House decor

Someone else in the past helpfully hammered a couple of nails in the wall and I found them the other day. As a result, I bought a couple of frames and did some Art for the walls


This one is my favourite.

You don’t need anything but…

Let us assume you are someone like me, and you are taking up a new sport, namely running because oh…you have a yen to run in the wilderness, or at least, pretty parts of nature, preferably without snakes and to do that, being able to run would help.

You will need to skip every magazine or online article that says “you don’t need to spend much money to start running”. This is most probably a lie. What follows is a list of the stuff I got so that I could take up running. Your mileage and life may vary in terms of whether you need all of them, or possibly any of them. If you have got everything already, then you probably run already.

  • decent pair of running shoes, preferably not completely decrepid because you’ve owned them for “some time”.
  • at least one sports bra if you are a woman. Particularly if you are well endowed, this is not something you should skimp on. I’m not going to recommend any particular brand but if you have trouble finding a source, well I ordered mine on-line from figleaves, and so help me god if Brexit fouls that up on me, there will be swearwords.
  • Some comfortable to run in clothes. You may or may not have suitable stuff in your wardrobe. I did not.
  • A couple of pairs of socks.
  • Probably not a bad idea to get a box of plasters as well, just in case.

Okay. The shoes, I bought in the sale, down 30%. The sports bra I paid full whack for. The clothes I bought in a sale too. The socks I had. The plasters were cheap. All told though, if I had paid full whack for what I bought, we are probably looking at around 150E. Running is not cheap and what’s more, now that you’ve got all that stuff, you’ll be maintaining it and replacing bits of it as you go.

Now, I also got a couple of extra bits and pieces and already owned a couple of other bits and pieces which contribute to the running experience.

  • small back pack to toss a bottle of water into and your keys. I
  • a water bottle.
  • some sort of music player
  • headphones.

In truth, if you have a smart phone you have the music player sorted and probably the headphones. I got the small back pack in the sale where I bought the clothes cheap, and they were doing special deals on the water bottle if you spent something like 25E at the time. I bought the bottle. In hindsight I don’t like it but I am stuck with it until I get my hands on one of my own Swiss water bottles (admittedly slightly heavier being metal, but not having the filter which makes getting the water out a bit too much like hard work). For music, I tend to go with Above and Beyond’s Group Therapy podcast.

After that it really is just a case of getting out there and running until you can’t (and walking the rest of the way) (until you’re running more than you can walk). There are programmes and apps and websites, and pinterest pins providing all sorts of advice but the one piece of advice that worked for me when I was swimming training is it doesn’t matter how much or how little you do so long as you do. Regularity matters. I haven’t got this sorted yet but I get other exercise during the week so from a pure exercise point of view, I’m moving and it’s feeding into the running.

If you are a child of the modern era and possess a smartphone, the chances are, you will also want to figure out how best to start tracking your progress. I have two plans of attack here. I have Google Fit tracking my movement all the time. I also use Runkeeper as a more specialised app. So far, they tend not to agree. I also lie and tell Runkeeper I am walking because let’s be honest, right now March 2017. I walk more than run (the objective is to change that of course). Today Google said I did 5.05km and Runkeeper said I did 4.6. They also didn’t agree on the average pace for obvious reasons; they were dividing differences by the same amount of time. So the difference is plus or minus 10%. I can live with that more or less. For now, anyway. What I can see is an improvement over last week which is good. Since I don’t trust one of today’s Runkeeper splits, I’m not going to be totally surprised if next week, it falls back a little.

Most of my life, when i have gotten interested in something, I tend to do quite a bit of reading about it. I’m somewhat disappointed by a lot of what comes to me from running reading. On more than a few times, I have come across different articles talking about how horrible running is, and that running is not fun. I find that sad. I think if you’re going to spend a lot of your time doing something – and we have so little free time – it’s worth finding a way to enjoy it. I really don’t know how much of my training run is actual running at the moment and it’s not enough for Google Fit to identify it as such – but the small stretches of running I have done, have really put a smile on my face. We don’t do these things on sufferance or at least we shouldn’t. I used to swim 1600M three times a week and it was a hard journey to get to the point where I could string those 64 lengths together. But I never hated swimming. Some strokes could be harder than others but au fond, the main reason I kept on going back was not to tell people “I can swim 1600m”, but because I actually liked doing it. It can be hard enough to keep doing something you like doing because Real Life. Doing something you actively don’t find fun strikes me as wasted opportunity. There will be days it’s harder than others because oh, it’s raining, you’re a few days’ shy of your period.

People run for different reasons. Have different motivations. I know people who run to do road races. Other people run for the hell of it. I know a couple of people who have trained to do marathons. Some people run with friends (Runkeeper will nag you about this by the way). I run on my own, listening to music, listening to the five minute reports of how I am doing. I’m not sure how I’d feel about running with someone else. Particularly at the moment when the running bit of things is erratic and limited. Sometimes you need space to grow.

My hope is that come September, I will be fit enough to go for short runs in the mountains in Switzerland. What I really want to do with this is not run road races with lots of people but to run in beautiful places. I have a yen to go back to Zermatt this year, preferably before it snows, and run around there a bit, and then paint or draw when I’m not moving. I have six months to get there. In the meantime, I get to run around a rather picturesque part of Luxembourg and see the turning of the year here.

Getting away from it all

Don’t be fooled. This is about art supplies. If you are not interested in art supplies, look away now.

But first


I draw.

This is a piece done in a Moleskine sketchbook with black India ink, unipin fineliners and Faber-Castell pitt pen for the bit of colour. It’s one of a planned series, which I had trouble figuring out how to realise until I found someone else using black India ink to create jetblack night skies. I could not get water colours to do this, and it was tedious and not very pretty trying to do this with black brush pens. It didn’t work on black paper. So that’s the mystery solved and now, there’s another in the pipeline as soon as I stop prevaricating about it. After that, who knows what I will fill the sketchbook with.

Today’s subject is fineliners. I own quite a few, and I’m going to talk about them all now. Like I said, look away:

  • Unipin fineliners 0.05, 0.1, 0.3. In truth, I probably have some 0.2s in a box somewhere as well but the house move has made chaos of my art supply organisation.
  • Copic Multiliner SP 0.03
  • Faber-Castell Pitt Pens SF, F and S
  • Staedtler 0.3 and 0.1
  • Pigma Microns, 0.1, 0.2, 0.3
  • Dip pen with black India ink

Because I used to live in Ireland, and because in Ireland the choice tended to be limited and, initially, quite undependable, I have tended to buy lots of spares. I am swimming in fineliners. I have tried them all at this point. What follows are some comments.

Mostly, the easiest pens to get in Ireland are the unipins, followed by the Staedtlers. The F-Cs come in close. After that for the Copics, I only know of one reliable dealer in Dublin, and the Pigma Microns were starting to appear just as I left as part of the mandala and zentangle drawing trend. I don’t really want to say fashion because who knows how long it will last and whether it will be a gateway drug to other drawing. Most often I have seen the Pigma pens available as kits for zentangle drawing. However, I was motivated to get them because all over the web, they were announced as the best, and archival and brilliant. I’m not sure I agree.

The Copic Multiliner SP I only have in 0.03 and the main reason for that is, really, as far as I know, it is the only producer that produces a 0.03. It isn’t, as far as I know, available in Copic’s standard Multiliner range in black. So, basically, if you want a really fine fineliner, this is it. It’s a very decent fineliner whose primary downside is that a) it’s hard to get in my experience and b) it’s more expensive than all of the others. On the plus side, they are refillable.

The default available fineliner in Ireland, although currently unfound in either Luxembourg or Germany are the unipins, and to be honest, if someone told me I could only have one lot of branded fineliners, it would be a fight between this or the Pitt pens. The finest of the range is the 0.05 and if you follow Olivia Kemp on Instagram, you’ll know that she favours these plus rates their non-fadability higher than that of the Faber Castells. At any rate, the linework in the caravan above was done using the Unipins that I have with me here.

The Pigmas Microliners I had a yen to try because I thought the product design and appearance was very attractive, and while I still think it is, the fact remains that I’m less overwhelmed with the pens than I expected to be. I’m not seeing how they are spectacularly better than any of the other items I have tried. There’s one linked to my handbag sketchbook which will soon be due for release.

In Luxembourg, the most common fineliners as far as I can see are the Staedtlers followed by the Faber Castells. This probably has something to do with proximity to Germany. My view of the Staedtlers is somewhat nuanced. Basically, I like drawing with them. I like the way the lines appear although I’ve only drawn 0.1-0.3 lines with them (I don’t think I have seen a finer tip available but I am open to correction). My primary issue is that the tips wear out or bend faster than any of the others. But they are a beautiful looking pen, and I have a couple of them in the drawing tool box all the time.

In general, for lining drawings which will be later painted or coloured with Pitt brush pens, I tend to prefer the Pitt pens from Faber Castell, particularly their SF which I think is Super Fine (but who knows) which, owing to problems getting both it and its big brother brush in black, I have a shocking tendency to hoard. Again I have heard there can be issues with the ink fading (which surprises me as I understand it is India ink) for display pictures. Since most of what I do goes into books, this is not an issue for me.

Dip pens with black India ink are…something which I have seen a few artists recommend, particularly Mary Doodles on youtube. My experience is mixed. It provides a completely different drawing experience (scratch, scratch, scratch) but it also has a slightly three dimensional effect leaving a raised line which can, provided YOU WAIT UNTIL IT IS ABSOLUTELY DEFINITELY DRY, have quite a tactile experience. It takes ages to dry. Ages. And black India ink is a risky process to engage in as it is indelible I am hoping never to spill any.

In terms of my preference then, I’d tend to choose either the unipins or the Pitts first – and in fact, my painting kit has unipins and my marker kit has Pitts, and then after that, probably the Staedlers. I would not necessarily worry if I never bought another Pigma Micron but I seem to have loads of them anyway. And I would ensure I have a few of the Copic Micro SP 0.03s purely because they are the finest available. If Unipin started selling 0.03s, I probably wouldn’t worry about the Copics any more. Despite the fact that the Copics are refillable.

The dip pen, for me at least, is not really for general use. But you can do interesting things with it from time to time.

Fond memories awakened

I started playing the piano recently and to that end, there’s a pile of sheet music – disproportionately by Yann Tiersen – on my piano for me to learn. Most days I play some of the music I need to read and learn, and other days, I also play music I remember from my mispent youth. It might surprise you to know I spent a lot of time in pubs, with a diet 7-up in front of me, playing music.

I also listened to a lot of traditional music from Scotland and Ireland, and I added Brittany and Galicia to that later, Right now I am listening to Alistair Fraser and Paul Machlis. I make no apologies and anyway it featured on the Sex and the City soundtrack which I found out by accident because I didn’t actually watch Sex and the City being that I tended to be in bars and places of musical interest like Whelans, the old HQ, the Olympia the first time you could stick to the floor, and Vicar Street. Anyway, tonight, for some bizarre reason, a song by an outfit called Silly Wizard came into my head, a song called the Broom of the Cowdenowes, sung by Andy M. Stewart. I fully expect not many people to be familiar; the band broke up years and years ago and at least one of them is dead now that I know of. Not sure whether Andy Stewart is alive – let me just check – and it looks like he died at the end of 2015, Somehow I missed that, Arguably, given what 2016 turned out to be it seems he left before the rush.

Anyway, I played a bit of the song, realised there was a bit of the 3rd line of the verse structure I couldn’t remember, so went and looked it up online, like we do for everything. Shortly after that I fell down a rabbit hole that involved old records by Aly Bain – if you watch the Transatlantic Sessions you’ll know him – and wound up with a piece of music called the Pearl. (that’s a youtube link by the way).

I used to play the Pearl and what kind of gets me now is that I had forgotten it existed. Completely. It’s a piece of music by Phil Cunningham (he was a member of Silly Wizard by the way so you can see the link here). I don’t even know what key I played it in. It’s all the more upsetting that I still play a couple of other pieces by Phil Cunningham regularly, but mainly from his days in Relativity (and sadly, two of them are dead for definite and I never got to see them in concert) and as a result of all that, amongst the pieces of music I need to learn is now the Pearl, for which I am on my own without a pile of sheet music, and also, now I am listening to Rip the Calico by the Bothy Band because two of the members of Relativity were also members of the Bothy Band and you know what, I don’t care if their records are like 40 years old, they were fantastic.

Loss of R116

Until I left Ireland in November, I used to live quite close to Beaumont Hospital, and, before that, quite near to Dublin Airport. The Coastguard helicopter used to fly over both houses regularly, to or from Beaumont, or to or from the airport. If I was at home when it passed over, I used to pop out to the garden to watch them fly over. There were nights I lay in bed listening to gale force winds as it passed over and I often railed at the misfortune that brought people braver than myself out of their warm homes or base to fly to someone’s assistance. There were some very ugly nights that the Coastguard helicopter was out. .

I was devastated this morning to hear R116 was missing. To be honest, my first reaction was “I’m sure R116 is the Dublin helicopter. What was it doing off the coast of Black Sod?”

It and its crew were doing its job. Providing support to R118 on its way to do a medical evacuation 150 odd miles off the coast of Mayo.

At this point, only one of the crew members has been retrieved, and she ultimately did not survive. She was a year older than me, and she left behind a three year old as well as sisters, brothers and other family members. There seems to me to be something awful unjust in a story like this. In the same way that the hearts of normal people would have to go out to the crew of R118 who became part of the SAR effort for their own colleagues on the way back in. I’m sure that they would say they were just doing their job but their job is a very special job and it makes the kind of demands which my IT job never really has.

My hope is that as soon as possible, the rest of the crew are located so that their families will too have some kind of closure, or something tangible to hold to.

These people, and their colleagues in the RNLI, and in the mountain rescue services, and the other emergency services are very often, unsung heroes. We do not talk about what heroes they are until we lose one. Or, as the case to day may be, several


Caran d’Ache pens

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I own rather a lot of them. I also have a lot of Caran d’Ache colouring pencils which I use from time to time. But my relationship with Caran d’Ache has its roots in its fine writing instruments.

Caran d’Ache makes some serious expensive limited edition pieces. I have never really aspired to those. But I was given an Ecridor with a Chevron pattern when I was 16 and I hae been in love with them since.

The picture above has 2 fountain pens, a few mechanical pencils and then, the rest are all ball points. Caran d’Ache do thei. r own refill. If you’re really stuck, a Parker will fit but Caran d’Ache Goliath refills claim to write 8000m. I occasionally find them running dry but some of those pens, I have had quite a long time. I love the Goliath refill. It is a lovely shade of blue, the medium is a firm, reliable weight when I write with it. My choice of pen varies. The most recent purchase is the Ecridor Yacht and that is getting a lot of work as is the petrol blue coloured Paul Smith.

I do not necessarily use the pencils as often – they are mostly 0.7 mm and while they are okay for writing, I usually draw with pencils. But I love knowing they are there, ready to be used if I want, for example, to take interpreting notes with them.


On washing machines…

It is a beautiful sunny day here in Luxembourg. I’m sitting here with a cup of tea, listening to the dulcet tones of Air via my computer and the somewhat less sweeter tones of the washing machine.

I love the washing machine. I love it like I love my bed, my sofa and the three sets of bookshelves that arrived yesterday. But I especially love the washing machine.

Mostly I love it because I own it, but also, because it works properly.

It works properly, because it’s pretty much brand new. I bought it two months ago. I own it.

I don’t want to go on at length about it but I have never actually owned a washing machine before. I have had washing machines in my rented houses in Dublin. Some of them have been good, some of them have been bad, one or two of them have been downright awful and not much newer than a 1950s roller washer thing.

This one was bought in the sale, with about 25% knocked off. It was a brand I recognised (generally good), and more importantly, it is a doddle to use. I think it’s got a timer on it but that doesn’t really bother me because otherwise, I put stuff into it, I press the button, and it then tells me how long the wash is going to take. It even has a 15 minute wash for those quick needs.

I haven’t tried that yet.

The thing is, when I pointed out to people that in Luxembourg, it was going to be a tall order to get an apartment (it is) and what’s more, I’d need to furnish it, I was greeted with horror. Wasn’t that going to cost money? Well yes. But you know what. I own the washing machine and it works and I have the instruction book.

I once lived in a house with a washing machine that was so old, the instruction manual was not on the internet. In this day and age, that’s fairly Jurassic.

I don’t mind the whole furnishing thing. Here’s why. I chose the mattress. It’s comfortable and I can sleep on it. I chose the washing machine. It washes my clothes properly and quickly. I wonder sometimes if Irish people would not be better off learning to deal with unfurnished accommodation and getting more autonomy over their furniture. I mean, I’ve been in some houses with fairly desperate furniture options and requests to remove it have been met with flat refusals. Take or leave the house.

In the meantime, the light coloured wash currently decorating the soundscape of my Sunday afternoon will be done in 30 minutes. It’s wonderful.

How we see ourselves…

In keeping with the fact that it is Saint Patrick’s Day next Friday, a day notable in my calendar for reasons relating to hopefully finally getting my central heating fixed, the Irish Times is running a competition for a hamper of Irish goods. I looked at the list of stuff on it and was pleased to note it had Barrys Tea, Gold Blend (no other tea counts in my opinion and even the choice of Dubliners, Lyons, is not blended in Ireland any more) and it had a bunch of other stuff. I didn’t really want any of it since I was in Ireland last week and now have 160 teabags plus whatever was in the box I opened just after Christmas. I have now a rule of not entering competitions for stuff I don’t want/need/have never really heard of on the grounds that I moved house internationally before Christmas, filled a skip, donated an awful lot of stuff, and then put another room full of stuff in storage. I’m not sure where it ALL came from but a lot of it was free. I like free stuff as much as anyone, but only if it’s free stuff I want. I’ve had conversations where the other side have been wailing “But it’s free, why would you not take it?”

Anyway, while I would probably drink the Barrys tea sometime in about Autumn as it goes through my stock rotation system, and would guiltily eat the Taytos (I am in my 40s after all and the word “cholesterol” occasionally gets mentioned), it is safe to say that there are other people who would want the Irish Time’s auld sod hamper more than I would. I know where to get Taytos and Barrys Tea in this town after all. It’s held by a gatekeeper who can honestly say “You’ve never been here before, have you” when you first venture down to the Aladdin’s cave of every single sweet you can get in Ireland, plus parsnips. And, of course, Barrys tea, plus the aspirational not Barrys teas but teas by other companies that are not Barrys.

The thing was, someone was scathing about Barrys tea and Taytos and what a copy cat hithole (I’m assuming a typo but that could be because I have never heard the word hithole) Ireland must be.

I wonder sometimes why some Irish people are so negative and scathing about Ireland. Then I looked at his Facebook feed and decided I was not totally surprised.

Urban Sketching in Luxembourg – MUDAM

One of the things which happens when you move somewhere is that you have to build a new social circle. I have plenty of hobbies so I have options on this front. The first Sunday in January I joined the Luxembourg urban sketchers who were going to the Museum of Modern Art, otherwise known as MUDAM.

Given how cold it was, it was useful to be inside.

I am not really the biggest fan of modern art – it doesn’t speak much to me, so I suppose it’s not surprising that when push came to shove, I found myself sketching a piece of an older building instead.

However, people took many different views.

This is mine:


And this is the group shot:


That being said, while the actual exhibition in the MUDAM left me a bit cold, the building it is in is actually stunning. The following Sunday I went to the exhibits in the Villa Vauban which is, I suppose, a great deal more traditional. I much preferred it. This probably says something about me.

den Atelier: Divine Comedy in concert

Monday evening last, I was perusing Facebook for family news as you do when, underneath a picture of my sister was an ad telling me The Divine Comedy were playing in den Atelier Luxembourg on Friday night.

Ooops Somehow I failed to know this.

I had, at some point, last year, done a search of concert venues in Luxembourg and come up with a) the Philharmonie and b) Rockhal. And that was it. But there’s this den Atelier place and it had the Divine Comedy lined up. The Divine Comedy. Seriously, how the hell did I miss this?

So a ticket was procured. The internet is a wonderful place.



He hasn’t changed. Still the utter showman.

They are touring a new album so we got quite a bit of new stuff. But also, we got quite a bit of Fin de Siecle which is one of the best albums of the 1990s and should have sold many, many more copies than it did.

About 7 gig photogs showed up when the band arrived, all brandishing shiny DSLRs. My DSLR is somewhere else, plus, frankly, I’m not in the mood for carrying it around much. What I have here, I took with my mobile. I also took out my sketchbook but you’re not going to see those.

Favourite song of the night, definitely Certainty of a Chance which I think is my favourite Divine Comedy song anyway. But we also got National Express, Generation Sex, and from the rest of the canon, yes, Songs of Love and Something for the Weekend and pretty much every hit he ever had. And an Abba cover.


The thing about Neil Hannon is from the audience point of view, he looks like he is having a ball on stage. Like he loves playing, loves singing. And while every piece I have ever read about him interviewing him, reviewing his stuff has always focused on his writing which is sharp and extremely witty, the fact remains that he has a stunning voice as well and is well capable of pyrotechnics with it.

I loved every minute of this concert.


Great band with him as well.

waves and numbers and stuff