Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The Lure of Travel

I wonder why we all like to travel so much?  For us here in Ireland I expect it is the prospect of a week or two of sunshine, our summers being somewhat unpredictable.  The whole procedure of getting our bodies  from home to Sunny Destination X has become so routine that many of us don't give it a second thought.  The journey to the airport, checking in, finding the departure gate, doing a bit of shopping at the duty free, we do it all as a matter of course.
I must admit I am a fidgety traveller, always afraid something will go wrong and I'll miss my flight.  I can only relax once I have sunk down on one of those hard plastic seats at the departure gate with my boarding pass clutched in my sweaty palm.
Which is why my recent coach trip to Northern Ireland was a welcome change. We toured Belfast, including the Titanic Interpretation Centre and drove all along the coast to visit The Giant's Causeway (breathtaking), the Glens of Antrim (equally gob-smacking), Doagh famine village, Malin Head (the most northerly point in Ireland), the city of Derry and the Cathedral in Armagh.  An unforgettable trip. I went with a ladies' club of which I am a member and everything was organised.  What bliss.  I didn't have to rummage in my bag for a single thing nor study a map nor negotiate narrow roads!  And we had glorious weather so that half the time we were wandering about in warm sunshine!   We stayed at a different hotel every night, our coach awaited us straight after breakfast and off we went to see the sights.  Northern Ireland is a beautiful part of the world.   Barbara Ferguson our guide and proprietor of  Guided Tours Ireland 
 did a truly wonderful job in helping us understand and enjoy the places we visited. I won't go into detail of the trip because guide books and tour guides like Barbara do a much better job to make it all come alive.
Here are a few photos though - my camera is a very simple one so no majestic panoramas.
This is a view from Malin Head. We had glorious weather for the entire trip.

This is the view from Doagh Island famine village.  We didn't have time to explore that long golden strand.  The visit to the famine village centre was one of the highlights of the trip. 

I think we all fell in love with the city of Derry - here is a view of the Peace Bridge.
All in all a wonderful experience.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Finding Things

 I like to visit the city when I've been away for a while.  My first stop is usually the Franciscan church where I visit a side altar devoted to St. Anthony, the finder of lost things.  I usually make a small donation here as a thank you for the safe return of one or other of my daughter's cats, one of which has a propensity to wander off and not be seen for a week or more.  Call me naive or superstitious if you like, but I always pray to St. Anthony when something gets lost and I - or he - usually find it again.
 I like wandering round the stores when I'm not actually looking for anything specific.  Charity shops with their huge selection of books are first on my list.  It's amazing what you can find.  It reminds me of a story called The Book Bag by Somerset Maugham - see a review here.  Set in the old colonial days of the British, it is related by a traveller who, having learned his lesson once while imprisoned by illness in a hill-town in Java without enough to read,  now carries a giant laundry bag of books with him everywhere in his travels through colonial outposts. Without that book bag, he says, he would "never had heard the singular history of Olive Hardy."  Maugham's stories are fascinating for the glimpse of life on remote jungle stations which they give.

A few months ago I wrote that I was looking for something to hold a set of kitchen utensils which I'd received as a Christmas present.  I had very definite ideas but after exhaustive research in all the stores I still couldn't find what I was searching for.  So I did what every sensible person has done in similar circumstances, I adopted the motto:  if you can't get what you want, then want what you can get. So I found this inexpensive solution:
This is an exclusive picture of my not-very-modern-kitchen worktop complete with tea caddy and chopping boards.
Do I admire this utensil holder when I'm working in the kitchen?  To be honest I don't even see it.  It serves a purpose, I'm glad I've got it, and that's the end of the story.

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Instant Fix Myth or why do I fall for (some) advertisers' promises

'Have you got some kind of skin disease?'  The nurse in a German hospital had a voice like a buzz-saw and an attitude to match.  My guess is that although the hospital was in Frankfurt, most of the law-makers in the Bundestag in Berlin some 600 kms away heard her.  She was about to give me an injection and had just noticed the skin on my legs.  At that time I had no idea what these peculiar round patches on my legs and thighs were so I couldn't give her an instant course in harmless skin conditions even if I'd wanted to, which I didn't. 

Last Sunday while glancing through the Beauty page of The Sunday Times I came across an article entitled Back to Beauty School with the sub-title How to Get Smooth Skin  (Page 18, Sunday Times Supplement from 20th September 2015). The first sentence grabbed me :  The medical term is keratosis pilaris; the simple term is permanent goose bumps or back-of-the-arm spots.  That's it!  yelled my inner I-want-to-have-smooth-skin-on-my-legs Muse.  There has to be a cure, a fool-proof remedy.  There isn't, as it turns out.  The only advice was not to scrub the area, to look for lactic acid in product ingredients and not to use soap bars.  Two products were recommended but as I have not tried them - yet - I won't mention them here.
When you want a better answer what do you do?  I turned to the fount of knowledge, i.e. Google.  Again, I came up with a no-remedy result.  Apparently lots of people, there was mention of that mysterious 30%, have this perfectly harmless condition.  So join the club -is there a club somewhere out there in cyber darkness?  The keratosis pilaris club? 

That little episode got me thinking that we are always looking for quick fixes and very often not getting them.  I had a bad head cold last week and the final stages of it are a ticklish cough which wakes me up at night.  So I researched cough mixtures for dry coughs and found two (from the same manufacturer) which said on the packaging that they were a powerful and instant relief.  One variety was the non-drowsy one and the other the won't-make-you-sleepy version.  I chose the latter but as for the effectiveness, I can only say that it doesn't appear to have done much good and I'm on the third day of dosage.  I had sort of expected that it would give "instant relief".  No quick fix, then.  As my mother used to say "nature must take its course".  I'll buy that, at least as far as the common cold is concerned.

So, I've still got a cough (although it is improving with or without the aid of a cough mixture) and I've still got my keratosis pilaris.  I'm getting the like that last name. Next time I'm stuck for conversation I'll find a way to bring it into the conversation. 


Monday, 14 September 2015

Holidays and failed holiday pics

I'm just back from Germany where I had some quality time with my daughter and two grandchildren. We spent a week in a holiday park in the Eifel.  There is an extinct volcano here and the country is rich in thickly wooded forests and deep valleys.  It is very pastoral.  Here's an impression from my not-very-technical camera:

This was taken at a small wildlife park and those dots you can see are in fact big fat turkeys.  There were goats as well - loads of them - who came up to the enclosure looking for snacks (which you could buy from the shop, all healthy stuff).

We visited a falconry and watched the eagles, kestrels and owls being fed and learned a bit about them.  We drove through another park and had to negotiate scores of deer and wild pigs and a few donkeys as well.
Here's a picture of the falconry but as usual I missed the action bit where the eagles were taking off but maybe you get a feel for the atmosphere?
There were some lovely picturesque towns in the neighbourhood.  My favourite was Bad Muenstereifel where we spent the best part of a day.  It is a walled town and the old part - overlooked by a castle which  appears to be a restaurant nowadays -  is a pedestrian zone. It was a very hot day.  We sat next to this little stream and had our lunch.  The castle can just be seen at the top of the picture.

 Here's another shot of the town. 
All in all it was a very enjoyable week.  Ladal Holiday Park is Dutch-owned.  It is situated on the border of Luxembourg and Belgium so had a real international flair.  Very comfortable accommodation and very efficiently run with plenty for the kids to do.

Now I am back to grey reality - literally.  Today it is raining, it rained yesterday, and it is slowly getting chilly.  Which all means that I will not put my nose outside the door today.  Instead I will knuckle down to writing the second novel in my Sergeant Alan Murray crime series.  I'm about halfway through the first draft - in other words there is a load of work to be done.  I usually revise about five times before I feel I can publish.  If you like a cozy crime novel to while away the evenings, you could try the first novel in the series:  Death in a lonely Place:  Here's the U.S. link  and the Amazon UK one:
I write under the pen name P.B. Barry to distinguish from my other novels.

I'm off to make a cup of tea and then I really will get down to some writing.  I'll just have another look at my not-quite-perfect holidays pictures first, just to remind myself that two short weeks ago I was sweating in a hot sun with a blue sky overhead in the company of my daughter and two very lively grandkids.  Ahhh!  

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Other People's Treasures

Recent books I've read: 
"Us" by David Nichols.  Really enjoyed this.  It was very funny with a touch of sadness like a twist of lemon in an exquisite cocktail.  Love his style - refreshing!
Haven't read "One Day" so am judging solely on this book.
"Never let me go" by Kazuo Ishiguro .  Again, I love the style of writing, it is refreshingly different. This is a disturbing book, which despite some weakness in the plot, keeps you fascinated to the end.  I will look out for more of his novels. 
Both of the above novels kept me reading late into the night which is the highest compliment I can pay them!

I often get my books in charity shops.  Books that have been read and enjoyed and passed around have a different feel to them than the ones you get direct from the bookshop. And once in a while you meet someone who is either working in the shop or browsing themselves and they strike up a conversation with you.  Striking up conversations with complete strangers on a subject that you are interested in is one of the nicest things to happen, I always think. One minute you are on your own, preoccupied, thumbing through all those paperbacks in search of a good read, and suddenly someone says "have you read this one?  I thought it was a great read" and in less time than it takes to click-and-buy you're yapping away as if you'd known this person for ages.  Buying online has its advantages but the human link is both rare and precious.

Talking about precious things.  I remember when I lived in Germany that the city council would collect what they called "Sperrmuell" every six months or so.  Sperrmuell is one of those wonderful German combination words from "sperrig" meaning bulky and "muell" meaning refuse.  So they collected bulky items that you couldn't cart down to the local dump unless you had a truck.  The collection trucks turned out around 6 a.m. so everyone put their stuff out the night before.  Neighbours met neighbours who they hadn't seen for weeks in the winter months.  There were lively conversations and sometimes unwanted stuff was simply swapped among the locals.  All kinds of things were stacked up on the street:  old armchairs and sofas, kitchen tables and chairs, broken vacuum cleaners, prams.  Pieces of people's lives, I sometimes thought.  Your financial situation improved so you could finally get rid of that suite of furniture which you hated the sight of for the past twenty years.  Finally got rid of that old vacuum cleaner, washing machine, oven.  Of course other things were thrown out as well which were not necessarily bulky but which didn't fit in the domestic waste / recycling bins. I've seen sets of crockery, toys, books, bedding.   Late at night there would be clangs and rattles as people combed through the piles of stuff looking for things they could use.  The scrap dealers drove round in their trucks and took away anything usable.  Some people toured all night even though they were not necessarily in need of anything.  I knew a few people who would show me a lamp which they had restored or even once, I remember, a television set which they'd got working again.  I heard that a local vicar had furnished his house entirely with stuff salvaged from sperrmuell. He simply cleaned it all up and gave a fresh coat of paint to things like kitchen cupboards, tables and chairs.  It was fun and when the trucks had done their work next morning, waking you at 6 a.m. just before your alarm went off, you had that clean, start afresh feeling.  Until your basement filled up again,of course.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Wasting Time at Royal Ascot

I shouldn't have done it but then again I have little or no self discipline.  Instead of working on my new crime novel I sat down with a cup of tea and watched Royal Ascot the other week.  For those readers who do not know what Royal Ascot is, I would best describe it as a cross between Downton Abbey and the Kentucky Derby.  Men in top hats and waistcoats accompany ladies in the most extraordinary headgear and amazingly high heels.  A great many people go to bet on the horses - some of the finest are competing - and a lot more come to be seen and possibly to be interviewed and complimented on what they are wearing (that would be the ladies rather than the men, I think, since men never get compliments on what they wear).

Royal Ascot is a wonderfully British event, I always think.  It wouldn't be half so appealing without the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh driving to their Royal box in an open horse-drawn carriage.  The appearance of the Sovereign makes you feel that all is right with the world despite all that stuff you see on the news.  Yes, it is tough out there but for a few glorious days you can focus on horses and riders and proud owners and even prouder trainers.  I must admit I lapped it all up.  I love horses, racehorses in particular.  Horse racing really is the sport of kings and queens and if I ever win the Euromillions I will buy myself a couple of these wonderful animals and watch them run at Royal Ascot or - dream on - at the Arc de Triomphe.  Oh and I'll invest in a few futuristic hats and hope to be interviewed for television.

Meanwhile, I had a great time watching the races and although occasionally a little voice would pipe up in my ear and tell me I should be writing or walking on the beach, I managed to ignore it and not feel any real pang of guilt.  For me, it was all time well spent.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

A White Toothed Smile

I had my regular dental hygiene appointment today so my teeth feel squeaky clean and shiny after all that poking and polishing.  The hygienist said, somewhat regretfully I thought, that I was doing a reasonable job on my dental hygiene.   Have you noticed that dentists almost never praise your efforts in the tooth cleaning area?  They give you all sorts of advice on flossing and using cute little brushes to get between the gaps but they never - in the "never" of conversation, i.e. not very often - say you are doing a great job in tooth maintenance.  I once shared an apartment in London with a dental hygienist.  She gave us a lot of tips on keeping our teeth clean and at the same time entertained us with hilarious stories of quirky patients.  I never forgot her advice on how to combat those little hobgoblins which attack your teeth as soon as your back is turned or to be more precise when you've finished enjoying your favourite sugary snack.

Which all reminded me today of a dentist in London who did a great job on repairing all the damage I did by neglecting my teeth (until that flat mate hygienist arrived, you understand).  He had a habit of talking to you while working even though the answers he got - from me at any rate - were mostly in the nature of the gurgles of a drowning fish or "ummmhhhsss".  He was Australian and told me about how polluted the fish were because of nuclear waste being dumped in the sea and how CFC sprays were destroying the ozone layer (this was in the early 1970's when we - or I -  were just becoming aware of environmental issues).  I literally listened with my mouth open (yeah, I know, but go on, smile anyway).  The most fascinating thing about him was that despite being such a skilled dentist, he was scared of his assistant.  I discovered this on one particular visit where in rinsing out my mouth and returning the beaker, it fell out of my hand, leaving a splash on the floor.  "Don't worry," he said then added in a half whisper "but don't tell her because she'll be very cross with you."  ("her" obviously being his assistant who was briefly out of the room at the time).  I thought he was joking until as I was slipping into my coat I heard the following conversation:
Her:  "What happened here?  What's the water doing on the floor?"
Dentist:  "Oh, that was me, I slopped it.  I'll just clean it up."

No man is a hero to his dental assistant as some philosopher must once have said.