A catch-up blog

My friend Martha emailed me last week. ‘Is everything alright?’ she asked. My blog posts had dried up and Martha was concerned about our welfare. I sent her a quick and all too short response, assuring her that everything is fine with us, but I have been so busy, I simply haven’t had time to write any new blogs. This is unbelievably frustrating for me. Events have come and gone, time has passed and I’ve lost the moment and the momentum to write.

We have had some wonderful times – the school carnaval and the village carnaval; the Contraband Festival that linked the two villages with a temporary footbridge across the river; Lily’s birthday, and the birthday parties of classmates; a friend’s party downriver.

We’ve also had more trying times – a night in accident and emergency in Huelva when Lily had concussion; Carina dragging her anchor in high winds (twice) when we weren’t aboard and quick evasive action was required; Julian suddenly finding himself out of work, leaving us wondering about our short and medium future plans. Thankfully, all those problems have resolved themselves and I’m sleeping more easily again!

Looking after our friend’s house, dog and land continues to be a mostly enjoyable, if time-consuming, endeavour. Our multiple daily journeys to and from the village, on foot or by dinghy, take time and, as the days grow longer, sunnier and hotter, land maintenance increases, with fruit trees and vegetable patch needing irrigation and fast-growing canes and brambles needing to be cut back.

And on top of it all, my editing work is flooding in. It’s a great job, that I thoroughly enjoy, but at the end of a day sitting in front of the laptop editing other people’s work, the last thing I want to do is any writing of my own!

However, despite not having time to write about all we’ve been getting up to, I have kept a photo record of it all. So, here, by way of my camera and smart phone, is our last month…

IMG_20170222_171435

My two little owls at school Carnaval. Thank you to Rika aboard yacht Brillig for sewing the masks. Without Rika I would have had to pull an all-nighter to have the costumes ready in time!

DSCI0213

Lily and Katie Owl, with their Owl classmates Luisa and Miguel and Luisa’s baby Owl sister, Carla. Cuties xxxxxx

IMG_20170225_190826

A few days later it was the always colourful Sanlucar village Carnaval.

IMG_20170225_173340

This time we were pirates, princesses and…erm…a bumble bee.

IMG_20170225_175003

The best fancy dress was surely the family that collectively dressed as a roller coaster!

IMG_20170309_064754

After our night in Accident and Emergency in a Huelva hospital, Lily and I were tired, relieved and ready for breakfast, as we waited for Julian to come pick us up. Thank you to Martin for driving us to Huelva, to Sue and Robin for loaning us their car to get home again, to Emma and Paul for having Katie for the night, for packing a bag of food to keep me going, and for loaning us warm clothes for the night!

IMG_20170312_145238

Name that yachtie!! A much needed relaxing lunch and bottle of wine with our good friends Rosa and Phil, after rescuing Carina when she drifted downriver.

IMG_20170322_090904

To commemorate the smuggling culture between Spain and Portugal, the two villages held a fantastic joint festival, and were joined together by a footbridge. The construction of the bridge was a fascination for many of us!

DSCI0241

The official opening of the bridge, with mayors and officials from both sides meeting in the middle of the river.

DSCI0248

Natually, we took every opportunity to enjoy the novelty of walking across the river!

DSCI0260

And, after walking the river, it was supper time.

DSCI0261

For Lily’s 8th birthday, we hired the village hall and showed the movie ‘Big Hero 6’

DSCI0266

Followed, of course, by party food and cake (beetroot-chocolate cake topped with fresh strawberries). Thank you to Sawa and Rose-marie for all their help at the party! You both rock!!

DSCI0280

The day after Lily’s party we were downriver for a party hosted by our lovely friends Claire and Ed. It seemed like every foreigner on the river was there. Thanks for a lovely time, and apologies for the mayhem we caused!!

DSCI0281

And where there are extranjeros, there’s good music!

DSCI0293

Lily, Katie, Lola and Isla (and mum Emma) looking beautiful in the spring sunshine.

IMG_20170323_142319

Meanwhile, life goes on on the land…the girls walking home from school.

IMG_20170306_143602

Hanging out with their new friends Lupin and Buster.

IMG_20170317_180513

Engaging in a touch of spring cleaning.

DSCI0231

Making strange drink concoctions with their friend Gwendolyn.

IMG_20170226_132858

Dressing up Chester.

DSCI0225

And now and again….just now and again….I sit on the dock and soak up this wonderful place.

Advertisements

At the airport

My 89-year old Aunt Josie gave Lily and Katie some spending money when we visited her in Ireland last week. At Dublin airport I took the girls into the newsagent WHSmith so they could spend some of their money on magazines to read on the flight back to Faro. While they browsed the children’s magazines I wandered over to the sport and lifestyle section, to browse the yachting magazines. I picked up the September edition of Yachting Monthly, flicking through the usual features on marine safety, cruising stories, boat repairs and advertisements for everything from life jackets to sea cocks. One of the cruising stories caught my eye and I flicked back to it. Whoa, hey, wait a minute…that’s…that’s…Katie…and Lily…and me and Julian and Carina. It was an article I had written a year ago for Yachting Monthly. I’d recently received a copy edit from the editor and had returned it with a few corrections and amendments. But I hadn’t heard any more from the editor and assumed it would be published in a few months.

It was quite a thrill to find myself in a magazine, at the busy WHSmith at Dublin airport. We’d left Julian at the shop entrance looking after the bags, so I carried the magazine close to the entrance to show him (being the ultimate cheapskate, there was no way I’d actually buy the magazine!). Loud enough for everyone to hear, Julian exclaimed, aka Basil Exposition, ‘Oh, wow, Yachting Monthly has published the article you wrote about sailing our yacht in Ireland’. Public exclamations of pride are Julian’s forte.

And while I should have been feeling proud of myself, I was instead thinking of all the other half-written, semi-formed or unwritten articles, essays and books on my laptop and in my head. I spent the three hour flight from Dublin to Faro making up my mind to work smarter, be more efficient and more productive; to mould more of my writing into publishable condition, so that next time I run through an airport shop to show an article to Julian, he’ll exclaim theatrically, so that everyone within earshot can hear, ‘What? Not another article published in a major magazine? That’s the fourth you’ve had published this month. After all that hard work, you’re finally making a living as a writer!’.

A blended education

Recently, a few people have asked me, not unreasonably, if, now that we have had a taste of formal education, I have given up on the idea of home education. The answer is absolutely not. While I love that the girls are currently attending the village school in Sanlúcar, my commitment to the philosophy and practice of home education is as strong as ever.

A very particular set of circumstances led to the decision to enrol the girls in school here. We liked life on the Rio Guadiana in general, and we felt that enrolling the girls in the tiny village school would provide them with an immersive education in Spanish language that we could not give them at home. And, we felt that their attendance at school would give all four of us opportunities to participate in village life that we wouldn’t otherwise get if we continued to home educate while living on the river. We were drawn to the size of this school, with only seven or eight children per classroom, and thought that experience would be very different to being in a larger town or city school.

Apart from learning Spanish language and culture, the girls are learning other things at school that they wouldn’t necessarily learn at home – or at least would learn very differently at home.

One of Lily’s favourite school subjects is Religion, although she can’t quite express why. She’s certainly getting a very different perspective on religion at her predominantly Catholic Spanish school than she gets at home from her agnostic-Anglican and atheist-Catholic parents!

In school there is a big emphasis on perfectly neat cursive handwriting – something that I’ve never bothered with – and the girls are now writing beautifully. The great advantage of this for Lily is that she can now write faster, and doesn’t get so frustrated when trying to express herself on paper.

And, I must admit, one of the things I like best about having the girls in school is that I no longer feel the need to do the thing I like least about home education – arts and crafts! Even as a child I hated making things with scissors and PVA glue and toilet roll inserts and poster paint, and drumming up the enthusiasm to do that stuff with the girls has always been a guilt-inducing burden for me. Katie now has a very arty teacher and she comes home almost daily with some new creation. (Finding space to display these masterpieces at home is now the challenge!)

We have decided to spend another year on the Rio Guadiana, so the girls can continue to attend this school. Their Spanish language skills are developing so rapidly we feel that, with another year of immersion in the village, they will be close to fluent for their age. And after that? Who knows.

At home we continue to focus on those areas of education that are important to Julian and I and, in unschooling fashion, we facilitate the girls own educational interests.

At first, Lily found maths at school too easy (although I pointed out she was learning in Spanish), so she has continued to study maths at her own pace and level at home. In addition, she writes almost daily – letters, book reports, her own daily journal – and we try to give her the space and freedom to just get on with that. And while Katie is learning to read and write in Spanish, we continue to work with her at home to develop her reading skills and I’m hoping independent reading is just a few months away (this has been my hope for a long long time!!).

But, much as before, their informal education is led by what interests them and us. Katie has decided she wants to be a palaeontologist when she grows up (independent reading a necessity, Katie!) and our walks through the countryside these days are usually with the purpose of searching for bones. The many bones we find lead us in all learning directions. Through observation, conversation and research we are learning about physiology, how joints work, how to recognise different parts of a skeleton, the structure of bones, the different wild animals that live around here, distinguishing between carnivores and herbivores based on the teeth and jawbones we find. Believe me, it’s fun!!

Lily is recently fascinated by evolution, and asks endless questions about the origins of life, how plants and animals evolved, where the Earth came from, and so on. I told her recently that the answers to these questions were much easier when I asked them as a child. ‘God made the world’ was the answer that had to satisfy me! On our long evening and weekend walks, I try my best to answer her endless questions, and back home aboard Carina, we get the reference books out or search the internet for answers.

At home, we continue to actively learn through cooking and baking (weights, measures, how to cook, nutrition), through boat maintenance and care (learning to row, buoyancy), through shopping (maths, budgeting, practicing Spanish) and through all the other things we do on a daily basis. The girls are generally unaware, of course, that they are learning, but that philosophy and practice of learning by doing informs much of what we do together.

At the end of the next school year we will have another decision to make – to stay or move on. If we do move on I hope we will return to home education. But if we stay here, well, like many families, we will continue to blend education at school and home. The most important thing for me is that the girls retain their enthusiasm and joy for learning.

At last I have my life back

Back in March, as friends on the river were preparing to sail to distant shores, a frenzy of movie and TV series swapping took place. Friends on one boat had an almost complete collection of Disney movies on hard drive. Friends on another boat had a collection of old and new movies more to my tastes as well as a collection of TV series. Other friends also had a hard drive containing five or six complete TV series. We, rather poorly equipped, had only a DVD collection of mostly children’s movies.

As we drank beer and wine while our kids played, we discussed our movie and TV preferences. One couple sang the praises of Poldark, another the joys of Deadwood, and all were in awe of Breaking Bad. Some liked Games of Thrones, others didn’t. Although I had heard of all of these, I had never seen any of them. Soon our friends were swapping hard drives and memory sticks, downloading each other’s collections of movies and series, and it wasn’t long before I got in on the game too and soon had developed an impressive collection of movies and series.

Julian was in the UK at the time, recovering from his nose operation and, rather than reading my book as usual when the girls went to bed, I started to dip into my new collection. I tried Game of Thrones, but after about ten minutes realised it wasn’t for me. The same with Poldark. Fantasies and costume dramas just aren’t my thing.

Next I tried Breaking Bad, a series about a chemistry teacher who uses his chemistry skills to produce methamphetamine. I’d heard about it and thought I might like it. I watched the pilot episode one night, but it made me feel so tense I didn’t want to watch any more. But about three days went by and I found myself wanting to know what happened next. And so began my addiction to Breaking Bad.

I found myself watching two or three episodes a night, and sometimes even squeezing one in while the girls were having their afternoon siesta. When Julian returned from the UK he quickly discovered he had become a Breaking Bad widower. I stayed up late into the night and then couldn’t sleep when I went to bed because my heart was beating so fast and I was so tense from what I had just watched on the screen of my laptop.

Knowing Julian’s tastes, I knew Breaking Bad wouldn’t appeal to him, and the only ten minutes he has ever watched is now seared on his brain.

In the space of two months I have watched every single episode of all five seasons. Disaster almost struck when, midway through season four I discovered that two of the episodes had not downloaded properly. What was I to do? I couldn’t just skip them. Like a methamphetamine junkie, I sought out people on the river who I thought might be fellow Breaking Bad addicts. There were dead ends and false hopes, until finally, after two weeks of withdrawal, a friend gave me his hard drive and I was able to download my lost episodes.

In two months I have read little, written little and household chores have been all but abandoned! Yesterday, much to Julian’s relief, I watched the final episode. Withdrawal is going to take a little while, but I can finally get my life back!!

My surreal cosmopolitan life!

Last week I received an email from the press office at Exeter University. I’m still an honorary research fellow at the Geography Department there, and the press office had received a request from The Conversation asking for someone to comment on a recent controversy about polar bear trophy hunting. I have written numerous academic and popular articles* about polar bear hunting over the years, as this is the focus of much of my anthropological research in the Canadian Arctic, so the press office asked if I could write a 600-800 word response to this particular polar bear news story.

I duly wrote the article, working directly with the environmental editor of The Conversation and the article was published on Wednesday morning. It got a good reaction, was widely read and shared on social media and I got mostly positive comments for the approach I had taken.

So, if an Irish woman living on the Spanish-Portuguese border writing about polar bear hunting in the Canadian Arctic isn’t weird enough, the surreal nature of my cosmopolitan life really hit home on Friday afternoon.

There I was, sitting in a bar in Sanlúcar, having a drink with British, Northern Irish and Brazilian friends, while my husband was at work in Portugal and my daughters were off watching a movie with their Spanish friends.

I resisted having a third glass of wine and I’m glad I did. When my friends left, I stayed on at the bar, ordered a Coke and turned on my laptop to check my emails. I had a Facebook message from my friend and Inuk sister, who is a journalist working for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) North in Iqaluit, Nunavut. She had read my polar bear article and asked if she could interview me for the evening news. I said I’d have to see, and I’d get back to her in half an hour.

You see, my thirteen year old Nokia mobile phone is not up to receiving phone calls from Canada or anywhere else outside of Europe and the Skype connection at CBC in Iqaluit isn’t reliable. How could we do this? And then inspiration struck. I would go in search of my Dutch friends, who live in a house with a land line.

I paid for my Coke and set off up through Sanlúcar, serendipitously bumping into one of my Dutch friends on the way. He walked me back to his house and set me up with his phone and Wifi; I turned on my laptop, sent a message containing the phone number and awaited a phone call from Iqaluit.

Five minutes later I find myself, an Irish woman in a Dutch house in a Spanish village, on the phone to my Inuk sister in Nunavut, who is interviewing me about my thoughts on polar bear hunting for a television and radio station which focuses on Inuit and other indigenous Arctic Canada news  !

I may own a thirteen year old phone, but I think I’ve become hyper-globalised!!

*My academic articles are available on request via the blog’s Contact page, and my popular articles can be found in the Publications page of this blog.

Reflecting and resolving

Like many people, the end of the year is, for me, a time for reflecting on the year that has past and looking forward to the year to come. I’m a consummate list maker. Few things in life make me happier than drawing ‘job done’ lines through the items on my to-do lists. And the list par excellence is, of course, the list of New Year’s resolutions (I know, I know! ‘Get a bloody life, Martina’, I hear you scream, ‘You control freak!’). So, as 2015 drew to a close, I reflected on last year’s list to see where I had succeeded and where I had, ahem, not succeeded quite so much, and I started to think ahead to what I hope to achieve in 2016.

So there were the ‘take care of my body’ resolutions – quit drinking, quit processed sugar, exercise more; the ‘writing’ resolutions – finish my book, write ten blog posts per month, keep a daily journal; and the ‘be a better person’ resolutions – be more patient with the children, give Julian a break.

How did I do? I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol from December 28th 2014 to November 10th 2015. A bottle of locally produced red wine, left on our saloon table by the guy who was taking care of our boat while we were away, broke me. I’ve had a beer or wine most days since then. Why did I want to quit alcohol? Since I returned to drinking post-pregnancy and post-breastfeeding, I haven’t drunk very much. I certainly haven’t been drunk for over seven years. But I don’t need it, and I didn’t miss it while I was off it.

Quit processed sugar? Those of you who have been following my Christmas baking extravaganza will know how well I got on with that one! I think I had three weeks sugar free in January, and then my will broke. That stuff is too damn addictive.

I didn’t exercise more in 2015, but neither did I exercise less. Walking and swimming, but I wanted to do more.

I didn’t finish my book, but as I write, I’m looking at an end of February completion date and then the fun of trying to find a publisher begins. I published 103 blog posts, which averages a little under nine a month, and if my computer hadn’t died mid-way through December I would have posted a couple more. The daily journal had an entry most days, probably 320 out of 365. My morning ramblings helped keep me calm, focused and de-stressed.

As for being more patient with the girls and giving Julian a break, well, let’s just say I’m a work in progress. But I find when I’m happy with what I’m doing – writing what I want to write, achieving my own goals, I’m more patient with my nearest and dearest.

It was a year of ups and downs, of joys and sorrows, but a year that, upon reflection, I feel I grew (and not only because of the sugar addiction). In practical ways I knew more by the end of the year than I did at the start. I went from speaking almost no Spanish to some, I figured out ways to be more sustainable and frugal aboard Carina, and I learned to be a better writer. I like to think I became more patient and more slow to get my knickers in a twist (I use my cool reaction to the recent breakdown of our laptop as evidence of the new me).

So what are my hopes and resolutions for 2016? The list is long, naturally, and falls into different categories. The ‘take care of my body’ resolutions again include forsaking alcohol and exercise. I haven’t touched a drop since December 30th and I have dreams and plans for a lot of walking this year. I’m not talking short little jaunts. I want to don a backpack and walk for days on end (hint hint hint to a couple of friends who I know read this blog…you know who you are!). Reading a lot of walking and wilderness books last year has given me the bug.

There are the ‘writing’ resolutions of course. The book will be finished (and soon) and I have other short and long term projects to complete or set in motion. And I have a new daily writing project, the details of which I am keeping to myself for the moment, as I’m hoping it might evolve into something else.

And then there are the ‘learning something new’ resolutions. By the end of 2016 I want to have completed the Duolingo Spanish course; and, wait for it, I want to teach myself meteorology! I’m serious! I’ve wanted to for a long time, and this will be the year I do it! Besides, I want to improve my handling, sailing and boat maintenance skills, learning to do the things I currently leave to Julian.

There’s method to all this madness. These are not my hobbies to squeeze in around the rest of my life. This is my life. As I’ve discovered, learning Spanish makes life in Spain easier and far more interesting. Improving my boat skills and learning meteorology will make me a better sailor, make life aboard Carina safer for everyone, and take some of the burden from Julian.

Plus, those of you who know me well know that I don’t do sitting down and doing nothing very well. My sister once commented that coming to visit me was like going for a week to a ‘fat farm’. Go go go!! So, in the absence of a ‘proper job’ I have to do something to keep myself busy, active and out of harms way!

I’ll look back on this blog post in a year’s time and see how I got on with my 2016 New Year’s resolutions.

Big knickers and The Archers Omnibus

All going well, by the time you read this it will be 24 hours since I’ve had my surgery and I’ll be recovering in hospital. I’ve never had an operation before. I’ve never had an anaesthetic and apart from when I was ill as a little baby, I’ve only been in hospital twice – with glandular fever when I was seven, and when Lily was born, six and a half years ago. I remember the monumental boredom of being in hospital when I was seven. And giving birth in hospital was unexpected and unplanned, so I had no time to prepare. After 46 hours of labour (oh yes, folks!) I don’t remember much of the less than two days I spent in hospital after Lily was born.

This time, I’ve had time to prepare. I’ve little idea what I’m going to feel like after the surgery. I’m expecting pain and grogginess. I’ve been told I’ll be kept in for two or three nights. But one thing’s for sure, I’m not going to be twiddling my thumbs wishing I had something to do to pass the time.

I’ve starved myself of the last three Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review podcasts and saved them up for my hospital stay. Ditto the last three Archers Omnibuses. And I’ve downloaded the podcast of Seamus Heaney’s Desert Island Discs. I listened to it only recently but loved it so much I wanted to hear it again.

I’ve saved my two favourite radio stations onto my smart phone – BBC Radio 4 for Woman’s Hour and pretty much everything else; BBC Radio 2 for Chris Evans in the morning and Simon Mayo in the evening.

So much for listening. I’m currently reading David Guterson’s East of the Mountains and I’m unlikely to have it finished before Thursday morning. I’m also packing Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, which I’ve been saving up.

Then there’s writing. I’m on the fifth draft of my book, and chapters 16 to 30 are in need of revision (I’m not expecting to revise 15 chapters! I’ve been getting through this re-write at a rate of one chapter every two to three days). And I never go anywhere without my journal and a selection of pens, so I can write to my hearts content.

I realise I will probably indulge in few or none of these. But they will be there, if I need them, to save me from boredom.

As for the titular big knickers? When my very practical mother came to visit a few weeks ago she brought me a pack of big white knickers (size 14) which she says I will need after my operation. One of my friends suggested they could also be used as bed sheets and I thought I could fly one as a Kildare flag!! Thank you Mammy. As if having my uterus removed wasn’t unsexy enough!

On blogging

I started blogging at the beginning of 2012. I’d been working on the blog for a couple of months prior to that, getting it ready to ‘go live’. My blogging, at first, was inconsistent. Whole months might go by when I wouldn’t post anything and then three would come in quick succession. Once we set sail in summer 2012 I had limited internet access and limited electricity to power our slightly old laptop. I had lots to write about, but was frustrated by my lack of opportunities to blog. About a week before we set sail for France in summer 2013 our laptop broke and we didn’t buy a new one for four months. I quickly gave up trying to blog on public computers in France, as the French keyboard drove me towards insanity and I couldn’t think slowly enough to type.

At the start of 2014, with a new laptop and a permanent move onto Carina imminent, I made a New Year’s Resolution to blog ten times per month. I’ve generally stuck to that with only a few blips here and there. Lack of electricity or Wifi no longer cause problems. Carina’s solar panel and an energy efficient current adapter means quick and easy recharging of the laptop battery no matter how long we remain at anchor (this might be put to the test when we return to Carina for the winter). These days I write all my blogs as Word documents and, when I get an hour of Wifi, copy and paste up to five blog posts a time to my WordPress site, and schedule them to come out at three day intervals. That way, there’s never a break in my blog posts due to being anchored somewhere remote or on a passage at sea.

I’m generally not short of material to blog about, and indeed I have quite a few posts written as Word documents that have never (yet) seen the light of day on the blog. Julian sometimes criticises my broad reach. Maybe he’s right. Maybe I should stick to stuff about sailing and life aboard Carina and our experiences in foreign places. But the way I see it is that I blog about what happens to me and my family and what inspires me or amuses me or gets my goat. So I blog about sailing, living aboard a small boat, the places we visit, the encounters we have with humans and other-than humans. I blog about our experiences home educating the girls and about simple living, and I blog about things that spark ideas or thoughts or memories of other things.

We’ve been away from Carina for four months now, back in the UK while I await my surgery. Being away from Carina is part of our live aboard story too. You could think of it as an interesting experiment of sampling life back in what used to be normality but now feels decidedly abnormal (blog post on this theme to follow!). It’s also about trying to maintain a sense of continuity and normality for the children when we are away from home and our lives are very much up in the air.

The truth is, I love blogging. I enjoy putting my thoughts out there and I enjoy reading comments from people who make the time to share their thoughts and ideas about what I (and occasionally Julian) have written. Since January 2012 my blog following has grown by slow increments. I don’t have the tens of thousands of followers that other bloggers have. In fact, I don’t even have a thousand followers. But with every new blog post I usually get one or two more and when I’ve had some media coverage I pick up a few more. I’m happy with that.

But a strange and unexpected thing has happened since returning to the UK. I usually write at a great distance from my readers. Few of the other sailors and live aboards we meet have any idea that I write a blog. Amongst our fellow live aboards our family is much like everyone else’s. We’re just one of the thousands of families out there on the world’s oceans, sailing to our own compass. In fact, many of them are probably writing their own blogs too. In the course of Skype conversations my mother or mother-in-law will occasionally comment on the content of the latest blog post, and a few people comment via the blog itself or on Facebook. But generally I’m oblivious to readers’ reactions to what I write and I rarely think too much about who I write for.

Since returning to the UK, however, friends, family members, friends of friends, friends of family, have told me they read my blog. My reaction is always terrible embarrassment hidden behind mumbled ‘oh really?’s and ‘thank you’s! But now that I’ve discovered some of the readers of my blog, I see their faces as I write and have become a little self-conscious, imagining their reactions to what I write. Some censorship has crept in. I’ve always censored my writing. There are subjects I will not write about and subjects I’ve avoided writing about in particular ways. But now I’m censoring as I think about how specific individuals will react.

Silly me. Because the truth is, I’m delighted that people take an interest in my blog, and enjoy reading what Julian and I write. I just don’t react to the face-to-face reality of my readers’ existence very well. I’m sure once we’re back aboard Carina my self-consciousness will wane and I’ll once again forget who I am writing for.

But for now, thank you all so much for continuing to follow my blog!

A very different river

It’s Sunday and we’re on our way to Stratford-on-Avon, birthplace of those two great English wordsmiths, William Shakespeare and Julian. It’s a girl’s day out – Granny, Grandma, Lily, Katie and me. The sun is beating down and the road to Stratford is busy. Grandma parks the car and we walk to the bustling banks of the River Avon. The place is mobbed with visitors – families and couples picnicking on the grass, Chinese and Japanese tour groups, teenage Spanish and Italian student groups. A lot of ice cream’s being consumed today.

The narrow-boats on the river bring me back to my five memorable years living and working in Cambridge, when friends and colleagues lived aboard similar boats. Before the girls came along, Julian and I briefly contemplated buying a narrow-boat, but I was too filled with considerations about laundry and heating to take the plunge. Silly me. Put me in a time machine and take me back eight years and I’d jump at the chance. Here in Stratford, some of the boat owners are using the tops and sides of their floating homes to showcase handicrafts for sale to the tourists. Other narrow-boats have been converted into ice-cream and sandwich bars.

We’ve brought a picnic and we spread the picnic blanket under a tree close to the river. The river is as busy as the rest of the town. Sightseeing boats ply the river, with sightseers embarking and disembarking close to where we’re sitting. There are a lot of these boats, manoeuvring gingerly around the tourists in rowboats, canoes, punts and the occasional motor boat.

Lily says she wants to go on a boat trip. The grandmothers are keen to browse the market stalls. I prefer Lily’s option, so the girls and I queue up for the next boat trip.

IMG_20150719_144335We climb aboard a flat-bottomed 40-ish foot narrow boat, half covered, half open air. We choose seats at the front, in the open. The boat holds about 60 passengers and we’re near the top of the queue. Once we’re on board we wait and wait, as the skipper seems keen to fill the boat to capacity before he sets off. Plus, he seems to be enjoying the Tupperware tub of noodles he’s eating for lunch. Katie sings ‘Over the rainbow’ at the top of her voice, while we wait. I’m not sure about the other passengers, but she keeps me entertained.

Other identical boats come alongside and take on more passengers. The river is crowded with swans, geese and ducks scrounging free meals from tourists feeding them white baguettes and loaves of bread despite signs everywhere warning ‘Do not feed bread to the water fowl’. Some sensible families are feeding the birds bird food.

IMG_20150719_142536

Finally we’re off. The boat moves slowly along the river, twenty minutes in one direction, twenty minutes back. Even at the farthest reaches of our trip the river is filled with the hired canoes, row boats and punts. We motor slowly along the shallow narrow river. The girls catch glimpses of the occasional fish. The river bank is lush and green, the wild greenery broken in places to reveal huge expensive houses with impossibly manicured lawns running down to private landing stages at the river’s edge. We pass one house with a beautiful octagonal garden shed. I tell Katie that if we lived in that house I would turn that shed into my office. I could write all day long. ‘And I’ll bring you tea’, Katie tells me. She adds that she thinks she and I should live in that house and Daddy and Lily should live in the mansion next door. A perfect Tim Burton-Helena Bonham Carter living arrangement, I think.

IMG_20150719_145540Half way through the trip, Katie announces she ‘urgently’ needs to go to the toilet. She spends the second half of the trip sitting on my lap, her legs clenched tight. ‘If we were on our own boat’ I think, ‘There would be no problem’. I work out a plan of action in case she can’t hold it in any more. Not sure how warm the day was going to be I’d packed a pair of leggings for myself, to slip on under my short dress if I got too cold. I haven’t needed to wear them. But I can sacrifice them, if need be, to soak up any wee that might otherwise pool around the feet of our fellow passengers. (The 30-something couple sitting closest to us look decidedly child un-friendly and wee-ing on them would not be good). Katie, thankfully, holds on until the trip ends and we race to the find the nearest public toilet.

The longing to be on my own boat so that Katie can go to the toilet draws me into a general reverie of longing to be back aboard Carina. I don’t want to be on this boat with 60 other people. I want to be on a wider, deeper and decidedly quieter river. Lily and Katie, it appears, feel the same way. They both, at different times, say they wish we were on Carina rather than this boat. Lily asks me how long until we go home and Katie asks if we could sail Carina up the river Avon.

Stratford and the River Avon are beautiful. Summer in England is beautiful. But we don’t want to be paying tourists on a pleasure cruise. Though we enjoy this lovely trip on the river, home on our own lovely boat is where our hearts lie.

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!