Thursday 26 December 2013

Slade, Carols and Races With Bono

Bono was out and about at his usual places in Dublin this Christmas time.  First he appeared at the Grafton Street Christmas Eve busk in aid of the homelessness charity The Simon Community with Glen Hansard and others. They sang Slade's Festive Season stalwart, Merry Christmas Everybody and the carol Oh Come All Ye Faithful.  It's a wonderful tradition, but it must be a logistic nightmare to get Bono in and out through the crowds. Let's hope they can continue it in the future, there always seems to be a great atmosphere.

And today, St Stephen's Day in Ireland, Bono and Ali were at the races at Leopardstown as per usual, below is a rather nice interview with the man himself.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

From Hartnell to Amies - Exhibition at Tullie House, Carlisle

I recently went into in an exhibition at Tullie House called From Hartnell to Amies, Couture by Royal Appointment, celebrating British fashion from the 1920's to 1960's.
Until the 1920's British fashion was influenced mainly by Parisian styles. In 1923 Norman Hartnell opened his first salon in London and then never looked back. Thirty years later, after many years of royal patronage the highlight of his creations was the dress for the Queen's coronation in 1953.

It was a wonderful exhibition, I think I would have loved to have lived in the 1930's as I especially loved  the glamorous fashions of that time on display. It was interesting to see the marked change to more plain, utilitarian clothing of wartime "make do" 1940's that followed.  It was so interesting to see how each decade's fashions were so very different from the previous ones, culminating in the short, bright, dresses of the swinging 60's.

The exhibition was complemented by stunning fashion photos by Norman Parkinson. Unfortunately photography was not allowed so I have copied some of the photos here from the accompanying exhibition pamphlet.

The exhibition is well worth seeing and continues until January 26th 2014.  You can read more about it on the Tullie House website here.

Riviera Dreams on a Cold, Dark, Winter Night

The mild spell we have been having has definitely gone and it's nippy now. The shortest day of the year is almost here, the madness of Christmas a week away and my thoughts turn to sunshine, warmth and my favourite sunny place, Nice on the Cote d'Azur.  Hopefully I'll get back there next year, in the meantime I can dream on.....

Saturday 30 November 2013

The Crosby Garrett Roman Helmet at Tullie House Art Gallery

Crosby Garrett Helmet, Photo: PA
Yesterday I went to Tullie House Museum to see the famous Crosby Garrett Helmet which is currently on display there. The Roman helmet was discovered by amateur metal-detector enthusiasts in the small village of Crosby Garrett in south Cumbria in May 2010. It is not a military helmet, but a Roman cavalry sports helmet which was worn for special displays, a bit like the modern day tattoos. These events were called the Hippika Gymnasia - Horse Games - and probably consisted of battle re-enactments from mythology. The helmet covers the whole head with openings for the eyes and dates from the first to third centuries AD. It is one of only three helmets of this type found in this country.

The helmet was in a glass cabinet in the middle of the darkened room, kind of glowing in the twilight, it looked stunning. Up close it is very intricate, with the hair in tight curls and a handsome, youthful face. I felt that feeling of awe I only feel when in the presence of some historical item like this, almost two thousand years old, that is truly amazing and unique and also very beautiful. It's such a treat to be able to see such a treasure in person like this. 

Tullie House Museum started a fund to try and buy the helmet when it was put up for sale in Christies in October 2010, but it stood no chance, as the helmet eventually sold to an anonymous UK buyer for £2.3 million. So it's good that the helmet has come home to Cumbria for this exhibition (only the second time the helmet has been on public display) so that local people can see it in all its restored glory.

The exhibition continues at Tullie House until January 26th 2014.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Restaurant Review - Bijou Brasserie, Carlisle

I'd only been previously to Bijou Brasserie at lunchtimes, but they have now started doing early bird
Photo from Bijou Brasserie Website
midweek meals so we thought we would give it a try.

Fisher Street, Carlisle


Modern decor in muted fawns and blue. Plenty of space between tables for privacy, comfortable chairs and a relaxing atmosphere. Service was good, attentive and we did not have to wait long for the food.

Whilst waiting for the first course we were given lovely chunks of very fresh olive and tomato bread served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Both Glen and I had the same starter, goats cheese with poached pear, pine nuts, pear puree and salad with balsamic dressing. I had not had goats cheese with pear before and it is a wonderful combination! The goats cheese itself was delicious, not as strong tasting as some which I like.

Next came a complimentary middle course, cranberry and orange sorbet. It was really nice, very tasty and really cleansed the palate.

My Chicken Ballotine
For my main I had chicken ballotine with dauphinoise potatoes, buttered spinach, baby leeks and natural juices, there was also a puree but I can't remember what it was (it's my age lol!) but it was delicious. The chicken was moist and tasty, the potatoes gorgeous. Glen had fillet of Lakeland beef with fondant potatoes, haggis balls, buttered spinach and madeira sauce. She said the beef was fantastic and it was the best meal out that she had had in a very long time. We washed our meal down with a lovely light and fruity Chilean Merlot.

We had no room for a dessert, I had a cappuccino to finish the meal.

We had the early bird menu, £18.00 for two courses or £20.95 for three. Glen's beef had a £5.00 supplement. I thought it was excellent value for such good food. They also have special offers on the a la carte menu.

My View
A lovely relaxing restaurant with excellent food at reasonable prices. Want to spoil yourself with some fine dining? I'd definitely recommend you go to Bijou, I rate it at *****

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Durham Lumiere 2013

I've always loved light installations and so when I heard about the Lumiere coming back Durham this year I knew I really had to go. So this weekend my cousin Janet and I headed over to the North East to see the show.

The Aquarium
We arrived just after lunchtime and wandered around the city centre. The oldest area of the city, including the castle and cathedral (a World Heritage site),  is built on a hilly peninsula created by a loop in the River Wear, So that means you keep fit as you wander up and down steep streets. We happened upon the first of the installations unexpectedly in the Market Place, an old-style red phone box which had been imaginatively transformed into an aquarium by Benedetto Bufalino and Benoit Deseille from France.  It was amusing to see such an iconic British item in a place you might expect it but having a very different purpose. Even in daylight it was impressive.  We sat for a while watching the fish nonchalantly swimming as we listened to some musicians playing South American music.

We then wandered around some shops before going for a late lunch at Cafe Rouge on Silver Street right beside the Framwellgate Bridge. Luckily we were given a table beside a window looking out over the river which was lovely. I had goat's cheese salad for starters, coq an vin for main and only had room for ice cream for dessert! All washed down with a lovely Merlot. For a chain restaurant the food was good, I love French style food anyway.

It was dusk by time we left the restaurant and we decided to go up to the cathedral and castle via the riverside path. It was lovely walking along, lit by lights that reflected in the river, the path gently sloping upwards taking the hard work out of getting to the top.

There wasn't a lot of signage to guide you to the installations so we just followed other people who seemed to know where they were going! In places it was quite dark and we were glad of our little torches especially when walking on the cobbled streets. We went into Durham Cathedral's beautiful cloisters to see Dresses by Taegon Kim (Korea/France). They were three very beautiful fibre-optic dresses that slowly changed colour. These creations were stunning as they glowed in the dark, with the cloisters in the background adding to the beauty of this installation.

After leaving the cloisters we came across another installation called (M)ondes by Atsara (France). This consisted of flickers, sparks and lines of lights that seemed to jump about, or follow lines of tree branches, even shoot into the air. This was accompanied by water-like noises. It was ok, but didn't really grab me.

We then headed along the North Bailey and joined a queue to go into the Palace Green beside the cathedral - the Lindisfarne Gospels were recently displayed in the library here.We timed it perfectly, the son et lumiere show, Crown of Light by Ross Ashton, Robert Ziegler and John del Nero (UK), was just starting. This consisted of images from the history of the cathedral projected onto the cathedral walls.  Many of the images were from the Lindisfarne Gospels and seeing them huge on the walls showed their intricacy and beauty perfectly. The projections were accompanied by music from the eras of art that were displayed on the walls and both melded together very well. It was a wonderful show, I loved every minute of it.
Crown of Light

Afterwards we walked back out of the cathedral grounds and headed downhill along Saddler Street. We passed under a large neon installation that stretched across the street that said A PLACE BEYOND BELIEF by Nathan Coley (UK). Apparently this is a quote from a woman on returning to work in a still traumatised new York after 9/11.

 Just beyond this, after turning right down on to Elvet Bridge we saw Elephantastic by Topla Design (France). This installation consists of a huge 3-D image of an elephant projected onto an archway across the street.  The first image you see is a rear view of the elephant which trumpets, flaps its ears and with each footstep a deep, bass thump rumbled out. Smoke came out from under and above the archway.  People streamed under the archway and on the other side was the front view of the elephant. It really was a brilliant creation, I loved it, and judging by the faces of the people around me it was a very popular piece.

Elephantastic 1

Elephantastic 2

Consumerist Christmas Tree
We were coming to the end of the installations we had time to see - there were others further out of town. In the Prince Bishop's Shopping Centre was the Consumerist Christmas Tree by Luzinterruptus (Spain). This was an installation made up of inflated plastic shopping bags in the shape of a Christmas Tree. And strung high across the street there were more illuminated Shopping bags.  I like the thought behind the work, Christmas has become obsessed with consumerism and material things.

On our way back to our bus we passed by The Aquarium once more, surrounded by a throng of people and all lit up, it looked great. Then, when we were nearly back to where we were to get the bus, on a building by the river, we saw Volume Unit by The Media Workshop (UK) Which was a "visual jukebox" with red light pulsing in time to amplified music that you could request by tweeting #lumieredj.

So that was the Durham Lumiere, even the weather held out for us! A fabulous experience, with beautiful and varied light installations and all for free. Not too far too walk, but if you have difficulty with mobility it might not be feasible due to the hilliness of Durham and the many cobbled streets.  The previous two nights had apparently been very busy, but the night we went (the last night of the Lumiere) it was busy but not over so. I definitely would recommend you visit if there is a Lumiere there next year.

Saturday 16 November 2013

U2's Fifth Member Is Leaving

The news of Paul McGuinness selling Principle Management to Live Nation and Guy Oseary taking over the helm as U2 manager is a couple of days old now, but I needed time to muse on the news and I'm still pondering!

The news came out publicly via The New York Times on November 12th. It is not a done deal yet, but going to happen when you consider the statement released by McGuinness in the same article:  “It could be seen as slightly poor etiquette for a manager to consider retiring before his artist has split, quit or died, but U2 have never subscribed to the rock ’n’ roll code of conduct. As I approach the musically relevant age of 64 I have resolved to take a less hands-on role as the band embark on the next cycle of their extraordinary career.

“I am delighted that Live Nation, who with Arthur Fogel have been our long term touring partners, have joined us in creating this powerful new force in artist management. I have long regarded Guy Oseary as the best manager of his generation, and there is no one else I would have considered to take over the day-to-day running of our business.”
The full New York Times article can be read here.

There's no two ways that this is a major event in the U2 camp, McGuinness has been manager to the band since 1978, and there's no doubt he did a good job during those 35 years. I know nothing about Guy Oseary, so can't comment on how well he'll do the job.  But it is a daunting task to try and fill McGuinness'
shoes. And what of the band, they are creatures of habit and it's a massive change for them. I find it very strange that there has not been a single word from them since this news came out.

I can't help but wonder if this is the beginning of the end for the band. There has been a feeling in me of things coming to an end for a while now.  My personal view is that U2 have lost the drive and creativity that made them the "biggest and best" rock band in the world for so long, they are more driven by money than art nowadays. They almost desperately  want to be relevant to the youngsters of today, well that's not going to happen guys.  Live, they still have it, they put on a great show, but even there the last tour ended up almost a greatest hits tour, it was wonderful to hear some of those songs again, but what about the new stuff?

 There's an article from The Irish Times blog here that makes an interesting read. I don't agree with everything written there but it brings up some good points.

A new album is due out in the Spring, apparently with some kind of launch happening during the Superbowl in the US. Maybe they will prove me wrong and blow my mind  and touch my heart and soul with brilliant music like they used to, and no one would be happier than me if they did!

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Bono Remembers Lou Reed

It was a long time coming but now Bono has written a tribute to Lou Reed for Rolling Stone. Even if it didn't have his name on it, is so typical of his style that I would have known it was written by Bono. It's a beautiful, articulate, insightful and moving tribute. 

Singer Bono (R) and Lou Reed talk at the Edun Fall 2006 Presentation during Olympus Fashion Week February 5, 2006 in New York City
Photo Brad Bartlet
It finishes with:

This is how I will remember him, a still figure in the eye of a metallic hurricane, an artist pulling strange shapes out of the formless void that is pop culture, a songwriter pulling melodies out of the dissonance of what Yeats called "this filthy modern tide" and, yes, pop's truly great poker face – with so much comedy dancing around those piercing eyes. The universe is not laughing today.

You can read the full article here

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Dublin Part Three - More Food - A Green Hen and a Town

10th October

Deb and I nearly getting blown off the penthouse balcony!
We got up at about 9am and pottered about until our breakfast arrived in the room and was laid out for us in the dining room.  It was lovely, and though morning are the times I don't usually have much of an appetite I wolfed it all down! It was sad to pack up our things to leave the penthouse, I doubt we'll ever be back. I went upstairs for one last look, and onto the balcony for a windy photo with Deb, the unseasonally mild weather had definitely given way to a more autumnal chill.. It also meant the end of my birthday celebrations, what a fab time I have had over these last few weeks, I wish I turned 60 every year.

We caught a taxi back to our apartment at Smithfield. Marian was out exploring, she was soon back, it's amazing how many things she managed to see in such a short time, she definitely made the most of her short time in Dublin! Unfortunately she had to return home and we saw her off to the airport later in the afternoon. Afterwards we all went to bed to try and get some sleep as the late night was catching up with us!  I rested, but could not sleep though I really wanted to.

Dianne in The Green Hen
That evening it was our girls night out, and Deb and Dianne were treating me as a last birthday gift, so kind of them as they had already been so generous to me bless them! For our Dublin trip we all chose a new restaurant to go to, tonight was my choice, The Green Hen in Exchequer Street, a French restaurant, can't go wrong with French food with me!  We got a taxi and almost immediately were stuck in a horrendous traffic jam.  The driver told us there was some big event happening in the city that night. We ended up being 20 minutes late for our table though the staff were completely unconcerned at that, I love that Irish laissez faire!

The restaurant was full, posters from old French films on the walls, the atmosphere lively but not too much so that you can't hear each other talk.  I had goats cheese salad with beetroot, walnuts and figs to start and it was scrumptious. Then duck confit with fondant potato, cherries and baby vegetables was equally fabulous it was the most succulent duck I've had! Portions were generous and none of us was able to find room for a dessert, we just had a cappuccino. Also, amazingly we had no wine at all! We all felt it was a very good idea to detox that night lol!
The Duck Confit Main

We had the Early Bird menu which was 19.50 Euros for two courses or 22 Euro for three, excellent value. Service was friendly and attentive, I felt sorry for the servers as they had to run down stairs to bring the food and also up another flight to tables upstairs, they must be fit!

We caught a taxi back to the apartment (no traffic jam this time). Dan had  had a pizza from the restaurant beneath the apartment block which he said was very good, he was pleased to hear we had enjoyed our meal so much. We didn't stay up very late, we desperately needed to catch up on our sleep!

October 11th

A sign in the Docklands
Too soon it was our last full day in Dublin we had vague plans but nothing definite. While in the city it had not escaped our attention that Bono was in town! A mutual love of U2 brought us all together over 20 years ago and because we get along as people and not just as fans, real friendships were borne form this. We did not expect the band to be in Dublin, as far as we knew they were in New York, but no, they were home. So we decided to go to the Docklands and check out their studio there, though we were aware that it looked like they had a new studio in County Wicklow, but we had to check :). We caught the Luas to Mayor's Square in the north Docklands, I can't believe how that area has changed, gone are the derelict buildings and now it's full of apartments and shops and cafes.

We walked over the graceful new Samuel Beckett Bridge and into the South Docklands and into the familiar territory of Hanover Quay. As we expected it was all quiet at the studio, though there was some pretty amazing non-U2 graffiti on the surrounding walls.

We had a leisurely lunch at the nearby Spar and enjoyed what was now a lovely sunny day.  After years of constant change during the age of the Celtic Tiger things were now static, there had been no changes since we had last been there in May 2012. The southern end of the quay still had areas untouched by the bulldozer, and the old, natural stone buildings still looked out over Grand Canal Dock as they have done for many, many decades. Where the concrete works used to be opposite the studio was now just a vacant lot within it's walls. Kind of nice that the concrete, steel and glass structure haven't taken over all of the Docklands.
The Beautiful Samuel Beckett Bridge
and where the big concrete works had been now was just a vacant plot.

We headed back to the Luas stop and then all did our own thing for a while, Deb went back to the apartment, Dianne and Dan went to The Writer's Museum and I went shopping. Later we all met up again at the apartment.

That night it was Dianne's choice of restaurant. It was not actually new to us, but had changed hands and was now called The Town rather than the Town Bar and Restaurant. Inside it had changed very little, it was a bit brighter, but still had the same relaxing ambiance. To start I had warm beetroot and goats cheese salad (for a change!) followed by a very tender beef fillet, cep puree, roasted onion, madeira sauce and colcannon. Again I couldn't manage a dessert, but Debbi and Dan managed to find some room, Deb finds it hard to resist creme brulee! Everyone enjoyed everything they had and though it is quite an expensive restaurant it is top quality. It was so nice to spend the last evening enjoying good food and wine with great friends, some of the best things in life.

We caught a taxi home and Dan got chatting to the driver who was from Nigeria. He said it was hard to learn to find his way round the city because: 1. the names of the street change - you can go down a straight road and at some point it will start to be called something else. I'd never really thought about that before, the same is true in the UK. 2. People often don't know the name of a road that a certain pub or restaurant is on, so he had to learn where all these places were. He also told us that there were 1,200 restaurants in Dublin, so it's some feat to learn where they all are.  Also, it means that there are plenty more new ones for us to try in the future!

October 12th

Dianne and Dan left at 9.30 on their way back to Canada via Heathrow, sad to see them go, but I knew that I would be seeing them again in December, so the parting wasn't as hard as it might have been. Not long afterwards Deb and I vacated the apartment and left our bags with the concierge before heading to The Clarence Hotel for a last drink.  Then it was the usual taxi to the airport, have a meal, mooch round the shops before flying - in a tiny Aer Arann propeller plane - back to Manchester. Sad goodbyes to Debbi, unfortunately she is not coming on the holiday at New Year, so it could be a while before we meet up again, but we still keep in touch a lot online.

So that was it, a fabulous week in Dublin. I want to say thanks to my all my wonderful friends for coming (and a special thanks to Deb for her organising!) it was special to share my official 60th with you all. Can I be 60 again next year??

Thursday 24 October 2013

Dublin Part Two - More Theatre and My Offical Birthday

October 8th

Had a much needed lie-in after our lazy (boozy) day. But when I got up I felt surprisingly ok, still got some stamina it seems lol! We stayed in as my friend Marian  from the UK was joining us for a couple of days and was arriving around 2pm.  It was good to see her again, we have known each other since we became friends at school when we were 12, and though we live at opposite ends of the country now always have stayed in touch.

At 4pm we headed to the nearby Third Space cafe for our tea. I had quiche lorraine and salad and soda bread which was lovely. We then got the Luas to Abbey Street and went into The Peacock Theatre where we were going to see Maeve's House. It was a 75 minute long one-man play both written and performed by Eamon Morrissey based on the life and writings of the Irish writer based in New York, Maeve Brennan. Apparently Morrisey's family lived in the the same house in Cherryfield Avenue, Ranelagh, Dublin as Brennan's had 20 years earlier before that family moved to New York.

I must admit that I had never heard of Maeve Brennan before, but that was not so surprising as she was a staff writer under the pseudonym of The Long Winded Lady  for The New Yorker magazine for much of her life and two anthologies of some of her work were not published either in the UK or Ireland.

The play revolves around the house which coincidentally was home to both of them and the setting for many of Brennan's stories. This play features extracts from Maeve Brennan’s writing and presents a moving portrait of two people in conversation across generations. Morrissey talks of some of the common links the house has, such as the creaking banister, and it must have been strange for Morrissey to read of such a familiar place in Brennan's writing. But what struck me most was Brennan's stories of the dark side of the human condition, loneliness within a marriage where love had long disappeared, people trapped, lives wasted, dreams long evaporated. Though Brennan was thousands of miles from Dublin it seems her past still had a strong hold on her, it is hard to escape one's early influences. And some of her writings seemed to echo her own tragic life story.

The set was simple, there was a background of a skyscraper skyline that seems to have been made up of golden words that glinted in the lights, sound effects were subtle but effective, contrasting the bustle of Manhattan with the secretive quietness of suburban Dublin..

There was an intimacy about the play that drew me in, and I was full of admiration for Eamon Morrissey who performed for a full 75 minutes, no mean feat for a 70 year old!

After the play there was a discussion about Maeve and the play with Eamon and Amanda Bourke (who wrote a biography called Maeve Brennan: Homesick at The New Yorker) which was very interesting and enlightening. There were a couple of people in the audience who also lived in Cherryfield Avenue, Dublin is such a small town city! And it seems that Eamon's mother was called Maeve and the present owner of the house is also a Maeve, seems the name is synonymous with that house.

Us Girls in the Cobblestone!
Afterwards we caught the Luas back to Smithfield and went to the Cobblestone Pub at the north end of the square, in a terrace of old buildings still standing, such is the mix of architecture at Smithfield, old and new side by side.

This was a real Dublin pub. Basic, friendly and with good Guinness! It reminded me of good old Dockers, the pub we visited regularly years ago in the Docklands where we had such wonderful times.  It was a mixture of tourists and locals but not pretending to be anything more than what it was, in other words it wasn't at all toursity.  Some guys were playing traditional music at the front of the bar but there were no seats there so we went to the back and found somewhere to sit. We spent about an hour there enjoying the drink and chat and atmosphere before taking the two minute walk back to our apartment.

October 9th
Afternoon Tea at the Clarence Hotel

The Big Day, my Official 60th Birthday! We got a taxi to The Clarence Hotel at midday and met up with our friends Ken and Elizabeth from Dun Laoghaire in The Study.  We were going to have afternoon tea there. It struck me as rather strange that such an English institution is alive and well in Ireland! But then it is a wonderful thing that I am not really surprised the Irish enjoy it too!

Ken and Elizabeth had brought me a present, a gorgeous Kilkenny marble clock, and also something for everyone else, they are such kind people! We had a delicious tea of sandwiches, cream scones, cake and tea, all very scrumptious!

At 2pm we were able to go up to the penthouse suite and though Ken and Elizabeth and Marian were not actually staying there they were keen to see it! It was much as it had been last time we stayed there in 2008, except for a new suite in the sitting room and some new carpeting. There were two bottles of Prosecco and some chocolates waiting for me there which was a lovely surprise!  For some reason there was also two small bottles of milk beside the Prosecco, why, we never figured out.

The Gallery
We showed our guests around and they marvelled at the two levels of the suite and the fantastic view over the city and Liffey from the balcony. After a while Ken and Elizabeth left, but we'll see them again soon when we return to Dublin at New Year. Marian also left at this time, it was her first visit to the city and she wanted to do some exploring before coming back later for our meal at Cleaver East.

Debbi, Dianne, Dan and I settled down in the upstairs gallery and drank the Prosecco which was a very good vintage indeed.  We relaxed and chatted, played music and chilled. We'd waited a long time for this and were going to enjoy every minute!

The View From the Balcony
At 7pm we started getting ready for our evening meal, Marian had returned and we all went down to the new restaurant in the hotel called Cleaver East, which had now replaced our much loved Tea Room. I must admit I was a bit dubious about this restaurant as it served "tasting plates" and I wasn't sure whether it would be for me. I needn't have worried, the food was wonderful. The restaurant had rows of cleavers hanging at the windows, distressed wood on some of the walls and equally distressed mirrors on the ceiling. The servers were friendly and helpful, food portions generous and delicious and the price reasonable. My friends gave me their birthday presents which were all wonderful, I am blessed to have such fab friends!

As we were finishing the meal our friend Declan texted, he was arriving at the hotel. Debbi and I went outside to meet him. It was good to see him again. After finishing up the meal we all went back up to the penthouse, Declan was well impressed with it lol!  We had a good chat, there was lots to catch up on, including the latest U2 gossip.  At one point I was fascinated to hear Declan (an Irishman) explain what cricket is all about to Dan (an American), most English people have no idea what it is about but here's an Irishman well up on it! Apparently that's because Declan's son is an avid cricket player :)

Declan left at 1am and gave Marian a lift back to the apartment at Smithfield. The rest of us chilled in the penthouse enjoying every minute of it. I stayed up until 4am when tiredness caught up with me. I hate to miss any time when I am there but I had to give in and get some sleep.

All in all it was an amazing 60th birthday, great company, good food and drink in luxury in my favourite city, I couldn't have asked for a better day!

All of us in Cleaver East

Monday 21 October 2013

Dublin Part One - Coming Home, Friends, Irish Theatre and Lazy Day

It's taken me a while to start my holiday blog, life has been difficult recently, and for a while I could not put fingers to laptop. But now it feels best to keep occupied and remember the fabulous time I had in Dublin, and in time these great memories will over-shadow the sadness of recent days.

October 5th

Like the Queen, this year I had two 60th birthdays, a real one and an official one.  My real one had come and gone and the official one was set for October 9th, to be celebrated in style in the penthouse suite at the Clarence Hotel in Dublin. This fell in the middle of a week's holiday with friends in the city. Besides a brief weekend visit in June this year, we hadn't been to Dublin since May 2012 and were ready to spend some proper time there.

I met up with my friend  Debbi at Manchester Airport and we had delicious lunch in the Grain Loft there. It's always good to get together, we just pick up where we left off in that easy way close friends can.

The flight was smooth I was sandwiched between Debbi and a rather large man.  I noticed as we were getting up that he had a tee-shirt on that had U2 on it so I asked if he was a fan. He said that his name was Bobby and that he worked for Jay Z who was performing in Dublin on Sunday, on checking the Net it seems he is the Tour Manager. We said we were U2 fans and he said he'd met them a few times and that they were really nice guys, which of course we knew. Then as an after-thought he asked if we'd like tickets to see Jay Z, we said yes (anything for nothing!) and he gave us his email and said for us to contact him.  We did send an email, but we didn't hear anything back, which, to be honest, was almost a relief, as neither of us can stand Jay Z's music!

We got a taxi into the city, complete with very entertaining driver in the way only Irish drivers can be, warm, friendly and chatty. He was an educated man, trained teacher (no jobs for teachers), had taken courses in writing and written a screenplay, plus he was a natural comedian.  Wasted as a taxi driver, but he said he enjoyed meeting people from all over the world in his job. As I listened to the driver's lilting Irish accent and watched the familiar landmarks pass by it felt so good to be back in a place that feels like my second home.

Smithfield Tower, our home for the week
We were dropped off at Smithfield and met up with Pat, the owner of the duplex apartment at Smithfield Tower which we were renting for the week. He's another natural comedian, and if there was a human form of a leprechaun, it was Pat. Small, rotund, grey hair, rosy cheeks with a mischievous air about him. The apartment was wonderful, directly opposite the old Jameson Whiskey Distillery chimney, modern and spacious with everything we needed..

We'd barely made our cup of tea (well, we are English and you've got to have a cuppa when arriving at your destination!) when Dianne and Dan arrived. They had come over to Ireland from Canada a week earlier and had been touring the North and got the train from Belfast to Dublin.

We had a relaxing evening catching up, eating pizza and drinking wine. We ended up playing a game where we picked music we like that may not be so obvious and Deb would play it on her iPod for us all to hear. It gave an insight into the very diverse musical tastes we had - some of my choices were, The Slave's Chorus from Verdi's Nabucco, Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley and Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys.

I always love the first evening of a holiday, being with friends again and a whole week or two stretching out ahead full of good times, nothing beats it!

October 6th

A mean and moody Killiney Beach
We caught the Luas to Connolly Station and got the DART heading south to Killiney.  It was initially cloudy but as the day passed the sun came out and it was lovely. I love Killiney beach, which is a couple of minutes from the DART stop. Whatever the weather it is beautiful with the graceful sweep of a horseshoe bay with Dalkey Island to the north end and Bray Head to the south. We wandered along beach-combing, relaxing, enjoying the fresh sea air, sometimes the simple things in life are the most enjoyable.

After Killiney, we travelled one stop on the DART to Dalkey where we went to bustling Finnegan's Pub for a late lunch. I had the cottage pie and it was scrumptious!

Dan and Debbi in Dada
That evening we went to a Moroccan restaurant we had never been to before called Dada. I was a bit cautious about it as I can't eat hot spicy food, chili and curry are lethal to me! But I was assured that not all their food was hot and spicy. The restaurant was atmospheric, darkly lit (in fact we had difficulty reading the menus lol!) Lots of lanterns that cast beautiful patterns on the walls, it was a very relaxing place.

We shared dips and bread for starters and then I chose the lamb tagine with apricots, walnuts and cinnamon. It was to die for, the lamb was so tender and succulent and the subtle flavours of the spices made for a fabulous dish. Everyone else really enjoyed their meals too. Prices were reasonable and service good, I think we will be going back to Dada on future visits to Dublin!

October 7th

Every time we are in Dublin we go to Bewley's Cafe Theatre, it is cheap, intimate and, best of all, the plays are also always good. The theatre is a small room on the second floor of Bewley's Cafe. Set with tables and chairs and a small stage set in one corner and for a small fee you can get soup and soda bread if you want.

The play we saw was Fred and Alice by the Limerick county Writer John Sheehy.  It is about two special needs people who have different obsessions, Fred's is music, Alice's is numbers. They met in the mental care institution, Alice's effervescence brings out the shy Fred, and he is the calm shelter and support when she flies off too high, obsessed by her numbers. They compliment each other. The acting was amazing, and it's such a great experience to be so near the performers as you are at the Cafe Theatre, it draws you in, you get very involved in the play. The play moves forward to the couple living in their own home and the basic difficulties of independence, you really want them to succeed and their upbeat attitude wins out, they want to succeed in the real world and they will, in their own way.

In an interview with John Sheehy I found the following paragraph enlightening, it describes the essence of the play in a way I could not.

What was it about the issue that attracted you as a playwright?

I am interested in the idea of personal identity, where it comes from and how much it is affected by society and by those closest to you. By writing about characters whose brains are wired differently than what is considered "normal" I was able to look at the effects of labelling a person as an illness rather than an individual. Fred and Alice reject all labels and find their own unique way to live their lives.

We all loved the play, it covered a subject matter rarely looked at in such a positive way. As a ex-psychiatric nurse I would love to see Sheehy write a play about people with psychotic illnesses and show that people with mental health problems are just human beings trying to make their way in a difficult and unsympathetic world.

After the play we all walked the short distance to Cafe en Seine for our lunch. This place is a fabulous over-the-top  French belle epoque-style cafe. I had smoked salmon on soda bread with chips and it was absolutely delicious and very reasonably priced too. after their lunch Dianne and Dan left and Debbi and I embarked on our "lazy day". We started this last year in Nice, when we just drifted from place to place and had a drink, no particular plan, we just went into places we liked the look of. We enjoyed it so much that we decided it would be a feature of future holidays! So, our lazy day started in Cafe en Seine with cocktails, I had a Singapore Sling which was one of the best cocktails I'd ever had, absolutely delicious!

On leaving the Cafe en Seine we walked about twenty yards and went into Samsara and had cocktails there. we went for the good old Cosmopolitans. They were very strong and I had to water mine down with some lemonade (bit of a wuss I am lol!). Debbi managed hers without any watering down.  

A mirror in the glam toilets at Cafe en Seine
Next stop was a restaurant called Pasta Fresca. We saw a sign saying "prosecco bar" there so couldn't resit that invitation. We had our prosecco with some garlic bread which went down very well indeed.  It was so mild that we sat outside and it was not cold, amazing for October in Ireland!

Our next stop was just across the road, the Clarendon Bar, an Irish bar. We ordered prosecco again, and it came in a snipe (new for me, never knew those little bottles were called that) and bucket of ice! The server was so lovely and made us feel special.

We decided it was time to finish our lazy day after this, we'd sampled French belle epoque, ultra modern, Italian and Irish bars so had done pretty well! We headed back to our apartment at Smithfield. I was even sober enough to cook the evening meal of lasagne and salad which we all enjoyed. Afterwards we relaxed with some wine and chat. A lovely end to a great lazy day.

Sunday 29 September 2013

Waiting For God .....

Bono was recently on Letterman TV show in the US and when asked about the new album this and below is what he said:
“You know Quincy Jones said to me ‘Bono, you’ve got to wait for God to walk through the room’ and I said ‘Q, why is God so unreliable in the music department’. And he said ‘Just to teach you to wait’, so we are waiting,” Bono said.
 “We have a deal with our audience, they give us a great life and they expect us to be great and that’s tricky,” Bono said. “As you get better you get very good and very good is kind of the enemy of great. You can mistake it for great. People don’t get excited about us being very good. Who needs a new U2 album? There are loads of them out there. We have to make a great U2 album and they don’t care waiting as long as it’s great”.
Personally, I think it's bollocks and its starting to get booooooring. But  this made me laugh, us U2 fans have to have a sense of humour and shedloads of patience.
You can watch the interview on Letterman below.

Monday 23 September 2013

Another Decade and Things To Do

September has flown by and I've neglected my blog, I've been busy with all kinds and the weeks just slip away. I celebrated my 60th birthday on the 20th and had a fantastic day, I was thoroughly spoiled. For a while I wasn't looking forward to becoming 60, (after all not that long ago I would have started receiving my State Pension at that age). But as the date approached I changed my view and embraced it, each year is to be treasured and lived to the full and I've got lots of things to do on my bucket list.

I certainly don't feel 60 inside, sometimes my body does tell me I'm not as youthful as I was, but my spirit is still young, the essence of you doesn't change with the years.  And besides the wisdom you gain by living life, there are also are other benefits - I can now get 1/3 off rail fares, free eye tests and my B & Q Diamond Card to get 10 per cent off every Wednesday LOL!

Mind you, my 60 celebrations are not over yet, I've had my real birthday, but I'm having my official birthday (who says only the Queen can have two birthdays?) in Dublin with a party in the penthouse of The Clarence Hotel on October 9th - as well as a long overdue weeks holiday in the city. Soooo looking forward to that.

So here's to a new decade, and also a Happy Birthday to Bruce Springsteen, 64 today and still rockin', what better role model for over 60's people can there be than him?

Monday 2 September 2013

U2 Album 2014 It Seems....

Sounds like 2014 is the likely release date for U2's next album, there have been rumours but an interview with Bono on the Irish Newstalk FM kind of makes it definite, or maybe, more accurately, 2013 definitely NOT happening!

The interview mainly covered the death of Seamus Heaney and Bono's recent trip to Ghana. At the end the interviewer, Pat Kenny, asked Bono about what the band were doing at the moment. 

Kenny: The band, what are you up to at the moment? Back in studio, or finished or ... what?

Bono: The band? Uhm, we're nearly there, I think -- though this can change. There's no sense from the band of any commitment to any release schedule, any ... to anything. They just want to be really -- make some great music.

But I think we're nearly there, and once we're there we'll know it. I'd like to think that next year, there'll be a U2 release.

I mean, it sounds like we've been faffing around, but actually what we've -- what's just happened is that we just got lost in the music and went right back to why we wanted to be in a band in the first place -- listen to the music of the mid-70s, punk rock, electronica -- we're really sort of beginning again.

I know we do this periodically, but you have to. And so ... it's very different, very fresh sound, and some beautiful songs ... big hooks ... and yeah, you'll be sick of us. I hope!

The usual vague Bono stuff, but at least we know that we aren't getting a new album this year! Let's hope they are not too "lost in the music" to know when to go ahead and release the stuff!

Friday 30 August 2013

Seamus Heaney RIP

Bono has paid tribute on to Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who died today at the age of 74. As usual Bono's tribute is very moving and true.  Here's what he said:

'Seamus was a great, great poet. I know people throw around this phrase a lot, but his poem From the Republic of Conscience, literally changed my life.  As an activist he was the quietest storm that ever blew into town. In fact, in so many things he was a gentle genius, whose words challenged us with the grit and beauty of life as much as they gave us solace.  He wrote with a brevity that strangely spilled to the brim. 

'We all envied how he made that most complicated of things, the balancing of work and family, appear so simple.  In Marie he found his other whole. And it is a joy to be around his kids... Michael, Chris and Catherine Ann.  They have all of his humility in their sharpness.

'I take his poems with me wherever I go.  I was in Liberia just a few days ago and I gave his collection 'Electric Light' to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose entire country is in darkness.  She knew exactly who he was and immediately started reading the poems while standing beside me.  A few days after that I gave another collection 'Seeing Things' to President John Mahama of Ghana, whose vision of his country is everything... 

'I am bewildered to think Seamus is no longer with us. Because his words will be around forever, it seemed so would he.'

You can also read an obituary Obituary: Seamus Heaney

Saturday 24 August 2013

What a Show, What a Night, What a Zooropa! - Memories of the Tour

I've been reminiscing a lot over the past couple of weeks as it has been 20 years since Zooropa, arguably U2's best tour, and certainly a tour that has a special place in the hearts of many long-time fans such as myself.

For me it was the tour where I saw the most shows - we saw them in Glasgow, London, Cardiff, Leeds, Dublin and even one in Germany.  And in some of those places we saw more than one show too. Ticket prices were so much more reasonable so we went to as many gigs as we could afford.

A large group of us fans - "the girls" - would meet up and there was a wonderful camaraderie, a sense of belonging and also a mutual craziness!  And yes, I have to admit we were quite obsessional in those days. We all came from different parts of the country and abroad, united by our love of U2.

Looking back I don't know how I managed all the travelling about - I can remember coming back home to do one night shift and then, without sleeping, set off to the next venue, couldn't do that now. Those were the days when we would queue from lunch time and run like hell when the gates opened to get to the front. Once hogging that much cherished place it was impossible to get out again so it was a test of endurance for our bladders! Our first port of call after the show would be the toilets then getting something to eat and drink. Madness yes, but it was also fun.

It was also an exciting time on many fronts. Zooropa was a dazzling spectacle, their first big production that bombarded the senses. This, along with the the fantastic new music from the albums Achtung Baby and Zooropa as well as their older back catalogue made to make this tour a most amazing and innovative experience in every sense.

Something that made it more exciting for me was that in those days I edited a U2 fanzine called Eirinn - no such thing as all singing and dancing U2 websites in those days! Fanzines were true labours of fandom, they took a lot of time and work to produce. U2 recognised this and were generous to fanzine editors in those days, they gave us photo and hospitality passes and two free tickets to one gig. I used my passes for Zooropa at their Leeds show and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life! There weren't many people photo shoot and we had a great position, stood on a high step (that someone hand to help me up onto) right in front of the stage, we were actually leaning on the stage.  I've had other passes, but this one was by far the best position.  When the band came on the power that exploded from the audience behind us was spine-tingling. I had to remember to take photos during those first three songs that we were allowed to photograph, I got so caught up in it all, it was special to be so close, almost part of the show.  Bono gave us a little wave (we had met him a few times so he knew our faces) and my friend Jane got a kiss.  An amazing experience.

It was also a time when we got to meet all the band members after a lot of the shows, they were always patient and friendly with the fans. At Wembley for some reason Bono came out carrying a sunflower lol and I got the photo I've included here.

There have been other wonderful U2 tours and times since Zooropa, but it had just that something extra. U2 were at their creative best, we were able to see lots of shows, we were a great group of liked-minded friends that knocked around together, where ever we went we saw familiar faces.

Now U2 are still making albums after 37 years as a band, which is special in itself.  But though their music is still good, they are not as creative and innovative as they were, maybe that is an inevitable part of getting older, I don't know.

Bono, Leeds, August 1993
I am lucky enough to still be good friends with a couple of the girls (Debbi and Dianne) I was with those 20 years ago, we have a lot in common beyond U2 and our friendship has continued and prospered over the intervening years. Others from "the girls" have drifted off completely or I just see occasionally during tours, some I still have contact with via social media, one has even sadly passed away. I kind of miss the fun we had as a big group on that tour, the camaraderie, the sheer madness of it all, the crazy spontaneity of those days.

Zooropa was one of those special moments in time, but everything changes and moves on,. I'm so glad I'm an avid diary writer and have recorded those times in great detail, think I'll re-read the Zooropa weeks and re-live it as best I can!

There probably will be another U2 tour in 2014 and Debbi, Dianne and I have already said we intend to make the most of it. Not being morbid, but we know it could be our last tour, we are all getting older - same goes for the band who are all into their 50's now. We'll never get the glory days of Zooropa back, but then again we like our comforts nowadays lol! But I know we will still have a great time and have fun and new experiences and I'm looking forward to it already.  If anyone would like to read more detail about my Zooropa days you can find my posts about it in my blog dedicated to U2, Luminous Times

Monday 19 August 2013

Autumn is in the Air

There's a definite nip in the air at night, the first leaves are turning and the nights are certainly drawing in. I don't like winter, it's not so much the cold, but the short days and long nights that gets to me.  But we have had a wonderful summer and somehow winter's not so bad  when you've stocked up on the sunshine and vitamin d!

Mind you, my winter isn't going to be too dismal. In October I'm having a belated 60th birthday celebration in Dublin, can't wait to get back to my favourite city for a whole week! Then I'll be back there again to see in the New Year, and then on the 3rd of January we'll fly up to Iceland for a few days. So lots to look forward to. And I've a feeling in 2014 there'll be lots more travel!

Sunday 4 August 2013

Gardens, a New Canine Family Member and a Dachshund Meet-Up

I've been busy these last few weeks, I think because out lovely warm and sunny summer continues everyone is doing so much more outdoors.  Last weekend I met up with my friend Alison and we went to Hutton in the Forest about 15 miles south of Carlisle.  The oldest part of the castellated house is the pele tower that was built around 1350. Pele towers are fortified houses to protect the wealthy owners from the violent cross-border skirmishes that were frequent in the south of Scotland and very north of England hundreds of years ago, many still survive today. Over the centuries the building was gradually added to by its inhabitants until it became a sizable property. It is also known for it's lovely gardens.

There was no one in the booth where you bought tickets so we entered the grounds and paid the fee via the honesty box. It's nice to be trusted! We only wanted to wander around the gardens so we just paid for that. We walked round the house and into the walled garden. It was separated into four areas by hedges. There was a beautiful rose garden, full of gorgeous old-fashioned tea roses. The flowers were just past their best, they were probably at their most glorious two to three weeks ago, still, they were lovely.

The general theme was of an English country cottage garden, full of flowers that looked very natural and not "designed", not formal. I loved it, and something about walled gardens makes it feel very, very old too. We were the only people there and it was very relaxing and peaceful.

There were some sculpted topiary works, and some more formal beds outside the walled garden. And there was a lake further away which wasn't impressive, but apparently it is all being renovated at the moment, it should look better then.

Ellie and Pepsi
All in all it was a simple but enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. Both Alison and I love visiting places like this so we really had a good time.

A bit of news I have is that I have a member of the family! I fostered a daxie cross dog called Ellie for a week, then she went to new owners, only to come back two days later because she pulled on the lead! Have they not heard of training?? Poor dog.  I had fallen for her before she ever went to be honest and after having her back for a couple of days decided to officially adopt her. So now, she's mine! The boys are fine with her now, they were horrible to her at first! But now they have accepted her, Max ignores her and Pepsi is starting to interact with her which is nice. She's very sweet and gentle, quiet, bright and quite obedient. She's aged two to three and has had a difficult life so far, she's one of the Irish dogs, saved from certain death, then into fostering. But now she's landed on her feet and I'll give her a happy life, and she's already giving me lots of love.

A Tangle of Daxies
Finally, yesterday I drove down to Kendal to a daxie meet up of members of Facebook's Dachshunds of Cumbria and the North.  We met up near the river and went for a walk along it's banks.  There were long-hairs, two wires, one double dapple, one half sausage (Ellie!) and one laid back spaniel. They all got on very well, and their owners were lovely, so nice to meet up with the people I knew only by name and to see their gorgeous dogs in real life.  We created a bit of a sensation as we walked along with our sausages, you don't see a lot of them anyways and to see seven at once caught people's attention.  They are funny little dogs, and it always amazes me how many varieties of colour and coat there is within the breed. We had fun - and good weather - and I'm sure will be doing it again!