Friday, 31 January 2014

Port Oriel waits for spring.

Most mornings when I am taking the dog for her daft gallop around the fields, I happen to meet a couple of fellow dog walkers who love to keep me updated with the weather forecast. It doesn't matter that I have a smart phone with the latest satellite photos, local up-dates from Met Eireann and forecasts from most international destinations. No, what is important is the exchange of information, the human interaction and the universality of the connection, we care about the conditions that we may potentially have to brave with our faithful hounds come what may.

These guys, well lets just say they are men of the more mature vintage and have a strict timetable, if I am slightly later or more rarely earlier with my walk they are always in exactly the corresponding bit of their route, so the paper shop, the school or the traffic lights etc.. The bit of the connection I enjoy the most is when they are gleefully eager to share the most pessimistic, horrendous report possible. So yesterday, my optimistic opener that was 'Lovely mild morning!' was skilfully rebuffed with a 'Ho but tomorrow is gale force winds and torrential rain!' Great! He was correct.

It has been very grey and wet for days and days here, not freezing but that damp cold wetness that seeps into your very matter and saps the energy to do little but eat hot comforting food, read in a steaming bath and craft/snooze by the fire. It is strange to think that it is almost February and in Ireland that means it is the first day of spring. February 1st is celebrated as St Brigit's day, the first day of Imbolc or quarter day of the Irish pagan year. Some of the legends about her, claim that she was born in Dundalk, Co Louth so making her a local legend.

The Christian version has her as a contemporary of St Patrick and a devoted Christian nun, doing the usual priggish deeds like looking after her father, feeding the animals, founding monasteries, giving away her mother's butter to the poor and protecting her virginity. However, there are also many older and for me alluring, legends locating her within ancient Irish mythology as from the supernatural Tuatha Dé Danann. She is the goddess of fire, a conduit of the power of femininity, of birth and all the pastoral rites of spring.

The last big family walk we had was two weeks ago and oh it felt like spring then. We started at the harbour at Port Oriel and walked over the cliff to the beautiful sandy beach at Clogherhead. The air was so clear, the Mourne and Cooley mountains rose majestic across the bay and the sky was many many shades of blue. I wanted to lie down on the fragrant grass and watch the clouds but there were too many cow pats! The children had not wanted to come out but with a little gentle persuasion they hopped in the car and it was so good to see them running free over the headland and slipping and sliding down the muddy paths. Come and have a walk with us...

 The highlight for them was watching the grey seal fish for it's dinner in the little harbour. Great memories. I am so glad I picked up the camera to record such a lovely day to sustain the heart through the next week which is supposed to be rotten. My sympathy goes out to all those people who have been flooded out for weeks on the Somerset levels. Perhaps the changing of the seasons as we move closer to the light will bring some relief. What green shoots are you looking forward too? Horticultural ones or creative ones perhaps?

A happy St Brigit's day to you all, Virgin and God/dess alike!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Baking disasters of the restless mind.

It is nearly time for TMA03, this is my third tutor-marked assignment for my Open University course. Of-course it is around this time, when I should be planning and constructing my essay; I am predictably obsessed with some unrelated activity. This week it has been baking and marmalade making, spring bulbs and where to plant them and why do people put coats on dogs. Today, has been a beautiful sunny morning, mild for this time of year so why the coats people? Don't dogs have coats already supplied? I have just seen a springer spaniel with a nicer coat than most of the humans I have seen today.

Anyways, yesterday, I have made coffee cake, honey and pumpkin seed flapjacks and no-knead bread and every flippin one a disaster. The cake tastes like sponge, dishwashing sponge. The flapjacks refused to stick together in spite of copious quantities of honey, golden syrup and molasses and are more suitable for a granola style breakfast than lunchbox snacks. The bread is inedible due to the baking paper welding itself to the base of the loaf. Mr S says that the cake could be saved with the timely addition of ice-cream, chocolate sauce or icing. But then doesn't everything taste nicer with those? Mr S would eat anything, anything! E likes the flapjack granola covered with yogurt and O was content to lick the bowl.

I am now terrified of ruining the Seville oranges. They have been sitting around patiently beautiful waiting for a week now. For most of that week I have been desperately pounding the streets looking for jam sugar. I finally found some this morning, embarrassingly announcing my success to the bemused looking man stacking the shelves, 'Yay, Jam sugar!' only to remember when I got home that oranges and lemon are full of their own pectin and to cringe at my triumphal exaltation. Shame.

However, to cheer myself up I had to pop into the charity (thrift) shop and rescue the delightful little planter I have been obsessed with since before Christmas. Look, SylvaC!

We don't have  front gardens on our road, most of the houses are pre-1930 and some people have nice thoughtful displays of decorative objects or flowers in their windows so this is where some tulips will be and I think it will look very sweet and granny-chic.

This was my third trip to the shop to look at it which is not normal behaviour for me, normally I just breathlessly scoop up the goodies and bring them home. This piece however was an eye-watering 20euro and it's January so I am supposed to be watching the budget very very carefully. Still I also bagged a scrabble set for crafting purposes for a tiny amount of money. It is so nice, the previous owners had left a scrap of paper in with their scores, Padraig was playing Mam! Mr S thinks we should play scrabble but I have an idea for a lovely present for two special little people I know.

Still choosing some tulip bulbs will have to wait till later. I'm thinking some pale pink and darkest crimson or maybe black and apricot? What do you think? I would love to spend the rest of the afternoon browsing through seed and plant websites but I have got to get a move on with this essay.

The more I read about the complex power struggles of the international system and the extent of the dominance of Western 'thinking' the more incredulous and furious I become. My blood pressure is particularly raised when I am reading about the 'help' given to developing states by the EMF (sic) and the World Bank. I did not expect to be shouting at my text books. As part of my feedback on the last assignment, my tutor commended me on my 'neutral' academic writing. Really, I don't want to be writing neutral words, I want to be critical, acerbic and partisan...Oh it is so hard to study when the sun is shining and there is marmalade to make! xxx
EDIT: Of-course I mean the IMF as in International Monetary Fund not the dance band from the 1990's. Unbelievable.

Friday, 10 January 2014

I Like Chatting

This image is taken from my daughters well-loved copy of 'Things I like' written and illustrated by the peerless Shirley Hughes. When we moved into our house, E was nearly two and O was a growing bump. After the excitement and stress of the house purchase and moving to a completely new locality, E, Bump and myself found ourselves somewhat deflated. E was teething and hated the new house, it was quite gloomy as it had not been occupied for many months and had last been re-decorated since the 1980's.

For me pregnancy is a time of great joy but also of extreme fatigue and sickness, morning, noon and night. E would wake up crying and point to the front door and sob, "Out! Out! until we went for a walk so she could go lorry spotting. Unfortunately for out of doors activities, this was also the wettest summer ever, it literally rained for forty days so needless to say we joined the library very quickly, E could have a break from her lorry fixation and tired me could have a sit down and blithely ignore all the pressing jobs waiting back home.

'Things I like', was borrowed so frequently that I searched for her own copy for her birthday and we used to sit and read it over and over. I loved the depiction of the relationship between Katie and her little brother Olly and was so excited that E was soon to experience that for herself. I think E loved the pictures as they are truly envisioned from a child's-eye view of the world and all the lovely things that they notice, experience and explore.

At times though the first  illustration used to make me feel a little melancholy and I wondered how long it would take until I knew some people to chat to, friends to hang out with and a sense of living within a community instead of at the peripheral of one. Well, we have now been here in Oriel for an unbelievable five years, heading towards our sixth summer. Our house has become a home and while far from finished now has much more of our identity and love installed in it, E and O have managed to survive their early years in my care and yesterday I spent the whole day enjoyably chatting.

While walking the dog, I caught up with the local news, from the morning regulars, sad and happy news and a rather surprising piece of salacious gossip! Next, it was off for coffee and croissants and to talk about the ups and downs of running a small business with the lovely N and parenting and crochet advice with the marvellous F and finishing off with ethics and social policy over lunch with the busy whirlwind that is the inspiring S. I also like having a number of 'familiar strangers' to share 'Good morning.'s and 'How are you?'s with, never stopping to chat just a friendly acknowledgement of a shared space and routine.

It is hard enough being a migrant around these Atlantic Isles as I have done, the experience of traveling and integrating into a completely different culture must take great reserves of stamina. On talk radio the other day, they were discussing the heightened risk of schizophrenia prevalent in migrant communities and that this increased risk is apparent whatever the home nation or the host/destination country and I think this is indicative of the stress of leaving one familiar identity and community and the reconstruction of  an alternative sense of place.

I fear though that some people are just born with itchy feet, Mr S hails from a family that has travelled and settled all over the world and back again. I couldn't wait to leave home as soon as I could, the world was too vast, full of opportunities and experiences to stay in one place. When the children came home from school, E was full of chat about the Kildare born, polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and as we read about his incredible story of survival on the Endurance expedition, her eyes were shining at the thought of this amazing journey. I on the other hand was thinking as we sat around my cosy table, that for the moment and it is going to be a very long moment, there is really no place like home.