Category Archives: being me

Collector of things.

Being an art collector is not such a bad thing apparently. It signifies class, worth, wealth, taste. Apparently. We don’t necessarily attack art collectors for having lots of art because well, they’re clearly the right sort of people. Collectors of antiques as well, we applaud for their taste, nous, ability to recognise that yesterday’s tat is tomorrow’s inflation beating value holding pile of wood.

And yes, I watch the Antiques Road Show. RIght.

I was shopping yesterday. In fact, I intended to go to the Art and Hobby Store, pick up a single hole punch, maybe some decorative washi tape and go home. It didn’t quite work out like that. I bought stuff I don’t need (pens) more stuff I don’t need (beautiful notebooks), a book (like my personal library isn’t already out of control and some bookmarks which will work grand on the books but not necessarily on the Kindle. When I started locating space for this, I realised that in fact, I’m probably not that different to an art collector or an antique collector. Nor a Star Wars memorabilia nerd, nor a music fanatic with 9 metres of shelving for their extensive vinyl collection. We all collect stuff and in some ways, it’s a mild addiction, which I usually write off as being healthier than alcohol.

The girl at the shop reckoned she had a problem with notebooks. I think her problem was worse than mine because she typically only used a few pages before tossing them and starting a new one. I have many beautiful notebooks, this is true. However, a substantial number of them are full (because I collect memories of my life in the journals I have kept since I was 20 years old and all of them get pushed into some use. I have some beautiful notebooks.

I collect pens as well. I’m not a collector in the grand scale of collectors of pens but I have seven Caran D’Ache ball point Ecridors of one sort or another, a Caran D’Ache fountain, three Cross pens, ten Lamy fountain pens, a Papermate fountain pen and a Parker fountain pen and at least another 10 other fountain pens of indiscriminate marque. I have several disposable Pilot fountain pens in pink, aqua and purple. And beside me there are 8 bottles of ink not including the couple of spare bottles of ink. And no, I don’t really do calligraphy. I have nice handwriting but that’s about it. However, I own three calligraphy pens with a view to doing some (and you don’t want to see my baby steps efforts.

I have a substantial collection of loose leaf teas, accumulated over some time and which I have decided needs to be the subject of de-stashing. At some point in the next week I will be down to 0g of Fuego by La Compagnie Anglaise des Thés, a state of affairs not known since about 2004. So you could argue I’m making progress there. But that would be to deny the discovery of Marco Polo by Mariages Freres and the collection of Nordqvist Teas brought from the last trip to Finland.

I also have a personal library of cookbooks which is rather impressive for someone who typically cooks for one. I remember a time when my cookbook collection accountet to one, a Clairefontaine notebook (surprise surprise) bought in France with all sorts of things stuck into it from all sorts of magazines, post cards and the backs of chocolate wrappers. I still have it, actually; it’s in remarkably good nick and it contains my go-to-recipe for Sunday morning pancakes which was on a postcard I bought in Brittany. But in addition, I have an interesting mixture of which The Cork Cook Book, sold in aid of Cork Simon about 10 years ago is my most valued, not because I’ve every done much out of it (although the bread and butter pudding in it is pretty brilliant), but because it’s not still available. I probably don’t need all these cookbooks, but there is something comforting about them, and something extremely beautiful about some of them. The Tessa Kiros books in particular are bought not to be cooked from (this would be a fringe benefit) but to be looked at in quiet enjoyment late of an evening after work.

I don’t, on the other hand, have much of a wine collection – there are some bottles there but mostly other people’s taste because, living on my own, I don’t open bottles that often (but have been known to freeze very good white wine for future cooking projects rather than waste it 3 days after it has been opened).

I accumulate hobbies as well. I have an extensive collection of yarn linked to crochet and knitting. And several tapestries because I do that too. And tools of those trades. I have quite a lot of crochet hooks and am aware that there is an inherent danger in looking at the collection of gorgeous crochet hooks on sale on Etsy.com.

LInked to this, I have a substantial collection of shelving and storage and boxes mostly bought in IKEA and Homebase to store and organise all my things. And a substantial number of tins (because they are pretty and what is life if it is not beautiful and also I have this rather substantial collection of tea to be stored and yeah, about a million different cookie cutters and many different plastic bowls to cook with and all these things need to be organised and stored…

There are times – with a heavy dose of nostalgia – I look back on when my life could, for the most part, be stuffed into one rucksack and one carry all and I could move onto the next stage without having to do it in 94 car runs. In a way, the accumulation of things, life experiences and life attempts, is a mark of the passing of time. I do have kitesurfing gear, camera gear, climbing gear, bodyboarding stuff and all that. I never look back wishing I didn’t have all this stuff because this stuff is of my life and I may as well wish I didn’t exist.

The interesting thing, for all the inveterate collecting and hoarding of stuff, I’m not all that different to an antique or art collector. It is the same instinct; the same desire to appeal to a sense within yourself. Only difference in perception is that the antiques and the art represent the perception of an increase in wealth where as my collections represent the perception of an increase in clutter.

Beautiful, pretty, clutter that I would not be without.

Fifty Reasons to love Ireland.

The Irish TImes has published a list of 50 reasons to love Ireland today. It doesn’t speak to my heart. Here’s the link although since they did the website redesign you now will have to click at least twice more to read the entire list. Sorry.

Anyway, as I said, it doesn’t speak to my heart, not all of it, or possibly, even much. We all, I guess, have our own things which cut into our feelings about the place, be it good or bad. Finding Hope In Bleak Theatre per Fintan O’Toole as sure as hell is not one of mine. So I decided to write my list.

Here goes.

  1. Doolin Point on a day with offshore wind. A person standing here can look to the wave off Crab Island if they are a surfer, the Cliffs of Moher away to the left, and the Aran Islands away to the right. On a clear day, the lighthouse that way is dead clear. I wish there was a webcam down there.IMG_1031
  2. The general mildness of the weather. Seriously. When we have snow, it’s minimal compared to a lot of other places on the same latitude. We have it easy. Our biggest complaint is the wind and the rain.
  3. In the 18th century, we had the biggest telescope in the world in Birr.
  4. William Rowan Hamilton and George Boole are two of our greatest mathematicians whose work has greatly facilitated the use of computers today.
  5. James Whelton started the coderdojo movement when he was still in school, something which may turn out to be one of the better contributions to this smart economy our politicians go on about when talking about rebuilding our economy.
  6. Flann O’Brien.
  7. John B Keane.
  8. Lough Corrib. Amazing place.
  9. The neutrality markers doubling as navigation aids in the second world war.
  10. The National Museum in Kildare Street, and yes it’s free and yes it’s on the Irish Times List but it is amazing and something we can be justifiably proud of.
  11. The Museum of Country Living in Mayo. I’m not going to box the individual museums when there is something special in all of them. I defy anyone not to be moved to tears by a comment in that museum from a man talking about hearing classical music for the first time when the radio came to the remote part of the country he lived in. We take stuff like this for granted.
  12. Marconi sending telegraphs across the Atlantic.
  13. The weather station in Valentia.
  14. Croke Park and Landsdown Road – two fantastic stadia. For a city the size of Dublin, quite an achievement.
  15. The small unknown music festivals all over the shop. Willy Clancy School. West Cork Chamber Music. Malahide Pipe Band. Cork Folk Festival. And that’s before you get to the big ones like the Guinness Jazz Festival.
  16. We’ve got fantastic climbing opportunities all over the place. Talk to Mountaineering Ireland.
  17. Alfred Tennyson wrote The Splendor Falls for very good reasons. The area around Killarney is beautiful and justifiably popular.
  18. We have some of the best surfing conditions in Europe on occasion. Right now, at 11.40 on a Sat morning, Bundoran looks particularly sweet.
  19. Even if you don’t surf, we’ve got some stunning beaches. Barleycove Co Cork. Silver Strand Mayo. Coumeenole Co Kerry
  20. We have some seriously scary roads. Scenic Road from Inch to Camp? Check. Keel to Keem Beach, Achill Island (check). The mountain road around Ballinskelligs?
  21. We have some fantastic myths and legends.
  22. The Book of Kells.
  23. The Crawford Art Gallery.
  24. We have one of the oldest operational lighthouse sites in Europe at Hook Head. And we’ve plonked lighthouses in some very dramatic and interesting places. The Fastnet counts.
  25. Bog snorkelling contests.
  26. Road bowling. Two examples of adapting the need to entertainment to locally available options.
  27. Trim Castle County Meath.
  28. Giants Causeway.
  29. We don’t take too much seriously.
  30. Some of our public art is quirky and amazing. Robot on the N21 between Charleville and Limerick? Model T Ford in West Cork? The bull somewhere outside Blarmey on the N21? The boats outside the tunnel in Limerick? Do I really need to make a whole list?
  31. We punch above our weight in golf. And boxing.
  32. Brown soda bread. Not long out of the oven wrapped in a tea towel.
  33. Barrys Tea.
  34. Taytos. There are two items on the lists demanded of visitors to emigrants. Strange that…
  35. Dara O’Briain.
  36. We have some ubertalented musicians in many fields of music who are doing their thing very successfully around the place.
  37. We have given the English language some very interesting idioms such as people looking like they have been dragged backwards through a hedge. How do we do this?
  38. The Dunbrody and the Jeanie Johnson and the famine ship memorial in County Mayo.
  39. We still have (despite it all) quite a few local newspapers, however much trouble the nationals are in.
  40. People talk. On trains, on buses, prior to concerts, in cafés.
  41. We have some very good street performers.
  42. It does not rain all the time. We owe the emerald branding to the stuff that does fall.
  43. Kilkenny sort of reinvented itself as a design centre. Good going.
  44. There’s that tree in Carlow that everyone has to take a photograph of.
  45. Our politicians are semi-accessible (seriously – compare it to getting at the ones in other bigger countries).
  46. We sort of embrace modern technology quite a bit. Don’t know why.
  47. The Pen Corner in Dublin.
  48. The English Market in Cork
  49. Maeve Binchy.
  50. The place is littered in history and the present. Regardless of how many gadgets you have in a 2013 car, you can’t go very far without tripping over a 12th century castle or a dolmen or something.

Beautiful things – Fiskars scissors

I own quite a lot of stuff – many books, much stuff in the kitchen and a lot of hobby related items. One of the more utilitarian things I own is a Fiskars scissors, with the trademark orange handles. It was given to me by a girl called Ulla, from Finland, very proud of how good Finnish things are. I still have the scissors. It is unquestionably the best scissors I own. Fiskars scissors are not cheap; in addition to the household scissors which I have used to cut every sort of things from paper to chicken breasts, I own a couple of smaller craft scissors for cutting thread; one in my knitting tool box and one in my crochet tool box. They are always comfortable to use and in fact, I believe Fiskars were the first company to produce scissors to suit lefthanded people. I think this is brilliant, even allowing for the fact that I am right handed.

I was in Finland last week, after the whole OLympics trip, and while I was in Stockmann, Helsinki’s biggest department store, I made a bad-for-my-credit card discovery. I discovered that you could get Fiskars scissors with lovely designs on the handle. They are utterly beautiful.

This is a scissors. You don’t usually apply the word “beautiful” to it. They are not beautiful. They are usually plane; the Fiskars for years had the orange handles I mentioned above, most of them come with plain coloured handles if they are not 100% metal with a few dots of rust. Some of them have red swival dots but they are not beautiful. They are sharp, or blunt, or lousy or useless.

The first one I saw had a scene from the Finn Family Moomin on it. I had to have it. Then I discovered other ones from the Inspiration range. Beside me I have a Gloria scissors. How can you not love something? And because it’s a Fiskars, I feel confident that it will work and last me. After all, the one I mentioned above, my general orange handled household scissors I have had since 1998.

One day in London

I used to live in London what seems several lifetimes ago. I was lucky. I lived a 10 minute walk from Oxford Street and I had a decently well paying part time job. I may have had lectures for 30 hours a week and work for 20 plus extraneous studying and being stuck in underground trains and all that, but it wasn’t as hard as it can be for, e.g., anyone trying to exist in London on minimum wage. I got to go to the theatre now and again and I fell in love with the British Museum. But not with London. It always struck me as a city with too little time and too little care for the people in it. Also a bit fragmented.

I don’t often go there now. But I was there about 10 days ago to go to an Olympic final. I have some issues with the Olympics as big business but I did also feel that to go to an Olympic final would be a bucket list kind of thing and when I discovered I could get my hands on a ticket for the canoe C1 final, I decided to ignore the issues I have with Olympic Business and go and deal with Olympic Sport. London was a revelation. My London was a revelation because needless to mention, not everyone has the same experience. I found it a city transformed.

My hero of the Olympics wasn’t a sports star. He was a London Underground employee at Paddington Rail Station who provided useful advice on how to get to Liverpool Street Station after the ticket machines at the Hammersmith & City Underground Station decided they didn’t want my money without me having to walk the length of Paddington Rail Station between the two Paddington Underground stations more than once. This makes a difference really because London involves one thing and that’s walking.

There were Gamesmakers everywhere. You fell over them at all the railway stations, telling you where to go and how to get there. You fell over them at the venues. Unfailingly they smiled, and unfailingly, they were happy to be there, happy to be a part of the Olympics. Happy to show their city off the world. This is London we are talking. London is already a world city in the way that Dublin, for example, will never be. This is London whose position in the world has been assured for 200 years or more. And this is London who wanted you to see its heart, the people that make it, and not the people in the newspapers. I had a long haul from Heathrow Airport to Lee Valley White Water Centre which is way on the other side of the city, to the northeast so I met quite a lot of Gamesmakers on my way. Every single one of them made my day a little brighter, a little happier and I was already in a good mood anyway.

The world would be so much a better place if everyone was like that all the time.

Lee Valley White Water Centre was custom built for the Olympics I believe. I wasn’t aware that people built centres like this (because most of the white water sports I see/have participated in involve rivers and real rocks and stuff) but they’ve done a superb job. The British Army were handling security. They were fast, efficient and friendly and without exception, smiling. I can’t fault them. I didn’t spend much time in a queue at any stage.

The atmosphere was fantastic. I was there for the C1 Mens final and the weather stayed dry from the slalom which was very, very exciting to watch even if you don’t know a whole lot about it. There were a lot of Slovakians there, and especially a lot of French; I guess because those two nations are right up there with the slalom racing. We don’t hear much about it here although we are good enough in that sport to send people to some of the disciplines in it. Sometimes I wish our media would lose its narrowmindedness in terms of how it covers sports.

Tony Estanguet won the gold medal for France. It was pretty obvious on his second run that he was going to – he was noticeably more confident around the gates and down the river than his closest rivals. The place erupted for him – like I said, a lot of French. It poured rain for fifteen minutes while we waited for the Olympic medal ceremony I can’t see myself going to Rio in 4 years’ time, so if this is the last chance I get to see one, I don’t think I’ll shelter from the rain.

So I didn’t.

13 years in Dublin

Around now, 13 years ago, I got on a plane in Brussels with about 5% of my belongings – the rest had been collected and were in transit somewhere between Brussels and Dublin, and moved back to Ireland. I’m not sure what I expected. I do know I had plans to stay in Dublin for 2 or 3 years and then move back down to Cork. It never quite worked out that way. I didn’t buy the house I was planning to buy and I haven’t yet met someone to spend the rest of my life with.

There have been lots of unexpected good things. There has been the kitesurfing, and the photography, and the being profiled by the Irish Independent as a blogger, and by RTE as a photographer. I got stuck into the boards.ie community in a big way, and twitter also. And via those two tools have made a lot of friends around the place. I’ve been very lucky in many respects.

At some point, I did point out that moving house, and starting off from scratch, building a social circle and all that got harder as you got older. This was why, at certain points, I did not move back to France, to Bordeaux, as I thought about for a while, just because at that stage of my life, it would be too lonely. But I don’t think it works like that any more. I could move anywhere in the world it seems, at this stage, and somehow, the global community that is Ravelry, would open doors for me as, it did, here in Dublin. I’m not so worried about moving from that point of view; I just own lots of stuff.

But Ireland has been a rough place to live as well. Not purely because it’s doing poorly economically, but because that doing poorly could have so easily been avoided. I think this happened because of a lack of confidence. Confidence to say that debt driven growth was not good enough, would lead to tears. If you said this in Ireland in the early 2000s, you were a pariah. I got told where the Ryanair site was often enough if I wasn’t happy with how well the country was doing.

Most years, at this time of year, I remember being an emigrant. There wasn’t really a lot wrong with it then; and even less now with much better/less expensive communications and the like. It is not something that would bother me so much, apart from the packing.

Dublin has changed a lot. Some things are better. It seems to me that it’s less alcoholic in the past couple of years, or maybe I’m just out with a different bunch of people now. Property is no longer insanely expensive, although I’d argue it’s still over priced for the economic situation of the city. Some of the infrastructure is better. For all that Dublin Bus has cut back on services, they are still streets better than they were in 1999. Irish Rail has improved beyond recognition and we have things like the Luas and Dublin Bikes. These are all good things.

I still don’t own a house here. There are a couple of different reasons for this but the key one at the moment is for all the houses we have on sale, I just don’t like anyway. And deep down in my heart, I’d prefer to be buying a house near the coast in Cork, with greater access to the Atlantic. Possibly, the five years of eurohopping still have tainted my soul in some respect and I may never fully settle.