Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Shopping Demon bit me

I went to Cork today. It wasn't exactly planned. I needed ink for my printer and when I tried to buy it locally, it was no longer available. No joy in asking in the store. No, we don't have it in stock was all the answer I got. So, off to the big city to get some.

It is a cold day with a North wind that would take your eyebrows off but the sun is shining and I saw a solitary swallow this morning, so summer is hovering out there somewhere. Therefore, an enjoyable trip on the bus.

I still had a bit of trouble getting the ink for my printer but finally found a supermarket which stocks it and which shall be nameless but it starts with the letter "T", and I bought two double packs (black and colour), so I should be ok for a while now.  Why is it, that if you have something for a couple of years, it becomes nearly impossible to get the "bits" such as ink for my printer?  Sigh, sigh.

I had a cup of tea and a scone at the Roundy Bar which is a great place to go if you are on your own, or even if you are not. You can sit outside on the pavement or inside where the furniture is scuffed and worn. There is a nice relaxed atmosphere and I enjoyed the break. The tea was good, too.

From the Roundy Bar I went to the Franciscan church to thank St. Anthony for all manner of things lost and found and to increase my store of goodwill with him in case anything else gets lost and needs to be found in the future. I love that church, it is so peaceful.

Of course I should have gone home after that but I didn't. Instead I bought a lip brush, new make up, a new shoulder bag which is just what I need when I am at the races tomorrow, earrings and a matching necklace (also what I need for the races...), a special patchy thing for my sore toe (well it was half price - the patchy thing, not my toe!), two regional newspapers just to see if I can write an article for them about my novels; oh, and I stopped off at the Cancer Charity Shop and bought a Len Deighton book London Match (I read it years ago, it is third in his Game,Set and Match trilogy which I really enjoyed). Finally, my bank account caved in and I got the bus home.

Altogether an enjoyable day! Shopping is such fun when you don't actually have to do any.


Saturday, 22 April 2017

Earth Day - is anyone in?

Today has been designated Earth Day. What does that mean, exactly?  This is where we live, on this planet revolving in outer space with all the stars and satellites. There are other worlds out there at an unimaginable distance from our own planet. When I am house-sitting in the country I love to go out on the lawn and look up at the stars of a summer's night. There they are, glittering away, keeping their orbits, as they have been doing for time immemorial. Gives you goosebumps, if you think about it, doesn't it?

We miss so many things simply because we don't take any notice of them. The poets have been pointing this out to us for centuries. We inhabit this planet and we should treat it like our own living room. Somewhere to welcome visitors, to relax in, somewhere we cherish.  Now, that is a sobering thought.

Let's go for a walk today and see what new things we can discover. If we live in a city, we can watch for the signs of spring in the trees (every street has a few trees) or we can visit a park and smell the warmth of the grass growing in the sun.  Or we can watch a cat sleeping in someone's garden (there's one tortoiseshell one which I see on my walks). If we go shopping and pass a florists, we can breathe in that heady scent of all the flowers on offer. There is so much to be thankful for and today, on Earth Day, is a good time to recall it.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Things you never needed to know (probably)

To misquote Shakespeare : I am a snapper up of unconsidered bits of information which no one needs to know. It's just a habit I picked up I know not where. For example, this morning I learned that scientists may have discovered why shoelaces come undone. If you pull on your sneakers of a morning and prepare for your jog, you might find that, along the way, the laces open and passers by will call your attention to this or you'll stand on the trailing bit of shoe lace and nearly trip up.
Apparently the scientists at California Berkeley University looked into this "shoelace knot failure". And now you want to know the answer, right? It's what keeps you awake at night. Well, the answer is interesting: the forces of a foot striking the ground stretches and then relaxes the knot, while a second force caused by the leg swinging, acts on the ends of the laces like an invisible hand. The expression "may the force be with you" has even more intriguing possibilities than I ever imagined.

Here's another bit of riveting stuff - and then I'm done, promise! Researchers at the University of Sussex and University College London found that the word "please" was used nearly twice as much by the British compared to Americans. Not surprising from a nation which likes to form orderly queues or lines to use the American term. I have my doubts, though. Let's face it, if you travel on the Underground in London, the word "please" is used countless times as in "Please mind the gap!"

There is nothing like dropping one or two of these bits of information into your conversation the next time you are stuck for small talk. I remember telling someone that, according to statistics, it rains in England on Fridays more than any other day of the week. I was actually escorting this person from Reception to my (big) boss's office and was a bit desperate how to keep the conversation flowing and it was a Friday and it was raining...  Anyway, he was so amused that he repeated it to my boss who thought it showed remarkable intelligence on my part - but I won't go in to that.

Happy Easter / Happy Holidays to all my readers.

🐇🐑

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Toddlers and Travels

I read somewhere that the new airline regulation banning laptops and large smart phones etc. from cabin luggage on some flights was causing consternation with parents travelling with small children.
What can you do with a toddler on a 3-hour flight, say? There have been a lot of suggestions and tips and I would like to add my - not to be taken too seriously - three ideas to mitigate the situation.
Having been on flights with truculent three-year-olds before toddlers were au fait with laptops and tablets, believe me, I feel for the lone parent on such journeys. Kids never sleep when you want them to. I recall my daughter fretting all the way to Frankfurt and then falling into the Land of Nod as we circled the airport for landing, and being extremely irritated at being woken up.

Anyway, for what they are worth, here are my three little tips for the journey: Tongue in cheek everyone!

  1. Remember when you said you'd never ask your mother-in-law for a favour and you could get along just fine without her help/interference?  Now might be the time to re-think that rash statement, review your opinion of her parental skills (maybe your husband would have been like that anyway regardless of his upbringing) and ask if she'd take the kids while you fly off to wherever.
  2. Keep your little darlings up late the night before the trip. Oh, once on the airplane, they'll fight off sleep/drowsiness as if it were the plague and their voices will get really shrill but if you hang on to your patience they will eventually doze off, especially if you read them a story in a monotonous voice.  If this is the first time you have read them a story, of course, they might be so excited/enthralled that they stay awake and insist on more. Which is another way of keeping them quiet, so worth a try.
  3. Lastly - and this worked remarkably well for me - stuff as many colouring books and crayons as you can into your hand luggage along with a pack of cards and a few board games suitable for toddlers. They won't want to colour in pictures or learn anything but by the time you have exhausted your efforts to get them interested, you will have either a) engaged the attention of another adult who might help in diverting them or b) you will have arrived at your destination.
 Safe journey if you are travelling!

Friday, 10 March 2017

Getting along with the Brits

I saw a headline on the BBC website this morning entitled "How to Survive the British Workplace". Apparently researchers are examining the culture of politeness. They found, for example, that the British use the word "please" nearly twice as much as their American counterparts. Advice on the BBC website said newcomers at work should "be on time, go for a pint after work with colleagues, and be polite". Not too difficult, eh?

Be that as it may, the subject made me remember my first introduction to working in London - too many years ago to tell you exactly when that was!  I came from friendly Ireland, where newcomers at work are questioned about their origins, are shown where the tea and coffee are kept, where the bathroom is, the closing times of all the local shops and the best place to buy your cheese sandwich. I started off in the typing pool of a big advertising agency in Green Park where my job was to type invoices (ah, yes, in those pre-computer days, invoices were typed up and offices resounded to the friendly clack of typewriters). No one spoke to me (except the supervisor, a lovely motherly lady who had lived in Kenya). I found it hard to understand the English accents and they found it hard to understand my Irish brogue. There was a shop on the premises and everyone cleared off at lunch time and bought their sandwiches there without telling me. I thought they all hated me. To be fair, I must admit that I was very shy and completely over-awed at working in such a glamorous place in London's West End. Which didn't help!
Resigned to my fate, I crept to my desk every morning and pretended to be invisible. Then, when I had been there about a week, the girl at the desk next to mine passed some comment to me about the group Fleetwood Mac. At that time, Fleetwood Mac had a huge hit with "Albatross" and I was an out and out fan. Which I told my companion. It turned out she was dating the drummer, I think it was the drummer but can't be sure after all these years. This chance remark sealed my fate and suddenly all of the girls were chatting away and including me in their conversation and telling me their life stories. It was like being back in Dublin!
When I had changed jobs a few times, I discovered that the British are simply reserved, not to say shy, in many cases. They like to eye you up before trying to get to know you. It's just the first week that can be a bit quiet. After that they are great fun to work with and I certainly enjoyed my working years in London.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Carnival in Germany

I think it is a shame that Ireland is not into carnival. We celebrate St. Patrick's Day with parades and  drowning the shamrock. We celebrate winning at International Rugby, Football (in season) and Horse Racing. Cheltenham is coming up and already there is a fever in the air at the prospect of spending a few days away and maybe, just maybe, having the winner of the Gold Cup. Yes, I'll be putting some money on and watching it on television. My point is, we are good at celebrating and holding parades so I wonder why carnival never caught on either in Ireland or England. All we end up doing is eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Sounds a bit tame in comparison, doesn't it?
When I lived in Germany I was amazed when someone explained about "Fasching" which is their word for carnival. I would never have thought that the somewhat stiff and formal Germans would indulge in such frivolities. They do, and they really let themselves go. The carnival season starts at 11 minutes past 11 on the morning of the 11th day of the 11th month, that's 11 a.m. on November 11th in case you're lost. A king and queen of carnival is chosen for each town and village and they attend all the balls and other events which are held.  They dress up with crowns and sumptious gear, too. My neighbours took it very seriously and had a different costume for each of the balls they went to.
The last three days before Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins, are the wildest part. In the town where I lived there was a parade on Rose Monday (Rosenmontag) which ended in the storming of the town hall. We had a real cannon which shot confetti into the air and onto the balcony of the town hall until the mayor came out with his staff and "surrendered". We all then rushed inside where food and music and drinks were provided. Everyone danced. My children loved it.
I would like to attend the carnival in Venice with its masked balls but I have a sneaking suspicion that although very elegant, it wouldn't be half the fun. Now, the mardi gras in New Orleans or a trip to Rio where no one sleeps for the three days before Ash Wednesday (or so I'm told) would be certainly unforgettable - in more ways than one.
Failing that, I might try to be in Germany or Austria come to that, which also celebrates carnival, for next year's season. To my readers in Germany a big : Helau!

Friday, 17 February 2017

Reading the Right Stuff

There is nothing more pleasurable than relaxing with a good book - at least from my point of view. To pour that cup of tea and snuggle down among the cushions, knowing that you are going to be entertained, is one of the nicest things in a sometimes scary world. 
I read Icarus by Deon Meyer and loved every twist and turn in the plot. Not for the plot itself, maybe, although that was interesting, but for the characters within the novel's pages and the description of the area around South Africa's Cape Town. I felt like an insider in the Police Department. I browsed through the glossary of Afrikaans terms at the back of the novel and smiled at more than one. And I learned enough about wine growing to make my next purchase a South African wine. Really great stuff. Deon Meyer writes the Benny Griesel series and this was one of the novels in that series.

I have just finished reading Land of Shadows by Rachel Howzell Hall. Hall is a black American writer who lives in Los Angeles where the story is set. Again, this was a terrific read and I enjoyed every minute. And again, this was largely due to the characters and Hall's mastery of the writing craft. She pulled me into the story in the first few pages. I was inside The Jungle, and The Jungle represents every failed inner city housing programme in every country around the world. Here are two sentences which size up the book and Hall's wonderful style of writing: "The neighborhood was bad when I was a kid, but in a candy-is-bad-for-you kind of way. Now, though, it was bad for you like swallowing Drano followed by rat poison chaser".  Need I say more?  Rachel Howzell Hall writes the Detective Elouise Norton series and this novel was one in that series. I had not heard of her before and am very grateful to my local library that this novel was among some of their recommended reads.

Currently I am reading A Question of Faith by Donna Leon, set in Venice, it is a Commisario Brunetti story. I have to admit that I tried reading Donna Leon several years ago but gave up as I couldn't warm up to her style. This is my second time around and I am enjoying it. Last month I picked up Through a Glass Darkly by Leon at the library, though feeling somewhat sceptical about it. However, it grew on me.  I have been to Venice a number of times: once during a bad storm in late October when the city felt eerie and mysterious after dark and a few years later in the middle of a heatwave in July.  Having wandered the city on my own, stood on the Rialto bridge in the pouring rain and bargained for sweatshirts with Venezia emblazoned across them for my kids (who weren't remotely impressed), I feel I know the city in the novels.  Leon writes in a very different style than Meyer or Hall. Although we read about the corruption and the frustrations of some of the city's inhabitants, I don't think we feel it too deeply, at least I did not. Not like Hall's depiction of The Jungle in her novel, at any rate. But perhaps that's a good thing. It does make for pleasant reading and mild curiosity about how the story is going to pan out. Donna Leon is a very popular writer and she deserves it. Her prose is elegant, her characters are attractive.
I am not a fan of violent graphic crime novels, although I do like them to be realistic. Above all, I like good prose and that is what I have found in all three of the above novels - and hats off to Deon Meyer's translator, whose name escapes me at the moment.