Category Archives: being me

Feierdag

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Luxembourg rather sensibly has its national big party event in the middle of summer. I was thinking of this as I considered the absolute novelty of standing outside in the warmth of 30 degrees to watch a fireworks display rather than standing out in the freezing cold waiting for the rain in March.

23 June is Bonfire Night in Cork. When the Independent Republic of Cork is declared, make that the Independence Day festival. Trust me. You’ll wonder how you tolerated marching bands in March. There is no comparison.

In Luxembourg, the whole national celebration thing starts the day before the National Day. This includes turning the place into a giant street party. It is unbelievable.

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This is from the Ville Haute near the main expensive shopping district. Just around from this the party starts.

Bar after bar after bar has DJs playing sets on the street.

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including dry ice machines

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and like 20 metres away from all these club on a streets you have gigs on a street.

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These were the headliners on Place d’Armes. Around the corner in front of the Hotel de Ville there was this lot.

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That gives just a bit of a taste of the atmosphere there was in that square last night. This was their audience by the way.

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This here was the main stage where the Military Band were lined up to accompany the fireworks.

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They were brilliant. You can here them in the following videos.

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Jupiter Bringer of Joy

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Jupiter Bringer of Joy

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Bolero

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Bolero

Here are some stills of the fireworks.

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This was me at one of the gigs.

I have to say last night was great fun. There were food stalls everywhere. In the Knuedelplatz, where the guy with the fiddle and the girl on the accordion were rocking out, you went and exchanged cash for tokens. There were stalls over the place selling light sabres and light up hairbands. The buses were rerouted for the evening and free – seriously, they are dead serious about getting people to get buses. Three routes were added to support park and ride. Bunch more photos and weirdly aligned videos (don’t look at me – this happened automatically) to be found here.

Shop boys

There’s a Neil Gaiman book called Stardust the film adaptation of which is, in my opinion, one of the best film adaptations of a fantasy story going. The sort that leaves you feeling uplifted and happy rather than relieved, that is. It probably isn’t as epic as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The chief male character pops up at the outset working in a shop. He has a crush on the local lord’s daughter, who dismisses his interest because well he’s just a shop boy. Later the non-bitch love interest points out that there are shop boys, and there are boys who happen to work in a shop for a while. This is shortly before he becomes local king. In many respect, it’s a fairly simple rags to riches story where the poor boy with no power at the beginning turns out to have rather a lot of it. It is a wonderfully filmed piece of cinema, the music is lovely, the costume is lovely, but there is still this idea that you are only worth something if you wind up rich and successful at the end

That being said. I was at a family occasion lately, and time past were being discussed. The times past being discussed were dances. I grew up in the disco era so all of this was completely alien to me. We had to deal with “the slow set”

Dances in times further back than that – a lot further back – were the stuff of legends. The boys did all sit along one wall, and the girls did all sit along the opposite wall and the ritual was basic enough: the boys asked the girls to dance and the girls, except under extreme circumstances, could not say no. A typical extreme circumstance involved too much alcohol which sometimes leads me to wonder how often in fact, women got to say no at dances down the country. How much was too much? If you said no, you got a scathing review o DanceAdvisor which operated on the bush telegraph anyway. And it was as durable as the internet appears to be. Memories were sharp on this matter.

Society being what it was at the time, there were social “clues” which mattered a great deal. The one which was new to me was the one where a man had 3 pens in his shirt pocket. I dare say the number was variable, but what mattered was if he had pens at all, usually fountain pens, because this meant he was a Shop Boy. The girls liked and aspired to hook up with shop boys.

Because dancing was an essential tool on the road to getting married and being provided for – I hardly need tell you that in the grand scheme of things, economically women were not the strongest in Ireland at the time – things like this mattered. The farm boys did not like the shop boys because typically the shop boys got all the girls. They weren’t thinking in terms of “there are boys who are shop boys, and there are boys who worked in shops for a while”. The life you might lead as a woman who married a shop boy was likely to be very different to the life you would lead if you married a farm boy.

I found this fascinating because most of my life, a townie, listening to people talking about mating rituals down the country, what mattered was road frontage. That you had land and it fronted onto a main road. That sort of land was wealth. But farming brought with it a lifestyle which many a young girl did not aspire to. A shop boy was a boy with a prospect of a better and easier lifestyle.

A boy who was a shop boy just for a while might never cut it in a dance hall in rural Ireland.

 

Natural Born Stragglers

The great mass of runners participating in the ING Luxembourg Night Marathon started passing my front door at around twenty to eight this evening. My apartment was just shy of the 12 kilometer mark, so well over half way if you were doing the half marathon, but a good bit short of half way if you had signed up for the full lot.

I don’t know how many people signed up to do this; but this I do know: they are all better people than me.

Luxembourg City had a weather warning in force for both today, and also for tomorrow, for high temperatures. When the runners set off at 7pm this evening, it was 29 degrees. It was still 29 degrees when they passed my door at 7.40 and now, at 20 past 9, it has fallen all the way to 28 degrees.

It will be a warm evening.

I stood outside when the first runners passed, and I watched them. And I stayed until the last runners passed and I cheered them. It is the great mass of people who do stuff that is hard, that they know they may fail to complete and who still do it anyway, who are heroes in my book. As I write, some of them will still be working their way around the route to get them to the finish line, be it 30 km away, be it 9 km away.

Not many people do this, I noticed. By the time the last five or six runners passed, the last of the stragglers, followed only by the police and a pick up bus, there was near no one left cheering them on. No one still shaking the cheap tambourines that ING appear to have handed out along with their orange straw hats. The only blue giant balloons to be seen were being dragged along by a runner wearing Luxair team gear.

By the time the main body of runners has passed, there are still a few groups, here and there 5 and 6 runners, or 3 or 4 having a conversation, trying to calculate how far they have left to go.

I “did” the Women’s Mini Marathon in Dublin once. I didn’t run it. I wound up middle of the walking field which is a fairly big field in that race. I don’t know if there are stragglers catching up in it. But I never ran it and my own personal interest in running is for solo trail stuff. I will almost certainly never sign up for the Night Marathon in Luxembourg.

There’s a pin floating around pinterest along the lines of “no matter how slow you are going, you’re still people the people on their sofas.

Runners at the Night Marathon. 2017.

All Successful People have smoothies for breakfast

I am sometimes inclined to wonder how many successful people actually read books or watched videos which amounted to “How to be Successful”.

I mean,  you just know that the bosses of a bunch of high value tech start ups get up every morning and tune into the latest “How to be a Boss” vlogs on youtube. And yet there are loads of them. And by the vagaries of Youtube’s near totally useless recommender system which has decided that because I like bullet journaling videos, I am probably interested in other videos by organisational experts who are telling you how to live your life. This morning tossed up an assortment of 20 year old law students with perfect lives selling you their lifestyle. One of them went through a morning routine.

My morning routine is fairly simple.

  • Get up
  • Make my bed
  • Have a shower
  • Dress
  • Get breakfast
  • Pick up bag
  • Walk out the door.

This is it. In fact, I attach a lot of importance to the bed making bit because back when I was a student in student accommodation, my bed was my sofa. The place looked a lot tidier and was a bit more useful if the sofa was usable.

Also – and for me now this is the single most important feature of making my bed first thing – I won’t have to make it 14 hours later when I am falling into bed wrecked. No one sane likes having to do their bed clothes when they are shattered after a hard day at the coal face of sitting in front of a computer and listening to colleagues moaning.

I digress. A common feature of morning routines involves breakfast and the perfect breakfast. This morning, I was informed that smoothie bowls were great. I was a bit bemused by this because I wasn’t familiar with the concept of smoothie bowls. I made smoothies for breakfast for years but recent comments about it being better to eat fruit rather than liquidise it first means I’m less inclined to do them. Smoothie bowls are actually smoothies in a bowl with a pile of fruit plonked on them. I suppose the good point is you get the pleasure of the smoothie with some food chomping. What I’m not so sure about is the assertion that because smoothies were so go for you, probably lots of really successful people must be making them because they are, like, really successful, and smoothies probably contribute to that because they are looking after themselves.

Right.

Gotcha.

Think you are talking nonsense, but anyway.

I’ve watched an awful lot of How to be success in Life type lifestyle videos on Youtube. It is a veritable little industry between telling people how to organise, how to live, how to eat, when to sleep, how to apply make up how much to stuff into life, staring meaningfully into the distance while “studying” . It’s not because I don’t know how to organise mornings. I used to get up at 10 past 7 when I was in university and had a regular little routine going. It never occurred to me that 20 years later people like me would be flogging these routines on Youtube videos. The comment on my grave will be “She was very organised”. It’s just, I like art journals and youtube’s recommender system pulls me down continuingly awful rabbit holes (try looking at one small cat video and you’ll be fighting off recommendations about kitten rescues for months).

I don’t try to monetise this but really, if you want to be successful, following someone else’s morning routine isn’t going to help. There is no moral/financial pay off ratio that makes having a smoothie a tool of success. I was bitterly unhappy for the months I was having smoothie breakfasts; not because of the smoothies (oh they were nice) but because I wasn’t knee deep in the key thing “Find out what you want to do, and what you have to do to achieve it, and do it”. When I figured that out, it really didn’t matter what I had for breakfast.

Spotlight on Spotlight

One of the things I discovered in Luxembourg since I got here are the Spotlight Verlag language learning magazines. I cannot think of a single corresponding example in the English media market but most of the newsagents have some if not all of these.

Spotlight Verlag produce regular publications in French, German, English, Spanish and Italian for learners of those languages. For English, they have two – a regular English one, and a business English one. In addition to Spotlight, another company called Colour Media, I think, produce a couple in English, also regular and business level. I’ve picked up some of the English stuff purely on the back of how interesting – despite being targeted at beginners – the Spanish ones are. I have the French and German ones but I haven’t been finding time.

ECOS is the Spanish one. It is very obviously directed at Germans as its tagline is Einfach Besser Spanisch and the glossaries are Spanish German. My Spanish is limited and goes back 30 years and I am planning to bring it right up to scratch in the next two years. If you were to ask me what is the best language resource I have found to date, it would be this. The articles are colour coded and there are idiomatic pieces each month for Easy and Intermediate levels. There is plenty of content in advanced Spanish as well , along with puzzles and games.

I cannot think of corresponding equivalents in English which is, I suspect, damning to say the least. I suppose it is not helped by the fact that English magazine market seems to be dying a slow painful death. I have had a look at some of the resources available for maintaining foreign language skills – I’m mildly disappointed with them (which means I should write one myself). Mostly the issue is that I find the creators of content guiding people in how to maintain their foreign language skills are more of a Look At MEEE I’m trying to maintain 13 languages…

I suppose for Spanish I had expected something helpful like “Here’s a list of Spanish news sites and magazines online” and “Follow this link for 100 Spanish radio stations.” Instead I get “Sign up for my product here” and “Here’s a mini essay about how the only people I speak Italian to are my parents”.

In summary every time I look at online language learning resources I feel cheated and hard done by. But magazines which give you interesting content and which are about give you steps forward, that’s great. It is a pity that the availability is a bit limited.

People who get up early in the morning

Enda Kenny announced during the week that he was stepping down as leader of the party currently in minority government, and this, needless to mention, caused a leadership battle. The two front runners included Leo Varadkar. It was reported during the week that he wanted to lead the party “for people who get up early in the morning”. (Irish Times report)

This is generous of him but it hides something. Many people in Ireland who get up early do so not because they are spectacularly productive but because they have no choice. Leo Varadker wants to lead a party for people who spend 3 to 4 hours a day commuting to jobs in Ireland’s urban centres. Some of these people are not that far from work as the crow flies, it is just they need to negotiate the M50 in Dublin or the N20 and Dunkettle Roundabout in Cork. Leo Varadker was Minister of Transport who shelved the M20 from Cork to Limerick and also, who applied the first delay to Metro North in Dublin. He cut PSO subsidies too.

I used to live in Dublin, and I used to get up early in the morning. Much of that was to ensure I got across the city without spending one hour in traffic. There was a time it was to get stuff done in the mornings, like study, self education and the like. But that stopped when I stopped working somewhere that didn’t involve city centre traffic, for example. When I hear Leo Varadkar talking about being a leader for a party for people who get up early in the morning, he is probably trying to make you think he wants to be a leader for a party for the movers and shakers in the country. Watch any two bit productivity how to be successful video on youtube and many of them will talk about getting up early. Set your alarm 30 minutes earlier. None of them then say “and go to bed 30 minutes earlier”.

But the vast majority of people getting up early in the morning are losing hours of their lives daily to commuting. They are trying to exist as best they can in a country which does nothing if its back is not up against a wall pushing bricks out behind them over a cliff.

We are not talking about armies of Steve Jobs here. We are talking about the kind of people that Theresa May in the UK described as JAMS. Just About Managing.

I’d like to see someone have a vision for Ireland. Radically improved public transport in Dublin and its hinterlands is something which should be built not grudgingly and as little as possible, but with a lot more forward thinking and reality. Stop talking about Metro North and build it. Stop talking about the M20 and build it. Rethink how Ireland approaches public transport. Desire for people to have better lives. Not to be spending hours trying to commute to and from work or school. Desire for more people to be able to live close to work and work on that. This means rethinking how we approach accommodation. Talk about building a better lifestyle for Ireland. Which feeds into better mental health and better physical health. People who are spending 3 to 4 hours commuting daily are shattered. They are not getting enough exercise, they are probably not eating healthily. They are not spending enough time with their families.

Be the leader for a party fighting for these people, Leo. And drop the pity slogans about “people who get up early”.

Is this a trolley I see before me

I bought a trolley yesterday. It had been the subject of a couple of discussions on FaceBook and much was made of the grannyness of such an idea.

I am not a granny.

When I moved to Dublin in 1999, I realised very quickly that as a city, it sucked to try and do anything without a car, so I bought a car and drove around Dublin, specifically to and from Marks & Spencers and Tesco. A girl must eat now and again.

One of the many things that grew to irritate me about Dublin was that it got hard to get around. Where I lived wasn’t handy to a decent shopping centre by foot, for example and it seemed to be a palaver to go grocery shopping at any time other than 8am on a Saturday morning. I had my own parking space next to the M&S collection point in the Jervis Street Shopping Centre.

In 2016 I moved to Luxembourg. The car got sold. I’m probably the only member of my family and extended family without a car at the moment. Actually that’s a lie. My niece in London is likewise carless. She has gone before me. She too has a trolley.

Now that I have a trolley, I am seeing that everyone has trolleys. In Ireland, only old people, old ladies usually, have shopping trolleys. Often they feature tartan. That is not the case here.

When I came here, one of the key contributions to the decision was a desire to live somewhere that it was possible to live very successfully without a car. In a European city, it tends to be. Luxembourg is a bit of a nuisance on the IKEA front but there’s Conforama as a useful substitute. Apart from that, I can walk most places. There is a grocery store around a 5 minute walk away where I can get the essentials. I got a shopping trolley because I also liked shopping in the big – some might say utterly ginormous – hypermarket in Kirchberg.

I think Owen Keegan, the city manager for Dublin, should consider what could happen to his city if every one had shopping trolleys and the bus system ran efficiently, and there were decent hypermarkets (there aren’t. We do not know what a decent hypermarket is in Dublin).

Looking at stubby fingers

Via the wonders of the internet it is possible to get at sheet music online rather than waiting to go through the pile of it 1000km away in Ireland and remember to pack it the next time I am travelling. And so it is that the 2 piano arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto is safely stashed in pdf form on my Onedrive and I can access it from my iPad. Joy to the world and all that.

Rach 2, as you’ll see it named on Youtube, has been my very favourite piece of music for nearly 30 years. In that, at least, it has outshone Eagle by Abba. I bought the score as arranged for 2 pianos in a shop off Tottenham Court Road when I was 14 because I wanted to learn it. This was highly ambitious since only two years previously I had been ruining my mother’s life with a rather chaotic arrangement of the Rose of Tralee which for some reason I had elected to learn when I started learning piano “properly”. IE, by learning to read both the treble AND bass clefs. My teacher could not get me onto the grades half fast enough. I have no idea where the sheet music to the Rose of Tralee is now. I might check the piano stool when I get home. It had a sky blue cover and it was so old that it is not to be found on a Google image search now. All sorts of things are hidden in the piano stool, and there it may be hiding. But I digress. Back with Rachmaninoff.

The shop off Tottenham Court Road only sold sheet music. I’m pretty sure it is long gone because when I was living in London in 1997, studying to be an interpreter, about 10 years after I bought this particular piece of music, I could not find it again. I always thought it was called Oxford University Press for some reason – maybe it said it on the plastic bag it came in – but that could be fiction on the part of my memory. I do remember the shop though. It was magical then and I have never seen anything like it since. It was floor to very high ceiling wooden drawers. There were probably discrete labels here and there to ensure that the right sonatas and fugues could be extracted.

I wanted two piano concertos, the aforementioned Rachmaninoff, and additionally, a Grieg piano concerto. When push came to shove, however, a choice had to be made on financial grounds because two together were just a bit much for 14 year old me. In the end, Rachmaninoff, despite being marginally more expensive, won, and Grieg was left aside for another 3 or 4 years.

I guarded it with my life back to the small town in Cork where I grew up and it took up residence on the top of the piano, sharing space with the various exam pieces I had to do for the RIAM grade system and the music exam for the Intermediate Certificate at school, an exam I passed almost completely on the strength of playing because it was not on the back of my prolific knowledge of required musical theory as laid out in the syllabus.

I worked at the Rachmaninoff on and off over the years. I have very clear memories of sitting in the car, reading along with the sheet music while listening to a tape of the piece ad ensuring I could track which bits were were on the tape. There are still annotations in the book aligning certain sections with times on my favoured/only available recording at the time. And I have very clear memories of using the week before my Leaving Certificate to spend 5 or 6 hours a day working on the second movement. In the days running up to a life defining school exam, I could be found crouched over the piano; a pint glass of Ribena resting on top of the piano, carefully hauling my fingers into the shape of the opening notes of the second movement.

I am never without a recording of the piece of music. For years, the recording I had was Julius Katchen’s recording which had been released as part of the Great Composers part work series sometime in the 1980s – a wonderful resource which introduced me to an awful lot of classical music, and many key performers of the time. When my chips are down, the world tends to feel better with a sound track of that and his glorious Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (which, to be honest, I might see if that’s available too). Lately I have been listening mainly to Yuja Wang and Leif Ove Andsnes playing it.

To some extent, when I pick up the music with a view to playing this piece, it is less to play it, and more to spend time with an old friend. I know there will never be an orchestra behind me ready to enter after those titanic opening notes. Last night when I did so, it was to the news that my fingers no longer fitted the opening chords of the first movement, if indeed they ever did. I can still manage some of the second movement almost even by heart despite it being 27 years since I prepared for seven honours subjects in the Leaving Certificate by drinking Ribena and repeating the opening eight bars of the second movement ad infinitum…There are places I can still go with Rachmaninoff; and there are places he will not take me.

Things every house should own

I was reading a fascinating article on Ars Technica the other day – mostly to be honest, I read these things because I am intrigued to see what the comments will be like – if I am honest. Anyway, the article concerned the hacking of an emergency notification system in Dallas Fort Worth. Here’s a link to it.

As it happens, the comments were the usual mix of rank ignorant and rank knowledgeable and a scale of non-rankness in between. One of the key questions from the “we recognise we are ignorant” is why the area still used this kind of alert system – basically sirens given that the technology existed for things like cell phone warnings and this is where it got interesting.

Dallas Fort Worth is in Tornado Alley and so the alert system actually gets used, and often at short notice. And the reason it continues to be used is that a) it works and b) it is reliable. There is already a lot of experience to demonstrate that in emergency situations, cell networks are not reliable (although landlines are tending to stand up to disaster a bit better). Well, this system is reliable as long as no one tries to hack it but that’s a wider moral discussion. The point is, cellphones are often switched off, on silent, in the room downstairs, or whatever other excuse you are having yourself. In the context of the onset of a tornado that’s never going to be enough.

A couple of things struck me about the conversation – one was the usual tendency of people who live somewhere with gigabit fibre to assume that everyone has gigabit fibre, and similarly, the tendency  of people to assume modern might always be better than old tech. Sometimes and often times it isn’t. Anyway, another point which popped up almost in passing in the comments was identifying other sources of information in the event of an emergency. A siren is one thing to tell you hunker down, avoid, escape to high or low ground, or whichever is appropriate for your situation (CF earthquake drills in Japan as another example). Someone mentioned that they would always have a battery operated radio in the house just in case power was taken out.

This caused me to pause and think. I have a torch in the house at all times, and it has a place where it lives. I’ve always felt that you should always have a functional torch in the house and that’s why there were 4 in the last house. But if I lost electricity, I have maybe mobile phone for up to 24 hours if it was fully charged when I lost electricity and provided I switch off cellular data. I live in a temperate area and normally, you’d expect that I might be out of electricity for a relatively short time.

It’s just lots of people have found out the hard way that this might not be a completely safe assumption.

So I added a battery operated radio to the shopping list and found a small Sony for 25E in a local electrical shop. I need to get some batteries for it because of course it’s a different size to the set of batteries I have here already.

You can wander around Youtube and find all sorts of survival kits, squeezed into tiny Altoids boxes if you want to be really creative. But in the context of living in a city with no desire to go off-grid, as it were, possibly your shopping list should include a torch, a radio, spare batteries for both and a few litres of water at the very least. And at that, I’d like to think we’d be able to see the biggest problems coming from a long way off.