These Days – First Week in Wimereux

On the first morning, I woke up in our wooden attic bedroom to sunlight squeezing its way through the veloux blind. I threw back the covers and stumbled downstairs. The house is full of light, sea, sky and rippling cloud. The working day had started; traffic was streaming up and down the boulevard Francois Mitterand outside. Across the road, not a large one is a small hilly, heath, is perfect for walking Pops last thing at night. My morning walk is across the (tiny) heath, and down to the beach while the tide is out.

I am trying to develop a routine to help me work. Most mornings, I do a little bit of writing with my tea sitting at the table with this fantastic view of the town and the sea, seeking inspiration from my Russian Earl Grey (I left my Barry’s somewhere en route). I sit…for a while, key in a few words and usually decide to have a shower instead and walk the dog.

The surrounding region is similar terrain to South England, but the cliff’s aren’t white, and there is a definite frenchinezzz about the place. There’s a cliff walk, full of grasses, sea, and rather large bottomed people walking with poles. Poppins is interested in the rabbit burrows, one in particular which seemed to have a very large family as Poppins was able to get halfway down, her deburred tail shaking with excitement. On that walk it’s better to keep her on the lead. Twelve kms away, on the far head, the small town of Ambleteuse is perched in the bay, its red and whites houses glistening in the sun. A visit for another day.

On our first day, after our first fresh baguette dipped in a bowl of coffee, we went to peruse Le Portel where the ma and pa had a little apartment back in the day when we lived in England, to which I often came. It’s an ordinary sort of town, not particularly pretty but with a lovely beach. They got it a little cheaper back then because between Le Portel and Boulogne was a factory which every so often belched out grim looking yellow smoke. That has gone now and wind turbines have been put up instead. The town has been gentrified a little. The cafes are no longer dingy bars, dark and smelling of a cross between wine and urine and the beach seems much more yellow and glossy than it ever used to be.

Then we continued to the Magic Forest which is still one of my most favourite places in the world. It turns out it is actually called the Foret d’Ecault but it is still magical:  full of pines, and beeches, oaks, birches, sandy paths, cones, dunes, glittering shade, wonderful shaped trees, hillocks, just how I remembered it.

The tomatoes here are to die for. We have a ‘contact’ Intermarche right opposite which is a daily must visit for me. My first purchases were tomatoes, melon, anchovies, mustard, peaches, butter, nectarines, cheese, cornichons. I had to go back half an hour later for kitchen towel, toilet paper, milk, washing machine tabs. Supper was pate on petit pain grille which I gorged on while I cooked an onion, tomato and anchovy sauce with pasta. I had a couple of glasses of the most delicious Gerwertstraminer.

It turns out the Mairie Café in town is a nice spot for our aperitif, and being retired local government workers, it seems appropriate. We can wander down and back across the heath. It’s a bit of a climb back up, but builds the appetite for supper and I enjoy a Pastis or a beer and watching people. It turns out, the climb is too much and Jerry prefers to drive. Actually, it’s me who drives even though I prefer to walk because the choice is between Jerry driving and me, and I feel happier with me every time!!

Yesterday, we headed to Ambleteuse where Google had told us there was a market. French markets are my most favourite things in the world. After circling the pretty, tiny, village through the various one way system lanes, we came upon it under the church. Three tables, one cheese, one veg and one meat. Mon Dieu! What has the world come to. We bought an admittedly very delicious Pyrenean cheese and had a coffee to temper our disappointment and came back for Poppins to take her to the beach at the next town of Wissant. Driving in we came across a lovely, winding, traditional, market that took up all the streets at the top of the town. Joy of joys. But dogs were not allowed so I took a quick meander through the stalls while Jerry stayed outside with pops and put it in the diary for next week. I noticed some lovely angora wool jumpers.

What is the sport called which involves paraglides and boards and gorgeous, generally young, men streaking out on the wind, jumping waves to surf the sea and occasionally take off in the air? After the market and a windy walk on the beach which Poppins didn’t really seem to enjoy, we went to a café on the rocks and watched them paraglide, leap, sail, and crash. The tide was roaring in and so they came closer and closer (not, however, too much distraction from my big pot of moules frites which were totally delicious). Wissant is a lovely little town. There was an old mill, a mill pond with lots of quacky ducks, a gorgeous shady mill stream down to the beach, and it was a place frequented by artists in the 19th century. We will return.

I was exhausted after that and stretched out on the green deck chair in the backyard reading my Isabel Allende book, Ripper, which is quite bizarre. It seems to be a murder thriller set in California wrapped in magical fantasy. Kinda works for me at the moment.

And now, off for my morning walk across the heath and down to the beach with Pops. Today, the objective is to find a librarie de presse to buy an ordonnance survey map.

And we did that thing…and who knew…thirty kms away is a wetland area, full of narrow streams, big lakes, rolling forests. Funnily enough, driving around what seem to be long, dusty white roads, surrounded by squares and rectangles of harvested fields, you wouldn’t have thought there was a drop of water in sight, certainly never imagined that it was home to a very extensive wetlands.

The region is very Flemish looking, pointed red tiled roofs, very clean, tidy, and everything in its place. There are very few modern buildings, particularly in the countryside and each village is very discrete with its own name and character. There is no leaching from one village to the next. The region feels full of secrets. You can drive around these very pretty villages, along lanes running along pretty streams, but not see anything else.  According to the map,  there are lakes in the wetlands area, but you don’t see them. Jerry (he likes to keep his face buried in maps) kept saying, I think there’s a big lake behind these houses. They were tiny, pointy roofed homes with jolies gardens, climbing roses, cockleshells, and dwarfs…maybe that is it, I never trust a garden with dwarfs! No, there’s definitely something a little reticent about this region. It feels like it’s holding back. Maybe it’s something to do with crushed and smashed German pill boxes on the rocks.

In the end, we found a lovely, short, walk along a board walk around a steamy pond with bull rushes, olive trees, herons so we were happy. And changing the subject completely, we had our aperitif on the prom yesterday to watch the sun set instead of in the Mairie.

I’m still enjoying the Pyrenean cheese and the lovely fresh garden lettuce, anchovies, cornichons, tomatoes. We added a hard boiled egg into the mix last night. Maybe we’ll eat out tonight. Now, me and pops must be off. We’re checking out Wimereux market this morning and going to the woods South of Boulougne. The ordinance survey map shows a million of them!

Market was perfect! I got  lovely raisins (tiny black grapes) plums, nectarines, smashing big scallions, more cheese…and, and, and…

We also had an adventure in the Foret de Boulogne. In advance of leaving, we identified the Parking on the map where we were to stop, find a walk and explore. Outings can be the cause of much marital anxst in our family, so it is important we try to agree in advance…though, of course, I am prone to sudden changes of mind mid route if I see something else!

Anyhow, we found the P, parked, noted the green route and set off, me and my 72 year old hubby who is not a great walker. There will be arrows all the way around, I assured him. At one junction, where there was a division of paths, we agreed we take the trail, (it looked like it was going in the direction of the car). Unfortunately, the trail disappeared into a track, and the track disappeared into woods, and the woods disappeared into a gorge, and the gorge disappeared into a raging river (they call it un ruisseau here) at the bottom of a steep ravine full of brambles and thorns. Like any mighty leader wanting to maintain troop morale, I confidently moved forth, identifying possible paths, and like any Scouts Brown Owl, would say loudly ‘This is Fun’ every so often. I think a more appropriate illustration would be the Pooh Bear story where Rabbit loses the expedition, except we lacked a piglet in Poppins who seemed to have no more idea of how to get back to the car than we did. Then I remembered the maps app on my phone and, like a magician, (forgive my mixed metaphors, I was very excited) pulled it triumphantly from my pocket.

‘This will show us how to get to where we parked the car.’

‘how do you know where we parked the car’

‘I’m pretty sure its here’

‘and why do you know that this way is the correct direction?’

 ‘those flares point to it. Come on we are very close.’

He looked down at the deep gorge, ravine and rushing river (ruisseau) further up from the same one we had just crossed.

‘We could turn back,’ He suggested

 ‘I could never find the way back. We’d be like that girl in the Netflix series Keep Breathing we watched who went round and round in circles, unless you’ve been scattering crumbs.’

He shook his head, and together we went forth, sharing my walking stick, stumbling, sliding and eventually arrived victorious, weary, proud back at the car.

We decided we deserved dinner out and found a very nice restaurant, Le Carnot, on the main st. At 7pm it was shut and 7.02 it was full! Lucky we were looking through the window at 7.01. I had delicious soupe de poisson and rumpsteak and Jerry had more salad!  I will return to try the Tuna Cru.

Yesterday, we visited Hardelot Plage. I remembered it as a rather bizarre place but in the twenty five years since I’ve been here its matured into what could be described as a film set perfect for a horror zombie murder mystery. You slowly drive towards the centre (there is no centre) through wide boulevards or avenues with wide, white painted, cycle lanes past vast detached, wealthy, old fashioned homes stand on very green lawns behind luscious old oak trees. Every kilometre there is a roundabout and directions towards la plage, ou tennis, ou les chevals ou les jeux d’infants, ou l’hotel four star. It is how I imagine The Hamptons in America’s East Coast to look. Then finally we arrived at a silver and concrete strip of eight storey residences, which shimmered in the sun across a million miles of concrete and beach. It was deserted apart from an old woman and a café. We had coffee and left.

We decided to go and walk in the Massif du Mont St Frieux but the route was barred so we ended up on the beach by a rather moving war memorial to the aviators who were killed in WWII. Somehow, in the vast emptiness of sand and sea it was very easy to imagine the battles in the skies and the spinning plumes of smoke as the planes were shot down. The monument was a simple curved V shape with the quote from Churchill: Never was so much owed by so many to so few. I found it rather moving.

Our old flat at Le Portel the window with the shutters that isn’t the basement!

Jerry crossing a ravine while lost in the Forest de Boulogne

These Days. Part 1. The Crossing

Tuesday 22 August

So, the French odyssey began this day with the boat to Blighty on our way to Boulougne via London, and Deal but firstly Leeds. Six days of travel and visiting friends and family before a month in France.

I woke up to the familiar clangs of the Irish Water Board doing whatever they do weekly across the road at 5am and couldn’t get back to sleep. In my stomach, colly wobbles pattered about my stomach about travelling, but my head sported a sombrero of calm (I could see it, black, broad, intimidating) because these days I have had so much time to be organised! I used to feel excited about change or travel but with age has come a more sang-froid approach to everything, which might seem good but it’s a little boring!

However, despite the organised calm, I woke up to find a thousand thoughts spinning about inside my brain …will I remember how to drive on the English motorways? Are they going to let Poppins in (I didn’t mention her to Stenaline)? Will she be alright in the car alone on the ferry? Will I find somewhere to stop and walk her? Should I take my favourite tea? I don’t have enough time with my best friends, Ruth and Maria. Have I forgotten anything? I haven’t done enough about the Friday picnic in Finsbury Park. Am I going to be too tired driving now because I am awake too early and thinking these thoughts? Will I take my pillow? What about my duvet? I keep making decisions, like no, I won’t take my duvet, but whatever I decide, the same thought pops back up again. Oh dear,  despite the calm, these days, I find few answers, and generally only half arsed solutions that don’t satisfy.

Sunday 28th August DEAL

As you probably guessed, I did remember how to drive and manage the motorways but that was more because, while the motorways point the same way and look as they did, they no longer resemble high speed, four laned madness. As it turned out bollards, accidents, variable speed limits, low emission zones, and traffic jams are the new dangers of motorway driving. Why have motorways, I wonder, when they don’t work? The North Wales shore lines and mountain tops looked pretty spectacular (they seemed to have got rid of the long line of caravan parks that marred the view) as we dashed (if you can dash at 40mph) through Anglesea on the start of our long motorway whizz drive to Leeds where we eventually landed up, thanks to Mrs Google guiding us  through the back roads and by routes of Yorkshire avoiding various collisions, junctions, and breakdowns.

Mags and Joe, brother and sister in law, welcomed us with open arms, wine and array of cheeses. A perfect reception, if I may say so. Next morning, Mags and I were making bread,  preparing salads, walking Pops and catching up on the perils of old age, retirement and the general lack of world leadership while walking through the lovely local park full of forests, lakes and cricket pitches. We were joined in these discussions later in the garden by other brothers and sisters in law who came to pay homage to the Irish contingency of Fitzpatrick’s, including the latest addition to the family, Matilda of ten months…our first family grandchild, possibly the next world leader!

After lots of hugs and farewells, we made our way along the M1 accompanied by thunder, lightening and lashing rain, floods, more variable speed limits and low emission zones (no locusts). At this stage we were hoping that our Irish number plates would provide some protection from these unknown and rather alarming warnings and announcements. Again, thanks to Mrs Google, we got to our destination where Maria welcomed us with delights from Waitrose. Over the weekend, we had a lovely picnic for the friends and Family in Finsbury Park (thank you, Maria and Waitrose), and there, while we continued the debate on poor leadership, trans issues, and outdoor swimming opportunities, Pops chased squirrels and rats through bushes and burrs so that she became more burrdog that collie! The next morning, I had to spray her with coconut, vegan kitchen oil, and spend three hours picking them out to release her tail back to its former glory.

So here we are at the water’s edge, looking across to France doing the last of the visitations. This time staying with my brother who has banned any discussion on the decline of the West. Not a bad idea. We went to visit Margate and a rather wonderful Ingrid Pollard exhibition the Turner Art Gallery (do google her), and the eccentric but wonderful Walpole Hotel which does perfect cream teas and sports a wonderful exhibition of ‘stuff’ from the last 200 years. Lovely soft bed linen at Marc’s and a perfectly cooked Pot au Feu of which Poppins had the bone!

The visitations have been a fabulous start to the month. Thank you, everyone. Just half an hour on Le Shuttle today and we will be in France for a month!

The Walpole Hotel, Margate

Person Spec for Members of Parliament

After watching the Tory leadership candidates’ debate, I can see why Boris got selected back in 2019. There seem to be few members of the Tory party that have charisma, energy, commitment as well as integrity.

I thought the most interesting person on last nights hustings was Kemi in her bright yellow outfit but, from what I read or have heard of her, I find her political views, particularly on immigration and abolishing the court of human rights, most abhorrent. She reminded me of the ‘bold’ girl at school, always ready with a retort. Tom reminded me of the traditional neat and tidy headmaster who lives in a mock Tudor executive home in Surrey, Richie seemed like the arrogant school prig whose parents drive a Bentley and an Armstrong Sidley, Liz floundered on being asked to stand up and recite her times tables and Penny was definitely Head Girl.

The wavering audience were a motley looking crew too and, in the end, it didn’t seem that the famous five above did much for them either.

I think it is time to recruit our politicians differently. What other profession allows individuals to rock up to the front door and offer themselves up for the top dog position without any suitable qualifications or skills, and then snigger gleefully, all the way to the bank.

So here is my person spec for a Member of Parliament. I’m sure its missing key ingredients but its open to consultation. Please give constructive comments.

We are looking for someone who lives or is from the local area to represent us in Parliament. They must have a good knowledge and understanding of the region, its social history, its key industries, be an excellent good communicator and highly motivated.

Essential criteria

  • To demonstrate a commitment to change and improve people’s economic and social lives.
    • To provide evidence of past engagements which demonstrate integrity and energy
    • To have extensive experience of team working and community development
    • To display a good grasp of the social and economic context of the region.
    • To have strong communication skills, both oral and technological
    • To demonstrate an ability to network effectively to improve the life of constituents
    • To have a strong understanding of governance at local, national and international level
    • To provide evidence of excellent time management skills
    • Driving license

Desirable criteria

  • To have a strong sense of humour

Sucking Sands and Watermelon Sangria!

Sunshine, islands, spider fish, sucking sands and huge waves were key features of my stay in Olhao. The spider fish were filleted and battered but despite this, I suspect they were the reason for my waking up in the hot Portuguese night unable to open my eyes. Stumbling to the bathroom, through a crack in my lids, I saw the underneath of my eyes and my eye lids in full puffy, blossom. Not a pretty sight. Apparently, according to Google,  this could be known as surfer’s eye. I considered that possibility as, earlier that afternoon, I had sort of been surfing. After enjoying myself rolling around and floating on the swoop of the waves, on trying to exit the sea, the sands beneath my feet disappeared, the water swept in, the surf submerged me and literally tossed me around like a rag doll. Salt and sand filled my mouth. I managed to surface briefly, hurl a scream, crawl on to my knees, and burst out laughing at the experience, before being smashed against the sliding sands again, the roar and water silencing me again. I threw out my arms to be saved, but my son, Joe, was unable to maintain contact as once again the waves took control and tossed me, scornfully, on the sand, only to claim me back again, as I struggled to get up before the next surge forward. Eventually, I emerged, not laughing, breathless, swimsuit torn from my boobs, hillocks of sand in the most unlikely places, dripping seaweed…but alive. This morning, peering into the mirror, I wondered, could this be ‘surfer’s eye’? Hum, I thought, more likely to be spider fish poisoning, or maybe it was the after-effects of two jugs of delicious watermelon sangria.

We discovered the joy of watermelon sangria on the third night of our holiday. We were celebrating being on holiday, as one does, but spending the evening in a café rather than going back to the Casa we had rented because of the alarming creature we had encountered the previous night on our roof terrace. I will explain. On our first day, Joe and I had spent the morning walking around the coastal Rio Formosa national park, through the salt and fresh water marshes, inhaling the pines, admiring the white, red and purple of the oleander trees, blue skies, and, on the way there, the orange and white sign of the Intermarche shopping store. So, that afternoon we had returned and splashed out in Intermarche, buying foods of interest for a picnic on our terrace. At 9.30pm, we had returned from our aperitif, laid the terrace table with tomato salad, flageolets, anchovies, cheese, gherkins, bread, curried hot dogs (joe’s choice), cornbeef, pates, green glace cherries and flan and were just digging in, when a very blonde, angry, slim, half naked small man appeared on his side of the terrace wall. He proceeded to speak very fast, accented English about noise, where he slept, the bang of doors, feet on the stairs, and the fucking motherfuckerness of the owner. All this time he was wildly gesticulating and being very aggressive. Sadly, as a result, we spent much of our time outside the Casa in cafes…which explains the two jugs of sangria, and the possible symptoms of ‘surfers eye’. Anyhow, whatever the reason, the eyes got better, and we got more familiar with the cafes on the prom.

On the fourth day, having promenaded enough in Olhao, we hired a car and skedaddled to Seville in Spain, 150 miles up the motorway. What a gorgeous city it is. It was vaguely on my bucket list and is now one of my planned features for a city break next year. It is certainly one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been in. I loved the narrow streets, the small squares, the river and canal. The Real Alcazar, a Spanish palace of Moor and Christian architecture was spell bounding. The tiles, the intricacies of the plastering, the colours, the symmetry, the gardens were astounding, it was a truly magical place. The Casa de Pilates was similar, though it didn’t have the amazing gardens. However, the acoustics in its music room was gorgeous. The Plaza d’Espagna also took my breath away. Sadly, the actual plaza building which was built in the 1920 in a mix of baroque, Moor and romanticism styles, was being set up for a big event, so the view was somewhat ruined, and, anyway, we were running out of leg muscle power (I think we walked over 20kms in scorching heat in Seville) and time. We wanted to sit down, and eat Paella still before leaving Spain and heading back to to return the hire car and the delights of watermelon sangria.

In fact, they didn’t want the hire car back, said we could keep it until we drove it back to the airport! Joe was just about to park it outside our Casa when a local slipped in and nabbed our space. That night we returned from a delicious meal of grilled tuna and final jug of watermelon sangria, to find flashing blue lights, the politizi and all the neighbourhood hanging about outside our Casa! There was a lot of heated discussion going on. They were staring at the parked car outside our house. A massive transporter, with orange flashing lights, arrived, edged its way down the narrow lane, and picked up a stray vehicle that it seemed had drunkenly sliced its way down the narrow street grazing all the parked cars. There, but for the grace of God…we left early next morning, returning an unscratched citroen, sun sated and full of the joys of Olhao.

BTW, PM me if you want the recipe to the watermelon sangria!

Kate waking with Surfers Eye

Joe in Olhao, the fish market is behind him, and behind that, the water melon sangria
Dont be deceived by the calm looking sea in the distance!

Finding my bearings in Vienna and Bratislava

I have just come back from a little holiday to Vienna and Bratislava in Slovakia. In short, Vienna was not as beautiful as I had imagined, and Bratislava was poorer and more touristy, though both were full of glorious sunshine, marble, churches, trams and stags. I think, to use modern parlance, my takeaway from my five day break is that to counteract our world of pandemics, war, social isolation, and corruption, more people must be turning to each other, getting married and finding solace and escape in stag parties.

On arrival in Vienna, dismissing taxis, we launched ourselves into public transport, boarded a double level train, alighted at an underground station and dragged our Ryanair cabin bags into daylight, along streets lined with high rise buildings that seemed to have no destination.  Following Google, Joe found our Airbnb studio on the noisy outer ring road which encircled a canal with a lovely towpath full of outdoor cafes, beaches, people pedalling, walking, running.

We dropped off our bags and set off to get our bearings. It seems this is best done by sitting at a canal café, in glorious sunshine, drinking Weisstephan beer (known as dusty beer) and pinching and swiping google maps. Don’t get me wrong, I do adore google maps, and I would have seriously been lost without it and Joe who seems to be able to walk and map read at the same time. However, I do like to see and hold a paper map which gives some sort of perspective. But, really, these days, it is not cool to be seen on a corner with a map looking confused.

Anyway, that afternoon we walked along the canal, getting our bearings, which I have to say I promptly lost as we stopped for sun drenched drinks, and soaked up the vibe of the city.  

In Vienna, there are thousands of grand, old, beautiful buildings, galleries, museums, and gothic, Gaudi looking church spires, and blue and gold tiled domes in the sky, but they were all surrounded by a conglomeration of high speed avenues, traffic, and noisy intersections. It felt like a wedding cake of a city which had exploded and its beautiful detritus had landed willy nilly.

The next day, the first place we visited was Karls Kirche  (a church) which was a little too opulent for my taste. There were a lot of friezes and statues in gold and marble, and cherubs and angels cavorting about. We went up an internal scaffold in a rickety lift to see the painted dome and my stomach turned, sadly not with delight. There was too much glory, gold, and crosses for my liking.

The highlight of Vienna for me was the Natural History Museum which was full of wonderful glittering minerals, dinosaurs, and very interactive so that I found myself cavorting back in the day with my ape friends. Then we sauntered off to  the Sigmund Freud museum which was set in the apartment that the family lived in before escaping the Nazis in 1938 and moving to London. It was interesting to see how people lived.

Actually, the real highlight was the Bloody Mary’s that night in the First Floor Jazz Club. Spanish students were trying to waltz to jazz music. Well, let me tell you, after the fourth Bloody Mary, Joe and I soon put pay to that and cleared the floor!

Or maybe my highlight was the next morning, admittedly bleary and weary, we visited the Hundertwasser Museum before leaving for Bratislava. We had a lovely breakfast in a gorgeous outdoor café which replenished our spirits and provided sustenance for the museum…which was fab.

 Hundertwasser was a surrealist artist and built the museum on the values of water, wind, tree and colour. It was wobbly (not so practical with a hangover), full of psychedelic circles and airy fairy, spiritual wonder. I loved it. I loved his designs for incinerators, housing developments, churches: colourful, curvaceous, and he had a wonderful eye for the glory of beauty. He was marvellously mad and I wished he’d had more luck in his lobbying of politicians. However, he was successful in his seduction of me and I bought a wonderful hat which I’m sure will go down well in the streets of Cavan.

 (Funnily enough, we found a similar exhibition in Bratislava the next day by an artist, Peter Bartos, who drew a million sketches of a wonderfully bright future with buildings that took account of nature, people, animals, trees, weather. I particularly liked them because looked rather like my own paintings.

 Anyway, after buying the hat, we took our leave of Vienna, and after a train journey across a rather boring plain, we landed in Bratislava and Joe guided us through more noisy, sweaty, sun drenched main roads towards our accommodation. After a fifteen minute hurried walk, I was relieved to follow him under an arch, down a cobbled street into the old town which was lovely: turreted church towers, charming squares all painted pale pinks, lemons, blues and lined with outdoor cafes enticing us to come and eat traditional Slovak food: dumplings with sheep’s cheese, cabbage soup with calves tongue, garlic soup served in a role, and spicy sausages. To get to our lovely pad, we had to go through large wooden doors, into a courtyard, up a circular staircase to the fourth floor. There, we dropped our bags and stepped out to …get our bearings.

After refreshing ourselves with beer, hummus and olives, we set off around the square, up the cobbled side streets, through the courtyards, along the Danube, past the statues, in and out of the vintage shops, popping into a lovely water colour gallery, and finally found a resting place with wine, trout soaked in bread, and a plate of spicy meat and cheese.

After ten minutes, it started to rain. Fortunately, we were under an awning, so we stayed put. Unfortunately, the rain got heavier and it began to thunder massive claps and bangs. The black sky lit up with silver cracks, flashing venom and anger. Literal rivers cascaded down the marble floor so we had to keep our feet lifted off the street. The rain drummed and flayed the canvas umbrellas. People scattered, holding plates of salmon, pasta and goulash close to their chest. Lights went out. It was very exciting. When it finished, we sniffed the fresh air and ended up in Baudelaire’s putting the world to rights. I was drinking rum garnished with gingerbread sticks. Delicious! Does anyone know where to get gingerbread sticks?

The next day was a little cloudy, so we decided to hit the art galleries. Entering the Central City Art Gallery and Natural History museum was rather like stepping back into a tawdry seventies affair with badly curated exhibitions. Poor Marie Therese, the first Austro Hungarian Queen (1740 – 1780) during whose reign Bratislava reached its pinnacle of glory, was the subject of a paltry exhibition set on shiny red, wonky exhibition stands stuffed into a delipidated bare room. On another floor we threw plastic balls at a video of passing dinosaurs, who if our aim was good enough, collapsed dead and disappeared. On the top floor were three exhibits that had been donated to the gallery by the artists, along with a sign that highlighted that this was all that was really available in terms of art as the gallery was so underfunded. However, I did like the three posters of the workers smiling on the second floor as they forged Stalin’s five year plan.

At midnight, having again put the world to rights with more cocktails, I headed up to bed to toss away the hours of the techno/house music rocking the walls of the studio apartment. Joe was more sensible…he went to the disco and danced into dawn with a Bratislavian beauty.

 Our last day was a tad more gentle. We visited the 13th century castle perched on the top of the hill with baroque gardens and views across to the Czech Republic and Hungary and then came back down and again wandered around the square, watching and commenting on the waves of determined octogenarian tourists hanging onto their sticks and each other. They perambulated in the mornings and filled the cafes at lunch but then disappeared (presumably for afternoon naps) and were replaced in the afternoon by traditional, four wheeled hooded prams pushed by mummies with small children darting between legs and Dads who trudged behind. They then all disappeared as the sun set and were replaced by groups of rowdy Irish, English, German stags who told bad jokes and laughed raucously til dawn.

Some were still there, collapsed in corners and doorways as we made our way across the square at 4.30am to get a taxi to the airport to fly back to Ireland. It was a great break.

Hundertwasser Museum
incinerator model
mineral in the Vienna Nat History Museum
Bratislava Castle
view of Bratislava
The Old Town Square

Spectacular….Great Buzz…Astonishing

‘Magnificent’,  ‘Marvellous,’  and ‘Astounding’…now I know why I read these words so often on bill boards and theatre headlines…they are the words that must be used in connection with a truly brilliant theatre performance! I don’t know why, but I feel I must put them to use.

I went to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Bord Gais this week and it was truly ‘extraordinary’. I think it is a National Theatre production (UK) which is on tour, so if you get a chance, do go. The production is very faithful to the book by Mark Haddon and is beautifully acted and choreographed. The actor playing the role of Christopher Boon (the autistic child) was Connor Curren. He was absolutely amazing. I was in the front row and could see the sweat, spit, and muscle he put into the performance. Seriously, at the end of the show, I was wiping away the tears.

It was cleverly produced. I read the book twenty five years ago…and what stood out for me was the journey taken by the boy from Swindon to London. On stage, they danced the crowds, whistled the wind, and truly achieved the whirlwind of pushing, shoving, stumbling that you get at rush hour on the tube.

The set was ‘extraordinary’! The stage was a perfect square, made up of electronic tiles which became star constellations through which Christopher flew (with the helping hands of the troupe). The set accommodated and was able to convey beautifully the rational, logistical inside of Christy’s head. All the acting was superb, though for me, Connor stood out.

The book must be on the school curriculum for the theatre was full of school kids. This can sometimes be a mixed blessing (at The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, a child sitting behind decided to practice her hairdressing skills on me) but in this auditorium you could hear a pin drop! If you get a chance, go and see it.

The other ‘spectacular’ event this week was National Poetry Day. Poetry Ireland do a great job facilitating the celebration of poetry, and their supports for National Poetry Day was great. They are so helpful and supportive, I almost expected to see staff turn up at my front door offering to help me with the baking of the Lemon Drizzle and Ginger cakes and concoction of the fruit punch! The Town Hall is also just a brilliant venue. We are very lucky to have it in Cavan. I had chosen to hold the poetry party in the small reception/kitchen area because I didn’t think too many people would come (I had received a fair few apologies), but we ended up having to squeeze more chairs in and people were hanging out at the door, tongues out (the cakes were at the other end). The poetry was brilliant, some home grown, but we also had Emily Bronte, Noel Monaghan, and a few recitations. I can’t thank enough Aisling from the Town Hall, Breege O’Brien and Jerry Fitzpatrick for the tea making, photos, hosting and crowd control!!!


Recommending (or not) Russians, Pandemics, Lions, Witches, Wardrobes, and Horses.

I was reading The Story of a Life by Konstantin Paustovsky recently, a celebrated 20th century Russian writer, recommended by a BBC book podcast. I had never heard of him, but, apparently, he is much loved by Russians (he is a Ukrainian) and he succeeded in avoiding the various gulags and Siberian camps to which Stalin sent many Russian writers, partly, I guess, because one of his books written in the 1930s praised the industrialisation of the country.  

This book is beautifully written. It is his life story, and I started to read it just as the Russians invaded Ukraine which made it more poignant. It gave me an appreciation into how intricate and dovetailed the states of Ukraine and Russia have always been, even before the Russian Revolution. He writes fabulous descriptions of cities, trees, the sky, people. He lived through exciting times – war, revolution, the five year plan, civil war, which made his adventures as a medical orderly on a train travelling through Russia, Ukraine and Belarus picking up wounded soldiers, a journalist in Moscow during the revolution very exciting.

Paustovsky was born in 1892 on 31st May, which is my birthday! He had a happy childhood but when his parents split up, the separation of the family led to his life fragmenting and his writing reflects a boy and a young man always seeking salvation or something which is elusive. He casts a lonely figure in his stories, but his writing is very lyrical and romantic. Perhaps a little too sentimental? He describes his experience of cruelty, war, and death vividly. It was an oddly reflective of the scenes I was watching on the TV. It reminded me of how circular life is.

The circularity of life, including how our human reactions  seem to lead, inevitably, to diminishing circles is also apparent in To Paradise by Hanya  Yanagihara which is another long book (both this and The Story of a Life were three volumes!). On the surface, this book was very different to Pautovsky because it is science fiction, but it was but as grim in terms of its portrayal of human nature.

To Paradise is set over three generations of a wealthy and renowned family from the late 19th century to the late 21tst century. In the first book, families are made up of same sex marriages and we follow the story of a grandfather looking after his grandchildren after the parents die of a virus. America is divided into free states, the Wild West and the bigoted south and shifts between the different places. The first book has a Henry James feel to it. The story starts with the portrayal of an anxious, wealthy boy who doesn’t appear to grow up. This ineptitude seems to be the general thread through each protagonist of the following generations. I began to feel a little exasperated by them. The three books are about familial relationships and while excellent in parts, in other places was hard to follow and occasionally I felt lectured at.

An interesting feature in each of the To Paradise are the ‘pandemics’ that break out in each generation, and the increasing severity of each and how the last one destroys humanity, not just in terms of death but it takes away our ability to be generous and kind. Yanagihara writes about love, wealth, poverty, human weakness, the latter two ever increasing in volume as the centuries pass. Given we were experiencing our own Pandemic while I was reading this, the book was particularly scary. I’m not sure I would recommend it. It can be heavy going.

On a positive note, I went to see The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, a book I much loved in childhood, at Bord Gais this month which was much better than I thought it would be. The choreography and stage set were both excellent, the acting good, though I could have done without the songs. Aslan was a rather good puppet but nothing as wonderful and magical as the War Horse which was staged by the National Theatre at Home during lockdown and was nothing short of brilliant. I watched it on line and loved it.

Now, I’m just listening to sad, wrecked refugees streaming out of Ukraine and three British soldiers deciding to go off on an adventure to ‘do something’ in Ukraine dressed up in knights in white armour. You couldn’t make it up!


Happy New Year!

Christmas is finished, New Year is done, festivities and little treats (in my case, Lindt truffles, gin and cranberry mince pies from Lidl, classic panettone) are no more. The scales are overloaded, the holidays are booked and seem forever away. So heads down, folks, and let’s skedaddle through to February 1st,  St Brigid’s day, which many in Ireland consider the first day of Spring. From then on in, life will kick into action. No more introspection. The pace will pick up, the annual rhythms begin. There will be cricket, football, and tournaments of tennis. Elections and riots will be held, borders will be crossed,  sanctions will be imposed and political heads will roll. Wars will start, floods will flow, fires will burn, storms will squall. Financial Indexes will go up and down. People will die, babies will be born and meantime we will all have places to go, people to see and things to do.

Alongside the flotsam and jetson of world events, hopefully, the year will see me continue to walk Poppins daily, write the odd poem, read books, listen to drama and documentaries on both the BBC, RTE, watch TV series, swim, cook dinner, learn French with Duo Lingo, Face Time family and friends and wonder if every older generation feels that the world has gone mad. I do remember my grandparents complaining of a loss of morality. I dismissed them as stone age old farts. Am I now a middle class stone age old fart? Should I try to constrain that inclination I’m developing towards impatience and intolerance? Probably. At the moment I don’t have grandchildren to convince (and therefore myself ) that we can change the world. I hope they don’t come to late for me to change. A new year’s resolution, Kate. Stem disillusion now!

Talking of evolution, I have just come back from a two night stay in Ballina at the Ice House.  The fourth wall of our hotel room was a glass window overlooking the River Moy and Belleek woods. The wide, tumbling, salmon tossed, river winter life was full of fowl, birds, fish, otters, and weather. There was so much movement in tune with hours of the day. The wind, sea tides, night and day made the river rise, fall, burble, crash, there were different rhythms at different hours. At dusk, there was a starling murmuration, ducks squawking, and the family of three swans dipped their heads and settled them under their wings. At dawn, the river woke slowly, with a pale demeanour. Singly, birds abounded in the air, fish began to pop bubbles in the water, and the river rippled over the rapids.

While there are lakes and lots of wildlife in Cavan, and I can watch the starling murmurate over the lake outside my window, I don’t feel the life rhythm here as much as I did watching the river in Ballina. This may be because, even as an older woman with less responsibility, I still live by dull daily routines and don’t afford myself the time or have the inclination to stop and watch. So, I am making a late new year’s resolution: I will note and take pleasure in natural routines…and unnatural ones. For instance, there is a blackbird in the garden who sings throughout the dead of night, every night. S/he starts at about 1.30am and will intermittently sing sweetly (or not as the case may be) until the robins, thrushes, and tits join in the trill around six. This is charming. There is also a car that drives past the house every morning at 5.10am. I will notice and remark. I will take pleasure…

Finally, talking of pleasure…I did like Ballina. It was a twisty, interesting town that liked itself. It had a lot of traditional, interesting shops and not so many trendy cafes, beauty salons and nail bars. Whoops, stop it, Kate. So, I am looking forward to 2022. I plan to wallow in it, like those swans on the River Foy, happily. Happy New Year.

River Moy outside my window
view from Ice House Relaxation Room (the seats are heated)

Here, There and Elsewhere

At the launch of Elsewhere, my third poetry collection, on Friday evening, it was strange to see all these tiny portraits representing the different threads of my life lined up in front of me as I read poems. There were fellow poets, brothers, sisters, children, old friends, new friends, neighbours zooming in from various parts of the world, each one representing a meaningful but specific part of my life. There, before me, my life and loves were spread out.  I felt as if I could reach out and dive into a conversation and a glass of wine with each one of them about poetry, love, politics, art. Instead, I read poems aloud about poetry, love, politics, art. Hah! I held the floor, no interruptions …feat enough in itself!!!!

Kevin Higgins, who has been so supportive and encouraging of my poetry since I met him, also spun his wizardry words, along with Bernie Crawford. In his blurb on the back of Elsewhere Kevin joked that he would be “delighted to live in a world run by Kate Ennals.” My imagination ran riot. If I ruled the world, I would have a round table peopled by all portraits in front of me and we would weave magic, drink wine, and start to put the world to rights, but as I write this, I’m thinking maybe I’m doing that already, well the last two anyway!  (Actually, I’m writing this while listening to Deirdre Mortell from ReThink Ireland at the Green Party convention, and I’m liking the sound of her ideas – I’ll definitely have her on my round table).

To be honest, I don’t think I’d be very good at running the world. Once, I did some kind of psychometric test, and I was told, a little to my chagrin, that I am a follower!!! But it’s true, I like to initiate stuff and be part of projects but being out there, at the front, alone, that’s not for me. I loved having Kevin and Bernie reading their poems at the launch and sharing that space. I treasure Bernie’s poems. They chime with me. I think our interests and concerns are very similar, so it is interesting to see how she tumbles her words, how our poetry dovetails. Kevin’s poetry is satirical, sharp, hilarious, and both poets write gut wrenching poems. By the way, you can get their books through Salmon who publishes them

But what really made the evening work for me was all these tiny portraits of you all lined up in front of me, all the threads of my life at once here, there and elsewhere. Thanks to Janice Dempsey of Vole Imprint for facilitating the launch.

You can find the launch on YouTube at this link, as well as the link to buy the book from me or the Vole Imprint


Elsewhere can be purchased via Paypal from the top of the katennals blog.


The Delight of Dublin and Dogs

On our way down to Dublin to dog sit Alfie for my daughter last Thursday (she went off to Paris for the weekend), I popped into Aldi in Cavan to buy Poppins’ favourite dog food and some sugar free mints (I smoke but cannot abide the taste, so have to have mints with every cigarette…don’t ask), where I discovered, unbeknown to me (again, don’t ask me how I didn’t know) they had converted the old rundown, higgldy piggldy Aldi into a supersonic, fifteen lane, airy, ordered, French like superstore! I almost decided to stay there for the weekend, instead of coming to Dublin, but being a dutiful mother, as promised, I headed off down the N3.

Roisin lives in Stoneybatter, in a tiny, but lovely home. It is less lovely when there are four of us and two boisterous dogs staying in it, so when she and Jack headed off the next day, we gave a sigh of relief, threw out the mouldy food in the fridge, emptied the bins, re-ordered the house to the way we liked it, and began to live our pretend Dublin life. Having made a tour of the Lilliput Deli (fresh anchovies, artichokes, and every tapenade and pulse you could imagine), the organic green grocer and butchers, the Green Door Bakery, the 24 hour Centra which has an excellent selection of fine wines, I came back and scrawled a notice to put on the front door: NO EVICTIONS HERE. LAND LORDS GO AWAY which I hoped Roisin would understand should she come back.

We had great weather. Every morning, me and the dogs (and a trail of green poo bags) would bound up to Grange Gorman or Pheonix Park in glorious sunshine, weaving along the narrow terraced houses, the spooky front gardens, stopping regularly to unravel the two leads from lampposts and other dogs and pass the time of the day with whomever would stop to help me. Grange Gorman was usually crowded with dog walkers, dogs, students, runners, footballers, and milling with yellow vested security guards. I loved it, as did the dogs.

Pheonix Park was more elegant. Finely landscaped, beautiful roses, secret paths through wooded hills, a river, ducks, small children feeding the ducks. All heaven except for the fire works which exploded (even in daylight) in a regular stutter of bang bang bang as if we were being shot at, which of course Poppins thought she was. Fortunately, she was on the lead at the time, but she wanted refuge, and so leapt up at every parked car we passed as she dragged me and Alfie home. She is remarkably strong. She gave one man sitting in his driver’s seat a heart attack as she scrabbled at his window to be let in. At one stage, Alfie decided it was all too much and stopped. He point blank refused to walk. So, there was Poppins, out in front, nose to the ground pulling me forward. Then there was me in the middle, trying to calm her down, interspersed with angry retorts to Alfie behind me who I was literally dragging, on his back, paws in the air along the pavement. Such very unD7 behaviour. Thank God Roisin couldn’t see me.

Saturday, after a quick run around Grange Gorman, we left the dogs behind to hopefully bond, and set off to meet our oldest and bestest Dublin friends whom we hadn’t seen for over two years (we all know why.) We had arranged to go see the Jack Yeats exhibition on the National Gallery and then go for a boozy Italian lunch. It was perfect. I love the slick and sprawl of the oil in Yeats. I love stepping back and watching the story emerge from the painting. I love the colour and energy. It bubbles up in me and makes me want to cry with happiness. The wine at the Italian restaurant had a similar effect. Chatting politics, books, children with old, good friends left me feeling happily weepy and sentimental. Eventually we all had to go home (they had to babysit grandchildren and our dogs needed us).

So, we did other things too. We went reminiscing in the Wicklow Mountains, oohing and ahhing at the changes around Cherrywood and Kiltiernan, and giving out at the snarl of traffic we encountered coming back on the M50 (you don’t see much of that sort of thing in Cavan). And, talking of mountains, I ate a mountain of mussels in Oscar’s last night in Smithfield. They were delicious. And then we watched the last of the Kin series. We felt it was appropriate that we came to their territory for their grand finale…except of course, it wasn’t the Grand Finale. They haven’t gone away you know. This morning is my last morning. Again, it is glorious sunshine. Having finally bonded, the dogs and husband are all upstairs together in the same bed (they have similar habits). I must get them up and take them all out. We have learned where the obstreperous lamp posts are, found ways to navigate away from the Grange Gorman yellow jacketed security blokes who want me to leash Poppins. The dogs have asserted their individual right to eat from the other’s food bowl without killing each other. My culinary exploits (venison burgers, garlic with a splash of wine sausages, Italian panetone cake with chocolate) will be no more. Soon a plane will be arriving at the airport from Charles de Gaulle bringing back Roisin, and I will be flying up the N3 with a relieved Poppins because, while she will put up with Alfie, she prefers to have me to herself (though she will tolerate Jerry). Poppins will be happy to get back to her perch on the top of the couch watching the world go past in Cavan though she may have to wait just a little while longer while I go explore that new Aldi en route home. I’m hoping they’ll have fresh anchovies.

the port from bull island