Goodbye Blog, Hello Ireland!

(Bend in the road)

We’ve come full circle and we’re back sitting in a car park just like we were at the beginning of this trip. Last night we stayed in Bayeux, we stayed there on our first night too. Interesting side note Bayeux had the first ring-road in France. It was built by the British army when they were moving through France from the Normandy coast near the end of the second world war and they didn’t want to go through the center of the old town. Like us they found some of the French streets very narrow. It’s kept it’s English name, the French word for ring road or bypass is périphérique. Perfect place to come full circle.

(Goodbye beautiful countryside!)

Our car park today is in Cherbourg, the port our ferry will leave from and there’s a very good maritime museum here. For the first time in all the times we’ve passed by, today we are visiting. They have a Titanic exhibition which I might have reconsidered had I really thought about it… No, it was great, too great, too life like, too well done… Actually, really well done. There’s a bit where we were standing at the railing looking out to sea and the words the radio operator was typing are displayed in front of us. Distress words. And then the words in reply from the other ships sailing to the rescue. It took two hours to sink and that guy was typing during this time asking for help and those other ships were replying telling him they were coming as fast as they could.

(The old rusty car at the vineyard in Beaujolais)

By the time you read this we will be just off the coast of Wexford. We will be looking out the window at beautiful Ireland and checking our phones for a signal to find out who you picked for us… as President! It’s been great travelling with you, writing to you and sharing the pictures. Thank you so much for reading, I really do appreciate that. Now a little favour, if you have one, could you put out the Child of Prague, it’s a little breezy here…

Until next time, Mairead and Denis.

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Inspiration from home

(Colours on a grey day in Argentan after Grahame)

We are making our way to the ferry via the Loire and now we have reached Normandy. All the time the weather is getting colder. The little indicator on the gas bottle was in the red yesterday morning. That was sooner than usual because we’re turning the dial way up on the heating. It’s only seems like last Tuesday we were opening all the windows to generate a draft powerful enough to lift the net curtains.

(Huge moon last night)

As well as the temperature decreasing, the brightness is decreasing. We had fog today for most of the 90 minute journey but then joy, the road stretched upwards through the clouds and we were in sunshine again.

(Path through the woods at Château Sully)

My sister has two great friends, Doris and Grahame, from the time she lived in Toronto, Canada and this week they are visiting Ireland. They have no fear of cold weather – their thermometers go much further down than ours in winter – so of course they are visiting in October. Anyway, I have been noticing the pictures they are taking of their visit – especially as they are visiting my home town – and they are beautiful. I would never go around taking pictures at home like I do here… why not?

(Couldn’t resister another photo from the Canal de Bourgogne, at sunrise)

Today walking back from a French lunch in the grey light, I was inspired by Grahame’s picture of a door in Cashel, to take a picture of a similar door here. Grahame has definitely inspired me to take pictures in my own town, maybe if I go at sunrise no one will see me? As well as that the sunlight, or lack of it – what I would normally call a grey day – makes the colours in the subject pop. That’s a good thing.

(Last of the leaves at Autun)

We get used to the beautiful things around us and stop noticing them until someone from outside comes along and points them out. We get used to calling a perfectly grand day a grey day – meaning it insultingly. We get used to noticing what’s annoying or irritating when there’s lots to see that’s interesting and inspiring.

Thanks, Grahame! Mairead.

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Time’s Up!

(The fishermen were out all night on the lake at Autun)

When I was walking up to the château last week the timing was set by my choice to return for French lunch at 12.30pm. I had my phone so I knew I’d know when it was time to leave. Of course when I got up there I realised I had more time so I stuck in an extra experience (coffee and… etc.) and spent the original estimate of an hour to visit the monuments. But I noticed a funny thing – without checking my phone I knew when it was time to leave and start my walk down the hill.

(Near the lake at Autun)

Denis is the best at knowing the time without looking at his phone. I think it’s because he was born on a farm and spent his childhood outdoors while I may have been doing something more interesting… like watching telly. We sometimes do this thing where I say, don’t look at your phone but tell me what time is it? (yes, there is no end to our excitement). Most of the time he will be exactly right and the odd time he might not be exact but he’ll be very close. I’m always way off so I presumed my internal clock was broken. My visit to the château and my sense of it being time to leave has given me confidence in my internal clock.

(Foggy morning on the canal near the Loire at Léré)

I might also have an internal calendar because I can feel something else in my bones – a change in the weather. The sun is only just rising now when we set off in the mornings and the temperature for the past three days has been 5 degrees or less when the clock goes off. Which is magnificent because it means there will be no clouds when the sun rises and sunrise is a beautiful thing to see. So I’ve started taking my porridge out to a bench (they are everywhere – thank you France!) and warming my hands while I sit in the presence of beauty. Of course I have warm trousers, boots, three layers of fleece and a hat but that doesn’t stop me seeing the sun and feeling the beauty. This is the same sun we humans have been counting on to rise every morning. The sun that tells us it’s a new day and we can start again.

(Léré again…)

When I’m home I rarely sit outside for breakfast so I don’t see the sunrise. I’m doing this here because I am reminded our journey will end soon and I am gathering every sunrise like I might gather shells on a beach. Anyway, yesterday when I had a feeling it was time to go home, I trusted it and now we are going home, a week earlier than planned. I absolutely knew it was the right thing to do but right after we changed the ferry tickets I began to doubt myself. It felt like there was an uncomfortably narrow funnel I had to go through to get home and I had just brought it nearer. Near enough to have a good look at it!

(We always bring out the good china for dinner… Chateau Sully on the Loire)

The problem is it was so narrow I couldn’t bring things back through it… I couldn’t possibly bring the beach with the shells, or the freezing cold sunrise, or the French benches. I have to go through on my own with nothing in my arms, no rucksack on my back. It has a sister funnel – the one I go through when we leave Ireland. In that going away funnel I can’t bring my family, I can’t bring my friends, I can’t bring all my art supplies.

(Chateau Sully)

Well, until now I thought I couldn’t bring things through the funnels… but I’ve been looking and I see there is a little space for me to hide things. Like my internal clock and calendar no one will notice I have them… except me. When my internal clock told me it was time to leave the château last week it was right. We all have a working internal clock but we’ll only use it if we trust it…

(Sunrise at motorway services on the A10…)

It’s the same for that space we have for hiding things, the things we can’t bring with us in our arms or on our backs. If we trust that space is real then maybe leaving will be easier. Because nothing really gets left behind.

We’re coming home, Mairead.

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Châteauneuf-en-Auxois

(Can you see the hedges zigzagging up to the château? That’s the road)

On Thursday morning after breakfast I left our spot beside the river to climb to the château. It was cold, about 8 degrees but the sun was shining. We were going to do French lunch again as the cupboards were still bare so I needed to be back by 12.30pm. the walk according to google would take 37 minutes, it was now 9.24am. I thought the 37 minutes might be a little optimistic so I was allowing myself an hour to walk up, another to walk down, leaving me with a visit of an hour. In the end google was very close and in spite of my puffing and panting and my stops to take pictures the climb up took exactly 40 minutes!

(Sigh…)

It was such a beautiful walk too, I still feel it now. The slight chill in the air. The colours of the trees. The ducks floating in the canal. The cows eating the grass. After eleven minutes I reached the end of my journey along the canal and had to start on the road that I could see zigzagging towards the château. As I climbed higher the sun felt hot on my back. The gentle walk along the towpath behind me I was pulling myself up the slope. There was the sound of the birds and a distant hum of traffic and something else – my heavy breathing. Fortunately there was no one around I needed to impress.

(Isn’t this seedpod beautiful? The road in the background leads to the canal)

The first manmade structure I came to was the château wall with a wooden door, into the garden, I guessed. The door was locked and there was no indication whether I should go left or right around the wall. By now, 10.04am, the sun was beating down and there was no shade and even an extra few meters in the wrong direction seemed painful. I went right and I was climbing again. But it was a good choice as I was heading into the village of Châteauneuf. From below it’s not clear that there’s a village up here but there is and it’s incredibly pretty. I passed one of the Logis chain of hotels, a pizza restaurant, guest houses and a man charging electric bicycles for hire. I wondered if I should try to negotiate a one way trip back to the canal later.

(Oh look someone seems to have ordered coffee and cake… with cream)

There was also a cafe with tables and chairs outside, you know the ones that look French? Made of metal and circular and painted green. It was open. Having made such good timing and having used up possibly a cake full of calories I went along in and had a coffee and cake…. yes it was only just gone 10am (9am in Ireland…)

(Looking out the gate of the château into the village)

Fortified, I went along into the château and paid €5 for my ticket, well worth it especially for the story of the wife and the sugar dusted flans… So it was the Friday before St. Andrew’s Day in 1450 (or thereabouts) and Catherine of Châteauneuf put some sugar dusted flans on the window seat. (The sugar dusting seems to be important.) Her husband sits down to eat and disaster… he dies shortly after. Also dead is a young servant, Mariote. Everyone thinks Catherine put arsenic into the tarts to poison her husband, no one seems too upset about Mariote. Catherine ends up in jail and someone else gets the château. I don’t think she did it but if I’d known the story earlier I might have skipped the cake.

(I forgot to include the map last time… the red marker is where we were parked by the Canal de Bourgogne. Thanks google maps )

I spent an hour going around the rooms and buildings and then started back down, noting how much easier it is to walk down a hill than up.

I’m still wondering about Catherine and the flans, Mairead.

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Like walking into a postcard…

(The camping car aire is to the right of the boats. Can you see the château?)

You know when you’re flipping through a magazine or a brochure and you see these pictures of some beautiful place and you think, wow, that’s just gorgeous, I’d really love to go there, then you turn the page and go on to something else. Well, for years I have a picture in my head that I saw in some brochure for the Canal de Bourgogne. It was absolutely magnificent. There wasn’t a particular location given for the picture, probably suggesting that all along the canal might be as magnificent… and it probably is. Anyway, I didn’t bother doing anything about it, either looking up the canal or asking anyone.

(The locals are very friendly)

Then on Wednesday there we were… in the picture in my head. It’s magnificent. Now I have some more pictures to keep in my head and you can have some of them too… At every turn there was something pretty, something reflecting light, something drifting along. In case you ever want to visit, here’s the location details: the village is called Vandenesse-en-Auxois, the château is called Châteauneuf-en-Auxois and the red marker on the map below (thanks to Google maps) marks the spot.

(The colours…)

It was too hot to walk up to the Château on Wednesday when we arrived and since there were no grocery shops in town and our cupboards were bare we went for a French lunch. Fortunately, there was a restaurant.) Might have mentioned before that the French are very precise when it comes to mealtimes. Lunch happens between 12.30pm and 2pm, not before and not after. It’s a four course all-included affair for anywhere from €10 to €15 or more. We arrived at 12.01pm as we were hungry and with all the cars parked outside we were concerned about getting a seat. The place was hopping when we arrived. There was a big group around the bar and a good number dotted around the tables. Monsieur took a moment as they do to welcome us and point to a table. We sat down.

(No cars… )

The table was set and there was a bottle of water. We drank the water and waited. We were wondering when the menu might come but the starter arrived at precisely 12.30 so we didn’t need to wonder anymore – there was no choice. That was actually a relief because every meal we eat in France has been delicious so whatever arrives will be ok with us.

(Can you make out the château in the mist?)

At this point the tables were full, mainly men, possibly coming from work. They looked right at home like maybe they came here everyday. And why wouldn’t they, the meal was lovely. I tried the sweet cheese – even when the Mademoiselle explained you pour sugar into it! I thought we misunderstood but no, one of the locals was doing just that. It tasted like a plain yogurt… with sugar.

Next time I’ll tell you about visiting the château, Mairead.

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How I wrote a book not entirely on my own

(There was a Time Machine in Besançon… or it might have been a Time Museum)

Settle down, grab a cuppa and let me tell you the story of how I wrote a book with the help of six generous, creative and encouraging people …

It was the 4th of February 2016. There I was travelling around the beautiful old country of Portugal when I sort of fell in love with Andy Weir… Andy is a computer/space geek who loves to write. One day he decided he was going to give up the computers and become a writer. So he started and he sent off his first book to the publishers. He got loads of rejection letters for the first book but he was persistent so he started on a second book. He sent his second book off to the publishers and got even more rejection letters. He repeated this, I don’t know how many times, and then he stopped. He didn’t stop writing, he decided sure didn’t he earn grand money writing software, wouldn’t he be just as happy keeping the writing as a hobby.

(One of the clocks…)

So… he started his next book as a serial on his blog. It was in 2011. His friends loved it, they gave him feedback, they passed the blog on to their friends, he had some really high up people in the space industry correcting some of his science (By the way this is Andy Weir and I’m talking about The Martian – great book and great movie starring Matt Damon) he was having a ball!  Eventually he finished his book, while working away at his computer day job.

(Lip seem to be famous clock makers)

Some of his friends started to ask, “Hey Andy, any chance I could get that little book of yours to give to my girlfriend/mother/Dad they don’t know how to get at the blog posts?” So, Andy, lovely man that he is, gathered all the posts into an easy to read file (quite a time-consuming job for lovely Andy) and sent the file to his friend. He also put a link on the blog for anyone else who wanted everything all together. Then someone wanted to read it on their kindle and try as he might the lovely Andy couldn’t get it onto the kindle without charging a minimum price (an Amazon requirement.) So he charged the minimum and people started buying and money started accumulating in his account. (By the way… the full book was still on the blog – for free.) Then slowly but surely the kindle book started going up the Amazon charts and… surprise, surprise, the publishers started contacting him…. and then the movie producer rang… and that’s what happened to Andy.

(Time flying…)

The magic of Andy’s story is that he loved to write and he wrote even when it seemed like there was no good reason. And I love that he found a way to share his writing. Every time I wonder if it’s worth doing any of the things I do so that I can share my writing, I think of Andy and I ask myself: What would Andy do? He never lets me down, his advice is always great and he is never in a bad mood. One morning I was talking to Andy and he was saying maybe I could think about sharing the book I wanted to write on my blog? Andy thought that was a great idea. I thought that was a terrible idea and I had to go lie down to stop feeling nauseous. So Andy waited until I was feeling better (he’s considerate like that) and he suggested gathering a small team of readers and send chapter-sized chunks to them each week. Isn’t he really smart?  (Just so you know, she has never spoken to Andy or emailed him, this is all in her mind – Denis.) So that’s what I did.

(The email I penned to Pam and Allan, Sheena and Moira and Denis asking them to be readers….)

They all said yes and each Friday I sent the chunk of book I had written that week and they sent me back their encouragement. They also did the exercises and either sent pictures of their creations or news of their creative progress. On the 1st of April 2016  (yes, it was April Fools Day) I sent them the last chunk. It was done. It had taken eight weeks. It did take another two months to publish the ebook and a further two months to produce the paperback.

(There’s a cow in the fog and some more in the distance)

Then life happened and I tidied my box of paperback books onto a shelf and got on with dealing with life. Since that time the box has been sitting on a shelf in my studio (fancy name for my front room.) I’ve shared it with a few people but last week it started calling out for completion… So, I thought the least I could do was read it.

(Looks a lot like autumn here)

Back in 2016 my idea was to write a guide for people who didn’t realise they were creative (note:everyone is creative) and were hesitant about starting a creative project, thinking they weren’t good enough. I wanted them to be able to (at least temporarily) turn off the critical voice in their head so that they could get on with the work they needed to do to bring their project into the world. Reading my book again I discovered it works for any project…. Like for instance, something that I need at the moment – promoting and selling a book. You wouldn’t believe the mean things my inner critic was saying to me about selling and promoting (well maybe you would) but  because of the book I’m not listening. Now, I have a lovely encouraging voice in my head and it’s telling me to keep going. Keep going!

So here I am reading my book to help me sell my book and I will keep going. If you want to read the blurb or look at my Amazon Author page (imagine that!), click on Creative Monday – The Book. And if you have a voice in your head that’s stopping you from doing something (creative or otherwise) that you’d love to do then buy my book, follow the exercises and do your thing! It’s time for me to push my project out into the world so I can make room (on my shelves) in my head for the next one.

We wrote a book, Pam, Allan, Sheena, Moira, Denis, Andy and Me. Ps I’m keeping the royalties…

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Boating around Besançon

(Can you see the assistant? She sitting waiting for us to enter the lock)

I nearly forgot to tell you about the boat ride. So let’s go back to last Thursday. A glorious day in Besançon I found the tourist office in the morning, got my hair cut, had lunch and headed back to the tourist office to pick up the boat. The walk took a bit longer than I imagined but thankfully the captain didn’t keep a strict departure time. As I was not French-speaking he gave me his notes in English to read as we went along. I nearly fell of the boat when I read that we would be going through locks! And the first one was right around the corner. His assistant was waiting to close and open the gates when we arrived.

(Not too sure what all that means but Ecluse means lock. On the wall of the mill beside the lock)

Lock successfully navigated we set off around the loop that is the river Doups and it was so relaxing. There was a warm light breeze and on every side nature. Imagine you’re sitting on the boat beside me (in one of the bright pink chairs) and let the pictures guide you on your own imaginary boat trip….

(Shade your eyes from the sun as you look up at our first glimpse of the citadel… did I mention I walked up there?)

(Can you see that gap? Under the house? Mind your head we’re going in!)

(Wave to the man walking along the tow-path. Look the captain has put on a light show overhead for us)

(And we’re out the other side of the tunnel… I know that bridge is very low but I promise we will make it underneath…)

(We’re at the automatic lock and there’s the automatic lock keeper… having the chats. Go on give him a wave, he seems very friendly…)

(See I told you – we made it under the bridge!)

(And now we out from under the citadel…. oh did I mention… I think I did)

(Take a deep breath of that beautiful greenery)

(Over there. look. look, you can just make out our aire )

(…and there’s Denis taking a picture of us taking a picture of him… give him a big wave! I rang him when I realised you’d be on the boat with me!)

Do hope you enjoyed our boat trip around Besançon, please take all your belongings as you alight and mind the gap when stepping off the boat.

Just floating along, Mairead.

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