Hallowe’en – It’s my holiday!!

It’s that time of year again, when I get annoyed and frustrated on behalf of my culture, my traditions and my childhood memories. ‘I can’t stand Hallowe’en’, I hear all too often from people who aren’t Irish, followed by a damning reference to it being an American invention, exported around the world like Coca-Cola and Santa in a red suit. (And, by the way, what’s so terrible about American inventions?). The irony, of course, is that, while people are perfectly content to sip Coke and sit on Santa’s fat red knee, Hallowe’en is actually a European festival, specifically a west coast, Celtic European festival, exported to America.

Hallowe’en is ours, and it has always been one of my favourite festivals (although, I have to admit, I’m pretty much equal opportunities when it comes to festivals, feasts, holy days, and all those other times when we get to behave in weird and wonderful out-of-the-ordinary ways).

Hallowe’en was a big deal when I was a child growing up in 1970s and 1980s rural Ireland. The first hint of Hallowe’en each year came in late September or early October with the first barm brack brought home from O’Brien’s supermarket in Edenderry. We’d eat the fruit brack slathered in butter, with a cup of tea and, being the only child in the family until I was five years old, I always got the cheap metal wedding ring wrapped in grease proof paper that lay hidden in the middle of the brack. By the time Hallowe’en came around I usually had four or five rings, as my family ate our way through quite a few bracks in those few short weeks.

As Hallowe’en grew ever closer the hazelnuts on the hedges down the road near Rabbitfield were ready to eat. I went alone, or with Daddy, or with my cousin Martin who lived down the road, fraught with anxiety as we gathered hazelnuts on that haunted stretch of road. It was widely known around Ballygibbon that Rabbitfield House was haunted. Indeed, Daddy and my black Labrador, Lassie, had had a frightening supernatural encounter as they walked in the field in front of the derelict house one day – Lassie’s hair standing on the back of her neck and Daddy swearing he would never go there again. (Even today, as a sensible worldly-wise 44 year old, when I drive past Rabbitfield at night, I put my foot on the accelerator and drive those lonely 200 metres at high speed, never looking in the rear view mirror for fear of what might be looking back at me!).

I digress. There was the barm brack and the hazelnuts, essential Hallowe’en food. There were monkey nuts (peanuts), almonds and brazil nuts in the shops – highly exotic and highly seasonal foods in rural Ireland back in those days. At school we made ghoulish masks and witches hats out of cornflakes boxes and toilet roll inserts and lots of glue and paint. The shops sold Hallowe’en masks – tight pinching plastic affairs that scratched your face and caused profuse facial sweating, attached to your head by elastic bands that broke your hair and hurt your ears.

I was never particularly crafty, and my attempts at witches and ghouls inspired by Mary’s Make-and-Do on Saturday morning television generally failed and, anyway, I always looked forward to the new mask I would get each year at O’Brien’s or when we went shopping in Mullingar.

By October 31st each year I was almost sick with excitement. I dressed as a púca – a witch or a ghost or a ghoul or a banshee and – together with my cousins Catherine and Sheila, and the occasional cross-dressing adult who decided to join in the fun – walked the dark road of Ballygibbon (usually in the rain), stopping at each house (most of our neighbours were cousins on Daddy’s side of the family) where, as tradition dictated, we sang, or told a joke, or played a musical instrument, or did a dance, in return for sweets, fruit, nuts or, sometimes, money. With Ballygibbon under our belts, I was driven the two miles into Edenderry (some years with my cousins in tow, some years just me and my sister), where we did the rounds of Gilroy Avenue, where my Nana Kitty lived (still lives) and Castleview Park where my aunt Lillie lived. More embarrassed singing, telling jokes, dancing (‘You start’, ‘No, you start’, ‘I won’t sing unless you sing’) in exchange for more sweets, fruit, nuts and money.

And then it was into my Nana’s house or back home to Ballygibbon, for games. We bobbed for apples, putting our faces in basins of water, hands behind our backs, trying to get an apple using only our mouths. We bobbed for nuts as well, which was a mad endeavour, especially as many sank to the bottom. But we were always willing to risk drowning for a sunken almond. Apples were tied from string from the ceiling and, again with hands behind backs, we had to try to take a bite of the swinging apple using only our mouths. For months afterwards, thumbtacks remained on my Nana’s living room ceiling, testament to our Hallowe’en madness. And my favourite and, at the same time, least favourite game was the one where we placed a grape on top of a mound of flour. The goal was to use a knife to remove the flour without the grape falling from the top of the mound. If your knife swipe caused the grape to fall, you had to stick your head into the plate of flour (yuck) and retrieve the grape with your mouth.

Over the years I have brought my Hallowe’en traditions with me and shared them with my students in Japan, and last year here in our little village in Spain. I’ve learned a lot about Hallowe’en traditions over the years and how they vary from region to region in Ireland, and in Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and Brittany. We share many similarities too. Apples are at the centre of many Hallowe’en traditions, as is dressing up and performing. We never had Jack-o-lanterns where I come from, so I assumed it was a new American tradition. But then I found out that the tradition arose in Ireland, with carved turnips (what my husband calls ‘swede’ (a point of contention in our marriage) and what Americans call ‘rutabega’) and was transposed to an equally, or perhaps more appropriate American vegetable, the pumpkin.

Hallowe’en has been around for a long time. It was the Celtic festival Oiche Samhain, the night when fairies and púcas from the other world crossed over into the human world. Like many pre-Christian festivals, it was syncretised by Christianity, and became the eve of the double holy days of November 1st, the Feast of All Saints and November 2nd, the Feast of All Souls. And growing up in Ireland when I did, we celebrated all of those things – the fairies, the púcas, the saints and the souls.

So this year, if someone bemoans that ‘American holiday’, please remind them that it is, in fact, a holiday that has roots deep in the pre-Christian Celtic cultures of the west coast of Europe. Indeed, it would appear the earliest reference to the holiday in the US only dates back to 1911. Like St. Patrick’s Day, it has been transformed by our good neighbours on the other side of the Atlantic. But one thing culture and traditions are incapable of doing is remaining unchanged. Just as Christians of 1600 years ago changed the meaning of Hallowe’en in Ireland, so Americans have changed the practice and re-exported it. But at heart it remains a playful, liminal holiday, when norms and rules are transgressed, when the doors between worlds open up, and when, with just a little persuasion, I might risk drowning in a basin of cold water for a mouldy old monkey nut.

 

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Me and Anton Savage

Some of you might remember my week of media frenzy back in March when, in the space of three days I appeared on one Irish TV show and two radio shows! It was lots of fun. One of the shows was the Anton Savage Show on Today FM, Ireland’s top commercial radio station. Imagine my surprise and delight when one of the show’s producers contacted me last week to tell me I had been one of their favourite guests of the year and Anton would like to interview me again, to catch up on what we’ve been getting up to since I spoke to him.

The interview took place yesterday morning, and if you’d like to listen to it, the link is here. The segment containing my interview is at 18.12.

 

Reconnecting

After my surreal media week some semblance of normality returned to our holiday in Ireland. I had a few opportunities to spend time in the company of some of my oldest friends. A big-girl sleep-over with two friends I’ve known since we were all four years old involved a lot of good food and even more good conversation.

What a dessert!

What a dessert!

And in last Saturday’s glorious sunshine three of my old (‘less of the old’ I hear them yell) university friends descended on Mammy’s house with an assortment of their children. We caught up while our kids got to know each other. There were a few family get-togethers, filled with tea and cake and ham sandwiches, and visits to other relatives and neighbours.

We celebrated a rip-roaring St. Patrick’s Day, the girls dressed (as one of my friends pointed out) like the Clancy Brothers! We went to Mass in Edenderry to hear and see Granny singing in the choir, and were also treated to the spectacle of Irish dancers dancing up the aisle of St. Mary’s Church.

Begosh and Begorrah..looking none too pleased!

Begosh and Begorrah..looking none too pleased!

Later, we attended the St. Patrick’s Day parade along JKL Street. The parade is a new addition to the Edenderry social calendar. It started only three or four years ago at the height of the recession, in an attempt to lift spirits and boost the economy, when the town and a lot of the people in it were feeling pretty miserable. It was great fun, with many local clubs, societies and businesses with colourful floats. There were marching bands and I was only disappointed to not see any more Irish dancers. One of the local shops gave out free giant green, white and gold lollipops and it took me a few minutes to figure out why the green and yellow around Katie’s mouth was tinged with red. IMG_20150317_141002

The little gluttonous imp tried to stuff too much of the lollipop into her mouth at once, and split her mouth on both sides. If only she was so eager to eat her dinner!

I awoke on Friday morning filled with anticipation for the eclipse. The previous two days had been bright and sunny, so I was disappointed when I opened the curtains to a sky filled with heavy grey clouds. Still, I sat out on the patio, cup of tea warming my hands, awaiting…something. It grew noticeably darker, but that was it. Or so I thought. I went inside to warm up. Half an hour later I ventured outside to bring in turf for the fire and the clouds had thinned to reveal the sun still a little less than half eclipsed by the moon. I yelled for Lily and Katie to come out. They weren’t quite as awestruck as I was!

On Sunday, Lily had a pre-birthday party (five days early), with two little cousins, and a large gathering of my family – Mammy and some of her sisters, my sister, our Nana and, as often at gatherings of my family, the obligatory solitary man, this time in the form of my sister’s boyfriend.

Happy cousins

Happy cousins

The children played, while the adults talked and ate, ate and talked. Mammy put her considerable musical talents to use to play the mouth organ for ‘Pass the Parcel’. ‘Jingle Bells’ in March…what a treat!

All too soon our three weeks in Ireland came to an end and it was time for us to return to Spain – to Julian and to Carina. Since Daddy died and, therefore, since the girls were born, I haven’t spent more than ten days in the house where I grew up. And usually our visits home are around Christmas or for funerals. Three weeks in the middle of March was a very different experience. Everyone else was going about their usual daily business each day and the visit home was devoid of the mania and expectation always attendant on Christmas. It was a much more laid back sort of visit.

Katie and Molly have become great friends

Katie and Molly have become great friends

Three weeks gave Lily and Katie opportunities to become comfortable in the house and the garden, and to spend more time with their great grandmother, Nana Kitty, and various other family members.

It was springtime, so the weather was good, the daffodils were in bloom, there were lambs in the fields – a very different place to the one we so often visit in the darkest days of winter. I have returned to Carina feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, my connections to home rekindled, and Mammy’s bookcase raided for reading material to keep me going for the next few months!

Frost, birdseed and bringing in the turf

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Little farmers

When we first came home to Ireland, all of two weeks ago, Lily and Katie weren’t terribly interested in playing in the garden. They were happy to go out when Granny or I were outside, but they had no desire to be there on their own. But then two things happened. First, we went down to Rosscarbery, in West Cork to visit my aunt and uncle, and the girls wanted to be in their garden all the time. Second, on our first morning back from Cork there was frost in Granny’s garden and the girls were desperate to get out to play in it. So, that morning, at 8am, out they went with rubber boots and jackets on over their pajamas, and they stayed out for the day. I haven’t wanted to come inside since!

Fun in the frost

Fun in the frost

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The wonders of ice

Their time is divided between playing imaginative games and helping out with the ‘fascinating’ chores of bringing in turf for the fire and feeding the birds. Granny’s dogs have an enclosed run with a little wooden shed attached. The dogs rarely use it and Granny stores her Christmas decorations in the shed. Entrance to the shed is via the pen. The girls have turned the shed into their shop, using recyclable cardboard boxes, plastic milk bottles and glass jars as their stock. I fear someone driving past will glance into the garden, see two children in the dog pen and think I’m keeping my kids in a cage!!

We discovered a deserted bird’s nest a few days ago and they have now decided to build their own nest, big enough for little girls to live in, using the windblown twigs and branches they find lying around the garden. Such behaviour should be encouraged – it results in Granny having a nice big pile of kindling for the fire!

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My wheelbarrow

There has been tree climbing and jumping; running and chasing; and attempts to engage the lazy old dogs in boisterous play. They have both taken charge of replenishing the bird feeders in the birch tree, noting when they are running low and messily refilling them.

But what brings me the most pleasure is seeing how much fun they are having with the turf. We burn turf and peat briquettes in the fires here and bringing in turf from the shed to the house is a daily activity that has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Just like my Daddy did with me, I wheel the girls around in the wheelbarrow as they squeal in delight, and they earnestly help me fill the wheelbarrow. We have even found my old wheelbarrow, which I was given as a present when I was three years old – in 1976. A bit rusty, it’s still going strong, and after they gave it a thorough cleaning a few days ago, it is now ‘their’ wheelbarrow and they are no longer interested in helping me fill my barrow. They run back and forth to the shed, three or four sods of turf at a time, sometimes wheeling the barrow into the house and delivering the turf right into the fire!

I am having so much fun seeing them play in ‘my’ garden, doing the things I loved to do as a child, and creating their own good memories of childhood.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!!

My week in the media spotlight!

Back on January 17th the Irish Examiner, a nationwide newspaper, published an article I wrote about life aboard Carina in their Saturday weekend magazine. The response was phenomenal and, as well as attracting many new followers to my blog, it also attracted the attention of some Irish broadcasters. I was contacted by RTE television and by Today FM, both nationwide broadcasters, with interview requests. I arranged for the interviews to take place while I was home in March. This past week has been a whirlwind of travelling and media interviews. And it’s been incredible.

With Anton Savage on Today FM

With Anton Savage on Today FM

On Tuesday morning I went to Dublin and was interviewed by Anton Savage on Today FM. Everyone was so kind and friendly, and the man himself proved just as handsome and suave as my female friends all claimed! The interview was a lot of fun. His best question was probably ‘Your kids aren’t feral, are they?’!! You can listen to that interview here

On Thursday I was down in Cork for two interviews. The first was on 96FM, a local Cork radio station, where I was interviewed on The Opinion Line with PJ Coogan as part of a programme about people who decide to transform their lives in some crazy way. There was me, an accountant turned musician, a housewife turned milliner, and others. You can listen to that interview here.

With Daithi and Maura on RTE's Today Show

With Daithi and Maura on RTE’s Today Show

And on Thursday afternoon I was in RTE’s Cork studio, for a TV interview on the Today Show with Daithi O’Se and Maura Derrane. It was my first time on TV and I had a great time. Everyone was so generous and wonderful to us. They asked if Lily and Katie would come on the show too, and the team put the girls so much at their ease that, by the time they sat on the studio sofa, they looked like they were in Granny’s living room. Afterwards, while I was changing back into my civvies to brave the wind and rain outside the studio, Maura took the girls away and made them up plates of carrot cake and biscotti for the journey home. You can watch our TV debut here. If you don’t want to watch the whole show, skip to 57.35 minutes to watch us.

The response to all this media coverage has been phenomenal. I’ve had so many messages via the blog, Twitter and Facebook, wishing us well. Everyone has been so generous. A lot of people have taken the time to send me messages, and I promise I will respond to everyone over the next few days.

Now it’s back to earth with a bang. Lily and Katie are running around Mammy’s garden, in their pajamas and covered in turf mould! Clothes need to be washed, shopping needs to be done, and I’m getting ready for a grown-up ‘sleep over’ with my two oldest friends tonight!

My top destinations

by Julian

It is the end of the year and since we started out in 2012 we have covered 3000 miles in Carina. I have already reviewed when things go wrong, so for balance I thought I would highlight some of the best places we have been to. I have chosen one destination in each country we have visited, though there are many other fabulous places in all five countries.

Tresco – Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, England

TrescoCollageWe moored on either side of Tresco. In New Grimsby Sound on passage to Ireland and in Old Grimsby Sound on the way back. I’ve heard people be a bit sniffy about Tresco because the south end of the island is so well tended. But in fact this is one of the most stunning things about it. It is an island of two extremely different halves. Of course the views everywhere are incredible. When the sun is out the beaches have the feel of a south pacific island. The moorings are a bit pricey but it is possible to anchor. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there. See the blog posts: Hungry sailors in Tresco and Falmouth to the Isles of Scilly.

Muros – Ria de Muros, Galicia, Spain

MurosCollageThe town is absolutely lovely with its old narrow streets overlooking a nice bay. The marina is pricey, but probably the best I have ever stayed in, with the office, lounge and laundry all set in an old converted cottage. It has a great family feel about it. If you love fish Muros is certainly a top destination too and we were there for the fabulous Virgin del Carmen fiesta with its waterborne parade. Despite the comments in the pilot guide about anchoring difficulties plenty of yachts anchored in the bay with no major issues. However, our best time was away from the town, when we anchored off a beach around the corner. I could walk into Muros and we could swim or row to the beach to play for the afternoon. We even collected delicious mussels at low water, whilst some locals were picking the razor clams. See the blog posts: Ria de Muros – a little bit of heaven, Fiesta de Virgin del Carmen and Beach Interlude.

Culatra – Algarve, Portugal

CultraCollagePeople just anchor here and stay for the whole summer and I can see why. What a fantastic place. Away from the traffic children can run around in relative safety, they cannot go far because it is a small island. Many people just seem to hang around barbequing fish that have been collected by the fleet of small, often single person boats. There is also the community of catamarans in the lagoon, some of which are permanent inhabitants. Ferries to Olhao and Faro mean that you can get everything you might need, but it is fun to just stay on the island and meet the people, including sailors from all over Europe. See the blog posts: Have you heard the one about the Inuit family, Old cats and Arviat on the Algarve.

L’Aber Wrac’h – Brittany, France

LaberwracCollageI just love the many faces of L’Aber Wrac’h. You can moor upriver at Paluden, away from the bustling marina of La Palue, or hang out and meet the many interesting sailors (and rowers), from all over the world, passing through on their adventures. There are beautiful walks in the woods, the hills and along the beaches, with their cockle picking opportunities. Nice towns you can walk to (or catch the bus), and of course the chance to sample the delicious food of Brittany. But probably the most spectacular thing is the entrance itself with impressive granite rocks and a giant imposing lighthouse in the backdrop (Possibly the tallest in the world). It is a great staging post for an adventure. See the blog post: Brittany.

Derrynane – County Kerry, Ireland

filename-derrynane-harbourDerrynane has a tight entrance, only to be attempted in good weather, but once in you are safe at anchor, in a beautiful cove. If the weather turns bad you’ll have to stay there and wait it out though. The sort of place where you can swim from the boat to the beach, explore all around the fantastic dunes and rocks, finding a variety of interesting places to play and chill out. It has a great pub too. What more do you want? See the blog post: Dolphins divers and Derrynane.

Conclusion

Well that’s it for now, except to say that I would feel bad without at least a mention of some other places which could have made this list.

Falmouth, Fowey, Penzance, The Yealm and Mevagissey – England.

Horseshoe Harbour – Sherkin Island, Glandore, Crookhaven and Lawrence Cove – Bere Island – Ireland.

Camaret sur Mer – France.

Porto – Portugal.

Ria de Viveiro, La Coruña, Rianxo, Bayona (all of Galicia really) – Spain.

3000 miles but not all plain sailing

by Julian

Over the last three years, we have sailed 3000 miles in Carina. Almost all of this has been just the four of us. It is the end of the year, so time for reflection and where better to start than with the things that went wrong.
JulianSailingWhen we set out, our open water sailing experience was about 1600 miles for me and 600 miles for Martina. But this is meaningless. Martina’s 600 miles were 50% as crew and 50% as a passenger. She had completed her RYA yachtmaster theory and her RYA dayskipper practical, but she wasn’t even close to sailing a boat independently. I had lots of experience sailing small boats inland, I had completed my RYA coastal skipper practical course but not attempted the exam, and I had skippered a yacht a couple of times but  always with someone more experienced on board. So we were bound to make some mistakes when we set out.

WHERE IT ALL WENT WRONG!

1. Don’t assume there isn’t a gas rig there

Our first major crossing to Ireland two years ago involved a black night with very thick fog. We were still many miles off the Irish coast when we started to hear a strange signal. What was it? I woke Martina and we both went up on deck. It wasn’t a ship. There was nothing marked on the paper chart and we were just about to check the electronic chart plotter when a voice came over the radio “This is the stand-off boat for the Head of Kinsale gas rig. Your present course will take you into a restricted area. Please alter course.” A quick zoom in on the chart plotter revealed that we were a mile away from the restricted area. We altered course and ten minutes later the thick fog lifted to reveal two giant gas rigs lit up like Christmas trees. In fact they reminded me of the flying saucer in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

2. My ‘Open Water 2 : Adrift’ moment

We had just put the sails on Carina for the first time and were out for our first ever sail when we anchored in a cove near Torquay. We were sitting happily in the cockpit when Lily decided to throw the winch handle overboard. I am a strong swimmer and have some experience as a diver. We were in a sheltered cove, near a beach and the water was about 5 metres deep. I reckoned I stood a chance of retrieving the winch handle, so I jumped in. The water was too murky to find it. I then realised that, unlike the charter yachts I’d been on previously, I couldn’t get back on board Carina! Of course at that time I hadn’t yet made my rope ladder and the dinghy was deflated and stowed on deck. After several attempts and great difficulty I eventually managed to pull myself on board with the help of a rope chucked over the side, but I know I looked pretty stupid.

3. Headlands on a lee shore

It took me two years of sailing Carina and three similar situations, for me to learn a valuable lesson about rounding headlands. If you are sailing close hauled, never assume the tack you are on will get you around a headland. First, the wind is blowing you onto shore. Second, no matter how insignificant the headland, there will often be a change in wind direction, usually strengthening as well, along with worsening sea conditions. Effectively sailing single handed in 2012, with Martina taking care of the kids (one reason why I probably hadn’t attempted to change tack), I was thankfully able to react before things got out of hand. Heart in mouth I usually don’t bother to tell anyone, I’m sure I’d only worry them. Now I know why my dad was never happy sailing like that!

4. Slipping the anchor

Twice this year we have slipped the anchor. The first time was near Truro, Cornwall, England. For various reasons, I didn’t have enough chain out. The wind got up and steadily built to a fierce onshore near gale. The bay shallowed gently and we were about to go aground. Martina tried to turn the engine on and the throttle didn’t work. We went aground. I quickly got into the dinghy and motored out to throw in an extra anchor upwind of Carina. The extra anchor held us and as the rising tide re-floated us I had time to look at the engine. Somehow the throttle cable had popped out of the new control lever we had only just had fitted by Dicky B Marine in Plymouth. This was only the second day of using it since it was fitted. Luckily it didn’t cost us our boat or our lives.

The second time was in Ria de Arousa, Spain. This time a less dangerous but equally strong offshore breeze got up, and the next thing I knew we were bumping up to a large buoy of one of the mussel rafts (the raft itself was thankfully on the beach). A little epoxy filler was needed and I pulled up the greenest stretch of anchor chain I have ever seen.

5. We’re not where we thought we were!

We had already successfully sailed through the Chenal du Four in Brittany once, so maybe I was a bit too casual on the return trip north last year. I completely misidentified a mark. We don’t have a chart plotter in the cockpit so it is necessary to pop down to the chart table to see the electronic chart. Thankfully things looked wrong enough that I did just that. We were out at sea but had I not altered course things could have been messy as rocks were not far from the surface. On another occasion I entered the Ria de Arousa through the wrong channel. Not that this wasn’t possible, given the relatively good conditions of the day, it was just not what I had planned. I could see the marks and they looked fine but the rocks looked awfully close together. I popped down and had a look at the plotter. We were fine but I was sure my passage plan of the morning didn’t look quite like this. It wasn’t until after the sail I realised what had happened.

6. When the wind blows

In 2013, my friend John joined us for a trip to France. He had been on boats before but had never done any sea sailing. Heading from Fowey to Roscoff the forecast gave west-southwest to southwesterly winds which would give us at least 50 degrees sailing off the wind. Force 4 to 5, occasional showers (some thundery) didn’t sound too bad. At 12 tonnes, Carina is a heavy boat for her 36ft, and she doesn’t have a large sail area. Nevertheless, given the crew and the night crossing, I put a reef in the mainsail and reefed in some of the headsail, reducing their area, and we travelled along a little slower than we could have done. Then I spotted the thunderstorm. I thought it would miss us but it didn’t. I should have reacted in precaution but I didn’t and the storm hit us relatively quickly. The next 30 minutes were accompanied by force 7 to 8 winds, with two gusts just tipping over to force 9. This was made even more spectacular by the continual lightning flashing all around, the earsplitting thunder and the violent horizontal hailstorm making it nearly impossible to see anything. Somehow we got through it without anything breaking (apart from the toilet seat). What a ride for a first time sailor! I can only say John proved himself to be a pretty tough cookie. He didn’t abandon us the moment we got to France and he proved very useful on the helm for someone with so little experience.

Conclusion

It’s not all plain sailing. However, incidents are getting fewer. I don’t sail close to lee shores unless I am coming into port and absolutely have to (generally the engine will be running even if still under sail). I check every inch of the passage on the most up to date detailed chart I possess and always work on the assumption that there is going to be something unexpected out there, I just don’t know about it yet. Starting out as relative amateurs we have sailed 3000 miles aboard Carina and, whilst neither of us are great sailors, we are getting a lot better. One thing for certain is that things do go wrong. We just have to work at reducing the risks and making sure we know how to deal with problems when they occur.

Celtic skin, GAA and kite surfing

Carina and Katie dwarfed by the huge beach

Carina and Katie dwarfed by the huge beach

‘Mum, they’re speaking English’. I hear this from Lily five or six times an hour every time we step off Carina. We are in the Algarve and, for the first time since leaving the UK, we are not the lone British-Irish family amongst the majority local Spanish and Portuguese. Even in Nazaré, the first tourist town we came to on the Portuguese coast, most of the tourists were Portuguese. But here on the Algarve we are surrounded by Irish and, to a lesser extent, British holiday-makers. Everything is geared towards tourism here – waiters, shop assistants and tour operators all speak English (indeed many are English or Irish); menus and signs are written in English; and the shops sell a jaw dropping array of tourist tat. In Alvor, on Saturday evening, I was drawn trance-like into an Irish pub, by the sounds of Gaelic football on the television, and watched ten minutes of the Mayo-Kerry replay before I had to leave. Football, especially at this time of year, chokes me up.

And because we are in a tourist region, prices for everyday food items are staggeringly high. Julian came home earlier today with a few bags of basics, with his wallet 45 euro lighter! If it weren’t for his foraging we would all have to go on crash diets! Earlier this week he found a roadside tree laden with ripe figs – my hero!!

Delicious sweet ripe figs

Delicious sweet ripe figs

Each day we meet other families who assume that we too are holiday-makers and we find ourselves living in a strange liminal zone of not being holiday-makers but not quite being not tourists either. To Portuguese we are indistinguishable from the hordes of other short-term visitors, and gone are the pleasant conversations with locals, and the special treatment shown to Lily and Katie. We meet Irish families who have just arrived, skin white as sheets, and those about to depart, skin red as lobsters. I hadn’t realised how tanned I had become until I compared myself to my compatriots!

In Alvor, just along the coast from the large resort town of Lagos, we anchored amidst kite surfers, dreaded jet-skiers (grrrrr), and boat loads of tourists on hour-long trips along the coastline. As we came into the marina at Albufeira, we ran the gauntlet of RIBs packed to capacity with holiday-makings, speeding in and out of the harbour at a rate of one every thirty seconds.

Today, I discovered the greatest thing about Albufeira – between the marina and the town is Rua de Sir Cliff Richard!!! Seemingly, he lives here, though whether he lives on the street bearing his name, I don’t know.

The spectacular cliffs go on for miles....

The spectacular cliffs go on for miles….

...and miles

…and miles

The Algarve is beautiful, and it’s easy to see why it is so popular with holiday-makers. The yellow cliffs with their profusion of sea stacks and caves, the seemingly endless golden sandy beaches, the warm sea water, and the great weather – who wouldn’t want to come here. But I miss the quiet remote beaches of Galicia. Like I said before, crowds of people overwhelm me, and the noise of these overly-busy town centres quickly make me want to retreat to the quiet of Carina. Bars blaring pop music from MTV (or whatever it is people watch these days), vendors selling noisy battery operated children’s toys on the streets, drunk young tourists. I’m not turning into an old curmudgeon – I always abhorred this stuff.

Thankfully, winter is on its way and the tourists will be in decline for a few months. Maybe I should just stay home with a good book until then!

And the patches make the goodbye harder still

Back in the spring of 1996 I bought a pair of khaki green shorts from Gap in Fukuoka, Japan. With the exception of 2010, when I was heavily pregnant, I’ve worn them every summer since. They’ve even seen a few days wear during brief Arctic summers in Arviat, Nunavut.

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They were dark green eighteen years ago. Now they’re faded to grey, threadbare and falling to pieces. But I can’t bear to let them go. Other items of clothing have come and gone in those eighteen years, but none have been as comfortable or carry so many memories as those faded old shorts.

They remind me of so many good times, and I know every day I put them on is going to be a good day. They remind me of hiking Mt. Aso and other volcanoes in Kyushu, southern Japan, with Linda, Fiona, Sarah, Sara, Brian, Stefan, Patricia and others; of climbing 3,333 steps to a temple in Fukuoka-ken with Lisa; of summer holidays with my great friend Takako and her wonderful family; and of summer Japanese barbecues.

These shorts remind me of a holiday in Hawai’i with Liliane, and of returning to Maui a few years later to volunteer on a humpback whale research project, with long days spent in the open ocean in a small boat, surrounded by giant humpback whales.

They remind me of arctic char fishing in Arviat with Crystal and of Honda/ATV rides out to Nuvuk to chat to other fishermen and women and see if there were any polar bears about.

They remind me of summer Sunday trips to Croke Park with Daddy and my uncle Tom for the Gaelic football, and of long summer days at home in Ballygibbon, keeping Daddy company as he went about his gardening chores.

They remind me of camping trips with Julian – in Ireland, Scotland, England, Spain, Italy, Germany and Austria; of long hikes and pub lunches; and of exploring the countryside of Cambridgeshire and Devon with Lily and Katie.

I’m wearing them as I write this.

I don’t think they’ll see another summer. They are threadbare and beyond repair. But I cherish them for their memories and I will be sad to say goodbye to them when the time comes. As Cat Stevens sang ‘And the patches make the goodbyes harder still’.

2013 Our year of visitors and old friends

When I look back on 2013 I will remember it fondly as the year when we visited and were visited and when old friendships were affirmed and renewed.

In February, Martha and Gord came all the way from Arviat, via Scotland, to spend a few days with us in Exeter. They were a hit with the girls and I thought for a while that Katie would run away with Gord! We braved the February winds to walk the seafront at Teignmouth and show them Carina from a distance.

Gord reading to Lily and Katie

Gord reading to Lily and Katie

In March, I prolonged a work trip to New York to visit Meredith who, after 14 years, was just the same. I spent a delightful Easter in the company of Stedman and Dunn parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, friends, and engaged in perhaps the most intellectually stimulating Easter dinner conversation ever. Maggie, Gavin and Bea became my instant friends, and Bryan Dunn – you surpassed my expectations (and they were high, after all Meredith told me about you). You touched my heart and you are a friend for life.

Easter morning with Maggie and Bea

Easter morning with Maggie and Bea

In July, Lily, Katie and I went to Ireland for a week. On a whim, I contacted Bernard, who I had last seen, only briefly, in 2004. I spent a wonderful evening with Bernard, his wife Moya and their four children, drinking copious amounts of tea and eating cake and apple tart, with tears of laughter rolling down my cheeks.

A few days later I met Gavin. We had business to attend to in Dublin and then he came down to Edenderry to meet my girls and attend a family party. Twenty-four hours of almost non-stop conversation, walking home at dawn like we were youngsters again, solving the world’s problems.

Later in July, back aboard Carina, Elizabeth and Ujarak visited us from Arviat. When I first lived with them, back in 2000, Ujarak was nine years old. What a joy to see the wonderfully interesting young woman she has become. I won’t forget our late evening swims in the sea at Plymouth, and great conversations with Elizabeth about…everything under the sun. And what an impression they both made on Lily and Katie!

In August, Julian’s friend John joined us for a week aboard Carina, sailing with us to France. I didn’t want him to leave. The perfect boat-guest, loved by our children, kind, thoughtful and bringing out the best in everyone. Come sail with us again!!

Captain John

Captain John

We spent an afternoon aboard Carina in Brest with Finbar and Florent. It must have been fifteen years since Finbar and I had last seen each other. A bit greyer perhaps (!), but the same old Finbar.

A couple of months ago, Julian was walking down the street in Exeter and bumped into his childhood friend, Rosemary. She too is living in Exeter now, with her husband and two children, and this past weekend, our two families enjoyed a wonderful afternoon together.

And not to forget our few days in Paignton with Sarah, Lisa, Pat, Isabel and Daniel, or our day in Waterford with Niamh, Darragh and Margaret.

There’s a joy in meeting true friends. With some, over a decade had passed since we had last been in each other’s company. In that time our lives have taken twists and turns. Some of us have married and had children. Most of us have been bereaved. We are in places in our lives that we didn’t expect. The friends who are my age, who I have known since university, are in many ways the same as always – kind, funny, witty, warm – but all with added empathy and understanding that none of us possessed when we were 20 or 25 years old. And, without exception, we fell back into such easy conversation, as if only a day had passed since our last meeting. I hope our friendships will endure an eternity.

I have been blessed by good friends in 2013. What’s in store for 2014, I wonder?