Learned Experiences

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(Our shed-growing daffodils are still going strong)

I realised something today. Although it seems like NOT a lot is happening here, there’s a lot happening here. Only last week I learned how to make a loaf of brown bread that would not break your teeth. As Denis and I get older we become more fond of our teeth so this feels like perfect timing. Up until now I did not think this was possible but kidnapping Eilish has opened up a whole new range of experiences.

It’s harder than you think… one of the projects we intend to master

Did you know you have to feed plants every week? You do! Eilish has a catchy way of remembering, Miracle Grow Every Friday. Yes that’s it, ok, not very catchy and yet I have remembered it. She did steal it from a lady in a garden center and we do have to change it to Miracle Grow Every Tuesday but still… We’ll see if it makes a difference in the garden.

This one does break teeth

There’s an north east wind blowing today. Did you know that? Seemingly, it’s a very cold wind when it blows. I have a weather app on my phone and I can connect with Met Eireann (weather office in Ireland) but Eilish is her own weather app. In the distant past when she lived at home in her own house and I’d ring her for a chat, the first thing she always wanted to know was, what was the weather like with me. And I’d squint out the window or look at my app to tell her. These days, I always know the weather! Ooh that feels like a change in pressure, did you feel it, Do you think it might be going to rain a bit? That’s the kind of thing I find myself saying. One day I’m gong to be a weather app too.

(The knitting)

With the change in the wind and the lowering of temperatures neither of us wanted to go out in the garden today. Probably just as well as we have a few other projects to dip into. The first is knitting. We found a knit-along channel on YouTube called Arne and Carlos. They are two Norwegian guys who have to quarantine in their home for two weeks because they were travelling outside Norway. Norway’s got very precise instruction. Anyways they thought it would be a good idea to organize something to keep them company and to keep other people company too. So they designed a bunch of knitting block patterns. Eilish and I are learning how to knit with two different colours at the same time. I don’t know what it’s called but there’s a lot of counting and Eilish has learned to swear…

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(These might be weeds, we don’t know yet)

I can’t imagine how Denis is going to cope with the changes in the two of us when he gets out of self-isolation tomorrow. Not that he’ll have time to notice… he’s on dinner duty for the rest of his life after this.

May you be well, Mairead.

 

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The Journey

(Practicing Garden Therapy)

Today is the day we were booked to travel on the ferry from Rosslare to France ❤️ then onto Spain ❤️ on our journey to Portugal ❤️. Right about now I would be writing my first post from the car park of the services area near Gorey. But everything changed and here we all are on a different kind of journey. Together.

(Watching Eilish playing in the shed)

I’m sitting in my garden and I can tell you one thing I didn’t know before, I am very lucky to have a garden. I have been neglecting her but she waited, hibernated even, let herself go a bit with the grief of missing my care. I’m sorry, garden. I’ll do better. I think that’s one of the things this journey is going to be about – gratitude for the things I didn’t know I had.

(We are collecting sticks… I’ll explain another day)

Another thing about this journey is that there’s three of us. Denis, whom I’m usually living with in close confines, has been self-isolating for the past ten days, we talk on the phone now. I suppose I should add him to the list of things I’m grateful for. I didn’t realise how much I have got used to his presence. I am finding it surprisingly easy to be annoyed by his absence which I find surprisingly easy to turn into annoyance with him but he’s taking it well. I’m obviously not trying hard enough.

(Aren’t they lovely?)

Eilish is here too, Denis’ Mom (Denis and his five brothers all call their Mam, Mom – might be a Cork thing.) Eleven days ago we gave her an ultimatum and bundled her into the car to come live with us. Right about now I sense she’s ready to bolt. I’m really grateful she’s here though because she’s a huge distraction. You know, like Netflix?

(The description said they were ground cover and seemingly that means less weeds?)

When I’m not watching her we’ve been navigating a way to be two strong women sharing one house… politely. (Politely because Eilish doesn’t use swear words, I love them! I have found a way to make her laugh when I’m swearing though, I love to make her laugh.) She has a very different way of looking at things and she definitely thinks there’s one right way to do stuff. I don’t think there’s one right way… and I know I’m right…

(That’s wild garlic. Liam, one of Eilish’s sons, gave it to me last year and it survived!)

We are very alike in many ways, we like crafting and more recently gardening and Denis, we like Denis, mostly. We are also very different. She likes crafts to be exactly like the pattern intended, I don’t like following the pattern. I think weeds are just flowers planted in the wrong place and she thinks that’s crazy talk. I bet when she reads this she’ll say, Now, don’t mind me, Mairead but maybe just take a few more pictures of the garden and say less?

(Look! Ivy grows in our shed!)

It was my Dad’s birthday yesterday, he’d have been 99. I was thinking of him and the time of the petrol crisis (that was when we thought not having petrol was the worst thing that could happen to us.) He had a petrol station during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and the petrol crisis was a highpoint for him. He realised that how he behaved then would underscore the rest of his business life. So he was kind. He rationed the petrol so there would be enough for everyone. Even if you weren’t a customer, even if he didn’t know you or would never see you again. Thirty years later people from different parts of Ireland were dropping in to thank him and remind him of how he helped them when they most needed it.

He reminds me that my behaviour now will underscore the rest of my life. I’m negotiating my way through this and it’s not in every moment but most of the time, I try to be kind.

May you be well, Mairead.

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Back in Ireland

(Passing gates, grass, hedges and ploughed fields on our way home…)

We did indeed have calm seas with just a bit of waving motion which I don’t like so I went back to bed until it passed.

When we finally arrived at home trick or treat was in full swing. It was pitch dark, children and adults were wandering on and off the paths. Fireworks were exploding and it took a bit of effort to negotiate the reversing of Ruby into her spot. The freezer had defrosted itself while we were away so that needed attention. Everything else was fine.

Now it’s the next morning and time to write a to do list, hug the washing machine and get the groceries. Oh and empty Ruby, we couldn’t face that in the dark last night.

I do have another project in mind and as you know, from past experience, I have to tell you about it in order to do it but I’m not ready yet… instead I’ll write to you in a week and bring you up to date.

For now: Thank you for reading. To those who emailed or texted or commented or bought my book I really, really appreciate the time and effort and expense you expended.

Thank you for joining us as we wandered this autumn around France in Ruby. Mairead and Denis.

(There we are in Greystones)

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Nice Calm Seas…

(That’s the door of the church)

We are (hopefully) on calm seas somewhere near the south-west coast of England if you are reading this on Thursday morning. There’s hardly a puff of wind and it’s very cosy onboard… but that’s tomorrow. Today, we are in Cherbourg in the camping car parking where we started six weeks ago. Remember? We had to empty the vinegar water from the fresh water tank. No such jobs today, instead we are waiting to board the ferry at 9pm.

(The back of the church)

On route from Bayeux this morning we stopped in Sainte Mère Église. It’s a town made famous by the old black and white movie called The Longest Day. The movie tells a story from 1944. You might remember yesterday I said Bayeux was the first town to be liberated by the allies? Well, Sainte Mère Église was the first village.

(Can you see the replica paratrooper hanging up there?)

It was late at night June 5th 1944, 14,000 paratroopers were dropped out of planes over the area. They were part of the D-Day invasion. By sunrise the German troops had left or were dead and an America flag was flying from the town hall. One of the paratroopers that night was John Steele. He was a bit unfortunate, his parachute got stuck on the church steeple as he floated into the square. He had a knife to cut himself down but he dropped it so the best he could do was play dead while the fighting was going on all around him. He was 32 years old at the time. Eventually one of the German soldiers holding the church cut the straps of his parachute and dragged him up onto a tiny balcony.

(Can you see the America flag?)

We’re in Sainte Mère Èglise because we need a boost of electricity, the grey days are causing havoc with our solar production. So while Denis got to work at the supermarket plugged into an hour of power for €2, I walked into the old village. It was buzzing. Villages in France are rarely buzzing on a Wednesday morning but this isn’t France.

(That’s a Roman road marker (that little cross on top was added later) the Romans did battle here too)

Well no, it is… but it’s also a tiny bit of America. Everywhere you go you hear American accents, you see American flags. This village is a kind of showcase of how great America was. They were the heroes, everyone was grateful to them. They saved the day. It must be lovely. It is lovely. But it’s also sad. Mainly because you can still imagine what happened here, what happened all over France, all over Europe during the Second World War and the First World War. What’s happening still, in war. You’d think we’d learn, we humans, I mean.

You’d think we’d be doing things differently now. Mairead.

(Here’s Sainte Mère Église)

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Here’s the story with the Bayeux Tapestry…

(This is where you will see the Bayeux Tapestry)

We’re in Bayeux, an absolutely beautiful town and home to the Bayeux Tapestry. A 70 meter long, 58 panel, linen craft piece housed in the dark in a big house in Bayeux. You cannot take pictures of the tapestry… but fortunately they have replicas and photos they took themselves so I have something to show you.

(This will give you some idea of the length of the Bayeux Tapestry, it goes round the corner in the distance and as long again on the other side)

First, a few things you need to know about the Tapestry – it’s not tapestry. No, it’s embroidery. Tapestry is weaving threads. Embroidery is sewing stitches on fabric and I love sewing and embroidery. I mean I love doing it, I love the simple stitches coming together to decorate a piece of fabric. I’m reticent to admit this but… I don’t love the Bayeux Tapestry… I do appreciate all the work and I LOVE that it’s a story (oh yes I forgot to tell you – it’s a story) but it’s mainly horses and soldiers and the colours are verging on dull. Sorry, Bayeux, I love colourful and hearts.

(Here’s the basic ingredients – linen fabric with design drawn on and thread for the stitches)

Leaving aside my crafting preferences it is well worth a visit. They don’t exactly known who made it or where it was made (possibly England) but it was definitely handmade and definitely not long after 1066. Because it tells the story of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It used to be displayed in the cathedral of Bayeux for two weeks every year in order to tell the story of local history. As most people at the time were illiterate, the Bayeux Tapestry was like a picture book story.

So here’s the story…

(Like I said, horses and soldiers)

In 1064 King Edward the Confessor (king of England) sent Harold the Severe to visit his cousin William (he was at this point called William the Bastard…) in Normandy. He wanted Harold to pass on a message that William was his choice for king after he himself (Edward) died. Harold passed on the message and even fought a few battles with William while he was in Normandy. Then he went home but before he did he made a solemn oath to William to support him when he became king of England.

(This bit is Mont St Michel, do you see a green hill with some arches on top?)

Then Edward the Confessor died. Harold, who seemed like such a nice guy until then, decided he wanted to be king and reneged on his promise. He was crowned king of England. Word got back to France and to William in Normandy. He was, as you can imagine, furious. What about the solemn pact? William could not stand idly by. He waited for good winds in the right direction and set off from St. Valery to the coast of England with a huge fleet of boats and soldiers.

(More horses and soldiers fighting)

Harold the Severe heard the news from way up in Yorkshire, 400 miles away. At the time he was fighting off a different enemy but when he won that battle he raced down to Hastings (near the south coast) to sort out William. It took 58 panels to tell the story and the ending was not good for Harold. He was killed with an arrow through the eye. Willian was the new king of England and they changed his name to William the Conquerer (fortunately). I think he was also king of Normandy.(Here’s a lovely silver brooch all the way from County Wicklow! It was in the museum area to explain some of the brooches seen on the soldier’s clothing)

Anyway, there’s a postscript to this story. Nearly 900 years later, Bayeux was the first town freed in 1944 by the Allies and there’s a huge British graveyard here. On the Bayeux Memorial across the road from the graveyard there’s an inscription in Latin: Nos A Gulielmo Victi Victoris Patriam Liberavimus. It means, We, once conquered by William, have now set free the Conqueror’s native land.

Forgiving and Remembering. Mairead.

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I might be hallucinating…

(We found another amazing Beautiful Village of France)

It’s a wee bit dreary today. I’d love to sit by the fire eating some scones just out of the oven. I suppose it had to happen, I’m suffering from scone-sickness. Croissants, even the ones with almonds can only do so much but when it’s cold and wet and the skies are grey there’s nothing like a hot scone.

(This is a classy village)

There’s nothing like a scone in France either. They have no idea what a scone is. That’s probably the reason the French have such amazing pastries, they are searching for the perfection of… the scone. It’s the one recipe I remember all the ingredients for. In fact I could tell you now, sitting here in the bed in my two winter fleeces and my hat, how to make scones.

(Isn’t it gorgeous? It’s called Saint Céneri Le Gérei)

First you’ll need a pound of self raising flour. That is not a metric measurement and I’m sorry about that but it’s how I learned to make scones and it’s part of the mystic place the scone has in my heart. Also, self raising flour might be just in Ireland… sorry about that. Then you’ll need some butter, 2 ounces is perfect. Also, 2 ounces of sugar. Then one or two eggs and enough milk (doesn’t have to be cows milk, almond’s milk or rice’s milk will work too) to bring the eggs up to a mug full. No I don’t know the size of the mug. It’s my favourite mug, if that helps?

(Full of pretty houses)

Now, before you start, feel your feet on the ground and muster up a good strong grateful feeling in your belly because this opportunity to be as one with some scones has arrived in your life. Then… begin. Weigh out the ingredients and break the eggs into your mug and add the milk or milk variant to them. Chop the butter up into little lumps. It would be great if you had one of those old fawn coloured ceramic mixing bowls from the 1960’s but if not any big bowl will do. You’ll also need an oven tray.

I nearly forgot, turn on the oven to very hot, 200 degrees C or whatever that is in your oven.

(And streets…)

Sieve the flour into the big bowl, pour in the sugar, then add the butter. Rub the butter in with your fingers. Now, take your time, this bit is not to be rushed, this is the best bit. You have to take up flour and a bit of butter reverently in each hand, hold your hands over the bowl and rub your thumb against your fingers so the flour and butter can get mixed. Repeat until the mixture in the bowl looks a bit like breadcrumbs.

(Pretty church)

You might need to wash your hands now, although you should have washed your hands in the beginning, to be honest the rubbing gets your nails lovely and clean… Now it’s time to add the egg/milk mixture. Pour half of the egg/milk mixture into the flour/sugar/butter mixture and using a blunt knife mix the liquid into the dry. Add more liquid until the moment when everything seems to gel. There’s no separation, no bits of flour or butter on the edge, instead there’s one big lump of dough.

(Pretty doors…)

Now, hold your horses, just because this is dough doesn’t mean you have to be rough with it. That’s only for bread and pizza. Scone dough is precious, you continue as you started by treating it with reverence. Take a handful of flour from the bag and shake it over the table (or counter) then place the scone dough, gently onto the bed of flour.

(Here’s the end of the 30km speed limit just in time for the narrow bridge…)

The plan here is to gently shape the dough into a ball and then gently flatten the ball so it’s about two inches high. Then you need to cut the dough into squares with a sharp knife or if you have a scone cutter, into circles. When that’s done, get your oven tray and shake a little flour from the bag onto it and then place the dough scones on the tray. Leave some room between each scone because if you’re lucky your scones will get bigger as they cook.

(Where two roads meet in the village)

Now put them into the hot oven, close the door and set a timer for 16 minutes. When the timer goes off, open the door, turn the tray so that the scones near the front are now near the back and the ones near the back are near the front. Close the door again and leave for 5 minutes, they might be done or you might have to leave them for another 10 minutes. No one knows… that’s part of the mystery of the scone. When they look absolutely gorgeous, they’re done. Take them out.

(There’s even some lovely lichen)

Put them on a cooling tray and take a picture, send me the picture. (No, wait… don’t send me the picture, it would be too upsetting.) Now, slice the scone in half, spread butter and jam on each half and eat it… slowly.

I can almost taste them, Mairead.

(There it is, Saint Céneri Le Gérei)

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The Lovely Gentleman of La Flèche

(That’s the gate of the military school on the right and the spire of the church with the ashes to the left)

We spent three nights in La Flèche, the longest we’ve stayed anywhere this trip. On Saturday I went to the tourist office and got a booklet with a walking tour of the town. Then I took a seat outside a cafe, had a cup of green tea and started reading.

(This old shop used to be a haberdashery, selling buttons, sewing supplies and material, sigh)

I hadn’t got very far in my reading when a gentleman who had been sitting outside also, approached me nodding at the booklet and saying something in French. I think he was saying are you enjoying your holidays? but he suddenly stopped when he saw the cover and said, oh you are English! I said, oh yes I’m Irish.

(This is France)

He knew loads about his town and was very interesting. He told me how I could get into the military school if I had a ID card with me. Just be brave and knock on the door and say you want to see the church! He proceeded to tell me that the hearts of the King Henry IV and his wife are in there. Well, not their entire hearts… there’s a story.

(Another little laneway)

The King had always said he wanted his heart buried in the church but that may have just been his way of saying he loved the place. Anyway whoever was in charge of such things took him at his word and when he died they put his heart (or the ashes from his heart, maybe) into an urn in the church. Then when his wife died her heart went into the urn too. Then something they hadn’t anticipated happened – the French Revolution.

(Vintage travel)

In the heel of the hunt the poor king and queen’s urn was taken out into the streets and burned. All was not lost though, some kind gentleman swept up as much of the ashes as he could and kept them safe. These ashes, of the ashes, are in the military church. My new friend was in a hurry to go off and meet his wife so we parted company and I went down to knock on the door of the military school with my Irish driver’s license.

(Another one of the old signs)

I could still be there knocking, for all the good it did me. French schools are on mid-term just like Irish schools. There was no one around. But at least I was brave enough to knock. One other interesting thing he told me was about the river. I’ll tell you tomorrow but in the meantime see if you can guess, there’s a hint in the following photo…

The kindness of strangers. Mairead.

(La Flèche on the Loir)

And here’s La Flèche on the map…

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