Pepper and The Bear

Dot writes: don’t worry. There are no bears in our garden, just cheeky rodents, shy woodlice and a solitary magpie being ill-omened for a tease. The Bear of my title is a celebrity cat – celebrated for melancholy, intellect and sensitivity, showing that the routes to celebrity are much more elevated for cats than for humans – and this post is a mix of a book review and an update on Pepper. Here is Pepper, characteristically posed with his paws up on the back of a chair as though hoping to be served a drink. 20150430_181245 Continue reading “Pepper and The Bear”

Boys, blue skies

Dot writes: people who live in Ireland or Britain grimly expect rain in the holidays, or at least a mean stiff wind. However, this week we’ve had blue skies and some astonishing warmth. (Astonishing warmth = 18 degrees in Dublin. Woah.) I took Thursday off work (my mum is visiting, I’m allowed) and we had a family trip into Wicklow to climb Great Sugarloaf, eat a leisurely lunch at Mount Usher Gardens, and then tour the gardens. We’d worried it might be too early in the season for the plants, but there was a wonderful display of flowers – daffodils, bluebells and frittilaries on the ground, rhododendrons and magnolias in the trees.  Here are some pictures, mostly taken by my mum. DSC05269 DSC05283 DSC05292 DSC05295 DSC05311 DSC05317 DSC05318 DSC05336

Today I had a lot of baking to do. Mum took the boys to a playground while I shopped. Then Frank helped with the baking.

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Portmarnock Beach, 9 July 2014
Portmarnock Beach, 9 July 2014
The same rocks, 7th April 2015
The same rocks, 7th April 2015. My mum in stripes.

Dot writes: It’s a little hard to be sure because the pictures are taken from different angles, but it certainly looked to me when we were there as though the winter storms must have dumped a load of extra sand on Portmarnock beach. That large rock in the foreground seems much more buried now.

My mum is visiting. The sun is shining. I worked in the morning and then we went to the beach. It’s suddenly warm enough for the boys to run around making sand-castles in their underpants. (That is, run around in their underpants making sand-castles.) I paddled in the sea and it was cold but exquisitely clear.

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Hugh and Frank go to gaol

Dot writes: on Saturday I decided to ditch my Society of Recorder Players meeting in favour of spending some time with my family. So obviously we had to undertake some kind of stressful cultural outing to justify this. I was inclined to go to the Irish Museum of Modern Art while Ken wanted to go to Kilmainham Gaol. In the event we did both, as they’re pretty much next door to each other and we had to book a tour to visit the gaol, meaning we had to go there first and then fill in a couple of hours. And even though the walk down the long path to the gallery was enlivened by Hugh lamenting how this was the worst day of his life and nobody understands him, the afternoon actually went very well.

We hadn’t been to IMMA before so we just visited the two main galleries on the first floor. One had a mix of materials but I particularly liked the kinetic art, of which I think the item below is an example. I didn’t have the wit to photograph the description and get a record of what it was called.


The other gallery had an exhibition called ‘Primal Architecture’. This was a slightly difficult exhibition to visit with children as there were several displays that involved objects on the floor, which were obviously inviting to small hands; but generally it was very enjoyable exploring the galleries with the boys, who were intrigued by all the different pictures, objects and installations.

Then we went to the cafe. This was a very necessary pause before going back over to the Gaol.

The Gaol is a cold and intimidating place. Pictures in guidebooks don’t convey how oppressively bare and dingy and cramped much of it feels, or how ricketty the boards are in the open walkways. The tour was excellent, covering a mix of social and political history, and giving plenty of attention to the 1916 Rising without letting it overwhelm all the other material. The guide joked with the boys and made us feel they were welcome on a tour clearly aimed at adults, but I removed Frank rather before the end as he was more than slightly restive. Hugh, however, stayed the distance and was solemnly attentive to all the dreadful tales of the past. Afterwards he said he had preferred the gaol to the art gallery. So did Ken, though I liked the art best myself.

Frank’s favourite part was the cafe…

Wholesome family activity

Dot writes: on Sunday we took the boys to Howth and did the cliff walk. It’s the first time we’ve done it with them, as the path is unfenced and in places runs next to a scary drop to the rocks and sea. But we decided they were now sensible enough not to fling themselves merrily off it.


Hugh went for comfort and mud-proofing – tracksuit bottoms and wellies – but Frank had his red skinny jeans and funky new Skechers shoes.


It’s hard to tell from the photo, but there were crackly panes of ice in this puddle.

Refreshments at the end. The walk took us more than an hour and a half, which is quite a long time for five-year-old legs. Hugh is helping Frank with his crisps.

Christmas 2014

Dot writes: I started writing this a week ago, but now we have the whole Christmas holiday to look back on I need to change my strategy a little. Blow by blow is just too battering at this stage. So, some highlights of our rather quiet Christmas, spent in Dublin in our own little house, just the four of us (five with Pepper, but Natalia had gone back to Valencia).

1. Having the rector and his family round to dinner. This sounds staid, but I get on extremely well with Tara (Mrs Rector) and they have a young son who’s in the same class as Frank. It was all done at very short notice – arranged after church on the Sunday before Christmas, time set for 6pm that evening. I spent the afternoon shopping and cooking and then we had a lovely convivial evening.

2. Hugh and I picked the Christmas tree – he was off school with a cough – and I brought it home and put it up myself. This is one of those uncomfortable jobs involving lugging things around and being physically competent that I normally delegate to Ken, so I was proud of myself.

Hugh and Pepper decorating the tree
Hugh decorating the tree

3. Several gorgeous beach walks as a family. On Christmas Eve we went out to Skerries to drop some beer with a friend and, as we thought, visit him, but it turned out he didn’t want to be visited. So, slightly miffed but trying not to show it, we went to Skerries beach and it was actually rather nice in a cold kind of way. On the 27th we went to the Bull Wall end of Bull Island, investigated some of the ponds that have formed at that end of the island (and which I’d become rather excited about on an earlier walk by myself), and walked up the wall and on to the beach. Today we decided on another walk and Hugh wanted to walk over the wooden bridge. This time the tide was out, and we went down onto the wet sand and walked below the wall almost to the Realt na Mara statue. The sun was low by the Dublin hills and the sky was clear and gathering its sunset colours. It was absolutely beautiful and, wonder of wonders, there was no whinging. Almost no whinging. The pictures from today’s walk are on Ken’s phone but here are some from the earlier two.

On Skerries beach. Taken by a kindly passing dog walker.
On Skerries beach. Taken by a kindly passing dog walker.
On Dollymount Strand
On Dollymount Strand

4. On Christmas Day I made the whole family go to church, Ken and all (he is always quite meek and obliging about this, happily), and I sat with him and the boys in the congregation rather than with the choir. I briefly regretted this decision when the rector had all the children up at the front for the sermon and Frank was seen sneaking around behind him and trying to blow out the candles. Fortunately the choir is full of assertive grandmas who admonished Frank. Meanwhile Hugh paid rapt attention to the sermon and eagerly answered the rector’s questions, thus maintaining the family honour.

5. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without any presents, as we know, and thanks to our dear family, each other and the good people at Amazon there were plenty of them. The boys were touchingly delighted with the Skylanders they got from Santa and Frank spontaneously offered to give me his chocolate orange. There was much excellent lego. Frank was thrilled by his new Incredible Hulk toy. People sent me lots of CDs. And Ken and I had a particularly good year in choosing things for each other, which, after nearly ten years of marriage, is rather creditable (because we are well through the “A philosophy book! How well you know me!” stage by now). I got him a little radio kit – which he has made into a radio, hooray – and a pizza stone – with which he has made excellent pizza. And he got me a Gotye t-shirt and a very lovely watch.

Tree and presents. Pepper is interested. I never did fix the wonky star.
Tree and presents. Pepper is interested. I never did fix the wonky star.

Hope you had a happy Christmas too, and best wishes to all for 2015.