Up in the air and currently above the clouds, heading home after ten days in NI. In the way of these things, the time seems to have passed in a flash while the day I left home seems long ago. The weather has been kind, Uncle Bill’s birthday tea enjoyed by all but especially the man himself. The autumn colours have been beautiful, the dogs appreciative of their walks, Belfast abuzz.
On the final walk this morning there was a short shower of very fine rain. We’d left the house in sunshine, so I was doubly grateful it wasn’t a downpour, though a piece in the Guardian yesterday about the benefits of walking in wind and rain, and yesterday was very windy, may make me revise my opinion of wet weather walks (and encourage me to upgrade my waterproofs). Then there was a rainbow, arcing above the house where Poppy Junior lives. We didn’t see her, though we heard her barking in the house on the return leg. She knew we were there.
My friend Fiona who I met through the pages of WordPress has succumbed to COVID. We met in her garden yesterday after she had tested positive. I met one of her daughters which was lovely. I have read about her so often and seen so many photos it was delightful to meet her in person. Also met Harry, the dog. Again lovely, big ears, more bark than bite. We got on. Fiona was feeling perky. Not so today. But perky or not she would not have been able to come with me as planned to the Ulster Museum to see the small but perfectly formed Bloomsbury Group exhibition, or the larger and completely wondrous Light from the West exhibition which had me lusting after a Paul Henry painting of a sunrise. Annoyingly the museum has a very small postcard selection for sale, a selection which does not include this painting. Maybe she’ll get to both before they finish.
In 2019 Fiona and I had lunch at a place called Falafel at 9 Botanic Avenue. It was great. Last year, my first time back since the pandemic I took myself there anticipating a good lunch, only to find it very closed. I assumed it was a victim of COVID and lunched at a good, but not as good as Falafel, place a few doors up the road. Going along Botanic Avenue today on the bus I nearly had whiplash when I realised the restaurant was open. I am meeting Petra for lunch tomorrow, and suggested this is where we could eat. She’s agreed, so I am hoping it’s the same management and as good as before.
There’s something about dusting and vacuuming up two weeks worth of shed cat fur that is grounding. I’d say I am more or less back home mentally tonight as well as physically, though there is still a slight sense of dislocation. Maybe a trip to an exhibition, a play, something of that sort will reconnect me properly with London.
My dreams on Monday night were very muddled, switching between Ireland and home. MasterB was asleep at my feet, a comforting, constant presence. He has been very cuddly, very purry, very affectionate. I’m hoping Cousin is walking Westie Boy and Poppy now I have left. If she is, perhaps she has met Poppy Junior, the gorgeous young retriever at the bottom of the first hill. She, Poppy and Westie Boy have made overtures of friendship, mostly through the fence.
One more breakfast in Northern Ireland before I go home. Today was beautiful, bright sunshine and cool winds. Pretty perfect. We walked around Lough Beg this afternoon, admired the carvings of fox, badger and stoat, watched a calf digging in a sandpit – a first for all of us – gazed at the view of Church Island, and read the extracts from Seamus Heaney’s poems.
A couple of weeks ago, my cousin Mary’s son Richard was doing the same walk with his wife. They saw two women who they took to be mother and daughter taking picnic of each other in front of the view. Richard asked if they would like him to take a picture of both them. They did. Afterwards the four chatted. The older woman was Marie Heaney, Seamus’ widow, and the younger their daughter Catherine.
This evening’s walk was also lovely, though for half of it I had the company of Joshua, Cousin’s twelve-year-old grandson, or the Incredible Whinge, as I was calling him by the time Cousin came to take him away from me and leave me and the dogs to enjoy our walk without constant complaints about how far we were walking and how long it was taking. I hadn’t made him come, and when we were barely out of sight of the house and he talked of turning back I should willingly have accompanied him and then resumed the walk on my own. I’ll know next time he says he’ll walk with me to run out of the house before he has his shoes on.
We met Poppy Junior, the gorgeous young retriever, on the way back. All dogs were excited. Westie Boy so far forgot his manners he tried to mount her. Fortunately he is neutered and she seemed to have no idea what he was attempting. Poppy the Labrador wagged her tail, greeted Poppy Junior’s young mistress. If we had had somewhere we could have let all three dogs off the lead to play it could have been wonderful. As it was there were a series of frustrated play bows.
I can’t say I am comforted by the news about the numbers of people contracting Covid in the U.K.. Right now it seems Northern Ireland has the highest number of cases per capita. That said, I feel very safe here in the country. The rain came as promised today. My shoes are not waterproof, so the dogs had to make do with a game of football in the garden. They are keener on possession than passing, so we had two footballs, two games really. Westie Boy became rather excited, maybe it was the joy of having had his stitches removed. He grabbed my jeans when I moved to play with Poppy, something he has never done before. We played until the next shower and then came in. The vet was impressed with the striped pyjamas Westie Boy is wearing to keep his healing wounds clean. She said he should continue wearing them. Right now he is asleep on a cushion beside me. I am not keen on dressing up cats and dogs, but I have to admit he looks very sweet, and he certainly isn’t bothered by them. Nor does he look like a dog who would actively ran after a bigger dog to pick a fight. Appearances can be deceptive.
Cousin decided I should have a fire, so she lit the wood burning stove, and for much of today I have been feeding it, then retreating to the sofa to watch yet another episode of Baptiste, a series Cousin has got me hooked on. I have the window open, but it’s all rather a contrast with the hot weather of just two days ago. Poppy’s walks have been going well, and Westie Boy has now been given leave to join us. But it was when I was with Poppy alone a few nights ago that I saw the badgers. There were three of them, playing in the driveway leading up to a neighbours house. I think they were probably young. I have looked for them each time I have passed the house since, but no sign.
It’s odd, or perhaps interesting is the word I want, the things that give you street cred. In my case it’s never going to be my clothes or anything else about my appearance, though in my defence I can claim to have been a precursor of several clothing trends: Levi shrink to fit straight leg jeans when everyone else was in flares, a tweedy jacket several seasons before they featured on catwalks, and Adidas Stan Smiths decades before they became the in footwear. All of these were accidental, driven by economy and thrift.
Today was different. I was walking home from MCQ, a wonderful treasure trove of a shop owned by Clyde, and Mary Portus’ idea of a vision from hell. I was carrying my newly repaired amp. A man sitting outside a café on the Walworth Road beamed a huge smile at me and made continuous eye-contact. “NAD,” he said, “A 3020. Nice. Very nice.” I was beaming myself as I continued my journey home.
Some simple interactions like this can do so much to lift the spirits. I don’t think I’d recognise the man if I met him tomorrow, and I reckon unless I was again carrying my amp, he wouldn’t even notice me.
My MCQ collection was just one of the things of my to do list. I was working via Zoom in the morning so at home, tied to phone and internet. The flat needed cleaning. With the windows open these past weeks the amount of dust is startling. I am very glad I do not have asthma. I took some fabric to Rocket Van. They are going to photograph it for me to include in the virtual yard sales. They have turned down my Tourlet Lulu. I am realising people are prissy about second hand portable toilets, however little they have been used and however much they have been cleaned and disinfected. I’d hate it to end up in landfill, so I shall have to keep trying. Anyone here who goes camping/glamping/champing or makes long car journeys where public toilets may not be available, or whose toilet is unusable thanks to building work, or if you are just having problems with an on-board toilet on your boat, please get in touch. I can share pictures.
I’m on the sofa, MasterB is asleep in drawer under the bed, outside it’s raining steadily. I had my stitches out this morning and have been told to be careful, rest today, walk tomorrow and then in a week I should be all systems go. I haven’t had the results from the further excision but the hospital staff seem pretty confident they will be negative. All good. My next health issue will be making an appointment about the numbness in my left hand. It’s the old carpal tunnel problem, but it is so much worse since I broke my wrist. I am reluctant to have it fixed just yet because it means weeks of being one handed again, and for the moment I’d rather like use of all four limbs. I need to get to das Boot before the season is over to get on with the cleaning, and then see about putting it up for sale. Ideally I’ll be in the position to do that by July.
I managed to speak to Cousin and she is happy for me to come to stay. Now it’s a question, a big one, of seeing about cat care for MasterB and then the availability of flights. I read that there’s a company working on airships for shorter greener flights, such as the one between London and Belfast. I don’t think they’re going to be available for a couple of years, but it’s an encouraging development.
Yesterday I met my cousin Russell in Richmond. Ali Clarke, a friend of his, has an exhibition the One Paved Court gallery. You can see some of the exhibits by clicking here. I had looked online and was expecting large pieces but in reality they are are domestic in scale. I liked the arrangements of bits and pieces from her studio the best. Russell and I were going to the Private View, and we met several hours earlier, enjoyed a stroll through Richmond to the river, then went to the same pub Celia and I had enjoyed a couple of years ago. Sitting under a shady umbrella in the pub’s walled garden, pints of cool cider in front of us, the time passed quickly. B&J had also spent the afternoon in Richmond, but in another part of the wood, and they joined us at the gallery. Then it was another pub, more cider which we drank sitting on a bench overlooking Richmond Green. Very pleasant.
I have been working pretty solidly since getting home, the weekend no exception. I got back tonight and, having fussed MasterB, fed him, cleared the poo from the litter tray, I made my own evening meal. I lingered over it, knowing that when I put my fork down I needed to read some notes for work tomorrow morning when the alarm will be set for six thirty. So a few minutes ago, when i looked at some pictures from my recent holiday they were a welcome reminder of rest and relaxation.
A man came to the house with a book that belonged to his family. Generations past they kept a shop, and it seems my family were among the customers. Cousin and I scanned pages from the 1840s, worried perhaps we were going to find unpaid bills that would by now have accrued considerable interest. There were lots of sundries, quantities of leather, salt, tobacco and bread, but fortunately no outstanding debts. Phew.
Groceries and Sundries
Visiting Uncle Bill, now resident with his son, another of my cousins, we again admired the temperament of the two dogs, brother and sister, found with their mother abandoned by the side of the road in a ditch. They seem to have suffered no lasting trauma.
We reached the airport betimes, travelling on a section of road that only opened this morning. Maybe someone cut a ribbon in the pre-dawn, maybe there was a fanfare. I don’t know. Cousin thought it might be busy, but the cars were sparse and we had one of those once in a lifetime conversations where we admired the unpitted tarmac and the smoothness of the ride.
The journey was so quick that I was turned away from bag drop and told to come back in half an hour. I sat on a metal seat and ate my lunch. The airport seemed very quiet. Even security, an area I have learned can take a long time to pass through at Belfast International, was nearly empty. However, I set off an alarm when I passed the first scanner and had to remove my shoes, enter the thing that looks like the orgasmatron in that Woody Allen film, and submit to being patted down before I could collect my hand luggage and proceed.Continue reading →
I can see that if I am to keep my posts up to date on this holiday I shall have to work a bit harder. Today has been grey but still warm. We are promised rain tonight and tomorrow. So Cousin and I took the dogs out for a walk around five after I got home from a day of social activity. Good dogs both, walking well on their respective leads, allowed to stop and sniff, but not to eat any finds in the verges. As so often in the countryside some of the locals are unappreciative of the beauty of their surroundings. Meals from fast food joints are discarded, probably from car windows, and litter the verges and hedgerows. There are empty cans, polystyrene boxes, greasy paper bags. Hideous to you and me, but to Poppy a positive cornucopia of gourmet possibility. She is, after all, a Labrador, a breed not known for persnickety appetites. One of these mornings I mean to time how long it takes her to eat her meal. I would put it at something less than thirty seconds.
Poppy and Cousin stopped at the fungi, and Westie Boy and I continued up the last and steepest hill. Our goal, before we turned round was Angela’s blue hydrangea bush, but as passed along the road a volley of barks came from a white dog on the doorstep. The dog looked very much like Angela’s daughter’s Akita. The daughter lives next door to Angela, and every time we pass without this dog throwing itself against the door snarling and baring its teeth against the glass is a welcome moment. Maybe it wasn’t the Akita. Westie Boy and I didn’t stay around to find out. We quietly turned round and made our way back whence we had come. When the barking ceased and there was no sound of dog claws on the road behind us, I breathed easily once more.
We caught up with Cousin and Poppy near Cousin’s son’s house. The moment Westie Boy spotted her on the road ahead of us his ears pricked up and he increased his pace so the distance between us and Cousin narrowed in a trice. Continue reading →