Friday, 27 February 2015

Reclaiming the Ramparts. (A celebration and a rant!)

Way back in Autumn on a crisp Friday morning I went for a walk in one of my favourite places in Drogheda. The Ramparts walk which follows the banks of the river Boyne from St Dominic's Park to Oldbridge House. one of our most historic sites as it was here that two kings, one Dutch and one English would fight a battle, the memory of which would eventually command an incredible longevity in Irish history. That day was full of calm sunshine, everywhere there was inspiring colour.

The grass looks like a Farrow and Ball colour.

 I love the stone work on the old mill.

Hidden pockets of light and shadow.

 Turning to look back at the town, almost sepia.
The river looked beautiful, dressed in shifting alluring reflections and contrasts. In myth and legend, the river was Boyne created by the Goddess Boann who disobeyed her husband Nectain and channelled the power of his magic well so that the waters rose and surged all the way to the sea. But the waters drowned Boann and her faithful dog Dabilla.

This is the fourth river I have lived near and while the sea and the coast are my first loves, I love the slow drama of the riverbank. The Boyne is a tidal river and sometimes her moods are far from subtle. I love(d) the freedom of this walk, safe for the dog to be off-lead for long stretches and the promise of a lovely cup of coffee in the café at Oldbridge House. Sometimes, you may be lucky to be accompanied by a seal, I had no idea these beautiful animals would venture so far into fresh water and was deliciously spooked one day when one raised a sleek grey head to study me. The colour that day has inspired another crochet blanket, about which I have written a little here.

However, I have avoided the Ramparts walk since then and that was due to a shocking incident a couple of weeks later when a female jogger was attacked by a man here at 9.00am. Horrifically, despite falling into the river, the man continued to attempt to assault this poor woman. Profound shock was replaced by anger when the response by the Guardi warning women not to walk or jog alone. The fallacy of this response was eloquently expressed by Una Mullany in the Irish Times here. No one has been arrested following the incident.

I was angry at the attacker, at the police and at myself  - for allowing this mans actions to influence my own behaviour. I love walking with other people but I need to walk alone. It gives me a chance to think or some times not to think.  For me, walking and pushing myself to walk greater distances can become almost a meditative experience. I had planned to eventually continue further and walk part of the Boyne Navigation Canal that ran to the town of Navan. So, I have been waiting for the moment to return and today which began frosty and light was the perfect morning.

By the time I had left the house though it was all grey! Look at the difference in the park,

The walk has now been closed thanks to a landslide at the Oldbridge end just where walkers are supposed to join the 800 000 euro boardwalk that is supposed to link these heritage areas. Here are our representatives congratulating themselves yet despite this critical investment for the area, the walkway has been inaccessible from the Drogheda end because the impotent council cannot seem to engineer a solution to the landslide or to bring to account one of the country's biggest developers who built a housing estate on the problematic land. I -on my own responsibility- ignored the closed signs as the majority of the walk is safe and probably the only public land in the locality which is both accessible by foot and where a dog can enjoy essential lead-free time.
Despite this shameful neglect of one of the prizes in our local environment and the fact that I couldn't continue I am glad I walked this route today. I put some demons to rest. Future plans for the area include a walk/cycle way from the Elizabethan Maiden Tower at coastal Mornington through Drogheda to Oldbridge eventually finishing at the UNESCO site of Bru Na Boinne. Wouldn't that be an amazing amenity for the area, so much more valuable to the needs of the local community and our very welcome tourists than yet another empty retail park?
If you have stayed to the end of this long post, thank-you so much. Have a fantastic weekend! Can you believe next week it will be March? xxxx

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Mellow Yellow.

Today, I am having a Spring break, a rest, an interlude.
No study today as my head hurts trying to grapple with the economic history of Europe post-1945.

So I am going to walk and then clean. Bake and wash. Paint some skirting boards. Then sit on the step to admire the blue sky, the scuttling white clouds and my satisfactory line of washing. I am going to plant some little seeds and see if any daffodils have unfurled.

The light has changed, there is now a yellow warmth that has been absent for a winter's while.
Today my house smells of furniture polish, warm towels, incense, linseed oil, baking and coffee. With some low notes of damp Labrador.

I am going to eat scones, drink coffee and read The Girl on the Train. (And wonder why macro will not work on the 'good' camera...)
This weekend I am going to do some long overdue visiting to family and friends.
Then the real hard study-time begins and lasts all the way to June but for today I am just content to take some little moments to be still and soak up some sunlight.

I hope you are having a nice day

Monday, 2 February 2015

London Kills Me

I blame Paddington. Here I was happily pottering along in Oriel when it hit me, a wave of nostalgia and longing, a passionate love indeed but one that can never be. Me and London. Together for 12 years but the parting was inevitable but slow and punctuated by interruptions and false starts. Long drawn out as if I held a hidden belief that London would change for me - that one day we could make it work. We meet up occasionally we do, once a year at Christmas and it is intoxicating, London draws me back not least because I have family and friends there but also because of all the potential endless possibilities of adventure therein your dirty and picturesque streets.

We took the kids to the cinema to see Paddington and you know, I don't know who was more excited, them or me. I remembered the lovely gentle animated Paddington of my childhood and found a vintage set of the books which I am trying so far as yet unsuccessfully to read with the kids. The kids watched the trailer for the movie and I have never seen them laugh so much, they must have re-watched it a million times before we went to the cinema. What a thoroughly enjoyable film, the kids just loved all the boisterous antics of the lovably earnest bear and I loved all the eccentric styling of the film especially the Brown's house and Mrs Brown's enviable collection of knitwear. Even Mr S said he enjoyed it. The New Yorker has an affectionate and eloquent review of the film here.

I think Paddington conjures up for me an expression of an aspirational London lifestyle, the lovely houses, the grand democratic museums, the brisk freedoms of the tube (and with a family!) The numerous hidden alleys and historical streets promise an unknowable quality to London life, you won't ever map them all. There is always another little gem to be uncovered, a secret pub, a quirky bookshop, a verdant sliver of a park. However, the problem between myself and London is an old one, how to cohabit, how to afford reasonable living accommodation that does not involve commuting into the city from say Stoke.

I had nine addresses in twelve years, the last three with Mr S. We had great fun but all the while at the back of my mind was the uneasy fact that none of these houses were my permanent and secure home. We had landlords who refused to fix anything, who let themselves in without warning, roofs that leaked, doors that fell off their hinges, neighbours that slept in the communal hallways, estate agents that showed us many dirty and over-priced hovels. We viewed houses with perfect 1970's décor, damp former council properties with the linger odour of cat and dead granny. We did find the perfect flat once, signed the tenancy and paid the deposit but then the previous tenants changed their minds and refused to move out, only finding out when we went blissfully hand in hand to collect the keys. I cried into my consolation drink in the smoky shaded afternoon light of the pub.

We did find a decent place in the end, in the perfect location, a nice white sunny garden flat with a working gas-fire and a huge bath but by then the damage had been done. We lived there for two years and spent a huge proportion of our wages in rent and a huge proportion of our time working to earn those wages. One night while round at our friends new place in Brixton we complemented them on their quaint choice of location, a pretty little square with a central green and a Victorian pub on the corner, very Albert Square. They responded by telling of finding someone shooting-up heroin in their wheelie bin. Soon, our landlord would phone to tell us she was selling-up. It was time for a new chapter.

Our most recent visit was such good fun, we ate pie and mash, went vintage shopping at Greenwich market, went to see The Railway Children beautifully staged on a repurposed platform at Kings Cross, (running until 6th September 2015) I popped into the British Library to see the gorgeously curated Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination (which is unfortunately ended now) The kids really enjoyed running around the Cutty Sark, especially trying out the crews bunk beds and exploring down in the hold which smells intoxicatingly of tea. They stayed in leafy Brockley and sedate Maida Vale, wandered in the beautiful Cassiobury Park in Watford and became old hands at tube travel, clutching their maps and counting off the stations. E was especially delighted, proclaiming as she arrived at each destination, smiling as she emerged into the light; that London was the most beautiful place in the world!

I fear that I have lost her to our family characteristic, that of the desire to travel, to migrate. While I was having a having a little aimless wander while waiting to meet the rest of the family, I found this charming little street,

Keystone Crescent just off the Caledonian Road, five minutes to Kings Cross/St Pancras and so only 2.5 hours to Paris! The property envy! What must it be like to live here, I want to knock on every door and discover what stories are playing out behind those pretty painted doors. The reality of the London property market however is not so picturesque.

Almost weekly I read the horror stories of those desperately trying to put a roof over their heads, painfully high rents for half a room, the severe lack of social housing, and the obscene waste of the empty protected landscape of the uber-rich. As a family of four we would probably need to win the lottery to move back and continue to have any semblance of life/work balance. We would leave behind this:

My heart contracts and I feel a little bit teary though, every time I hear this:

 The Kinks: Waterloo Sunset.


 The Clash, London Calling
And This:

Pulp, Bar Italia
Every time, every single time.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

February Challenges. Small steps into Spring.

Hello everyone out there in Blog-land! How has February been treating you? Usually this is my least favourite month, but this year I am feeling rather energised. I think it is because of the mild weather and the scores of little spring flowers joyously pushing their heads towards the sun. I have been setting myself some challenges to take me through to spring. The main one has been to move more and eat less, I have been adding an extra couple of km to my daily dog walk and am saving up to buy some decent running shoes to attempt the couch to 5km. (Flip, I have written that down!) The eating less has been rather more difficult, I have to admit particularly this week with Shrove Tuesday and The Nippers off on half-term. The other challenge is to have a Facebook Free February.

I was idly scrolling through Facebook the other evening while watching a pot boil and some of my Facebook friends were listing the eight things that perhaps people did not know about them so in my head I started to compose my own list. However then I began to wonder why I wanted people to know yet more useless facts about me. What is it about Facebook that compels us to join in? Why do we need to share all this stuff? Serendipity prevails, because at that very same time an academic on a radio show was trying to convince me that social media is as addictive as a slot machine, this piece was followed by an  advertisement for a campaign for a Facebook Free February, Hmmm. So, I am having a break, a break from the habitual checking of the phone to see yet another cute animal video; a break from the cacophony of voices that seem to take up too much of my attention.

The thing about social media is though it is very user friendly and the more you use it, the more tailored the newsfeed becomes to your own personal taste and interests so it has only been two weeks into my challenge and already I'm thinking about it in the way I used to think about ciggs when I was giving them up. I especially miss the conversation from my Open University page and all the genuinely useful advice posted by my fellow students and all the stock up-dates from my favourite vintage shops. What happens if the perfect sofa appears at just the perfect price...Facebook is indignant at my departure and is stalking me with enticing emails to lure me back. What do you think of social media, love it/hate it?

Half-term has been lovely with plenty of sunny breezy weather to get us out and about, E and O played in the garden without coats for the first time this year! We have had some lovely walks, read some new and old books, watched a million episodes of The Simpsons, covered the house with Lego and did some Hama bead crafting.

And some crochet, this is going to be a blanket for little O inspired by a lovely Autumn walk and Bunny Mummy's Sunburst pattern. These wee circles are much nicer in real-life, I am no photographer.

And some baking. Today, (Friday) was very cold with grey skies.

 E was sniffling and begged for a pyjama day so we put our aprons on over our PJ's and cooked up some goodies.
Nutella Brownies.
Well, we needed to use up all that Nutella from Tuesday!
These are so easy - three ingredients.

O loves mixing and licking. He fizzes with excitement at the thought of all that chocolaty yumminess.
E loves jumping in at the end with a big spoon.
Next we made some Oaties. (I will copy the recipe for you at the end.)
This recipe is from my very tattered 2013 Good Housekeeping magazine, which is full of fool-proof and delicious recipes. I never buy this mag, don't know why I bought that one but I might buy it again!

Both of these recipes are very child friendly, just mix and pop in the oven. Do watch the Brownies like a hawk, mine took half the cooking time and are a bit overcooked but still very nice.

I love a cup o' tea and Observer food monthly!
Have a wonderful weekend everybody. What are your plans for Spring 2015?

Here is the recipe for the Oat biscuits, I did not add the chocolate as we were also having the brownies but I do recommend the chocolate version very very moreish!
Chocolate Oaties.
  • 40oz butter
  • 4oz self-raising flour
  • 4oz soft brown sugar
  • 4oz porridge oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tbsp. of golden syrup
  • 4oz milk or plain chocolate
  1.  Preheat oven to 180C/160c fan/gas 4 and lightly grease two baking sheets
  2.  Mix together flour, sugar, oats and soda. Set aside.
  3.  Melt butter and syrup. Add to the dry mix and combine.
  4.  Divide and  squish into little balls, pressing them a little flat. Bake for 15/18 min until golden. Leave to cool for a few minutes on the trays and then transfer to a cooling rack.
  5. Melt chocolate, dip biscuits halfway into the chocolate or paint on with a pastry brush.
  6. Allow to set before the family descend like a flock of hungry gannets!