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Poetry and its place

I did not much enjoy English class in secondary school and this is something which people around me find difficult to believe. I read an immense amount and sometimes that is even in the form of books and I like writing. Surely to God English class should be my happy place.

Most of it after the age of 13 was literary appreciation and depressing enough at that. I think one of the greatest books ever published is Exploring English Three, the collection of short stories (and I hope to hell my version, with Augustine Martin’s notes is at home somewhere because I don’t much appreciate Joseph O’Connor). School ruined my enjoyment of it. Anyway, that’s a side note.

I don’t own a lot of poetry books and what I do own is split between here and there, But for the last year, I have had a regular pilgrimage trip to the poetry section of my local Waterstones.

I live in Brussels. I can also buy English books in FNAC, but no poetry, and Filigranes (very limited poetry). Mostly I buy non-fiction and some fiction. I buy books in French as well. But I don’t have a huge poetry collection and don’t especially want loads of poetry. I consider poetry to be chicken soup for the soul, something of a comfort blanket that I dip into as and when I need.

So why the pilgrimage?

Well, when I went to Waterstones for the first time, it occurred to me that they should, if they had a poetry section, have an anthology of Robert Frost. I already owned one but it is in storage, somewhere, and given I arrived when quarantine ruled out travel to Ireland, finding that copy of Frost was not going to happen. But books can be justified as they do not cost as much as CDs. Robert Frost is my favourite English language post after Patrick Kavanagh.

[cf that note about English class at school. It left me wholly unimpressed by William Butler Yeats]

He wasn’t there. There would only be stopping by woods on an iPad screen for the time being. Or possibly a kindle.

Robert Frost being a major poet, and possibly the greatest of the American poets in my humble opinion based on being sh1t bad at English in school. I assumed he was just temporarily out of stock. So I figured I’d check back the next time. It was a bookshop; it was unlikely that it would be long before I went back in there. It was quite a busy one too so stock turnover had to be reasonably frequent.

And there he wasn’t again, and again, and again. I considered ordering it, or ordering it from amazon, and then I bought a book of Edward Lear’s nonsensical but heartwarm poems, illustrated. Eventually, it became a habit to look through the poetry section every time although after several months I wondered how cultured the buyers were that Robert Frost never showed up.

Which brings me to this morning. I picked up some fantasy fiction by the genius that is Garth Nix, and then I briefly wandered to the poetry section to not find Robert Frost and found reality did not match my expectations. Robert Frost had finally arrived.

My home feels complete now.

And for the record, I got a C in Leaving Cert honours English. I think I dealt with George Herbert’s The Collar, mostly because that was the one that was printed on the paper and it meant I did not have to remember quotes from memory.


In theory, what I am doing now is getting out a bunch of broadnibbed Pilot pens designed specifically for lettering and calligraphy. I have a lot of them. They come in 4 sizes and at some stage I discovered you could, if you had one of those fantastic tool things that cost a fortune, hack them. I don’t have one of those tools but I am hoping my brother in law does. So I have quite a few of them with a view to getting some of them hacked to draw parallel lines.

Also you can do cool things mixing colours (probably not with black but I will try that later on tonight). The thing is, I’m currently useless at lettering, but I have one calligraphy book with me (there are probably 2 or 3 in Ireland – this is not a new thing with me) and I am now putting some time into practising (admitting this may be the kiss of death for the skill actually). I’m learning to do Foundational Script and I am struggling with the letter S. I’m also interested in learning how to do illuminated initials (think Book of Kells for a ball park idea of my current aspirations). So instead of mooching around on the internet, I really should be practising the lettering so that soon, I can do exciting renditions of everyone’s names.

First though, some updates. I’m leaving Luxembourg. Job transfer, moving to Brussels. There are worst places to go than Brussels (Dublin is on that list for example) and I’ved lived there before. But Luxembourg has been an unexpected joy. It’s a stunning city, and it is a great country. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to make most of my hobbies work here apart from going to the seaside. Here is the first place I had a piano in the apartment, I’ve safely lived on my own for almost 4 years, and it’s been easy to go to France, Germany and Belgium. Of course, this is absolutely not the greatest time to be trying to arrange an international housemove and my hope that things would be reasonably okay until I had at least got the furniture moved is looking somewhat faint at the moment.


But this isn’t (yet) about the practicalities of moving. I was walking around the city this afternoon doing things I won’t be able to do many more times – this consists wandering around what is an exceptionally gorgeous city full of banks, admittedly, but lots of gorgeous buildings, often hidden around corners. I found shops to support most of my hobbies (and thus, take money off me, including today with another couple of parallel pens so that I can ink two or three the same size in different colours). I hired a piano for the last few years; it’s going back, and I’ve been very happy with my friends at Kleber who also allowed me to play any of their display pianos, including the most beautiful Steinway Model D which made my heart sing. Thanks for everything. I have also spent quite a bit of money in Ernster, Hoffman and Buropolis mostly on pens and mechanical pencils. My Caran d’Ache collection has grown as has my Pelikan. When I arrived here, there was also a bookshop called Libo where I did stationery damage too. Bookshop wise, the aforementioned Libo, every branch of Ernster, the Librairie Francaise and Alinea got quite a bit of money out of me. FNAC did not for some reason, not sure why. These are the kinds of places I browse.

Food wise, I had some regular places like Siegfried near Glacis, Ambrosia, Kin Khao and Oberweis on the Grande Rue which I will really really miss. A big shout out to the staff in all these places.


It’s hard to pick out a favourite place in Luxembourg. I just liked walking around the city; there are some stunning buildings there, like the the Ministry for Culture, the Palais Ducal, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Chambre des Deputés but frankly, it’s much better to walk around the city and be overwhelmed by the numbers of turrets and crenelations. The former HQ of Ar Bed is also a stunning building in the Gare district and of course, there is the Adolphe Bridge.

Ministry for Foreign Affairs

That Bridge was being restored/reinforced when I arrived and it was rather beautifully covered in a wrap which looked like a sticking plaster. Heal the Adolph Bridge. They built a temporary bridge next to it to take the traffic. I could not imagine them doing anything like that in Ireland.

Dismantling the temporary bridge

When I arrived in Luxembourg in November 2016, the Christmas markets had just started. I’d left a cold miserable Dublin behind where I’d had troubles with the car, issues with the skip country, and other minor stresses. Arriving into what looked look a total winter wonderland in Luxembourg was magical. It was extraordinary and I loved it.


During the last few years, I was privileged enough to meet Xavier Bettel and attend a talk by Leo Varadkar. I got to explore extraordinary Roman ruins in Trier. I explored all the evidence of dragons in Metz. I went to Nancy. I don’t feel I have come anywhere close to seeing enough of the country or the region around it. I’ve had the luxury of public transport direct to work, or walking when the weather was helpful (most evenings). In terms of life quality, it is the best I have every known. The best street parties I have known are the National Feierdag in June – a much more sensible time to have a national holiday than March. Sure the fireworks are late but hey…

20170622_230207 - Video of fireworks

I leave it in highly unusual times, however. The newspapers in Luxembourg are talking now of the second wave. March to June 2020 were tough; I live on my own and during the lockdown, that was really, really hard. We did not have National Feierdag parties this year; SChouberfouer has been cancelled although the city of Luxembourg has put effort into scaled down summer activities at the moment. It really is a great place to live. I’m sorry to be going now; not sorry to be washing up in Brussels, another stunning city, but all the same.


I used, when I lived in Dublin, say that once you’d been travelling anywhere at all it was hard to settle down anywhere else; you left pieces of yourself all over the place. I’m leaving a good chunk of my heart in Luxembourg, with its people, the colleagues I have known through work who have become good friends, the businesses I dealt with, the cash assistants in my local supermarket who were the only humans I met for 3 months this year, the way it’s just such a cool city to live in. I’d like to think I’ll be back but who knows. But the sun will always be shining in my memories of this wonderful country and its capital city.

20170102_111806 Luxembourg in Winter


It is a truth universally

I missed yesterday. In fact, I was lazy having done broadband battle and really, I had just Had Enough. But I now have a decent data cap on my broadband which should hopefully support the whole homeworking lark. I just had to queue for half an hour to get into one of the shopping centres to go to one of the three Orange phone shops left open in Luxembourg. The country, not the city. We are truly living in weird times and now my laptop refuses to play audio. This is a pity because I’m inclined to play more stuff from youtube courtesy of more data.

Anyway, today, apparently, was Thursday. I have to confess that it’s only taken this many days for me to realise the days of the week almost have no meaning for me at all. At some point, I suppose, it will be Saturday but I may have to get up anyway because I am managing the whole grocery shopping thing. I went at 7.10 this morning. Mistake. I need to go at 7.05 to try and avoid the queue. There were already ten people ahead of me so I had to wait. But it wasn’t for long. You fly through the shopping when the place is empty and there are no queues at the cash desk.

Then you find out the bread is no longer at the bakery, but somewhere inside the grocery store so off you go in again, this time looking for bread. There’s an added dollop of feeling stupid. Of course they are limiting queuing at the bakery by simply closing it.

Today has been an odd day for many reasons but not least the fact that as of Monday, there will be no passenger flights in and out of Luxembourg; and also, the TGV link to Paris is being canceled. CFL’s train service is being drastically cut back as well. People just aren’t moving all that much. The city bus service will be down to a Sunday service if they chop it much more. There are a few cars, but still not that many. Today, more people were out walking. It’s as if they realised, we need to do this while we can; before they tell us we cannot leave at all.

Today it was the smell of daffodils I noticed. The weather has been beautiful; gorgeous sunny during the day. I hung out washing at some point. I’d love to say it’s the first sign of summer except I looked at the five day weather forecast and it’s going to start freezing again. Properly. Like, minus five level of freezing. Of course that is five days away and we might be lucky. It might be so cold. But the queuing, if it is, will be hard.

I’m finding teleworking hard. I’m not sure I am temperamentally suited to it and I really don’t like the isolation. I feel sorry for the cash assistants; they’ll be the only people that people like me even see on a regular basis. They’ll be engaged in so much chat at a time when they just want people to move on, at least 2 metres away please.

There was one beautiful shine on the day. Jennifer Ehle, a British actress best known for playing Elizabeth Bennett in a 1995 BBC television series, started reading Pride and Prejudice live on her instagram account today. It truly was a thing of beauty.

I bought a hand blender lately

I’m going to spare you an ode to the iron I bought; I haven’t yet unpacked it. 

But I bought a handblender yet. You don’t need to know any details about it except it has a metal blade attachment, came with a cutter tool that resembles a baby food processor, and it also came with a jug type thing. That jug type thing, and the metal blade attachment were my selection criteria, that and not costing 120E while not being a supermarket own brand that I have never heard of. 

I wanted to make my own smoothies. I wanted to do this because most smoothies I buy seem to have added sugar in them. I don’t want or need this. I have a basic recipe and it goes like this. 

You will need the following stuff

  • a hand blender
  • something to blend the stuff in
  • a citrus squeezer of some description. 
  • a knife. 
  • a dessert spoon
  • a banana or some papaya
  • strawberries or blueberries or mango
  • some no-sugar added natural yogurt. I use a set yogurt with very low sugar content
  • some orange juice
  • some ground ginger, 
  • a lime

Here is how you do it:

  • Chop some (say, four) strawberries/some mango, some blueberries) into your something to blend the stuff into. 
  • Chop the banana/papaya into that something
  • Add the juice of one lime, or half a lime if you are a wimp
  • Add “some” ground ginger. Err on the side of caution (I like a lot, but that should be no reflection on you. 
  • Add two dessert spoonfuls of yogurt
  • Top up with orange juice. I generally advise against the stuff with pulp as cleaning that out is a hassle, particularly by hand. 
  • Use the blender to liquidise everything. 
  • Remove and rinse the blender attachment immediately. Dried on smoothie is a bitch to clean off. 
  • Decant some smoothie into a glass. Enjoy. 

I bought a sewing machine lately

On Good Friday, 2019, to be precise. I had been angling for one for around 10 years but had never quite….got there. Until now. 


I had a conversation with a friend lately on the question of clothing; we both focus on the comfort of clothing, in my case, because I am so damn glad to find clothes that fit me that the colour matching is completely a secondary concern. I am Between Sizes. I have always been Between Sizes because I have DD cup breasts. It doesn’t matter what size I am, I am between sizes. 

I live with it. 

The problem is when you find clothing styles you like and the vendor discontinues them. I have serious issues sourcing nightwear at the moment, and swimsuits are a hassle too, causing a decision to quit Speedo after nearly 25 years of loyalty to the brand. And it occurred to me that in theory (note those two words as they may come back to haunt later) it should be possible to dismember clothes I like but which are no longer respectable to wear in company (that would be those two purple/lilac coloured tops, there, which I bought at least 7 years ago but refuse to give up because I like how they fit) and use them to creat basic patterns, particularly the non-stretchy fabric (that would be that last remaining shortish satin nightdress that I need to fix the dart on and really should throw out as I can’t even begin to remember when it was bought but we’re probably talking ca 10 years ago). 

One of my friend bought an overlocker. No, I didn’t know what one of those was either but she made a skirt using it, and it did not appear to have been a particularly high mountain to climb. I am a logical person sometimes. I reason, this works like computer stuff and knitting patterns. There are instructions, you follow them, and 10 years later or so, when you get around to finishing stuff, you have a wearable. 

I kind of need a shorter timeline than ten years would be helpful but recent experience of finishing two doilies started ten years ago gives me a fresh view of my motivation sometimes. Anyway. I went looking at the three sewing machine shops and found one with staff I liked/found friendly/found helpful, and agreed to buy a Brother A16 sewing machine. It cost 30E more than its older brother, the A15. The A15 was a beautiful looking machine. The A16 was a bit boxier looking. I asked what the difference was and was told that the needle threading mechanism was easier to work on the A16 to the A15. As I expect to have the machine for at least 10 years, I ignored the more esthetically pleasing A15 and bought the miracle of engineering that was the A16. The fact that the single most common complaint about the A15 in amazon reviews related to the needle threading and my lack of patience with that may have contributed. The shop sales staff trained me in threading the needle and the bobbin, several times, and away I went. 

I’m nothing if not ambitious. I bought a whole pile of fat quarters and plan to make some napkins for my house and for my sister’s house. I can’t wear these of course, but I need to get the hang of basic stuff like a) sewing in a straight line and b) putting enough thread on the bobbin so as not to run out in the middle of something. I also need to read the manual. 


But on Good Friday, I felt it would be a good idea to unpack it and try and figure out how I was going to fit it into my desk area. I have no other options – the desk where I paint and write blog entries is also where I will be sewing and cutting. So I also decided that sewing would be useful. 


So yeah I had a go at sewing, and trying to style photographs of me sewing. 

That was about my fourth attempt. I put up a hem and tried parallel lines too. Then I looked up YouTube videos and tried to figure out how I would make some napkins. It turned out the answer was “buy more fat quarters”. So I went back and did that. 

Then I discovered you had to wash and iron fabric before you sewed it. So I have about a dozen and a half fat quarters drying on the clothes horse and a deep desire to iron stuff so that I can start making napkins, either later today, or tomorrow. 

The washing them…was interesting. I’m starting to wonder if I should like, tack them before hand given that the edge threads are prone to rip. Some one of the blog instructions I read stated that you could do like 8 napkins in 2 hours but she didn’t include washing, drying or ironing in that time, as far as I can see. 

In general though, I have found the sewing world remarkably honest. You need stuff when you are starting off. It’s not a case of “just buy yourself some needles and away you go”. No. 

Buy the following items. 

  • sewing machine
  • scissors
  • needles for your sewing machine
  • pins
  • probably a pin cushion
  • chalk marking pencil
  • iron
  • ironing board

Where the scissors are concerned, issue death threats should someone be dumb enough to use your new and recommendedly the best you can afford to buy fabric scissors for anything other than fabric. I have no potential victims so I think I will be okay. But it’s refreshing that they recognise that you need to invest a certain amount of money up front. I had to buy an iron and ironing board for example. And I need to find homes for all these things. 

Brexit et al

There was a time I used to comment on political and day to day stuff but at some point, it got far too tedious, around the time the UK voted for Brexit and the US voted for Trump. 

As long as I live, I will never understand why. 

However, apparently there is an upside to Brexit. It will put up the cost of Lyons Tea in Ireland. Apparently a load of people in Ireland, many of them Dubs, believe Lyons Tea is Irish. Well it isn’t, any more. 

If you want true Irish Tea, Barrys is where it is at. Never without it. 

Planners and organisers – work

I bought another Filofax during the week, another Finsbury. It’s my second and I feel a bit bad about that as they are not cheap, they are self indulgent and there are cheaper solutions around but…But I operated on a single notebook for a long time and that wasn’t cutting it any more.

I have two Metropolitan Filofaxes somewhere in storage and I needed to solve immediate problems which is why I didn’t wait until I could go looking for them. During the year I bought a Filofax to try and be able to organise my personal life and cross reference it at least with work commitments. This was all fine for 2 or 3 months – work was generally organised using a notebook with a stripped down version of the bullet journaling system. Essentially at work I did the following:

  • basic agenda
  • to do lists
  • meeting notes

It wasn’t complicated and mostly it worked in chronological order. I occasionally cross referenced stuff using the page numbers but it would have been easier if I could move pages. It worked until I went on holidays in September, and then when I came back, my workload increased such that managing things on a day by day basis became borderline impossible. I needed something a bit more flexible and able to cope with sudden increases in workload. I toyed with multiple notebooks, looked at my digital options, and eventually decided what I wanted was rearrangeable pages. But I didn’t want that to be A4 sized as it is a hassle to lug folders around the place. In the end, I decided that work probably merited a filofax of its own so I ordered one during the week and used up some amazon vouchers.

Both Filofaxes which I bought this year are FInsburys. I chose them because I could get the Aqua colour which I liked locally, and the texture of the cover is very pleasing. I bought a Raspberry coloured one for work. The storage areas in the leather cover are handy but not deal breakers at the end of the day.

One of the things I noticed the minute I bought the work one was that what I needed from it was a lot more flexibility and a lot more bits. I have a section for filofax admin until the habits I need are built up. For example, I use colour as an organisational tool and in the notebooks that was generally off different coloured pens. Filofax comes with assorted colours of paper and I use blue for to do lists and yellow for meeting notes, for example. Remembering things like that are habits that need to be built. The plus side though is that I just use blue pens now and there is one blue and one black pen attached to the organiser.

But now I can break down work in terms of categories, be those categories projects, departments or assorted tasks within business as usual. This is extremely handy because it means that – for example – meeting notes or work notes are stored by category rather than date. They are easier to find.

Being a social media child, I went on pinterest and instagram to look at other people’s filofaxes and what strikes me is that there is a major focus on appearances there. Lots of headers in brush script, lots of washi tape. Even where they deal with trying to organise work, it has no relationship to the kind of work I am trying to do.

I work in IT management. A pretty day page that has a to do list with space for 8 items is unworkable for me. My daily to do list regularly runs to 20 or 30 items. There is no real coverage of the business of actually having a job, but plenty to the business of running a social media site.

I want my planner to look beautiful – I’m of an artistic leaning my self – but I also need it to be professionally useful. The key issue with Filofax over the years – and why I have failed with them in the past – is that their paper has been pretty dire in the future. This is something they appear to have fixed.

Starting an organiser in November is…interesting though. I’m not a huge fan of the vertical week on two pages for work – I have historically used a month on two pages and then transferred meetings into the daily lists. But one of the reasons I wanted to move away from the notebook is that I really didn’t have the time ot be drawing up the agenda pages myself any more so for the remaining 2 months of this year, I’ll use the planner that came in the filofax and sort things out differently for next year.

After that, what I need are lots of unmarked dividers. Both filofaxes came with numbered dividers 1-6 and I wish that Filofax would reconsider this. So one of my first purchases to feed the filofax habit has always been unmarked dividers that I could mark myself.  The other main thing is to ensure that you have an adequate supply of the paper you use. I haven’t tended to use the filofax to do list preprinted for my personal stuff but I am finding them useful for my work filofax for use as a master to do list. This basically is all the stuff that I have to do but not stuff I necessarily have to do today. To be honest, trying to manage this wrecked my head with the notebook solution so movable pages is dead handy here.

In the meantime, I continue to look at planners and filofaxes on Pinterest and Instagram for ideas about organising the paper, whatever about the content. I struggle with writing around the rings – this is something I will just have to get used to. Mostly, I’m really only interested in things like printed dividiers, how people organise dashboards.

For me, I’d say that the following items are required:

  • some sort of calendar agenda
  • blank paper of your choice, be it lines, grid, blank, dotgrid
  • at least 1 book mark and probably 2
  • Page markers
  • Dividers.
  • some sort of hole punch. I use the cheaper plastic one that fits i the planner itself.

After that… your options are fairly unlimited. Basic point is, you can find stuff so put effort into ensuring that you understand why things wind up in separate sections.

My primary sections at work are:

  • calendar
  • daily to do list
  • master to do list
  • meeting notes
    • these get moved to the relevant project when complete – this is to ensure I always have meeting note paper
  • projects
    • subdivided as required
  • work journal.
  • careers planning

I tend to think it’s important to review each day, and note any important stuff on an ongoing basis and review those notes from time to time to ensure that you are aware of what is going on and how different people are reacting.