Month: March 2018 (page 1 of 2)

My thoughts on my first 6 months in England after 32 years in the U.S.

IMG_8737Well, boys and girls, it’s been exactly six months since I moved to Hebden Bridge after spending 32 years in America. Locals here look at me strangely when I tell them that. Their eyes tend to open really wide and the word “Why?” is long and drawn out, encompassing a myriad of inflections. Of course, I’ve been asking myself the same question every day for six months but I promised that I’d commit some of those thoughts to paper at the half anniversary. So, I’ve chosen what I’ve done over the last couple of days to try and explain, both to other people, but also to myself the answer to ‘why?’

Yesterday it wasn’t raining, it wasn’t snowing and the temperature was above freezing at 10 a.m. This winter has been long and more severe than is usual. Even the upcoming week’s weather forecast predicts snow for three days. There were a couple of weeks when the temperature didn’t rise above freezing during the daytime and it was so icy outdoors that I basically stayed at home, just popping out for groceries as and when I needed them. During this time I had little face to face contact with anyone apart from the shop keepers, and their cheerful,”Thanks, love,” and “Lovely darlin’ ” were an important part of my support service! I have a lot to thank myself for in choosing the location of my apartment. I have a bakers, a chip shop, a hairdressers, an ATM in the same building. In the next door building there’s a grocery store, a library, a pub and a gay bar. Across the street there’s a charity store, a chemist, a jewellers, a specialist food store, a Chinese takeway and a florist. These are all small shops with just one server – not some vast warehouse of a place with a dozen checkouts –  so you soon get to know each other. I’ve become involved in an age friendly rural areas project  being done by Manchester University about age friendly rural areas project (Manchester Urban Collaboration on Health (MUCH)) which has involved me taking photos in the area of things/people/ideas that are/are not age friendly. This has made me even more aware of the necessity of friendly shopkeepers, helpful bus drivers, chatty milkmen to mention just a few. In Santa Cruz I could walk to a grocery store, coffee shop, pub but that was about it. I used a bus maybe a handful of times in the 12 years I lived there. If I wanted to go out anywhere it had to be by car – band rehearsal, the library, a concert. Living in Hebden Bridge I can get to my band and my volunteer adult literacy at the homeless shelter by bus, and all concerts in Leeds or Manchester by train. At least you get to meet people on the bus, and more rarely, on the train.Take yesterday as I was on the bus to Heptonstall I sat next to an elderly lady who’d travelled by bus from Rochdale to see the Pace Egg play and she told me that one of the hilltop buses begins its service for the Spring season tomorrow. I may go and check it out of the weather holds.

So finding a few days of better weather lures me outdoors without too much persuasion. Yesterday I decided to try my map-reading skills up in the hills. I knew that it’s too wet to hike through fields, the mud is still so deep that my boot sinks in all the way to my ankle. (That’s why people around here have waterproof leather hiking boots, but mine are not IMG_1522IMG_1480.JPGwaterproof because I didn’t need them to be in California.) I walked across a dam, then through a couple of farms where the sheep stared at me with a ‘who the hell is this?’ look on their faces, while in the next field a  farmer was raking flat a couple of hundred mole hills. The farmers on these high moors work incredibly hard to keep their pastures and grazing land in tiptop condition. If they didn’t the fields would soon revery to being moorland. A steep footpath downhill brought be to the next reservoir where I followed

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the footpath around and subsequently the river outlet into the town of Ripponden. There’s a lot about Ripponden that’s like Hebden Bridge – an early mill town, quaint terraced houses built onto steep hillsides, but it doesn’t have the ease of access to public transportation, not the number of activities and festivals. It does have a great old pub there where I was able to have lunch. Just as I was reflecting on how well my map-reading had gone  I managed to get on not exactly the wrong bus, the right bus but going in the wrong direction! I couldn’t help but laugh. It mattered not one jot. I had nowhere else to be. With a Day Rover ticket you could travel on any amount of rides for an entire day, so I enjoyed my impromptu visit to Huddersfield bus station, where, in exactly two minutes I purchased a cup of tea, a bag of cheese and onion crisps and jumped back on the bus, which deposited me directly outside my apartment 50 minutes later. However, since it was Thursday that meant it was market day in Hebden. I buy all my fruit, veggies, cheese and fish from the market stalls which are erected in the centre of town every Wednesday evening. When I got to Phil’s fish stall I was greeted with, “Ee, luv. Yer a bit later than normal today. Wer’ve yer bin?” Phil only had two pieces of salmon left, but I thanked him for the cooking tips he gave me about the kippers last week. “We won’t be ‘ere next week. Am takin’ wife caravanin.’ We’re goin’ to a 21st century caravan site in Shropshire. All mod cons. Hot tubs, swimmin’ pool – the lot. You name it. They ‘ave it.” Next stop was the cheese stall where I buy tiny slices of 3 different cheeses each week just to try them out. So far my favourite is Harrogate Blue. Then to the veggie stall for a cauli, a cabbage, a melon, tomatoes, carrots, onions, leeks, apples, bananas, clementines. He fills a bag, and then as always brings it around the stall so I don’t have to reach over for it because it’s quite heavy by then.

Good Friday today. I’d planned on going up to Heptonstall to see the Pace Egg festival. This tradition is confined to Lancashire, Yorkshire and parts of the Lake District and may have some pagan origins, but basically it’s an opportunity for a few people to dress up in

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funny costumes and learn lines, and the rest of the people to eat, drink and be merry, though there’s now quite a lot of money raised for various charities. The event took place IMG_1617.JPGon Weavers’ Square within a stone’s throw of the grave of my gt gt gt gt grandparents and I wondered as a sat watching the action, both on and off stage if Mr and mrs Wrigley

had ever witnessed a Pace Egg play on this very spot. There were 5 different performances during the course of the day and I had been warned that if you want to hear the play you should go to an early performance. By the end of the day there’s a big crowd and it’s very noisy. A lot of alcohol was in evidence even by 12:30 .

IMG_1630.JPGThe church was serving tea and flapjack so after a quick stop for a hot dog David, Ann and I went into the church. To my surprise someone was playing the piano. I went over and a young man was playing a piece by John Cage “In a Landscape.” That was very unexpected. So was the fact that the piano was made by Broadwood! He invited me to play and since he also had some Bach music I played that. Then he asked me if I’d give him lessons. I’m still working on trying to find a place to teach in town. I had a lead a couple of days ago but it didn’t pan out.

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By the time I’d walked down the steep hill back into Hebden the sky had clouded over and soon the rain came down. I’m working on a group of songs for the HBLT choir to sing and one is about the Worth Valley railway, so I’m considering taking a ride on the steam train tomorrow if the weather behaves itself.

Well, it was raining when I got up today and the forecast was for mixed rain and snow but I reasoned that I wouldn’t be outdoors much if I followed through with my idea to go on the Worth Valley railway. I caught the Bronte bus (this one is named Charlotte) at the

bus stop 15 seconds walk from my apartment and got off at Oxenhope station. Though today’s line is only 5 miles long it ran as a working railway from 1867 but was closed in 1962, reopening again just 50 years ago. It’s been the location of many movies, probably the most famous of which is The Railway Children. It was raining quit hard as I boarded the train. It quite surprised me to find myself in a compartment all to myself. I’d forgotten about these old train with no corridors! It took me a while to be brave enough to roll down the window in the door, carefully hanging onto my phone as I leaned out of the train to take photos. I made notes on things I was seeing to help me in my song lyrics.

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In June of 2016, contemplating my decision to spend the summer in England for the first time in 31 years I wrote the following in my journal :

I’ve decided to take a chance and temporarily jump ship, so to speak, from the life I’ve fashioned for myself. Most of us, I suppose, have had at one time or another the impulse to leave behind our daily routines and responsibilities and seek out, temporarily, a new life. That daydream has always retreated from me in the face of reality. But I’ve had a feeling for a while now, as I turn a milestone, that here is a new phase of life, one that I need to embrace, no matter how full of doubts I may have right now. My daughters have graduated from college and are embarking on new adult lives of their own. A voice inside my head calls me with insistence, if I dare to listen to it, Hey, you there! You need to get back to the narrative of your own life. Perhaps if I travel by myself to somewhere unfamiliar where all the labels that define me, both to myself and others, are absent, I could explore a new me. But I wonder about my capacity to be a woman in a place without an identity, without friends. Alone for seven weeks? I have fallen into habit, quite naturally I believe, of defining myself in terms of who I am to other people – I am what others expect me to be – a daughter, wife, mother, teacher, mentor, friend, critic. I’d like to stand back from these roles and make the acquaintance of that new person who emerges. Now, how many reasons can I think of why I shouldn’t do it? What about my house? Who’s going to feed Tilly? I won’t be generating any income – yikes! Suppose I get sick in some strange place. What if I disappear off the face of the planet? The response from friends has been unanimous. In fact, over the past few months as I’ve wrestled with this dichotomy on hikes through the redwoods, along the windswept coastal buffs and wide sandy beaches of Santa Cruz, in hurried intermissions at concerts and over leisurely dinners I’ve come to see who my friends truly are. Go, they say, your children are grown, and Anthony can look after the cat. Some of them tell me in hushed voices that they are secretly envious of my independence.In planning the adventure some kind of cultural connection with the place I eventually selected was of vital importance and this was easy to find. I would immerse myself in the place of my  father’s mother’s family. Since beginning to research my family’s history seven years ago I’ve visited many places connected with my family. But on short visits with my daughters we had time for little more than finding a little moorland village in Lancashire, jumping out of the car to take a photo of the stunningly beautiful church, or taking a quick picnic in the local cemetery (yes, one of our favorite pastimes!) or downing a half a shandy and a bag of cheese and onion crisps in the local hostelry. With seven weeks I wanted to wake up to the views my great, great, great grandparents had from their kitchen window, touch the font where five generations ago my ancestors were baptized, and then maybe climb the hill above the village to look down on that church, a view that may not have changed during the last 600 years.

I think I’ve learned a lot in the last two years about what’s important to me.

My first weekend mini-break

A couple of months ago I received an email from the Alumni dept at the University of Sheffield inviting me to participate in an alumni weekend of the music department. You could elect to be in the orchestra or the choir. Saturday was to be a day of rehearsals,and after another rehearsal on Sunday morning the joint forces of choir and orchestra would give a public concert in Firth hall, where I had performed when I was at university there. So I signed up to be in the choir.

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Firth Hall

Friday evening found me a little daunted by the whole event, but I understand that that’s how I always am before something new – whether it’s flying to Ireland,  giving a talk to 160 school children or running a choir rehearsal in Hebden Bridge. The weekend would require me to go to Sheffield by train, find Firth Hall using public transport, check in to an AirBnB, find the restaurant where all participants were invited to have dinner on Saturday evening, get back to Firth Hall for the Sunday morning rehearsal, find somewhere to have lunch and then get changed for the concert. I’d invited my brother-in-law and his wife who live close to Sheffield to come to the concert and have dinner after and they’d agreed to come.

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Dinner with family

Saturday morning was quite sunny and by the time I reached Sheffield it was a lovely day. I needed to travel very light since I realised there could possibly be a considerable amount of walking so the backpack that I won in Rachel’s raffle got to be used for its first outing. I was surprised to find that there are now trams connecting the railway station to the centre of the city so I jumped on one. I had clear memories of my first arrival in Sheffield at that very station as an 18 year old, but the station today  was unrecognisable from its 1970’s self – unsurprisingly. A helpful lady suggested M&S as being a handy place for lunch before I went up to campus for the first rehearsal. I got off the tram by the

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Downtown Sheffield’s new look

cathedral and recognised the central part of the city. The place was full of construction, massive cranes dominating the skyline, and lots of new architecture all over town. Needing to stick to a schedule I made straight for M&S and found the upstairs cafe, and fortunately there was one window table available.

As I ate lunch I found myself compelled to write:

The Hole in the Road has gone

Eaten by piranhas she said.

Perched high amidst the pigeons I spy below

A moving Daffodil, with hands and feet,

Which sends my mind spinning

To my own Daffodil Lady – forever colourful.

She brought me here and returned to Affetside, alone.

What thoughts she had I never stopped to ask.Her pride, her one and only

Striding out uncertainly into a world beyond her scope.

I ride the tram, memories obscuring the present,

For now is a  time to sing, and remember with love. 

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I arrived at Firth Hall and was directed to the choir rehearsal room, where there was precisely one other person!!! Horror of horrors. Now I’m not a singer. I had merely signed up to be a member of the choir because I wanted to participate in the weekend’s event, which was in honour of Peter Cropper, founder of the Lindsay String Quartet, and whose vivid and charismatic playing I remembered so well. I’d presumed that there would be 50 or more singers, and I could hide and position myself next to a strong alto. I had been conscientiously practicing the alto part in Haydn’s HarmonieMasse all week, but even so . . . By the time the rehearsal, under the very capable, and always jovial George Nicholson, the choir was 15 strong. Golly, with just one more we could have been The Sheffield 16. I was SO glad I’d practiced!

After the rehearsal I went for a wander round Western Park, checked out the Arts Tower, the boating lake bordered by blooming crocuses and daffodils and then had a snack in the Museum cafe. I went back there the following day with a few other alumni and we all remarked that when we had been students we had never looked around  the park. As someone commented “We were too inward looking to be interested,” So true.

I had a couple of hours to spare before meeting the group at 8 downtown so on a whim I caught a #51 bus to Lodge Moor, a place a lived in for a while as a student. It’s perched high above the city, and there was still some snow remaining in sheltered nooks. Having spent 6 months living in Calderdale I found that I have no interest in living in the suburbs. The way of life seemed so isolated – you can’t walk to any  shops, or places of entertainment apart from a local pub. The Shiny Sheff is still there! The bus passed through Crosspool and even passed Selbourne Road where I lived for a while. It dawned on me that the hall of residence I’ll lived in was called Halifax Hall. How strange that I now live within a stone’s throw of Halifax!

I got off in the centre of Sheffield and explored the Peace Gardens and then found The Winter Gardens, a new(ish) indoor garden – quite wonderful. I rather liked the talking IMG_1402Benches, which are specifically reserved for people who want to be talked to. Quite an innovation. I tried it out, but there were too few people around to find out whether it worked. The Peace Garden has a set of fountains – quite fun to play in  (with my camera!)

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I checked into my AirB&B, a little out of the way, off London Road, but it was lovely, and my host had even been to Santa Cruz last summer! The stairs were amazingly steep, typical of Yorkshire terraced houses.

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Breakfast

I got an Uber to and from Akbar’s restaurant in the centre of town. The downtown area was buzzing with people at 8 p.m. I’d like to spend more time looking around there.

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Dinner at Akbar’s

Next morning I woke up to a totally blue sky shining through the skylight – something I don’t think I’ve see since November. The clocks had changed so I had to get a move on. My host had left breakfast for me on the table, telling be that the milk was in the fridge behind the cellar door – oooo. Spoooooky down there.

I decided to walk into the city centre in spite of that meaning carrying my backpack.  It was so warm that I didn’t need to wear hat or gloves. I passed through areas of new construction where I found myself completely alone on this Sunday morning, and at other times I was in the centre of areas that were just cafes upon cafes selling food from around the world including   ASalt n Battered fish and chip shop. A Sainsbury’s grocery store is an interesting building – once a cinema and later Tiffany’s Nightclub.

For the rehearsal we were joined by the orchestra in which the alumni were augmented by  students from Sheffield Music Academy that had been founded by Peter Cropper. Unfortunately the only person who graduated in my year didn’t show up but there was one other singer whose name I recalled, and I ended up having lunch in the museum with her and her husband. They live in Buxton, where I once won quite  big piano competition when I was a student in Sheffield, so I’d like to go back and visit sometime, and now I have a contact there. The choir and orchestra had come from all over England for this event.

My brother-in-law and his wife came to see the performance and then we went to a local Wetherspoons close to the University in the former home of a cutlery manufacturer with lovely grounds.

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The performance! I’m just below the conductor’s left elbow.

My first weekend mini-break

A couple of months ago I received an email from the Alumni dept at the University of Sheffield inviting me to participate in an alumni weekend of the music department. You could elect to be in the orchestra or the choir. Saturday was to be a day of rehearsals,and after another rehearsal on Sunday morning the joint forces of choir and orchestra would give a public concert in Firth hall, where I had performed when I was at university there. So I signed up to be in the choir.

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Firth Hall

Friday evening found me a little daunted by the whole event, but I understand that that’s how I always am before something new – whether it’s flying to Ireland,  giving a talk to 160 school children or running a choir rehearsal in Hebden Bridge. The weekend would require me to go to Sheffield by train, find Firth Hall using public transport, check in to an AirBnB, find the restaurant where all participants were invited to have dinner on Saturday evening, get back to Firth Hall for the Sunday morning rehearsal, find somewhere to have lunch and then get changed for the concert. I’d invited my brother-in-law and his wife who live close to Sheffield to come to the concert and have dinner after and they’d agreed to come.

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Dinner with family

Saturday morning was quite sunny and by the time I reached Sheffield it was a lovely day. I needed to travel very light since I realised there could possibly be a considerable amount of walking so the backpack that I won in Rachel’s raffle got to be used for its first outing. I was surprised to find that there are now trams connecting the railway station to the centre of the city so I jumped on one. I had clear memories of my first arrival in Sheffield at that very station as an 18 year old, but the station today  was unrecognisable from its 1970’s self – unsurprisingly. A helpful lady suggested M&S as being a handy place for lunch before I went up to campus for the first rehearsal. I got off the tram by the

IMG_1409.JPG

Downtown Sheffield’s new look

cathedral and recognised the central part of the city. The place was full of construction, massive cranes dominating the skyline, and lots of new architecture all over town. Needing to stick to a schedule I made straight for M&S and found the upstairs cafe, and fortunately there was one window table available.

As I ate lunch I found myself compelled to write:

The Hole in the Road has gone

Eaten by piranhas she said.

Perched high amidst the pigeons I spy below

A moving Daffodil, with hands and feet,

Which sends my mind spinning

To my own Daffodil Lady – forever colourful.

She brought me here and returned to Affetside, alone.

What thoughts she had I never stopped to ask.Her pride, her one and only

Striding out uncertainly into a world beyond her scope.

I ride the tram, memories obscuring the present,

For now is a  time to sing, and remember with love. 

IMG_1315

I arrived at Firth Hall and was directed to the choir rehearsal room, where there was precisely one other person!!! Horror of horrors. Now I’m not a singer. I had merely signed up to be a member of the choir because I wanted to participate in the weekend’s event, which was in honour of Peter Cropper, founder of the Lindsay String Quartet, and whose vivid and charismatic playing I remembered so well. I’d presumed that there would be 50 or more singers, and I could hide and position myself next to a strong alto. I had been conscientiously practicing the alto part in Haydn’s HarmonieMasse all week, but even so . . . By the time the rehearsal, under the very capable, and always jovial George Nicholson, the choir was 15 strong. Golly, with just one more we could have been The Sheffield 16. I was SO glad I’d practiced!

After the rehearsal I went for a wander round Western Park, checked out the Arts Tower, the boating lake bordered by blooming crocuses and daffodils and then had a snack in the Museum cafe. I went back there the following day with a few other alumni and we all remarked that when we had been students we had never looked around  the park. As someone commented “We were too inward looking to be interested,” So true.

I had a couple of hours to spare before meeting the group at 8 downtown so on a whim I caught a #51 bus to Lodge Moor, a place a lived in for a while as a student. It’s perched high above the city, and there was still some snow remaining in sheltered nooks. Having spent 6 months living in Calderdale I found that I have no interest in living in the suburbs. The way of life seemed so isolated – you can’t walk to any  shops, or places of entertainment apart from a local pub. The Shiny Sheff is still there! The bus passed through Crosspool and even passed Selbourne Road where I lived for a while. It dawned on me that the hall of residence I’ll lived in was called Halifax Hall. How strange that I now live within a stone’s throw of Halifax!

I got off in the centre of Sheffield and explored the Peace Gardens and then found The Winter Gardens, a new(ish) indoor garden – quite wonderful. I rather liked the talking IMG_1402Benches, which are specifically reserved for people who want to be talked to. Quite an innovation. I tried it out, but there were too few people around to find out whether it worked. The Peace Garden has a set of fountains – quite fun to play in  (with my camera!)

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I checked into my AirB&B, a little out of the way, off London Road, but it was lovely, and my host had even been to Santa Cruz last summer! The stairs were amazingly steep, typical of Yorkshire terraced houses.

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Breakfast

I got an Uber to and from Akbar’s restaurant in the centre of town. The downtown area was buzzing with people at 8 p.m. I’d like to spend more time looking around there.

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Dinner at Akbar’s

Next morning I woke up to a totally blue sky shining through the skylight – something I don’t think I’ve see since November. The clocks had changed so I had to get a move on. My host had left breakfast for me on the table, telling be that the milk was in the fridge behind the cellar door – oooo. Spoooooky down there.

I decided to walk into the city centre in spite of that meaning carrying my backpack.  It was so warm that I didn’t need to wear hat or gloves. I passed through areas of new construction where I found myself completely alone on this Sunday morning, and at other times I was in the centre of areas that were just cafes upon cafes selling food from around the world including   ASalt n Battered fish and chip shop. A Sainsbury’s grocery store is an interesting building – once a cinema and later Tiffany’s Nightclub.

For the rehearsal we were joined by the orchestra in which the alumni were augmented by  students from Sheffield Music Academy that had been founded by Peter Cropper. Unfortunately the only person who graduated in my year didn’t show up but there was one other singer whose name I recalled, and I ended up having lunch in the museum with her and her husband. They live in Buxton, where I once won quite  big piano competition when I was a student in Sheffield, so I’d like to go back and visit sometime, and now I have a contact there. The choir and orchestra had come from all over England for this event.

My brother-in-law and his wife came to see the performance and then we went to a local Wetherspoons close to the University in the former home of a cutlery manufacturer with lovely grounds.

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The performance! I’m just below the conductor’s left elbow.

Ireland 5: inside and outside

I’m back in Hebden bridge now and I’ve just looked out of my window. It’s blowing a gale, it’s snowing like crazy and the weather forecast is for -10C overnight. That’s on a par with Ely and Truckee in the South West desert of America for goodness sake. I feel so incredibly fortunate with the weather I had in Ireland. The week before I travelled snow busHebden Bridge and Dublin were snow-bound. In fact, I should have been going on my trip a week earlier but the band I’m in, the Halifax Concert Band, were recording a CD over the weekend and I wanted to participate. As it turned out the CD recording had to been postponed anyway because the recording engineer was stuck on the West of the Pennines and couldn’t get to Brighouse where we were going to be doing the recording. A couple of days before I left for Ireland the weather got a bit calmer and the snow finally cleared from both the streets in the valley and t’tops. But on the morning I left for Dublin I woke to yet another white landscape and I was only too glad that I’d booked a taxi to Hebden Bridge station even though it’s only about 6 minutes’ walk away from my IMG_9933apartment. Landing at Dublin airport dirty grey snow piles as high as an airplane lined the sides of the runways showing how recently the airport had reopened for business. I’d packed my warmest clothes and didn’t feel cold on the trip despite the coastal winds that were in danger of blowing me over in several locations. The good news is that they were always on-shore winds, or the group wouldn’t have been able to do our hikes. Having arrived in Dublin mid afternoon I found my way to the hostel and realized that the hop-on hop-off bus was just about to finish for the night. If I hurried I could just catch the last bus leaving at 5, but I wouldn’t be able to hop off since there wouldn’t be another one to hop on! So I checked in to the hostel and 5 minutes later I was off to find the bus.

Now I haven’t done any hostelling for a long, long time. The last time I stayed in a Youth Hostel was when we travelled as a family and hiked some of the long distance coastal footpaths around Britain. Possibly the last time was when we hiked the Pembrokeshire coastal path. The hostels I stayed in in Ireland are not YHA hostels, they are just hostels for travellers and though most people staying in them are under the age of 30 since you

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Each bunk had a light, sockets and phone charger.

can now book private rooms some families use them. In fact, on this trip I stayed in 4 different hostels, each in a private room with its own bathroom – pretty good, eh! I sat on the open upper deck for the 90 minute bus ride around the town. The downtown area of Dublin has major traffic congestion at the rush hour. I could have walked faster, but then, I didn’t actually have a destination. I was treated to a glorious sunset and ended up

bobbing up and down out of my seat to take tons of photos, trying to capture the right moment for that great ‘sunset over the city’ photo. The next day I awoke to low clouds and drizzle, that sort of murky day when all you want to do is curl up on the sofa with a

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Housing built for the Guiness employees in 1901

friendly kitty cat, but our destination, Killarney on the other side of the country, beckoned. Three brave souls opted for the afternoon’s kayaking excursion from which they returned shaking and shivering with cold despite their wetsuits. The rest of us

explored Ross castle that has been lovingly restored to its former glory with fully furnished rooms. The rain hadn’t stopped and low mist was swirling around the hilltops and it looked as though our planned hike tomorrow was going to be cancelled. The next morning the rain was only scattered showers but the clouds and mist were very low and there wouldn’t be any point in hiking to the top of the hill since the whole point was to get a view of the coastal cliffs and the islands. But just as we arrived at our destination one big black cloud suddenly cleared away from the sun and we found ourselves in bright sunshine – and my sunglasses were packed in my suitcase, dammit. The Bray

Head Loop hike was only a couple of hours, a gentle incline which ended abruptly in sheer cliffs. I felt I was back on St Kilda. It was stunning. Parts of the path had become streams but wet feet didn’t deter us. In fact, the weather had become so clear that we were able to see the Skellig islands now a major set location in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Just below and west of a tower, built by the English during the Napoleonic Wars but subsequently used in World War ll as a look out station, are the remains of the word EIRE written using stones in large letters to allow pilots during war times to identify the Irish coastline, a form of early GPS. J.B had each of us stand on one of the still visible stones.c12a1006-8329-4fa9-9d0d-a062207a9ab7

By the time we were back in the bus the clouds had gathered but there was enough light for some good photos with dark foreboding skies above, especially at Muckross, where Queen Victoria stayed for a couple of nights as a guest of the local MP Henry Herbert, who wanted to make a grandiose impression on the queen. Meanwhile the queen’s ladies-in-waiting were taken to a viewing point that overlooks the lakes of Killarney. As a IMG_0385result, it has henceforth been known as Ladies’ View, and though I saw it in the mist it was lovely. It was the queen’s visit that put Killarney on the tourist map for the first time and over 10,000 people attended a firework display in her honour and it was reported that there were 800 boats on the lake. But the poor MP bankrupted himself with his extravagance and was forced to sell Muckross House.

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Cliffs of Moher

4 trains, 2 trams, one taxi, 160 children and a pancake

Not bad for one day. Oh, and  I forgot the broken down train which is why I’m currently sitting on the station platform in Manchester where I’ve been for the last hour waiting for a replacement train.

This morning I gave a demonstration to 160 7-11 year olds showing them a recorder, a clarinet and piano. I played some little ditties, explained how to practice and had some of them come up to the front and bang on the keys to make animal sounds. I asked if anyone could name a composer. Dead silence! Then one bright spark shouted John Rutter. That just about knocked the socks off me. I thoroughly enjoyed myself which totally surprised me.  I was so pleased with myself I treated myself to a true English pancake with lemon and sugar from Halifax Borough market.

All a far cry from the other end of the day: a brilliant recital by Stephen Hough who is fast becoming my favourite pianist. Loved his shoes, too. Patent leather ballet flats with little ribbon bows.

Ireland 4: Music and dance

 

I agree with Sarah. If you look closely at the two figures they look as if they’re coming to                                                               blows rather than dancing

I can never say I’ve been a lover of traditional Irish music as a genre but I did intend on hearing some live music on my trip. Pretty well all the bars in the tourist towns advertised ‘live music’ at least a couple of nights per week but that didn’t necessarily mean traditional Irish music. The first I sampled was in a bar in Killarney. I’d arranged

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to meet there with a couple of others from the tour but they were too Wet and Tired, as opposed to being Wild ‘n’ Happy and they had an early night, which meant that I was by myself, and looking round, I found that I was not only the only woman alone, but the only person alone in the bar. But, taking the bull by the horns, I sat at the bar with a good view of the corner where the three guys were playing. Within five minutes of beginning

their set at 9 p.m. several people, regular, I would guess, had got up to dance. Perhaps it was a special event for Mothers’ Day. I took a few photos of the band, and me being me, a

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Leaving the Killarney bar to a deserted street

few more photos of the people watching (!). It was pleasant but not particularly enthralling. In Doolin a group of us, under the guidance of J.B walked over a mile along an unlit road to a pub where a band was playing that he’d heard before. I didn’t know at the time that Doolin is famous as the capital of Irish music and each of the four pubs in

the little village feature traditional Irish music nightly. This was more like it. I was introduced to the Irish pipes player, Blackie O’Connell, and I was able to sit within an arm’s reach of him and got to see how this instrument works. With one arm you pump the bellows, with the other arm you squeeze the air bag, with the fingers of both hands

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you play the chanter and with the palm of one hand you operate the drones – all the time tapping your foot noisily on the flag floor to add the percussion. I chatted to the performer. “How much does a set of Uilleann pipes cost?” He made my night when he answered, “How much is a car?”   ‘cause this is always the answer I give when someone asks me how much it costs to buy a piano. But his answer was that you can buy a set for €10,000 but his is a custom made set and cost €25,000. At least you can’t leave a piano behind in a bar – or a car! The second guy, Cyril O’Donoghue was playing a bouzouki, a guitar-like instrument originally from Greece. Unfortunately the third guy who regularly makes up Dubhlinn, playing the fiddle, wasn’t there. When I left at 11:30 they were still going strong.

Reflections on the music of Doolin

You have the admire the tenacity of some of these musicians. As I was hiking at 45 degrees into the wind on the Cliffs of Moher I passed a guy perched on the cliff edge playing the pipes.

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My hands were too cold to take his photo but I thought I’d have better luck on the way back, but by the time  returned he’d just packed up for the day and was wheeling his gear back down to the Visitors’ Centre. IMG_0867

And, below,  in Galway this street musician took my eye – he had some great moves, if nothing else!

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Ireland 3: Fellow travellers, food and drink

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Out at sea are the Skellig islands, now famous as a location for the Star Wars movie

But travelling for me is also about meeting fellow travellers and locals. This has become a much more important part of the trip now that I live alone and have done so for the last fifteen years. When we travelled together as a family

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Our entire group

we barely noticed other travellers but now they are an integral part of my experience. Just as  in my adventures o the Outer Hebrides and St Kilda, and my trip last summer to The Orkneys and Shetland I chose a small group tour that used a minibus to get around. This way you can get to know each other, and take side roads that large coaches cannot handle. But my initial

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It’s a long way down – Valentia island’s Bray Head loop

meeting with the group was not an auspicious beginning to our week together. I was given wrong information about the bus to take from the hostel in Dublin to the tour’s meeting point, a hotel close to the river. We were to meet at 9 a.m. and when I arrived late, not my usual style, at 9:01 I couldn’t see any sign of a group, so I inquired at the reception desk. “Oh, Wild ‘n’ Happy left at 8:30 in a blue minibus.” Oh my God, I’ve

blown it! What can I do? A feeling of utter panic passed through me. Then, “Heather? Aww, there you are,” came a welcoming voice and I turned to see Mr Happy himself, J.B. our lithesome tour director. “Jump aboard and we’ll get on our way.” From that moment on my role on the tour was assigned. If Heather’s on the bus that means everyone’s

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J. B in a rare contemplative moment (actually I think he’s just waiting for the milk to arrive)

aboard. The bus – not blue, by the way – was well appointed with phone chargers, tables, cool box and an excellent heating system. Within minutes the youngest person aboard asked what everyone did for a job. There was a retired printer from New Zealand who knew a lot about sheep and cows; his wife, a retired midwife who was originally from Yorkshire but who had spent seven years working to eradicate leprosy in Nepal; a chef from Curacao who now lives in Amsterdam; a police sergeant and her friend, a corrections officer both from Ventura County, California and me, a piano teacher. By the end of the first day the group had divided itself into two distinct sub-groups with me, as usual, playing the role of Jaques in As You Like It, the role of the observer, who was at ease with both groups. In fact, over dinner on the first day I was describing how, when I recently went to see Prince Charles and his wife I was actually more interested in seeing and photographing the assembled crowd’s reaction to the celebrities, rather than the

celebrities themselves “I like to watch!” You can, perhaps, imagine how this was interpreted, and from then on it became my catch phrase – almost as good as “We were high all the time” which became the catch phrase of my trip to the Eastern Sierras. But I think Naina’s comment takes the biscuit. Julie’s jeans were covered in sugar from eating a sugar donut and Naina quipped, ‘If you take your pants off, Julie, I could make a myself a meal and be totally satisfied.’ Coming from a highly extrovert lesbian everyone cracked up. This gives a fairly accurate indication of what life was like on board the bus! By the last day much liquour was consumed on the bus after lunch by those eager to celebrate a final away day before returning to work, and even more  was imbibed in a bender later that in the evening in Galway if the sick bags which J.B distributed the following morning on the bus were any indication of the

evening’s celebrations – and even then we had to pull off the motorway to ‘clean up.’ Meanwhile I was having possibly my favourite meal of the trip, a fish dish in a quiet Thai restaurant in old town Galway in the company of the New Zealand contingent. In my bid to eat local delicacies I’d also had a very good fish chowder and a large bowl of mussels.

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Sticky toffee pudding in Killarney

But I was disappointed with my Irish sticky toffee pudding. It was served with cream rather than custard, and it had the consistency of a light sponge cake rather than being rich and stodgy. I mean, it’s not called sticky for nothing. As far as drinks were concerned I just couldn’t resist going into a pub  on the last evening and asking for a glass of Happy Hooker, a local Galway beer. For The Killarney Red, however, I was in the company of a police sergeant, a corrections officer and a chef – sounds like the

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At Killarney Brewery with Micky o’Mouse (MOM for short). I got to name him! He’d come all the way from Ventura, California to be our mascot.

beginning of a joke . . . 4 women walked into a bar and . . . (Ah, caught you out there: you weren’t seeing 4 women in your head, were you?) On our first evening we went to the brewery itself. It was advertising a beer and a pizza for €16 as if that were a bargain! Killarney had a wonderful whiskey bar which was worth going to just to look at display of the numerous varieties. Just like in Northern England gin is the ‘in’ drink, and one of our group passed round a rather pretty empty bottle of gin which she apparently ‘woke up with. ’

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My favourite photo of the group.

Ireland 2: Colours

The second big surprise about Ireland was  the appearance of the houses – not just their amazing colours, but about their age. I discussed this with my fellow tourists but we didn’t come up with much. I remembered the brightly coloured fishermen’s cottages in Burano, an island off Venice, and saw the same in the coastal villages of the Outer Hebrides, so at first I thought it was related to fishing, but even as we travelled inland through miles upon miles of cow pastures there would be a bright yellow house looking like a lighted beacon in the midst of a sea of green. But the thing that intrigued me most was that all this painting looked brand new – as in, they all looked newly painted within the last year. This cannot be. And all the houses scattered along the roads and fields seemed to be quite newly constructed. The walls have a finish obscuring the building material. No stone, no brick is visible. It’s all a smooth finish and, as I said, brightly coloured.

Trip to Ireland: 1 Walls

Many thanks to everyone who sent me ideas for this blog. I needed a kick start!

st ps google

It’s highly appropriate that I’m finally writing about my 6 day trip to Ireland today, because it’s St Patrick’s day. In fact, that’s probably the biggest motivating factor that’s actually made me put pen to paper – well, fingertip to laptop – or even taptop as my autocomplete prefers. As I opened said taptop’s screen this morning I was confronted with a Google drawing that neatly summed up the item that made the biggest impression on me during my visit to the Emerald Isle: ‘The Walls of Southwest Ireland.’ I’ve never seen anything like them. I mean, I’m quite familiar with limestone country. Just look at the landscape around Malham and Ingleton, villages that were favourite Sunday runs out when I was growing up just across the border in Lancashire. Those places have walls, IMG_0932hundreds of the, but Irish walls have holes in them. No, I don’t mean gaps where they’ve fallen down or have been knocked down by errant sheep, I mean gaps between the stones. I’m not sure that I buy the online comment which was that the farmers who cleared the land of these stones in order to provide a smoother pasture for their flocks didn’t have time or energy to cut the stones to a more geometric shape so that they would jigsaw together better. Another comment I found online was that the holes make IMG_0929the walls less stable so they are more likely to fall on any sheep that gives them a shove, and therefore the sheep will learn to stay away from the walls. I prefer that idea. There are even walls in the South West known as Famine walls which were constructed purely to give the starving farmers some sort of employment and hence income paid for by local church groups and benevolent landlords. These walls, which are primarily built directly onto the limestone outcrops, are really more of a repository for stone boulders. They are not really dividing anything from anything else, but they march in straights lines through the Burren landscape as though their very life depends on it. The first iMovie I

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made the day after I got back was about the wonderful variety of walls and as I worked on it I immediately found myself wanting to go back to that area and focus my attention on just taking photos of walls. I was looking up something in my Alaska journal yesterday which notes that the first thing I did on my return home from that cruise was to search for a cabin there in which to spend the summer composing music, so I’m not unfamiliar with this feeling of wanting to return.

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2017 & 2018 summer

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