Friday, 7 September 2018

The path back to Autumn

A slow path back to the world
I'm not quite ready to give up on summer yet... it's been so delightful having long periods of sun and when the rain started at home we managed to follow the sun again back to France.   Now, we've a couple of unscheduled days off in Germany before our concerts this weekend and the sun is  still shining.   So I'm sitting outside on the veranda sipping a glass of wine and doing a bit of catching up.  Our dates are here.
Alone with the cat and my thoughts

This is my birthday month and my favourite time of the year.   Here in the North East of Berlin we're staying with friends at a house that was only just built the first time we visited 25 years ago and is now beautifully and randomly matured - forests nearby, not a sound of traffic anywhere within earshot, and food and drink still the common languages.   The talk with our friends down in Munich on Tuesday was all of Brexit - I don't think I could ever give up this sort of easy travel ... hopefully it all turns out well enough to not cause too much hassle, or perhaps it will be time to up sticks and move.  
Having a chat with the neighbours

It's been an enjoyable if unconscious break from online pursuits this summer and I've found it hard to get back to the day to day focus of the visibility needed to enable classes and tours.  But it'll not take long to get back into the swing of things.   All around us friends are starting to enjoy retirement or the prospect of it and it can be quite unsettling.  I'm starting to feel the need to slow down myself but have a good few years yet to go until I reach the age for a state pension.  I feel tired from being constantly ill over the past number of years, but my head is still full of energy.   So my intention for this coming big birthday, and for the coming winter is to focus on increasing my energy, getting a bit fitter and keeping myself as healthy as possible to be able to keep on touring and getting to see beautiful parts of the world like this.  To be able to enjoy long, late into the night discussions with good friends, to enjoy seeing the new generations as they grow and to enjoy my singing groups at home as they develop and mature.  

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Boats v Planes, Cars v Trucks

Travelling by boat is by far my preferred mode of transport.

A more sedate way to travel - traditional boats on the Loire River

This week we're back on the road again - to Germany this time - and as it's a short trip we decided to fly and borrow a PA - Tom already has a set of congas in Munich (and in Canada and in Australia!).

I'd forgotten how busy (for that, read stressful) going by plane is - a silly early start, then hours of walking and queueing and checks and more checks.  More time queueing to pick up our rental car and then straight out into motorway traffic in a left hand drive car.  For the record, being a passenger on the right hand side freaks me out far more than driving on the left side .... good grief!  As an aside I'm recovering from a summer cold which is determined to lodge in my chest - the antibiotic I'm taking is making me break out in a sweat; it's 26 degrees C and that's also making me perspire; but by far the top cause of glowing profusely is the huge truck pulling out right in front of me with what seems like inches to spare.  So I'm burying my head in the computer writing this blog.  (Note to self, don't look up suddenly when you see a truck looming and scream with fright and terrify the driver)

Boarding in Harwich at sunset

On the other side of things, going by ferry is much calmer, and driving your own car is much more familiar.  When you load up at home, providing you've forgotten nothing, that's you until you get to your destination.  No tramping around in queues.   There's time to look around you and perhaps have  a leisurely meal on board the ferry if it's a short crossing and time for a lot more relaxation if it's a long one.  You can take time while waiting to board to knit or read or grab a quick nap or catch up on emails.  By the time we reached Munich yesterday I reckoned we could have been waiting to board our second crossing if we decided to do a land bridge (Ireland-Scotland/England-Holland).   We're now driving up to Berlin for our first gig, loaded to the gills,  so that would be no different than going from Rotterdam to Berlin, time wise,  if we'd come by ferry.

On the Carlingford Ferry

So from here on I'm choosing the more sedate way to travel - unless we're heading to the other side of the world.

How about you?  What way do you prefer to move between countries?   Are you lucky enough to live on a large landmass and have the possibility to go by train or car?  Do you find it hard to drive on 'the other side of the road'?  I'd love to hear.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Remember Mix Tapes?

Two years ago I bought paint to tidy up my office.  I keep trying not to call it an office - a den, or a study seem much more artistic, but an office it ends up as, or a junk shop more like.  Everything in the house that doesn't have a place ends up in here, all the necessary stuff as well as all the 'just in case I might need it someday' stuff.  Why do we keep these things!

Anyway I finally convinced the painter of the family that the time was now and we decided to do three rooms (they're small), the clearing of which should have been a doddle.  Until we came to the office that is - 4 days it took me!

Anyway, it's all over now and the place looks lovely and clean and I don't want to repopulate it with all that junk again, no matter how necessary it is.   I've had a really good clear out of books I'll never read again, had a great rummage through old photos from the days when I actually took time to put them in albums (such a pity not to do that any more) and the final treasure find was a box of cassettes.  Ok, most of them needed to go in the bin - they'd been recorded on a 4 track machine which we don't have any more, so they can't even be listened to.  But in the middle of them all I cam across a handful of mix tapes that a couple of people had made for me back in the day when I was playing in the pubs in Belfast - suggestion after suggestion of songs to try out, or simply to listen to.

So I spent a lovely couple of hours going through You Tube to listen to some of the songs and had a real stroll down memory lane.   Three or four of the tapes were given to me by a guy who regularly came into a Monday night gig I did in the Rotterdam Bar.  He had an enormous dog that he always brought with him - it was a St Bernard or something like that -a huge gentle giant.   One night while I was in the middle of my set, the dog came up and just sat on my foot, quite oblivious to the chuckles from all the regulars and quite pleased with itself to be in the limelight.

I also found old Mini discs ( no longer playable), VHS tapes (no longer playable) and even a few Betamax tapes (no longer playable cos we have no player).. How technology has moved on in recent years.  The gramophone records and old vinyl discs still need a good going through, but I reckon lots of sheet music will be heading for the shredder or maybe for sale on eBay for someone who likes crafting with it.  I've actually managed to find someone who wants old cassettes for an art project too which was great as I couldn't imagine them ever disintegrating in landfill.  Apparently he's weaving it into rope for the linen museum.

Cleaning out is a great tonic.  Now the challenge will be to see how long I can keep it like that!

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Happy Sunday

 Rossnowlagh Beach yesterday was quiet and peaceful.   The tide was out and the smell of the sea was just wonderful.  Not warm enough for sunbathing or swimming (for most people except a few hardy children) but the surfers were lying patiently in wait for the next wave to come in.   It was so calm they might have had a while to lie there I think.

We learnt to drive there - it's 3 miles long when the tide is out like this... This photo is a bit out of focus but I loved the quality of a painting in it.

 Sun glinting on the water added sparkle

 I love the patterns in the sand - it was great to get my toes into it.

 I wish you all a lovely Sunday and hopefully you are not getting scorched wherever you are.
We have a concert this evening over on the other coast in Newcastle and after a couple more studio sessions this week, we start packing for our HOLIDAYYYYYYSSSSSS.  Back to the sunshine - happy days.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Festival week

Soul music on the outdoor stage
At the end of a wonderful week of music and celebrating far flung friendships, we are all gathering our wits and energy again.

clouds gathering over the square
and the newly redecorated church
We only went to a few concerts - Ralph McTell on Saturday night was just superb and what a lovely man.   I really only knew a few of his songs and when the entire hall sang The Streets of London, the heightened emotions in the room was palpable.  Our own Sands Family finished things off in great style and a few of the younger performers were delightful earlier in the week, including Catherine McGrath whom I wrote about here.

We counted 11 different nationalities at the singaround Tom and I hosted on Sunday and our own concert on Saturday went off well in spite of the dreadful downpour that arrived just in time for us to pack our gear into the car and send mice scuttling into the house for cover (we still don't know if there's one lurking in here somewhere).  The first rain in 7 weeks in these parts, it was a mixed blessing, but the gardens breathed a huge sigh of relief.  It can stop now, ok! (still pouring as I write).
making the most of your circumstances
Billy, above, was the steward of the local sports hall for many years and he hasn't been too well for a while - it was great to see him out and about in his own personalised car - that's the way to do it:)

Today is the start of Autumn in the old calendar - Lammas - and in another couple of weeks the leaves will start to turn, although a lot are already well wilted with lack of water. 

My mother's buddleia was covered in butterflies when we visited last week

And even though I don't work in schools our work is very term-time dictated, so I love this time of year when there's only performance related work to do - recording, researching, updating.   And while I love my students and my singing groups I'm so happy that there is still another delicious month of untimetabled time to come - more visitors to welcome, some work to do on the recording of a friend's album and a holiday to look forward to.   Happy Days.

How's your summer or your winter shaping up?  Are you getting some time to rest?  Is there enough water and if you live in England I do hope that you're not affected by the floods that are bound to follow.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Fiddlers Green Festival 2018

Songs and a picnic at Fiddlers Green to start the annual festival in Rostrevor.
A couple of hundred of us walked up the hill to the clearing at Fiddlers Green to start the festival last Sunday.  For a change, this year the grass was bone dry, it was a gorgeous afternoon, and once we'd all recovered from the ordeal of the climb, it was a splendid start to proceedings.  Performers from Denmark, Germany, America and Spain did their party pieces along with all of us from here while everyone enjoyed their picnic.

Fiddlers Green is a community festival surrounding a folk festival which happens at the end of July every year and attracts a festival family from all over the world.  As well as the music side of things, there's art exhibitions, lots of mountain walks, children's events, traditional tunes and song sessions and far too many late nights and various refreshments to imbibe!  

The invisible partner has been the wonderful weather we've been having.  Thankfully it's not quite as scorching here as the folks over in England and Wales are having to endure, but it's still been in the mid to high 20s which for us is fabulous.  Everyone's out in the street and the atmosphere is great.

We have a gig tomorrow afternoon and then I'm off to see Ralph McTell tomorrow night.  Sunday Tom and I are hosting the final singaround at lunchtime and the final concert with The Sands Family is like a big collective hug to say goodbye to everyone until next year.   On Monday a crowd of us will head back up the mountain (further up this time), weather permitting (there's storms on the way) to finish it all off - that'll finish all of us off too no doubt but a pint of Vitamin G will restore equilibrium when we get back down.  

I hope you all have a great weekend.  

Friday, 29 June 2018

June Photos

Here we are at the end of another month and it's time to join in with Hawthorn and the merry band of photo scavengers from around the world.  This month we were happily (well, a bit grumpily, but mostly happy) out travelling again, so the photos are from various places.


We stopped in Amsterdam on our way back to the ferry from Germany earlier in the month and had a day pottering around, mainly to allow me a visit to the wonderful Stephen and Penelope Wool Shop (- if you're a wool person you'll probably know of Stephen West - really out there  knitwear designer - fab-u-lous darling.  More of that in a future blog.)  Some of my friends here can't believe I dragged Tom into a huge city, two days before his birthday, to go to a wool shop on the pretext that the day out was his birthday treat!

There's lots of yellow around Amsterdam - bicycles, flowers, clothes etc.
But this one had to take the prize ... the Amsterdam Duck Shop
and who was out in front only Donald - it was a real laugh-out- loud, stop-and-point sort of shop, with lots of great characters represented as bath ducks.

Starts with a ... T 

We're in the middle of the most wonderful spell of sunshine here - (there's not a bit of work being done inside and the garden is finally getting in to shape).   And these little flowers are all over the place - our lawn (or what I lovingly call our moss) is full of wild flowers that miraculously bounce back again after each cut.  Watching a video on Aril's blog this morning I discovered that it is called Birdsfoot Trefoil - (we'll ignore the B bit of it and just go with the T) -  I was having trouble finding a suitable T so this just came up in perfect time.


I called in to the wool shop in Rheinberg in Germany - it's called Die Strickleiter (the Knit Ladder - a play on words of rope ladder).  Her bicycle was outside and the ladder covered in wool was a real hook to get me in.  Cute isn't it?

Starts with a ... G

I was looking for an AirBnB in or near Amsterdam before we left home and nearly took one on a houseboat - I wish I was more courageous to try these things - we couldn't gain access until 8pm which is way too late and had to be out by 10am which is way too early so the idea got passed on, but as we walked along the Amstel I spotted this garden which is right up my street of potted gardens, although when I looked closer it's just as much a mess as my own at the minute.  

Gardening Amsterdam style


I loved the stillness of this boat at the mouth of the river Erne at Ballyshannon 
and the silver of the water around it.

My own choice

Beach huts at Harwich in Essex.   I just love this sight any time we're on the East coast of England.  And this was a huge row of very well maintained huts.  We had an hour before we needed to queue for the ferry and after a feast of fish and chips I dragged a reluctant husband out to face the bracing cold to get a closer look.

So that's it from me for this month.   Thank you as always Kate for hosting this really enjoyable monthly challenge.  I'm going to check in on everyone else's blogs over the weekend.   If you fancy joining in or just seeing what's going on, check out the link here.  

Friday, 22 June 2018

The Faeries by William Allingham

The River Assaroe in Ballyshannon

We're back to a spate of beautiful sunshine here - just perfect for Midsummer. I love the Solstice - it brings me back to myself, to remembering nature and folklore and traditions. 

At this time of year as a child, we would have been in the hay field helping to save the hay and enjoying those special smells and the wonderful taste of tea and egg and onion sandwiches in the open air. 

We've been over in Donegal a lot in recent years, and a few weeks ago we went to see an old mill outside Ballyshannon and it reminded me of this poem we all learned as children.

(As an aside, I'm having terrible trouble getting my blog to hold its formatting, so apologies if this appears in miniature - anyone else having this problem? ) 

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen, 
We daren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men. 
Wee folk, good folk, 
Trooping all together; 
Green jacket, red cap, 
And white owl's feather!
William Allingham

It's almost a shameful thing to admit but I've never been a great fan of poetry. But this is one poem I have always adored. It was written by William Allingham (more about him below) in the mid 19th century. He grew up in Ballyshannon in South Donegal where my mother also comes from ... It's just a few miles from where I grew up which made the poem even more resonant to young minds. The River Erne flows into the Atlantic at Ballyshannon and there's a dedication to him on the bridge there. 

I totally believed in the fairies - I suppose I still do. Nobody I know would ever consider cutting down a fairy thorn for example. The stories of the Children of Lír and Tír na nÓg were told alongside Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella and were even more believable in a way because there were no princesses in Ireland. And I remember introducing you to the Leprechaun's clothes over in Carlingford late last year - you can read more about them here under the heading Neat. 

This verse was used as a threat to us as children - go to sleep or the fairies will come and get you. They took little Bridget - they'll get you too if you don't go to sleep. In the poem, Bridget comes back after 7 years and all her friends are gone, because of course time goes very slowly in the land of the ever young, Tír na nÓg.

The Faeries
Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen, 
We daren't go a-hunting For fear of little men.
Wee folk, good folk, Trooping all together; 
Green jacket, red cap, And white owl's feather!

Down along the rocky shore Some make their home --
They live on crispy pancakes Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds Of the black mountain-lake, 
With frogs for their watch-dogs, All night awake.

High on the hilltop The old King sits; 
He is now so old and gray, He's nigh lost his wits.
With a bridge of white mist Columbkill he crosses, 
On his stately journeys From Slieveleague to Rosses;

Or going up with music On cold starry nights, 
To sup with the Queen Of the gay Northern Lights.
They stole little Bridget For seven years long; 
When she came down again Her friends were all gone.

They took her lightly back, Between the night and morrow; 
They thought that she was fast asleep, But she was dead with sorrow.
They have kept her ever since Deep within the lake, 
On a bed of flag-leaves, Watching till she wake.

By the craggy hillside, Through the mosses bare, 
They have planted thorn-trees, For pleasure here and there.
Is any man so daring As dig them up in spite, 
He shall find their sharpest thorns In his bed at night.

Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen, 
We dare 't go a-hunting For fear of little men.
Wee folk, good folk, Trooping all together; 
Green jacket, red cap, And white owl's feather.

William Allingham, pic Internet 
William Allingham (19 March 1824 – 18 November 1889) grew up in Ballyshannon on the banks of the River Erne. Most of his poetry was lyrical and many were turned into songs - probably the most lasting apart from the Fairies is Adieu to Ballyshanny, which is still sung in the area. He was a contemporary of Tennyson and Carlyle and after he died his diaries were published which highlighted his contact with these more celebrated poets of the day. 

Do you believe in Fairies? I'd love to hear.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Dodging football

Most distraught that they've taken the Chase off for the next four weeks - I think there's something happening in Russia - must be more spy stuff!

I've been having a catch up week, getting posters out, more tour planning, getting back to my singing groups, catching up on accounts and tidying the house.   To that end I spent today loading stuff up to eBay to clear out some of the mountain of summer clothes I have, in all the varying sizes I've been.   Why do we keep buying summer clothes that only get worn for a few weeks a year if you're lucky!  Each year I swear I'll buy no more and then come the first rays of sun the bright colours are like magnets.   Mostly I buy in charity shops, but even so, it still fills space.   So I'm feeling very virtuous.

Last weekend we went out for a wander around Ballyshannon with my mother - and went back to the little fairy forest that I'd written about here in Spring before any of the trees had started to bud.

There's a lot more colour now and there'd obviously been bits of work going on from little fairy folk from the town.    

The place is delightfully un organised and haphazard and is on a flat walk so it's ideal for the elderly as well as the youngsters.

Have a lovely weekend, whether you're engrossed in, or hiding from, the World Cup.  

Monday, 11 June 2018

A Roving We Will Go

We had such an unusual sight at our concert in Riesby in the North of Germany on Thursday night last when 12 Journeymen showed up at the gig - journeymen and women I should say.  The local newspapers were dying to get a photo and we were delighted to be included.

It is a very rare thing to see so many of them together - usually there is just one or two.  

Do you know about Journeymen?   In Germany they are called Travelling Workers and they're all craftsmen and women.   They wear an insignia on their tie to denote their craft - in this group there were carpenters, joiners, a blacksmith, a goldsmith, a pastry chef, and a metal worker - I didn't get to ask the rest.  They have a very strict code of conduct and practice and all of them wear their uniform with pride.

Journeymen  are apparently quite common now again in the German speaking world but one young man told me that apart from New Zealand and very occasionally in Ireland and Scotland, they're not known anywhere else.  If one comes to a business to ask for work, they must be given a job if there's a place for their skill and if there isn't, the business owner agrees to look after them until work is found.  This is a very old tradition and was a common way for a young man to gain an apprenticeship until the 1920s when the Nazis came to power and banned them as tramps.

They sign up for at least 3 years and a day and must stay travelling at least 50 kms away from their homeplace.   They must be single, have no children and no debts so they're not running away.   They leave home with €5 and can only have the same amount when they return - they only do this to gain experience in their work and not for monetary gain.   The word Journeyman comes from the French word Journée meaning a day as they are paid daily and the main reason for this journey is an apprenticeship.

And the reason there were so many?  Well one of the girls was finishing her time on the road, after 4 1/2 years, and the rest came to walk her home.  They still had 20 kms to go from here.  And she was going home to get married to one of the others who had left 2 years earlier but came back to join the troupe for the walk.

I asked one young man why he had decided to do this and he said that it symbolised freedom for him.  In this world where people are so afraid of strangers, I think this is a wonderful thing.  By the time they have finished their time as a journeyman they are a master at their craft.  This Wikipedia article is a very interesting article if you'd like to read more about the tradition which is known as on the Walz and indeed the song Waltzing Matilda is about someone on this journey.

They were a really love bunch of people and I felt honoured to have met them.

If you're familiar with Irish or Scottish music, you'll maybe know this song - The Roving Journeyman, here sung by The Corries.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

A Day on the Road

With friends from Denmark and Germany waiting for the 0630 ferry from Hallig Hooge.
The truck in the back has everyone's luggage and all our equipment in it.
The smiles belie the fact that no coffee had yet been consumed!
When asked about being 25 years playing music with the Rolling Stones, the drummer Charlie Watt replied that they'd only be playing music for 3 years and the other 22 were spent hanging around.

I concur - although at a much reduced level than the Stones.

Touring is wonderful - we get to see great places and having a string of concerts together gets you well honed and into good shape.   And the concerts are always wonderful - people are kind and generous.  

But the down side is the time in the car on the motorway.   We are constantly looking for new ways to travel over to the Continent that involves getting the most sleep - let's say that this one didn't fit that bill very well.  We were away for 12 days and with the exception of 3 of them we were up and well away long before 9 and on several days we were actually travelling by 6.30 A.M.!!!! (in the vain hope of avoiding traffic jams).  Then sleeping afternoons (if there was time) and getting ready to play in the evening.  And all the time the weather was showing off at its best 30-33 degrees C.  We travelled 2,300 miles through 7 countries, did 7 concerts and sold lots of CDs.

After a week of it I was totally shattered.  But thankfully we were staying with friends most of the time and towards the end of the trip we had 3 nights in one place and our friend Rita fed and watered us and let us lay about the place for a day which helped enormously.  

And here I am, home again and planning to do it all over again!   Are we mad or what?

So today we're taking part in #FairPlé - a day of musical activism for Gender Equality in Folk and Traditional Music in Ireland.   I'm hosting a session at 2pm (the sun's still shining - will anyone want to be inside in a pub?)  and afterwards we're going for dinner to celebrate Tom's birthday.
Please, sun, wait around for another couple of days.  Pretty please??

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Restful Sunday

Very very low tide on the North Sea -
 the ferry to Halllig Hooge had to leave 90 minutes early (at 6.30am) to catch enough water.  

I'm only today getting to check in on some of the May Scavenger Photo hunt blogs and some lovely images there are.

We've been on the road for just over a week and I mean literally on the road - so sick of Autobahns - 6 1/2  hours to do 300 kms and 9 hours to do what should normally take 5 hours!   Still, the gigs have been good and we've seen some unusual sights.  I'll try to post a few more photos in the coming days now that I have a decent signal.

For now we're finished with this run and will take the ferry back to England on Tuesday night before a last folk club gig at Uppermill on Saddleworth Moor on Wednesday night and then on over to Dublin the next day.

I hope the sun is continuing to shine on you - have a lovely week.

Friday, 25 May 2018

May 2018 Photo Scavenger Hunt

Joining in today with Hawthorn for the monthly Photo Scavenger Hunt - a list of words to illustrate with photos.
It's a joy doing this challenge each month and having a look back over the where, how and when of the past month, although most of my selection here seem to have a doom feeling about them ... sorry about that ... exasperation at the continuing cold I expect.   But  here goes.


A really cool evening a few weeks back.  I love seeing the low clouds.
That bare tree in the foreground never buds until the end of May and is the last to shed its leaves - every year I'm checking to see if it's dead and every year it fools me 
Thankfully the sun is now shining.  


I was doing a workshop over in South Armagh earlier in the month and in the foyer there was a big hoarding about the sinking of 'the Hannah' - unfortunately my photo is terrible of it, but it fits this prompt .  This was one of the famine ships.

and in case you're interested in shipwrecks here's an interactive map of over 4000 wrecks off the coast of Ireland - phew!  


Driving across the Queensferry Crossing (the new bridge over the Forth) in Scotland at the start of May, and looking over to the Forth Bridge in the distance and the Forth Road Bridge in the middle.  Confusing names.


Or should I say - no fences.  This is the border where I grew up.  
Both County Fermanagh(in NI) and County Donegal (in ROI) are in the province of Ulster - (it's incorrect to call Northern Ireland Ulster).  The lane in the third picture was what was once known as an unapproved road.  There are hundreds of them around the border counties. During the Troubles it was blown up by the army to then be filled in again by farmers needing to get to their livestock or to the bog.  I'm wondering how it'll be policed once Brexit lands.
looking East - North on the right

and West - Fermanagh on the left, Donegal on the right.
My home house is a few fields along on the left - our bog was on the right.

And looking northwards to the South!!  (Donegal is further north than this part of Fermanagh)


A really spectacular lump of fallen tree trunk in the woods with lots of prickly edges

My own choice

The bluebell wood at Narrow Water near Warrenpoint.
This is where the second part of the Woman in White was filmed apparently.
Summer always seems to arrive in May and the bluebells just smile at everyone.  Wonderful sight seeing wedding parties and young couples and people carrying babies in, all coming in to be photographed.

So that's it from me for this month .... I'll get time on the ferry tomorrow night (we're on our way to Germany) to have a look at everyone else's photos - a trip around the world in words and pictures.
If you fancy playing along or want to check out what everyone else has shown for these words, take a look here.