Wednesday, 26 June 2019

The Birds Song

The RSPB recently released a record of birdsong which managed to go to the top of the charts - a fantastic achievement.  And they've now started a Birdsong Radio - wonderful.    It is surely the biggest delight of my day to hear the birds singing in the morning and to watch them feeding in the garden.  Check it out here

On our recent trip to England and Scotland we had a morning off in the Lake District and found TheBirds Bistro :). A brilliant place to buy special foods for the birds and squirrels.  We came home loaded down.   Check it out if  you're in the area. 

And at the same time, my Tom has written a fun song called The Birds Song - a parody on immigration - have a listen - and a watch of our birds :). 

He's working on a children's book at the moment illustrated by a friend, Colum McEvoy.  I'll post some of the images in a future blog post - it will be launched at our festival here next month.   

"We may have different feathers and sing a different song
But when we sing together, the differences are gone. "

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Getting the ducks in a row

Outside a farm shop in Fife, these wee chaps were almost in line

Firstly thank you all for your lovely comments on the photo Scavenger Hunt last week - I really enjoy that challenge and the lovely community that has built up around it.

And secondly, what on earth is going on with this weather!   I had to go to Belfast early this morning and as yesterday was sunny I thought 'no need for a scarf or warm coat' - I nearly froze.  It's like February - or as I heard someone on the radio saying "the month of Donegal" :)

Now, a question for you ... 

If you're looking for information on the internet, where do you search first?  Do you go directly to a website, or to Facebook, or do you just type in a name in Google or some other search engine?   I'd be very interested to know.

When we were in Germany last month someone said that when they searched for us on the internet, it was a different type of music coming up than what we played in our concert ... I never thought to ask where they'd searched.

So when we returned home I started looking around - something that should have been done months,  even years, ago, and sure enough depending on where you search, different information comes up, some of it years out of date.  I've had a website for nearly 20 years and what was really ahead of time back then is so outdated now and technology has jumped on ahead of us, confusing the issue (and me).

So since we came back we've been trying to get everything to line up ... not an easy job and seriously doing my head in.  And it'll take another couple of weeks of concentrating on it.

So do let me know what you do - what's your preferred way of hunting down information.

Canada Geese on Hallig Hooge - they know how to line up, almost

Monday, 3 June 2019

A walk through May - Photo Scavenger Hunt

I'm very late joining Kate's Scavenger Hunt this month, but I just noticed there's a few hours left for the Linky to stay open.  

It's been ages since I've posted anything and have missed this blogging community, but work and stress have been the ruling forces for ages now and my biggest challenge has been trying to get some rest and balance as well as putting some sort of order on work, house, garden, parents, home, internet (bane of my life) and friends.  So we're supposed to be on holiday today but the car broke down and kept us at home, so I've decided the day is being spent on the sofa with reading and writing blogs, knitting and tv (and maybe there's enough in the freezer for dinner!)

So here are this month's words


I feel a bit mean showing a snowy scene at this time of the year - although we did have snow once on June 8th here a bout 20 years ago - but this was the only seat I could find in old pics .--- It was taken at Annahgakerrig in Co. Monaghan, the artists retreat I've written about a few times.  

View (from the seat!)

And on a summer's day you could enjoy the view around the grounds - only a glimpse here.


We've had the most lovely visitors to the garden this spring - earlier in the year there was a pair of jays, now we've got a pair of doves and the biggest surprise - a Red Squirrel.    There's been a huge effort to reintroduce reds into the Mournes as there were only greys here for years and years.   So here's our wee visitor having his lunch.

Starts with a P

I was given a present at Christmas for a pottery class and loved it so much I joined up for a run of classes - I think the wheel is not going to be my thing - gosh can I make a mess but it's great fun - but I really liked making a pinch pot.  This was my second attempt before firing - although I messed it up after this pic by punching holes in it, so you'll not be seeing the finished picture I don't think lol 


We've made seven trips now out to Hallig Hooge off the north west coast of Germany, mostly in May.   Normally we catch the early morning ferry but for a change this year we travelled later in the day and this was a gorgeous sunny afternoon.
The ferry coming onto the mainland from Hallig Hooge

My own choice.

I've had this little lilac bush for years and this is the first time it bloomed - it was in full bloom when we arrived back from Germany - a lovely welcome home gift. 

So that's it from me for this month.  See you all next month.   If you fancy joining in, the Scavenger Hunt is run by Kate and she'll be posting the June words in the next few days, I'd imagine.   

Friday, 17 May 2019

To Ell and back

I've started this blog at least four times and keep re-editing from "We're in the middle of our annual trip" to "We're home!" and various stages in between.  

Back on the road

After all the drama of hospital visits over Easter,  we actually made it to the ferry on time.   Tom only got out of hospital on the Thursday and I came home from town on Friday morning to find him out mowing the lawn!   The man has no wit.
Ell, in Luxembourg, home place of Jean Claude Juncker
Thank you for all your good wishes - it took half the tour for him to get back to normal and for my stress levels to reduce!  And it took nearly 10 days to feel rested.  My MIL was also in hospital at the same time, and that plus not getting an Easter visit in with my own mum, left me rattled with blood pressure soaring.  It was two not very happy bunnies getting on to the ferry.

Our AirBnb stop in Rouen old city.
However we had a fortnight travelling around the Benelux countries and Germany.  We did 4000kms in 2 weeks and though we're home tired, the memory of lovely gigs and seeing old friends totally overtakes the motorway hours..
We took the ferry to Cherbourg in France, and from there started with a house concert in Luxembourg then north to Rheinberg where we did concerts in Mehr and Hamminkeln, then further north to Oldenburg to stop off with friends and next up to the North West Coast to head out to Hallig Hooge (or Hooge Burg as some wag suggested - do all the burgs in one trip!). 

I find the huge windmill farms in the north of Germany strangely beautiful, although it's hopeless trying to get a decent photo from a moving car

I've written before about Hooge, a very interesting not quite island in the middle of the North Sea.   The main attraction at this time of the year is the arrival of 10s of 1000s of Canada Geese and people travel from all over the country to birdwatch.   For me, I must be honest and say that I don't like cold windy places - once is enough, even the west coast of Ireland is a challenge for me - give me sun any day   But I do love the people on Hooge - islanders are exceptional.  Did I ever tell the story of my song Island Love?   I must do that.

Low tide with one of the Hallig islands clearly visible in the distance

Our last gig was in Zevenaar in Holland and some lovely photos were posted up on Facebook yesterday which I've shared on our Facebook page if you care to have a nosey.

I have been keeping an eye on your blogs even though I've not been posting comments.  There's a feeling when you're on tour, that you're 'on' from the minute you leave home until you get back again.   If you're not driving, and the drives are torturous in Germany, you're either with people or getting ready for the gig - finding an hour alone is very difficult, even on days off.

So as well as getting down to the next thing on the desk, I'm looking forward to getting back to some regular writing and reading and commenting.

Thursday, 25 April 2019


Thank you all for understanding my need to rant the other day - and apologies for the bits of print that I'd copied in from Wikepedia and didn't spot the formatting - I wasn't intending to shout parts of it lol

In the midst of all the annoyance and chaos, as Aril pointed out, hasn't it been a joy to watch young Greta Thunberg making her quiet potent statements.   It will be interesting following her progress.  She is the positive we all need.

The bluebells have been really early here
I spotted this lovely ladybird late last week in the garden.
And on the positive note here, Tom got released from hospital today just in time for us to head off  on tour on Saturday, storm permitting.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Lyra McKee

This world is a mess - and for a long time I've been struggling to write blogs because all I've wanted to write is political comment and at the same time I've wanted to keep this space a positive and bright one.  But I have to pay tribute to a young woman who was murdered on Thursday night.

Lyra McKee
Many of you will have seen the news from Northern Ireland in the past few days of the terrible killing of the young journalist Lyra (pronounced Leera) McKee in Derry on Thursday night.  Here we are back in the news, but for all the wrong reasons, again.

I cannot describe the feelings of anger and sorrow and fear that is permeating this land.   Apart from the sadness at the loss of this young life, a voice for the future, there is a sorrow for all of us.   We Cannot Go Back to this.    People are so angry, so afraid - I just want to cry every time I think of it.


was a freelance journalist and an outspoken advocate of LGBT rights for which she gave a TedX talk in Stormont a few years back.  She had a publishing contract for two books which she was in the process of completing about life here and she was ruthless in her investigations and criticisms.
This is a wonderful tribute to her from the Independent newspaper

Not In My Name

The  thugs need little or no excuse to start things up again.  But all over the country posters are up saying NOT IN MY NAME - most certainly Not In My Name!  Perhaps some good will come of Lyra's death and maybe, just maybe, it will be catalyst to get our power sharing government back up again.

The police were expecting violence as a run up to the Easter Rising Commemorations and right on cue a riot started, petrol bombs were thrown and a few shots of a handgun finished a young life.   Yesterday, Easter Sunday, is a day of celebration in the South of Ireland - it marks the day that the  1916 Rising happened which led to the Republic of Ireland being formed.

But of course, up here in the north, that means division.  Any celebration means division up here.    There are many who want to be part of that Republic, and there are many who see it as an abomination, an excuse to cause trouble. And in the middle there are many, like myself, who while  considering ourselves Irish, want to keep our heads down, fly no flags, be content in the status quo and get on with our own lives.

Up in the North West, in Derry/Londonderry they've always had a hard time and are rightfully worried about a resurgence of violence.   They are on the border with Co. Donegal which is in the south.  And the border issue around Brexit is adding fuel to the worries.

Which is it you may ask?  Derry or Londonderry?  Well,  It's actually both.   

When I worked for the BBC it was compulsory to say Londonderry first, then Derry second and after that it was up to you.   Thanks to a much missed radio DJ called Gerry Anderson it became known as Stroke City (get it?  Londonderry Stroke/ Derry!)
Derry is the anglicised version of the old Irish name Daire, or the modernised version Doire, which means oak grove.   The London prefix was added to Derry when the city was granted a Royal Charter by King James I in 1613 during the Plantation of Ulster.    To the majority of people born on this island, Catholic or Protestant, it will always be Derry.  But legally it is Londonderry.  However to confuse issues further, the local council is Derry!   Let's opt for Stroke City!)

Then on Sunday I managed not to watch the news until late in the evening and saw the terrible tragedy unfolding in Sri Lanka.   That knot of fear and stress that we lived with for so long was back.  It only takes a moment for some thoughtless idiot, wanting to go down in history for some heroic deed as he/she sees it, to shatter hundreds of lives.

What an Easter.   And to top it all, Tom's been in hospital all through it!   Hopefully he'll escape soon.
Normal service will be resumed asap.

Friday, 29 March 2019

March in Photos

I have been really bad at blogging this past while - too many distractions I think - with the constant news and rumours and maybes and uncertainties it's hard to focus on anything.

So it's with delight I started hunting for photos for this month's scavenger hunt - a photo inspired by a word - organised by Kate at I Live, I Love, I Craft, I am Me  I love checking in on everyone else's photos and having a wee photo trip around the world.


The weather has been beautiful over the past week or so, albeit still very cold, and after an appointment I went for a stroll along the sea front in Newcastle - Co. Down.   This is my favourite place for an afternoon out - lovely coffee shops, nice boutiques, great public art and sculptures and the endless expanse of the Irish Sea which was very FLAT calm.  


It took a while to find something for this -  I spotted an abandoned tyre on the beach in Newcastle - not very picture squeue but ... and then I thought of the bodhran (pronounced bow ron), the Irish drum that Tom plays.   Originally made from an old metal sieve which was covered with a goat skin, now the circle is wood, but the skin is still goat.

and this wee lad joined in for some of the songs at the session we ran on St Patrick's Day


I've shown this photo before here on the blog but it fascinated me and I went out most days to check on progress while we were in Denmark.    The swing of the man and woman to indicate whichever way the wind was blowing was like watching the birds ... and they'd work harder swinging the axe and saw the stronger the wind blew.


This mountain is part of a pair - the Cock and Hen - I think this one's the Cock because of the comb on his head .... I loved the ragged tops of the mountains and the way the walls pull everything into a sense of order


Some crocuses in one of my pots a while back ... I've been collecting these ceramic mushrooms which make a lovely tinkling noise in the rain and wind.

My own choice

Back to Denmark for this one .... while we had an amazing run of concerts, a very special event will be my main memory of this trip .... In one of my earlier photos of the horses, the young woman leading the horses was looking a bit padded shall we say ... well she gave birth two days later and we got to meet the first grandchild of the house in its first hours in the world.   Wow!   She is so beautiful.   As any of you who read my blog regularly know, we don't have children, and I've never felt any loss or overwhelming desire and of course it's too late to do anything about that now... But seeing this little bundle sparked something in me which I hadn't experienced before.  I wish her so much luck and love and hope that this world will be kind to her - she certainly has a wonderful family around her.

Well that's it from me for this month - hopefully I'll be a bit more organised and regular with my posts in the coming months, but at least this monthly check in gives me a chance to say hello.
Head over to Kate's blog to check out some of the other photo entries and perhaps you fancy joining in yourself.   

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Happy St Patrick's Day

Wishing you all the luck of the Irish today.   

Narrowwater Keep, Warrenpoint all lit up for St Patrick's Day

Friday, 1 March 2019

February in Photos

February has been a very busy month and I didn't even realise it until going back through photos to join in with Kate for the February Photo Scavenger Hunt.

The words this month are all to do with the senses so I'm going to try to connect them somehow to where we were through the month, not in the order Kate listed them.


We started the month at Annaghmakerrig, the artist's retreat in Co. Monaghan and despite both of us having a stinking cold we managed to make progress with several new songs and I had a fantastic break through with some problems I'd been working through.  
One of the highlights of staying there for me is joining together with the other people for dinner - it's the only rule of the house.   This particular night there were 14 for Sunday dinner - a poet, a film music composer, a sculptor, someone working with prints, a writer of memoirs, a playwright, an actress working on a new production, two novelists, a painter and ourselves .... I can't remember all the others, but it was such a fabulous melting pot of ideas to share and be inspired by.   The food is fabulous always, but it is the company that makes the difference. 


We have been doing lots of shows this month, so sound has been the predominant sense.    In the middle of the month we had a concert near home in Burren in an old converted primary school which is now a heritage centre .... Foolishly, or maybe not, we chose a Thursday, not paying attention to the fact that it was 14th February!!   And when it was pointed out that it was Valentine's Day, we thought, sure, no-one of our age worries about that nowadays!  Hah!  Wrong - I get more calls of apology saying I have to baby sit the grandchildren so my son and his wife can go out to celebrate!  Pfff..... In spite of that we had a lovely night and sang lots of love songs in our set.   The acoustics are simply beautiful in the room and while we weren't packed to capacity we had a splendid audience who were willing to sing along with all our choruses.

Ready for the gig in Burren
Full house concert in Denmark

My own choice

We have been in Denmark for the past week, doing a run of house concerts.   I've been finding the long days very tiring, but exhilarating at the same time.  People come for a meal interspersed with music so we're dong lots of chatting, socialising, discovering people, trying to find solutions for the world problems and Brexit!, partying, eating as well as playing a concert and joining in with the house band.  The level of understanding of English is almost totally fluent here so we don't have to rearrange things quite so much in order for people to follow our stories and what the songs are about.   The Danes are a lovely gentle people, quick to laugh at a joke and so welcoming into their homes and our friends Kanne and Jørn that we're staying with have spoilt us rotten.


The folks here are part of a family that own a horse riding school for training riders and coaches - so 4 horses and a coach etc.   We got a ride around for 20 minutes in the back of one while they were putting the horses through their paces - of course I didn't get a proper photo, but I will try to before we go home.   Later I got to ride a horse, for only the second time in my life.   Beautiful animals although terrifying when they made it run - not funny!   But I'm going back out for another ride today.   
it's a lovely feeling moving with an animal.   The house and farm and that of the neighbours and friends has dogs, cats and chickens running around as well a the horses so it's a very touchy feely place to be.


I just had to include this photo for sight - when we were walking through the stables to get to my horse, this one kept poking its head out under the bars to get a sniff - it was having a laugh at us, of that I"m certain - it was the mad eye that started me laughing. 


As I write this there are wonderful smells coming from the kitchen downstairs as our hosts get ready for this weekend's house concerts - they will provide food for 48 on Friday night including ourselves and 45 on Saturday - there are cakes coming in and out of the oven and everything smells yummy.  

Yesterday we drove north to a different house for another house concert and we travelled up by the coast.  
Denmark has miles and miles of beautiful white sandy beaches - in fact you can ride a horse from the border of Germany right up to the northern tip of Jutland (the western of the Danish islands).  Apart from the thousands of bunkers that have been left over after the war, it is an unspoiled clean white sandy beach.   Even though we're only away for a few days I just love getting back to the smell and sound of the ocean, or in this case the North Sea. 

So that's it from me for another while - I'm going for a bit of armchair travelling now to have a look around everyone else's photos.   Thanks as always to Kate for coming up with the words to get the grey matter going and to give a bit of an account of our month.   

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Booking in Advance

A quick question for you ....

If you see a show you fancy advertised at the local theatre or cinema, do you book in advance?   Or do you just leave it til the last minute in case something changes?   Perhaps you like to just turn up at the door?

Recently I've noticed a change in people's booking habits - perhaps it's all the uncertainty over Brexit here that is making people less sure of where they'll be or what they'll do (for example, the housing market has taken a big hit and that's what's being blamed) ....

But several theatres and small venues I've spoken to or been in contact with have been getting in to a real panic if there are no pre-sales 2 weeks before an event, and they are then cancelling the upcoming show.   One theatre booker told me she cancelled 5 shows in the Autumn alone because of that.  

Normally in music, in small venues at least, venues wouldn't start to panic until a few days before the event and push up their advertising for a last minute sale and then keep fingers crossed right up to the last day.  But obviously theatres are a different animal.

I would always be a very last minute buyer - probably to see how I"m feeling on the night - and maybe it's because we plan so much of our lives way way into the future that I leave our leisure events until the last minute.    But I'm going to try to make more of an effort from here on in.  

If you do like to go to see shows, try and book a wee bit earlier to give them some confidence.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Artist's Date - the F.E. McWilliams Gallery

Woman in Blast bronze sculpture by F.E.McWilliams

Morning pages have long been part of my routine - it's a habit I picked up from Julia Cameron when I first did her book The Artist's Way 20 years (or more) ago.  Write 3 pages (or 750 words or for 20 minutes) long hand every morning as a way of getting subconscious ideas down on paper and ridding your mind of the unconscious critic that resides there for all of us.   I love this practice - it's a meditation sometimes, other times a rant, often just a planning exercise or even a way of recording and processing life and slowing it down a wee bit.

Recently I've been dipping in to the book again, re-reading it and doing some of the exercises.  One of the other regular practices she advocates is the Artist's Date - a solitary playdate with your artist each week as an idea gathering, well-filling exercise and it's something I had real problems with when first doing the Artist's Way, not the outings so much as the alone time - difficult when you live with your work colleague!.

Anyway Tom had a large recording session in the house over last weekend and as we have such a tiny house the musicians ended up being spread through most of the rooms for sound separation.   So I took myself off for the day and ended up at an art gallery nearby followed by a nosey through the charity shops in the town.

I've passed signs for the F.E.McWilliams Gallery on the road from Newry to Belfast many times - it's been there for years, so I thought it about time to go and have a look.

Frederick McWilliams was one of the most influential sculptors of the 20th century, a contemporary and friend of Henry Moore and a follower of the style of Rodin.  His work is amazing and this gallery is a permanent space dedicated to his work and curated by the local art council - it also houses temporary exhibitions - the one just finishing today was Crossing Lines.

Here's a little video of a look around the garden and an interview with him when he returned to Banbridge in his later life.

There was a lot to look at in this exhibition which is being run simultaneously in galleries both north and south of the border.  The garden, cafe and craft shop are all fabulous and I will definitely go back for another look.  

In the Crossing Lines exhibition one guy did on site paintings both north and south which really looked like scribbles to me, but I really liked his description of border, in these turbulent days - Liminal Space he called it.  

This Bee Dress by Alice Maher in 1994 really shocked and disturbed me - made entirely of bees (which she said were all dead beforehand)

Bee Dress by Alice Maher
There's a speakers corner in the space which includes lots of posters and drawings both from adults and children - in fact they regularly run toddlers art sessions.  

Out in the garden there are some beautiful huge pieces - how on earth do you sculpt in bronze?   Fabulous.   

Regretably I didn't take more photos but there's a lot more on their Facebook page which is their only online presence sad to say.  

As Artist's Dates go I found it a very enjoyable and thought provoking afternoon (and the coffee was good) 

Friday, 1 February 2019

St Brigid's Day

In keeping with the traditions of Brigid's Eve, after dinner last night a crowd of us went out to hang pieces of cloth on a bush to be blessed by the fairies - an old tradition called Bratog Bhride (Brigid's Cloak).   Then in the morning you take your piece back and keep it in the house to bring you good luck, or some people believe it is a cure for headaches because it has been blessed by Brigid, the goddess of fertility and creativity. (In these parts, in Co. Monaghan, you're supposed to hang the cloth on a fairy tree, and there is a fairy fort here, but the snow, and an extra couple of glasses of wine meant we only got as far as the bush outside the door!)

We're back at Tyrone Guthrie House in Annaghmakerrig, an artist's retreat - I wrote about it here on a previous visit.   And I'll come back to it at the end of this stay.  We're both still trying to recover from that awful bug so we're not being as productive as we'd like, but nonetheless the ideas are starting to come.

For me a highlight of being here is the evening meal which everyone shares.   Around the table last night there was a ghost writer, a novelist, a poet, a theatre director and a drama writer working together on a new production, a composer of film music, a gallery owner/manager, another theatre director, a writer preparing performance pieces, a young actress working on pieces of video crossed with live performance, a traditional musician, a woman writing about cows and ourselves two, there to work on songs.   After dinner we had a round table concert of songs, poems, drama monologues, and stories, from the hilarious to the serious - the mixture of creatives of different disciplines is so nourishing.

If you'd like to read more about Brigid I wrote about her here and at the link for Bratog Bride above.

Bright blessings of the season to you and yours.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Searching for direction

Are there days when you just don't know which direction you should be going? 

 ... wandering around, back and forth, looking for pointers

And then suddenly you see the way forward - a clear direction

Nothing stopping you now

Friday, 25 January 2019

January Photo Scavenger Hunt

I'm joining in today with Hawthorn for the monthly photo scavenge hunt - a photo for a word.  It's been quite a few months since I played and today I'm having a relaxing day to clear a lingering cold  so a good chance to look over the past year's photos and find some images to fit.


During the summer we spent two glorious weeks holiday in France. 
Visiting a small town with a chateau I spotted this on the path to the entrance .... just in case you weren't sure where you were going!


One of my prized possessions - a plate from Belleek Pottery, made by my father for my christening and painted by C. Arnold.  I just love the spider details in it.  


I've finished quite a few knitting projects in the past year but this one I'm particularly proud of and actually knitted it twice for presents.   It's a technique called brioche knitting - that means it's double sided - and the pattern is from Nancy Merchant's book Leafy Brioche.  


At the old graveyard in Ballyshannon - I could have used this for metallic as well.   Again, it was the patterns that took my eye.


In the same town as the chateau I spotted these modern plant frames - aren't the shapes great?  Ignore the fact that it's covered in pigeon poo!  

My own choice

Ropes on the Carlingford Lough Ferry - I just loved the texture

So that's it from me for this month - I hope you'll take a look at some of the other people who post great photos from around the world in this challenge.   The link is here.