time better spent

The weather in Ireland has been fairly impressive lately; stunning sunshine which has not yet yielded to cooler weather, clouds and rain. Last Sunday morning, I got up and drove from Dublin to Clare for the day. I don’t usually do this at the start of July, for two reasons 1) Clare tends to be busy and 2) there haven’t generally been waves I could remotely or imaginatively attempt to learn to surf on. I learn to surf, have been at that zone for a while because mostly, I don’t make it to Clare.

The drive from Dublin to Lahinch takes about 3 hours now, via Limerick. I think it’s faster via LImerick than Galway; the tolls are lower as well (No Enfield :-)) It’s a pleasant drive early on a Sunday morning, if somewhat nervewracking. Those are clouds overhead. I got to Lahinch at 10.20 in the morning, parked up in front of John McCarthy’s Lahinch Surf School.

Pretty sure the last time I had lessons there, it was a freezing cold New Year’s Eve.

Lahinch, at 10.20 last Sunday morning, was still cloud covered; for all that, it was warm, and families had staked out their territories on the beach. Kids surf lessons were in the water; people were swimming. Adult lessons, I was told, would start at 11.45. This suited me fine. I went for a walk around the town; somewhere to have coffee if possible.

I wound up in Philip Morris’s gallery on the corner of what I call the main street but which I am pretty sure has a different name in Lahinch terms, and I bought a beautiful print of a beach which is a bit far away from me in Dublin, Barleycove in Cork. If you’re in Lahinch, I strongly recommend a trip into Philip’s gallery as he has a lot of interesting things hanging on the walls; and they are all in lovely, strong vibrant colours. It does not matter what the weather does outside; they will put sunshine in your life.

They recommended I went to Dannie Mac’s for brunch. It was still before 11; most of the bars were still closed at that point, but Dannie Mac’s was serving breakfast. I had pancakes. Breakfast in Dublin, Weetabix and some orange juice had been well over four hours previous and I was hungry. I recommend the pancakes if you’re ever looking for grub at that time of the morning on a Sunday in Lahinch. The place was packed, and while there were a few families and couples; a lot of their custom came from groups of young men. I suppose there were a few stag parties around.

By the time I finished up in Dannie Mac’s,. Kenny’s had open. Kenny’s is a fantastic shop; seriously. I’m biased of course – last time I was there I discovered they sold Dunoon China mugs. I haven’t found a source in Dublin, and the first one I ever bought, I bought in a tea shop in a shopping centre in France.

They are beautiful. If you want an idea of the ones I like, I have a pinterest board full of them amongst other things (but mostly them). So I bought another three, this time, only one with a lighthouse; the others were a pair of very nice surf mugs. I was surprised and happy to see them.

I should probably stop buying mugs now #itsworsethanthestationeryproblem.

The tillkeepers in Kenny’s always thank me for my custom. Always. It’s almost unique in my experience.

At this point, it’s wandering on to time for me to go back and get back in the water for the first time.

Firstly – I am going to say this. There are at least 8 surf schools in Lahinch. I went to John McCarthy because I know them having had lessons from them before at a time when there were only 2 surf schools in Lahinch. Customer loyalty I suppose you’d call it bar the minor detail that I can’t really surf and I don’t go often enough. I had my first surf lessons at least 10 years ago which should tell you a lot about how much money Lahinch Surf School has actually earned from me (clue, West Cork Surf School in Inchydoney in Cork has done slightly better). But I do also have to commend the staff at work on Sunday. I do not know the name of the girl taking bookings but she was unutterably helpful. The instructor I got paired up with, David, I think his name was, was extraordinarily helpful. Mind you, I still can’t surf but that’s definitely a lack of practice and it’s definitely a lack of time in the water. Also, I’ve put on weight since the last time I was in the water (so XL wetsuit, good to know, takes less than a minute to put on, probably a clue it may be slightly too big) (also good to no). I wore bootees.

I. hate. wearing. bootees. So I asked whether, you know, was the water, maybe warm enough, that I could avoid bootees. You’re talking to someone who stands in 4 foot of freezing cold water in Dublin taking photographs (ie, freezing) so I Can HANDLE the cold.

They mentioned jelly fish.

This is an entirely different prospect to freezing your toes off.

I got four great waves, fell off the board 19 times and had a decent chat with Dave about such esoteric matters as “can’t remember which foot I used to put my leash on but this doesn’t feel right” the truth is I really don’t know now whether I’m goofy or natural although I’m tending to think natural.

I tried both last Sunday. I was neither, if I’m honest.

I love the momentum you get when you balance right on the board, and paddle right and you, board and wave head for the sure. I imagine it’d be even better if I were popping up. But it’s that feeling as you fly back into shore that gets you to go back out and try, and try again. I had a ball. I loved it. I want to do it more often. The sun came out at that point in time as well.

After the surf lesson, I packed everything up and then drove from Lahinch to Loop Head. It took rather a long time; much longer than I expected. I had to reasons for going down there. Firstly, Loop Head Lighthouse is now open to tourists. You can hire one of the lightkeeper cottages as well via Irish Landmark Trust and that, along with Wicklow Lighthouse and Galley Head, is on my list of potential honeymoon locations.

The tower lighthouse at Loop Head is not inhabited because they could build cottages for the lightkeepers, even though it’s on a particularly pointy bit of land, over a few cliffs. The tower itself is made of limestone so on what was probably the warmest day of the year, it was still FREEZING in there. You can climb up the lighthouse and see to the Aran Islands on one side, and the Brandons in Kerry on the other side. You can also see the ruin of the coastal watch look out post, a concrete bunker, 83 of which were plonked around the coast in the early 1940s to watch for any trouble during the Emergency. I know quite a lot about these. What you cannot set from the lighthouse, because of the way the land slopes on Loop Head, is the EIRE sign. I know a monumental lot about these and the main reason I was in Loop Head was to see their sign as it was renovated last year.

Mind you, long before I ever knew about EIRE signs, I liked lighthouses and Loop Head was on my lighthouse bingo card, so amongst the achievements for this year is “saw Loop Head Lighthouse and did the tour”.

And went surfing.

When you have a day where you get to do something related to three major interests, which includes some exercise (oh god did my arms hurt on Monday), it’s got to be a good day. I drove back to Dublin the same evening.

but to quote Calvin and Hobbes, “but it was worth it”.

(and I’ve just discovered there is Calvin & Hobbes fan fiction…colour me nonplussed)

Having your time over again….

It’s not 9am yet on a Saturday morning and I have already read quite a lot. I have read about the headteachers in the UK wanting someone to deal with the moving of the GSCE English goalposts during the past school year. I have read about a woman who quit California to move to Costa Rica at the age of 35. I have read about a woman diagnosed with MS climbing Mount McKinley and in that random roundabout not fully awake way I noticed something. My reading material came from The Guardian, Outside Magazine and Adventure Women and it struck me that there was so much of a discussion to be had about the choices you make at the age of 16 and the choices you would have made at the age of 16 if you knew then what you know at 35.

And that discussion very often gets summed up as people starting sentences with the words “If I had my time over again….” and end with no evidence that they live in the now and that things are possible in the now.

I think they’re afraid of the choice.

But it’s not a question of restarting from the age of 16 to have your time over. You can start any time to change things to the way you want them to be now rather than the way they are if you wish things were different.

Moving mountains.

I’m actually completely covered in red, blue and orange ink at the moment as I have been working on my Bucket List.

I hate the term bucket list but everyone uses it so occasionally I capitulate. Anyway I own three books on calligraphy, two dip pens, many bottles of ink, a number of nibs and some sort of will to try out calligraphy. I got the books out today. I do a really nice letter V, it must be said.

Then I decided I was going to hand write a blog entry and then realised that actually, today I wasn’t. But I’m still covered in ink.

About 25 years ago when I was still a young girl at school, and like most schools in Ireland, I had to do some religion classes. I recall one or two of them for various reasons, but the one which springs to mind today relates to the question of the power of faith in God, and how much it could achieve. On the day in question, we were told a story about a woman who lived in a house near a mountain and the mountain cast a shadow over her house and really, she didn’t much like it. Excuse me if I paraphrase it.

Anyway, she got wind of this prayer and faith power thing, and got it into her head that if she prayed hard enough, God would move the mountain out of the way and her kitchen wouldn’t be dark half the day, so she prayed before going to bed one night, that the mountain would be gone the next morning.

Unfortunately, as things would have it, when she woke the next morning, said mountain was still in place, casting a shadow over the house and her reponse was “Ah sure, I knew it wouldn’t be gone when I woke up”.

Strictly speaking, you can’t exactly blame her. The whole mountain moving thing, you’d like to feel, would be news all over the shop, were it to be happening on a regular basis. But this was not the moral of the story as it was sold to me as a 15 year old. No, the issue here was that she didn’t have enough faith. If she had had more faith, that mountain would be gone.

I have issues with this for a lot of reasons. There are a couple of reasons here. If you have a mountain in your life, there are certain inalienable truths about said mountain – unless it is a rather nasty live volcano – of which “it ain’t moving” is one. Anyone suggesting prayer could do this is actually not being very nice because ultimately, it sets them up for blaming the person doing the praying for just not being good enough. Nice if you’re not the person for whom this mountain is a problem. Issue if you’re the person whose kitchen never sees sunlight.

Secondly, there are other ways of addressing the mountain problem. Mountains cannot necessarily be moved, but places of habitation can. IN my view, the whole thing with the mountain is that you could suggest to someone that the things which are in their control can be changed. Where they live often can be changed. The location of specific mountains not so much.

Praying for the impossible generally results in disappointment, but more importantly, and perhaps more dangerously, it distracts you from the possible. This, incidentally is not an attack on religion per se, but it is an attack on how we seek to control other people’s lives. An awful lot of that goes on, even without the benefit of any sort of religion as a supporting argument.

Currently, in Ireland, there is a donor drive on for people to carry donor cards, be they kidney, or multi-organ and in that discussion, it has been noted that generally, the people who are doing the donating of organs are people who generally have died some point in their lives when frankly, they were not expected to. It is heartbreaking for the families concerned, but that is pretty often how it is. When you bear this in mind, and bear in mind that most people have some sort of a vague list of things somewhere stashed in their mind or on a post it note or something of stuff that they would want to do before they die, there’s a lot to be said for dealing with the here and now, sometimes, and not so much the future. This is not something people in Ireland tend to be fantastic at – they very often go to the pub and talk about it instead.

So.

Last year I knocked three items off the winds and breezes list of stuff. I went to an Olympic Final. I went to the Dublin Piano Competition final. And I went to the European Figure Skating Championships which also meant that I got to see Sheffield, not necessarily something I had ever planned to do but it was a fringe benefit.

I’ve taken lessons – at various stages in my life – in windsurfing, surfing, kayaking, kitesurfing and attempted at various other stages – whitewater rafting, bodyboarding, cableskiing, cross country skiing and climbing. I still occasionally climb. I do intend to go back surfing this year and hopefully kitesurfing. I’m very lucky to have had the opportunities to try some of these things, but I have also contributed to the effort to do so rather than just talking about it. Today, as mentioned above, I covered myself in ink and tried calligraphy. I know it took me hours because it is now 20 to 9 and I’m sure it was about 4 the last time I looked at a clock.

 

Seriously? Seriously?

Via various year end round ups, I happened on this piece:

Are wetsuits the burka for the cold water surfer girl?

It was written by a woman.

I spend a lot of time on cold water beaches, the sort of beaches that are cold water even in the summer. My one and only wetsuit choice is a 5mm minimum. I may go 6 this year if I can find one. I have spent time in this water. It. Gets. Cold.

But guess what, that cold is not targeted only at women. You know, on beaches where women are forced to cover over everything because It. Is. Bloody. Freezing. Men are forced to wear wetsuits too for the same reason.

 

Strange that.

How can you ruin music?

According to the Guardian, Krystian Zimerman decried Youtube as destroying music. He was reacting to someone recording one of his concerts on a mobile phone – here’s the report.

I’ve mixed feelings about this. Mainly I have reservations about this because Youtube is full of absolutely exceptional music, and not all of it, or even much of it, is recorded on a mobile phone. I take the view that recording something on a mobile phone and sticking it up on Youtube is of questionable manners. But that’s a specific problem. The truth is Youtube acts almost like a world radio station on demand. I’ve bought a lot of music thanks to Youtube, and some of it is classical. A lot of the really good classical stuff on Youtube comes from television broadcasts. I don’t think you’d argue that Youtube is killing music if we are talking about well recorded television broadcasts. The Berliner Philharmonik has a fairly decent channel on Youtube, for example, and you can find some rather interesting, and previously difficult to find things there, like, for example, Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts.

But you don’t ruin music by putting it up on a website. I don’t know if you can ruin music because to some extent, it is a living breathing thing. You can maybe change the paradigms of the music business – massively – but this is not unique to Youtube. At the heart of it, we’re not really talking about music there, but the ability to raise money from music.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the measure of successful music was large sales of sheet music. No one much cared about recording. The business moved and adapted to recording as that disrupted the existing music industry. Even now, the digital piano market is hugely disrupting the analogue (for want of a better description) market and putting piano tuners out of business right left and centre. The business winds up evolving and changing. Music itself, however, goes on. We still play Schumann, we still play Chopin, some of us on CD, some of us on pianos, some of us streamed from Last.FM or some other radio station.

Arguably, it’s not so much killing music to record something on a mobile phone. It is, however, deeply impolite.

I’d prefer that people were reminded of that, rather than being lectured about how they are killing music. Music has been around for a very long time, a bit like life itself, it survives and adapts. Manners, on the other hand….

 

Nice shops in Dublin

One of the things which worries me most about life around me at the moment is the tendency of people to complain and moan and whinge. So as far as possible, I am trying to avoid falling into that trap and I will freely admit I do not always succeed.

I want to say nice things about a couple of shops in particular, both shops which I have been in a bit recently, one where I tend to spend quite a lot of money and one where I will, at some point in the next year or two, spend what is for me, a seriously amount of money, in one go (and no, I am not talking about a car dealer).

I’ve written, previously, about the people at the Pen Corner. I want to reiterate this. I have significantly more pens in my possession now and a substantial collection of bottled ink to go with the fountain pens, all of which came from the Pen Corner. The staff there, in my experience, are unfailingly friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about their stock. They have beautiful pens (I learned this weekend that they have Du Pont fountain pens, another thing for me to aspire to) and they have beautiful stationery downstairs. They are a reliable source of Rhodia paper, for example, some beautiful greetings cards, beautifully handbound notebooks. As a source of beautiful things, it is second to none in Dublin.

I’ve lately been in a place called Pianos Plus too. This shop used, quite a long time ago, be in the city centre, somewhere around Temple Bar I think. It is now somewhere off the M50,. I know how to get there (now, after several occasions getting lost somewhere around what I think is called Park West or the Nangor Road – it’s a bit like a vortex in there).

I love Pianos Plus. I have just one childhood dream left at this stage of my life and that is to buy a grand piano for myself. It is why, for example, I haven’t bought any piano yet. A piano is for life and I want my piano to be a grand piano. And having spent time in Pianos Plus, I have also decided that it will most likely be a Kawaii. I’ve wanted it for a very long time, and a few weeks ago, knowing that it will be another few months to a year before I get there, I just felt the need to go and check that this was still the case. It is.

The people in Pianos Plus are, like the people in the Pen Corner, unfailingly helpful, and absolutely knowledgeable about the pianos they sell. I can tell you right now that there is a most beautiful reconditioned 1882 Bechstein in there; I played it a few weeks ago and fell in love with it. I’ve been in a lot of piano shops over my life. Some of them have been more or less precious about the instruments they sell. In my experience, if you can demonstrate you know how to play the piano, Pianos Plus are not so precious because they know pianos are there to be played, and not just dusted. This is why, when the time comes, I will buy my piano from them, regardless of where I live in the country. Because they have built a relationship with me ever before I walk in there with the credit card to pay for the piano.

Another shop I want to mention is a shop called John Gunn. If you are interested in photography, the staff in Gunns are unquestionably the sweetest people to deal with. I bought my last camera and my most recent lens in there. Again, they are unfailingly helpful. Their staff demonstrably take photographs. They may be selling you a camera, but they are selling you also the soul that goes with taking good photographs.

Two other specialist shops which I will mention in passing are Kitchen Complements and Stock, both specialist kitchen shops. Pretty much all of the specialist kitchen equipment which I have bought in Dublin has come from one or other of those shops. Again, their staff are unfailingly helpful and knowledgeable about their stock. There is a lot to be said for shops of this nature sometimes.

We lose sight, I think, sometimes, of the importance of the smaller shops, the lower profile shops, the ones that cater to specific audiences. The market for pianos is growing smaller over time, especially for non-digital pianos, for example. Many things are being bought over the internet. The Pen Corner may be a landmark on Dame Street but it is still at heart, a specialist independent store and more people know the outside than the inside.

A city lives and dies on shops like this. If I love Paris, it is because shops like this abound. If I see Dublin, there are far fewer of the specialist independent stores, and those that exist are not really that well known and visited sometimes. This piece is just a little reminder that Saturday afternoon shopping trips are not just about Brown Thomas and the Grafton Street chains.

echoes

The cold woke me up around 4.45 this morning and somehow I didn’t get back to sleep. 5am is usually okay – I function on 5am wake ups most days – but 4.45 tends to be just a little bit early, more middle of the night than early morning.

I didn’t get back to sleep. I wandered around the interesting wasteland that is my overnight twitter feed and found myself looking at urban exploration of abandoned theme parks in America. The one outside New Orleans is quite impressive; I hadn’t known it existed – mostly when I see photographs of dead places of fun, they are in Japan. There’s one waterpark in Dublin, on the seafront in Dun Laoghaire  as well, Rainbow Rapids, and even the urbex specialists in Ireland consider that dangerous (see page two of that link in particular). New Orleans Jazzland closed in advance of Hurricane Katrina and never re-opened. Of such odd journeys is an early waking Saturday made up.

It was the rain eventually got out me out of bed, to switch on last.fm and have tea. If I am going to be awake, I might as well be up.

Getting up early on a Saturday morning is madness to a lot of people. I don’t understand why. I hate myself when I stay in bed late; attempt to justify it with “well you must have been tired”, when, staying in bed until 10 or 11 just leaves me feeling with so much of the day wasted. The world, in the words of Calvin and Hobbes, (I think) is a magical place and let’s go exploring.

And the thing about it is, you can do it from your desktop if it’s raining. Well I could probably do it from bed with an iPad but somehow it’s less wasteful of time if you’re sitting at a desk rather than curled up under a duvet.

I have beside me tea, at least though, and the wherewithal to start exploring things I don’t yet know.

Visiting a different world – Baltimore in 1942.

I was at the Military Archives a couple of days ago, starting what looks as though it will be a long piece of research on an unexpected personal project, the collation of as much information as I can find on the subject of the EIRE signs which are being documented here. It was my first time at the archives, indeed in any archives at all, so I want, at this point, to take the opportunity to state that I found the staff at the Military Archives to be helpful far, far beyond my expectations. They are an absolute credit to their employers.

Part of the reason I was at the archives was to look at the logbooks of the lookout posts to find references to the construction of the signs. As far as I am aware, the signs were built between late 1942 and early 1944 with various adjustments to the signs in between time. I don’t have anything more exact than that for the moment. This means I’m at some disadvantage when looking at the log books – there is simply no short cut but to go through them all. There are 82 sets log books, and so, this is no small job. In a way, it is absolutely daunting.

Given the constraints of time, I requested one set of logbooks initially to basically get a feel for the sort of information and data I would be working on and the station I selected was Baltimore in County Cork. The EIRE sign associated with this post is still in place having been, I believe, renovated a few years ago, and while there’s an argument for starting from the beginning, with number 1, I chose, for my own reasons to start with number 29 because I am from Cork myself, although a long way distant from Baltimore. The county of Cork is not that small in the Irish scheme of things.

I’ll cut to the chase and state that I drew a blank on any comment about the sign and this piece is not about the sign in any case, it is purely the reason that on a beautiful April afternoon, I found myself sitting in a reading room in Cathal Brugha Barracks in Rathmines, visiting a place and time that is quite far away now. I looked through the logbooks for 1940 and for 1942 (and came no place close to being finished with them) the other day and I was quite simply mesmerised at just what extraordinary documents they are. So much so that I have other plans for research ideas regarding these documents when the signs project is more or less complete.

The logbooks were written by volunteers of the coastal watch service during the war. There is an excellent book on the subject of the coastal watch called Guarding Neutral Ireland by Michael Kennedy which I strongly, strongly recommend reading if you are interested in Ireland’s history during the second world war. I want, at this point, to talk about some of the things which struck me most about the logbooks themselves, and the utterly different world that they pointed to. A world which I strongly suspect is now beyond the imagination of a lot of people in this country; not just because there was a war going on, but because it really, really was a completely different world.

The logs were written into specially printed books called LOP logbooks. LOP stood for Look Out Post, and Baltimore, in Cork, was L.O.P. number 29. There were 83 of these dotted around the coast at approximately 10-12 mile intervals – that would be 16-20km intervals for the modern amongst you – and they were located to maximise coverage. Their locations bore a lot in common with previous efforts to coastwatch in Ireland so many of them are near or in the shadow of 17th and 18th watch towers, for example. Baltimore is not an exception, it lies just in front of what I believe is Spain Tower, a 19th century signal station for that particular coast watch. The tower is in better condition now than the look out post is.

The first records from the look out post in Baltimore were written in pencil, between the nice wide lines which were pre-printed. They are largely legible, although the paper itself is very clearly old, from times past. It smells that way and above all, it feels that way. The front cover is missing off it; it is missing off at least another one. At some point in 1940, however, someone decided they would get more use out of the logbooks if they ruled between the lines as well. From then on, every page I read was ruled between lines either with a normal led pencil or a garish pink colour which I believe to have been a pencil rather than a pen. I need to look at it more closely.

The handwriting, for the most part, is immaculate, and very, very legible, be it in pen or pencil, although somewhat easier in pen, even where the books were subject to some sort of water damage. They contain the mundane “took over watch” and “handed over watch” comments at every watch change which was 8am, 4pm and midnight. Each change of watch was signed off by what I assume was the NCO for the post – I don’t know enough yet. Interesting things struck me – I could tell when the pen was refilled with ink, for example, between the heavier flow, and, additionally, the increase in the number of blots which were noticeable. There are key stylistic differences between the early 1940 log and the 1942 documents – the 1942 documents were much more regimented and organised. The 1940 log had, in certain respects, more detailed and frequent weather information. Descriptions of planes were significantly more detailed in 1942 (and frequent). One log describes a plane flying around the Fastnet a number of times.

Little detalis caught my attention – reports of explosions, followed some hours later of phone calls from Baltimore Garda Station inquiring whether specific local and overdue trawlers had been seen. I assume that with no further queries – every call was logged – the trawlers turned up.

The next nearest LOP to Baltimore was in Toe Head, and Toe Head occasionally called to see if Baltimore had noticed things they had, or to confirm the sounds of explosions. There were regular exchanges of information with respect to the locations of mines. Initially, every observation of note relating to shipping and trawlers, and aircraft, were reported to Cork IO; by 1942, the messages were being relayed to Cork Message Centre instead. The phones, while a technical marvel to be located where they were, were regularly subject to test calls. Most daily reports in Baltimore related 1 or more test calls from the Garda Barracks in Skibbereen, often noted as Guarda Barracks, Skibb, at least one a day from Skibbereen Exchange, and, as 1942 wore on, Cork Telephone Exchange started to appear every few days.

Mizen Head occasionally contacted Baltimore with expected arrival dates for Irish ships leaving Lisbon with the request that the LOP volunteers watch for the ships.

Vessels heading for Baltimore Harbour were reported to the Garda Siochána in Baltimore; the planes and other ships generally went to the Message Centre in Cork. On one occasion, the Barracks in Baltimore contacted the LOP requesting the volunteers to watch for a man who had been spotted near the Beacon with a receiving set, and to hold him if possible and contact them immediately on sighting. No further comments about that appear from which I only conclude that the man with the receiving set was not located by the volunteers of the LOP.

At the end of 1942, the authorities took a substantial interest in the behaviour and location of a Spanish fishing trawler in the area, to the extent that as its stay at an anchorage point outside Baltimore wore on, the volunteers at the lookout post were reporting whether it had moved or not almost every hour. This was very different to the comments about the various other trawlers which passed, either nationality unknown, or nationality British and a registration number or name given.

Mostly, ships and aircraft passed nationality unknown, but as 1942 wore on, the descriptions of the planes, in particular, become more detailed. And one ship which passed was marked as nationality Panama.

A lot of things fascinated me about the books such as I have had time to study the first of them. Certain things struck me about the use of language, even limited and all was it was to specific subjects. And for every one person who has a mobile phone with a 9 digit number, it’s remarkable to see comments about personnel calling Kinsale 21. Imagine that, a two digit phone number. The verb to make a call to another location was “call up” as in “Called up Skibb Guarda Barracks”, and yes, Guarda featured as a spelling on several occasions. That aside, the spelling was generally accurate with the occasional recourse to the less frequently used Mizzen head rather than the current standard, Mizen. Elements of the handwriting also fascinated me.

I have, at the moment, a mandate to review these logbooks to support one personal project, the Eire signs. But as I start to read them, to look at them, and seeing some of the comments about those logs in Michael Kennedy’s book on the coastal watch service, I see other projects, not necessarily war installation or direct war history coming out of them. If I didn’t have to work all day, I could spend my days reading them given how fascinating them are.

 

A Coruna, Northern Spain

This time last week I was in Galicia, northern Spain. I went with family who had always wanted to go to Santiago de Compostela, but on one day, we got a train out to La Coruna because I insisted on seeing the Tower of Hercules which is a world heritage site there.

IMG_2669

When the people at the Hook talk about it being one of the oldest lighthouses in the world, it’s because this is actually older. In fact, it’s one of only two surviving Roman lighthouses although based on my understanding of its history it may not have been in continuous use from the 2nd century to today. But it’s still about nine hundred years older than the Hook signal all the same.

And I wanted to see it, so we got on the train to A Coruna last Monday morning and went to see the lighthouse. And climbed the 220 steps in it, and walked around the foundations, and marvelled at the engineering skills of years and many years gone by.

I loved A Coruna. I probably hadn’t done enough research before I went to Santiago because we didn’t have a whole pile of time and what we had was already crammed. So I didn’t know, until we got there, that A Coruna was the second biggest city in Galicia, being two and a half times bigger than Santiago (which is the fifth biggest city in Galicia, despite being the capital). So while I knew it was a big fishing port, I didn’t realise that it was, for example, twice the size of Cork city.

I could bear living there I think. It’s a decent sized city with a surf beach right in the centre, a stunning looking beach at that. The Deportiva football stadium is on the sea front and looks like a glittering jewel in the sunshine. I’m not a football fan but this looked quite impressive. The whole way a long that beachfront is a stunning prom to walk along which is even more stunning than the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Seriously. Up the coast from the Tower of Hercules are rocks with breaking white water that acts like adrenaline to a wave and spray junkie like myself.

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Of course, the one problem is my Spanish would take some improving. I got by but have big vocabulary gaps particularly in the area of food which surprised me. I can still remember a lot of the grammar and I was told by quite a few people that my Spanish wasn’t so bad.

I’ve spent lots of dream time thinking how nice it would be to live in a city with a decent job and a decent beach and the ability to go surfing almost at will. The existence of a three hour lunch break such as most of the shops appear to have would facilitate that as well. I thought that really, Cork was going to be the closest I’d make it in Europe, or maybe Biarritz, but frankly, even though I’d probably have to live in an apartment, A Coruna is suddenly top of the list. Even though I can barely speak Spanish and really have no qualifications in the fishing industry. Maybe they need junior statisticians down there.

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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.

waves and numbers and stuff