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.

DSC05353 DSC05374 DSC05393



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.

20150407_160501 20150407_165447

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…

Stowaway, or ‘wee sleekit cow’rin tim’rous beastie’

Ken writes:

Dot found one of these wee creatures in her overnight bag while we were camping. We think it’s a shrew.

Here’s the link

I don’t know what kind of shrew it is. Possibly not the afore linked to pygmy shrew, but the Irish Independent reports that the pygmy shrew has been driven out of Tipperary, where we were camping, by the great white toothed shrew.

Apple juice, castles and skeleton hands

Dot writes: we’ve just had a brief family holiday in Tipperary. Notoriously it’s a long way to get there (and the children clearly knew this and complained bitterly for the whole journey), but actually we chose it partly because it’s close – only about three hours from our house – and partly because one of my colleagues had recommended a campsite on an apple farm. I had got it into my head the campsite had cooking facilities the campers could use. This was not the case, but it did have fridges, a piano, nesting swallows, a playground, a friendly dog, free apple juice on arrival, and a lot of signs everywhere telling us to wash our hands. There was a notice in the ladies’ toilets detailing the hand-washing procedure and listing occasions on which to use it, including ‘after touching doorknobs’. To get out of the room where you could wash your hands you had to touch a doorknob. Despite this hint of somewhat self-defeating OCD, it was a lovely place.

Here are some of the things we did in Tipperary.

We went to Cahir (6km from the campsite) and visited the extremely excellent castle, which is full of stairs that go up and down and underneath into surprising tunnels and corners.


Then we went to the nearby Swiss Cottage and had a guided tour. Oddly, Ken seemed to like it more than I did. It was fearfully pretty.

On Wednesday (Ken’s birthday) we went to the Rock of Cashel.


At the Rock of Cashel Ken tried to dissuade the boys from trampling all over the graves by telling them that the occupants would reach up with skeletal hands and grab their ankles. This was before we saw this.

Then we went to Clonmel and had a picnic lunch followed by a swim at the swimming pool.

We had been going to stay until Friday, but the forecast was for rain so we thought it might be more pleasant to come back on Thursday and – hooray! – there was no ferry or anything to stop us doing that. We drove back via Kilkenny and visited another castle.

In many ways the nicest part of the holiday was just hanging around the campsite. The children were distraught to find we hadn’t brought the iPad, but then they went off and made friends with a group of slightly older girls and did a great deal of running about. Frank told the girls they were so beautiful he wanted to marry all of them.

Battle of Clontarf

Dot writes: in 1014, there was a famous battle just down the road from where we live. Today we went and watched it in St Anne’s Park. I suspect that a thousand years ago there were no hotdog stands or parking areas provided, which just shows how civilisation has advanced. (Gripe: we travelled by bike and were turned back at the gate by the security people. We then just went to a small entrance a few hundred yards away that they hadn’t bothered to man and went in that way, but it was still very annoying that our low-impact and healthy transport method wasn’t catered for when cars were. The park entrance is walkable from our house but the area where the festivities were taking place was just a bit too far for the boys to manage there and back.)

Clontarf has been preparing for the great anniversary for some time, for example by adding some new attractions to the playground.




Actually the cow has been there for ages but I had to put in a picture because it is so peculiar. Who on earth thought that was the right place for an udder? It looks like a prolapsed uterus. Anyway, I digress. The above pictures were taken at the start of March. Here, by contrast, and illustrating the strangely marvellous weather we’ve been having, are some views from today.






The Battle was the Valhalla version: when everyone was dead they got up and had a re-match. In fact they had three of them, and that was just the 1pm performance; there was another performance at 4pm and there are two more tomorrow. All the warriors seemed happy.

There was the most dreadful wagon of a woman standing in front of me at the battle. She kept turning around to yell things to her friend further back in the crowd which, as she was right by me, meant yelling in my ear. Then some people sitting on the slope behind us asked us to sit down so they could see, since they had, after all, been there first. One of my neighbours patted the woman on the shoulder as she was standing right at the front, but her reaction was to exclaim irately “Would you take your hands off me!” Then I pointed out that if she sat down I would be able to sit down and then the people behind us could see over us, but she said “Not a chance” and went on standing – which meant that I did too, as otherwise I would have had a close view of the back of her knees. Fortunately she left fairly early on (whereupon I knelt for a bit, but then gave up as there were still people standing all around me and the people on the slope couldn’t see anyway). The boys and I had a fabulous view and it was alright because I felt really guilty.

And we have bought Hugh a toy crossbow. Yes, we deserve everything we get.

P.S.Ken thought he saw Belgian Waffle’s twin sons in the playground. I did a nosey wander about the playground in the hope of meeting Belgian Waffle but didn’t. I wonder if it was them?

Floods in Britain and Ireland

Ken writes:

England seems to have been hit by heavy floods recently and obviously it has occurred this time in an area that matters. (I don’t watch news on television, normally, but I caught the scrolling headlines on Sky news recently while waiting for someone at the airport). Ireland too has been hit by heavy flooding in Cork and Limerick. Dublin hasn’t been affected as far as I know, and we’re sitting pretty at 31m above sea level.

I’ve read some interesting things about it. For example, Jonathan Freedland writes in the Guardian that it is basically inconsistent for David Cameron to say the UK Government will spare no expense to help the victims of the floods but at the same time impose policies of austerity.

And George Monbiot has some interesting things to say about the causes of flooding. I admit I’m inclined to believe him. He says, essentially, that flooding downstream is the inevitable consequences of policies that discourage land use practices that would soak up the excess water upstream. Farmers have an incentive not to leave hill country forest and bog land to soak up water which means it all ends up in the rivers.

I also read in the Telegraph, that planning permission had already been granted for new developments on the flooded plains themselves.

Surely if these extreme weather events are going to become more likely then citizens have a right to governments who will make decisions based on science and realism rather than investor greed, folly and political expediency.

Dublin marathon

Ken writes:

Laura reminded me that I have yet to write a post about completing the Dublin Marathon the Monday before last.

I think I am still getting over it. I completed it in a sedate four hours forty nine minutes and nine seconds. I write it out completely to give you a sense of how very long it felt.

I had to walk some of it and that upsets me slightly. I would have liked to run it all but my knees simply weren’t co-operating.

The morning was bright and cold. A storm that had been threatening over the weekend decided to go and rain on England and Wales instead so we had fine weather and only a slight breeze. In fact the conditions were perfect for running (once we got started and warmed up).

I normally run alone but I got talking with some others while we waited for the starting whistle and jogged along with them. We had settled ourselves near the 4:20 pacers (you stick with them if you want to run the marathon in four hours and twenty minutes). When the race started we were all swept along in the tide of people. It was great. I felt very positive at the start of the race, sort of nervous and excited at the same time.

The first two hours of running were really great, but then my legs started to get sore. I managed to run for another hour. I started seeing other people stepping off the road to stretch and thought maybe I should do that too, but it was a mistake as I found I couldn’t start running again. I walked as quickly as I could and walking didn’t hurt.

The crowd were fantastic. The organisers had cleverly decided to put our names on our race numbers so people would call them out if they saw someone who needed a little encouragement. It sounds soppy to say it, but it was very moving. You really feel on the rack running a marathon and when people call you out and cheer you it feels like an act of infinite kindness.

Especially towards the end of the race there were so many spectators and they are all calling out I really found myself longing for an empty stretch of road where I could stop and have a crafty walk. A fellow runner told me to run on my toes it would be easier on my knees, and so I was able to first run a lamppost walk a lamppost and then return to proper running at the end. If it weren’t for the crowd, I would have walked the last six miles, but I probably only walked four miles in the end.

I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll do it next year. I probably will because in January I will be appalled at myself again and the horror of the day itself will have receded a little.

Update: Here are the photos







Flight Fest

Dot writes: we spent this afternoon on the Liffey Quays watching the Dublin Flight Fest. I am far from being a plane nut, but it was fantastic. Three hours of planes flying up the Liffey, some singly, some in formation; big ones, little ones, old ones and new ones; modern passenger planes and little biplanes; helicopters and fighter jets; planes that could land on water and planes that could fly the Pacific. A Ryanair Boeing 737 had had its underside specially painted with the words “U Never Beat D Irish”, which raised a laugh and presented Ryanair’s cheap, brash brand in its cheeriest possible light. Sounds dull? Well, it wasn’t.

It was a surprisingly cheap afternoon out, too, mostly because there were far fewer food stalls than I expected and all those present had stupendously enormous queues. I queued for coffee for about twenty minutes and was morbidly convinced that the aircraft I wanted most of all to see, the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, would come over just as I was stuck in the coffee booth with no view. This didn’t happen, however. It came when I was inside the conference centre queueing to take Frank to the toilet and I was bitterly disappointed.

Not seen: the famous Sally B
Not seen: the famous Sally B

However, we did see two 1950s-model fighter jets, a Hawker Hunter and an F-86 Sabre, flying in formation

I'm pretty sure it was this Hawker Hunter, the Miss Demeanour. It was certainly coloured like this.
I’m pretty sure it was this Hawker Hunter, the Miss Demeanour. It was certainly coloured like this.

and a C-130 Hercules, another plane that entered service in the 1950s, and which flew over with its back open to show how it could drop things on us if it wanted to
and (probably my favourite) a Catalina amphibious plane, which really did look like a winged boat from underneath
and, the grand finale, a new British Airways A-380, the biggest passenger plane in the world, which was indeed absolutely enormous; we were told it was twice the length of a blue whale and it looked surprisingly like one.

We are quite used to planes, of course; we live under one of the regular Dublin airport flight paths; and we are all too familiar with the misery of queueing through security and at Boarding Gates, and the twinge of guilt and worry about how polluting it all is when we take yet another hour-long hop to see family or attend a conference. But this afternoon was far from the sticky weariness of lugging coats and children or the feeble tussle of conscience with convenience. It was all about wonder: the thrill of seeing the distant plane approach, become large and distinct, and roar overhead; the display of engineers’ achievements and the pilots’ skill; and the pleasure of seeing so many different aircraft, some historic, all marvellous. The crowd was cheerful and, because the action was taking place overhead, almost everyone had a good view. (Except the people queuing for the toilet.) The two boys, without being as thrilled by it all as we were, held hands nicely, walked like troopers, and found some other kids to play with when they’d lost interest in the planes. Even the weather – which at 1pm was windy and rainy, exactly wrong for an event like this – cleared up to provide clear skies for the crucial hours, returning to rain again just after the event was over. I’m extremely pleased that we attended.