The Black Valley in the snow

Back earlier in the year, Peter Cox was posting photographs to his twitter feed of shots he had taken when there was a particular quantity of snow in Kerry and I promised myself then that at some stage this year, I would make my way to his gallery and buy myself one of those prints. I don’t really like buying prints over the internet – I like to actually see and respond to them first. But I did love his snow photographs.

A couple of weeks ago, I got to drop into his gallery in Killarney and look at his photographs. It is a gorgeous gallery of photography, beautifully lit, and with some stunning photographs. He has a gorgeous one of the Fastnet, and some lovely photographs of the area around Killarney, and Iceland and various other places he has been.

I eventually chose to buy this photograph although there was one other that I thought I would prefer in the flesh, so as to speak which I may yet purchase in the future. When I have a house and walls to hang these things on.

If you’re in Killarney, I strongly, strongly recommend you take a look in at Peter’s gallery – it’s in the middle of the town and you can’t really miss it. Ireland is a much photographed country. I’m not going to say we are fortunate to live in such a beautiful part of the world because in my experience, outside the cities, most parts of the world are inherently beautiful. A lot of cities are as well but from a scenery point of view, nature always has something to give. Peter’s photographs of the southwest are amongst the best I have seen.

Something new

I know. It’s a banal kind of a headline. Headline writing has never by my strongest suit.

Last week I registered at University College Dublin as a full time student for a taught Masters in Science in computer science. Yes, yes I did.

I am incredibly lucky. I found myself at a confluence of time where I a) was able to leave work to do this b) able to fund it for one year and c) was given a place on the course to do it.

Not a lot of people are so fortunate, not when they are my age anyway.

My life has changed a lot and despite a lot of unknowns, such as what the weather will be like in January, and how long I will cope with the idea of getting two buses to college every morning instead of driving for 15 minutes, I am incredibly relaxed about this. And very happy.

I’m not really into termtime yet – lectures start on Monday so it’s all going to be terribly exciting, and no doubt, a complete shock to start dealing with studying and assignments again on a full time basis rather than on a when I have time after work basis. There is a lot of autonomy here, and a huge onus on myself to achieve what I want to achieve.

I’m focusing on data analytics and if you’ve any vague interest in this, I’ll occasionally be blogging on that and related tech matters on this other blog which I have.

Una Mullally’s making a list, kind of

Una Mullally wrote a piece for today’s Irish Times. It was called “The 60 Most Creative People in Ireland“.

I have some issues with it. Mainly encapsulated in this neat little disclaimer included as paragraph 6. Don’t worry if you missed it.

 don’t give out to me about a lot of these being Dublin-focussed. That’s where I live, so that’s where I interact with most creative stuff. SOZ LEITRIM, etc. Also, DECLARATION OF MULTIPLE INTERESTS: I do know some of these people, but that’s life, innit

Any writer worth their salt and having the guts to stand over what they are writing would not include any sentence along the lines of “Don’t give out to me because…” blah blah.

Either you can stand over it or you can’t and clearly, something titled “in Ireland” shouldn’t need to be defended with “and a lot of them are from Dublin because that’s where I live“. As for

I do know some of these people

Amazing.

I wonder what the overlap is.

 

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.