a sharp knife each and several plates of apples on the table in front of us. We had to cut slices for anyone who wanted them and chat about the apples. Ute and I talked about our own apple trees too - I have a few Seed Savers varieties, though not as many as I used to since a willow fell on one of them, then the deer munched at the few struggling new shoots and it gave up in despair.

Ribston Pippin in my own garden

I'd been there less than an hour when suddenly a young woman was behind me.
'Can you go and stand over there,' she said. I was trying to work out her accent. Eastern European? German? I was confused. What was going on? 'Can you stand there and direct people into the tent?'
'But they can see the tent. They walk right past it.' I protested. 'And I'm crap at that kind of thing.' I was still confused, but then the penny dropped. Here was someone returning to her post and she wanted me out.
'We can swap every half hour,' she said. 'Yeah, right,' I thought as I went, under protest, to become a human signpost, a non-job of supreme boredom. I lasted maybe five minutes.
'Bugger this,' I said to Ute as I collected my bag. 'I'm going to see if there's a proper job. This is ridiculous.'

I took my time winding through the old gardens, the ones I was familiar with from the early days of the Seed Savers when I did some work there setting up databases and doing admin. It was delightful though a little short on information in places. I wasn't sure, for example, what Tommy's self-rooting orchard was. Possibly apple trees that don't need grafting onto a root stock although I prefer the image of the trees, on dark autumn nights when everyone has gone home, shooting out roots that arch over the ground to settle in a new spot and sprout a new tree.

There was no other job. They had too many volunteers for the number of people. I was allowed to go home! It felt like being let out early from school.

Down in the Hollow I set about clearing the potato bed. The dogs sat in the sun and dozed. Afterwards I took a few photos. This one is looking down into the lower hollow with a glimpse of  the small river.

This one is of the carrots I pulled. I've never had carrots like this before - the slugs always cut them off in their infancy. Such pride! I'll be using the organic slug pellets again next year just to get them going. The slugs are welcome to small snacks but not to a banquet.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A little bit of Leitrim

So we were going to take a little trip on the boat to Carrick then down to Drumsna but it was lashing with rain when we got up to Leitrim so we went to the Barge Inn and had a steak instead. A very good one, but pricey enough. I don't eat steak very often, but miserable weather sometimes brings out the desire for strong meat.

There's an interesting business with the jetties at Leitrim. There were new ones built a few years ago by Waterways Ireland, and another strip of sideways-on floating pontoons by the chap who built the (largely empty) apartments and new marina just beyond.

The sideways pontoons were supposed to be taken over by Waterways Ireland, but there were delays and difficulties of the kind that happened at the end of the Tiger Years. The barrier to the private marina was broken and is now tied open. There are few boats in there, in spite of the obvious temptation for people to 'borrow' an empty berth.

The new hotel has closed up, in spite of all the hard work put in by the previous owners. There's another marina attached to that too. I wonder what will happen regarding the upkeep of all these private marinas in which people have paid good money for berths.

The public jetties, the ones that were to become Waterways Ireland's responsibility have, like the apartments, become Nama property. Winter Solstice is there briefly - the weekend after next we'll take her to her winter berth in the marina at Albert Lock. In the meantime Joe tucked her up in her covers.

We'd left the coachhouse roof cover on while we were on board - we had windows put into it, but not enough for true brightness. But there was a very satisfying feeling of being safe from the rain. No leaks guaranteed! We might have more windows put in for those winter cruises. It would be useful to be able to see in the galley and the heads.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Away and home

I've been away over in Nantwich in Cheshire visiting the parents. Sunday to Friday this time. Flight days are according to the Ryanair timetable which is forever shrinking. We managed three of the many coffee shops in town - two of them relatively new. I was looking back at photos of Nantwich from last year and found these two with premises to let:

 This one, now become Enzo's, is on the Square and doubles up as an Italian restaurant. I've only been in there when it's behaving as a coffee shop. It seemed popular with people with young children as well as  the retired who populate most of these places during the morning coffee hour.

Can't remember the name of what this second one (next to the church, behind us in the picture) has become but it does fantastic coffee. The coffee cups are very big and have no saucers which always calls forth a puzzled comment from my mother.

The third is an old favourite hidden away in Hospital Street called Café de Paris. They do astonishing filled croissants which I'm not supposed to eat as they're not gluten free. I sometimes do.

Nantwich is a great town for coffee and second-hand clothes shops with Good Clothes in them. It's a wealthy area these days - there's money in Cheshire milk and cheese - so the 'vintage' (aka old) skirts and shirts and jackets are of pukka quality. Unfortunately I can't buy any of them due to Ryanair luggage restrictions. Ho hum.

As you can see Nantwich is full of black and white buildings. The countryside is also full of them. We went to the Nag's Head in Haughton a few miles out of town for dinner one night.

It's black and white on the inside too. Well, brown and white if you look closely at the photo.

Good food with special deals on Tuesday night. I'm beginning to sound like a tourist brochure. Also the tables are quite close together which is excellent for eavesdropping. As long as you remember you are also being eavesdropped upon.

Being back at home for the start of the school year, memories hit the whole time. September is such a nostalgic time however much you try to keep it at bay. Walking 'across the fields' as we called it - the meadows beside the river that became playing fields and pathways into town for those living on the Marsh Lane side - brings me back to pre-teen days of dens and playing on the railway (oops - mostly the old one). It's not too much different today. A bit tizzed up, a few more paths and footbridges.

This is the River Weaver looking towards the Town Bridge from the mill that burned down on Bonfire Night years ago.

And more of the river looking from the weir (I think) that took water on the roundabout route away from the scary sluice under the mill.

I'm forever trying to write a poem about this area. I still dream about it. No successful poem yet, but I'm still working on it.

Other poems were read, however, in Galway on Friday night where the Skylight Poets (my poetry group) read from its new anthology, Mosaic, at the September Over the Edge Writers' Gathering. We're reading again on Friday at the Clifden Arts Festival. I'm staying over (it's a three hour drive from here) in a B & B with fellow poet Marie. We did the same last year. I'm already planning hangover avoidance strategies. (I know I know - the only surefire one is not to drink).

Friday, September 2, 2011

Onions, Skodas and Winter Solstice

Before we went off on the boat I picked the onions and laid them in the greenhouse to dry. A great crop this year. The onions didn't mind the cool weather at all - stopped them bolting and going to seed. So lots of lovely big fat onions that will last for months. Just have to string them up now and hang them in the boiler shed.

After the onions we went up to Drumsna. Got there in time to catch Albert Lock and arrive in Carrick-on-Shannon for dinner at the Oarsman. This has definitely become our favourite place to eat. We loved the Indian restaurant when it first opened - the one at the back of the town, not the one upstairs. Oh dear, can't remember the name of any of them. The problem with Indian restaurants out in the West is that many of them begin with great and innovative menus but nobody wants to eat this type of food. A mild curry is preferred, or really, steak and chips. People haven't learned how to love Indian food in the way they have in England where there's been a big Indian population cooking fantastic (and cheap) food since the fifties. So the food becomes more and more bland and there's no atmosphere because there's so few customers so even less people go there to eat. Big pity, but I don't know whether there's a solution. Or maybe there is. Look to Enniskillen and the Kamal Mahal which I've lyrically waxed about before.

We went to Enniskillen on the Saturday morning, not for food but for Joe's New Car. Here it is:

It's a Skoda which used to be joke cars held together with string and glue and a good dose of optimism, but then VW took them over and now they're Very Good Cars according to the people who know. It's diesel, so economical to run, and it has a cavernous boot which will be brilliant for taking stuff to and from the boat.

That afternoon we had a great treat. The poet Paul Muldoon was reading at The Dock, the arts venue in Carrick. This was the former Courthouse building, and we were in a room with high ceilings,  tall sash windows and fantastic light. I bet Paul Muldoon is a brilliant dinner party guest.

So back to the boat and on to Cootehall where the ghost estates become more ghostly, then to Lough Key. On the way we got caught at Clarendon Lock over lunch, but that was no hardship - a lovely spot with a nice walk to the bridge for the dogs. Not so lovely when we got back. Joe had been fretting about boats tying up to us (the jetty below the lock is very small), but I was doing my usual saying it would be grand. There were boats tied up all around us but all seemed well until I noticed the felled flagpole on the deck, the ensign spread around it, and realised how very close the big Emerald Star hire boat was to our aft deck. And this:

I have huge sympathy for people on hire boats, but this was our second knocking in two days. Another had tried to come into Cootehall - too fast, which is the usual problem - and gave us a major broadside bang. Cue much shouting at which I felt sorry for the poor fellow at the helm. We all calmed down and roped them in, but it makes one very nervous.

An addendum to this. Of course it's not all hire boats that go too fast. We've met some great people doing so well in difficult circumstances (ie lack of proper training by some of the hire boat companies). Later we took the ropes of two boats coming in so slowly and carefully, with people on board eager to learn how to handle this craft they'd only just picked up, and there are others who come back year after year who have excellent skills.

Not to worry. Back to lovely Lough Key and a sweet evening there. But it was cold. So cold. I had on eleven items of clothing including longjohns and thermal vest. Oh summer days.

At Drumman's Island, Lough Key

The castle, Lough Key