Jun 302010

We had a fantastic time exploring the North Antrim coast last week. What an amazing location!

Here are a couple of shots of the Giant’s Causeway — one conventional, one a bit different. These are straight off the iPhone with no post processing or any other digital jiggery pokery applied.

I’ll post some shots from Northern Ireland and Scotland taken with a real camera once I get home.

Feb 082010

I haven’t posted any photos for a while. Just going through some of my shots of a trip to Scotland during all the snow in January, and thought I’d post a couple of them up here to share.

View of Loch Rannoch

This is a willow tree outside our apartment looking out over Loch Rannoch… real winter wonderland stuff.

Schiehallion, Kinloch Rannoch, Perthshire, Scotland

…and this is a shot of Schiehallion taken from the banks of Loch Rannoch early one morning. It was the only day we saw the mountain; for the rest of our trip it was shrouded with low cloud.

Jan 192010
Two New Year's Resolutions postcards

Image via Wikipedia

… and the column for 06/01/2010. 

All right, own up… who stole 2009.

If you’re the culprit, then you’re welcome to it. I for one won’t be mourning the passing of 2009, and I suspect that I’m not alone in the sentiment.

My problem with 2009 is that it promised a great deal, and under-delivered in spectacular fashion. I ended the year in pretty much the same position as I was in when it started. Despite a lot of hard work it feels like I’ve been standing still for a year, both personally and professionally. As years go 2009 was a non-event: it may as well not have happened. We’re all a year older, and that pretty much sums it up.

I guess I should look on the bright side… stagnating for a year isn’t all that bad in a year when a lot of people experienced much worse; I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who’d love to find themselves in the same position they were in at the end of 2008. But it’s disappointing none the less. This time last year 2009 was looking tantalizingly promising, and I found myself eager with anticipation. Today, after the year that’s just passed, I find myself gazing into 2010 with unfettered indifference.

What is it about the start of a new year that engenders so much hope in so many people? We look at it as a new start, but really it’s just the passing of another day: a seamless transition to more of the same. Look around. What’s changed? The date… and that’s pretty much all.

There’s nothing inherently special about New Year. We can all choose to make changes in our lives at any time of the year. I guess what makes the transition from one year to another a little more significant in that regard is its symbolism. It is the start of something new, and for a lot of people that can serve as a catalyst for re-evaluation and positive action. For many more it’s a good excuse to get drunk and make a series of vague promises, easily made and just as easily broken?

How many of us will make significant positive change this year? How many New Year’s Resolutions will you make… how many will you keep? How many have you ever kept?

By and large the whole New Year’s Resolution thing is a bad idea. We make them because we’re stickers for tradition and slaves to convention, and because for a fleeting time at the start of the year doing so makes us feel good about ourselves and our noble intentions, but it doesn’t last. We soon fall back into old habits, and the fact that we haven’t had the strength of character to persevere with our New Year convictions leaves us feeling worse about ourselves than we did before.

So my suggestion for a New Year’s Resolution this year is to resolve not to make any New Year’s Resolutions at all. Trust me, you’ll be much better off. If you eschew my advice and decide to make a few regardless, for goodness sakes keep them to yourself. That way at least you can pretend you chose not to make any resolutions, and you alone will know how spectacularly you’ve failed.

I love Christmas and all the festive frivolity that surrounds it, but New Year is a pretty rubbish holiday, and while 2010 is likely to be a better year for many of us than the one we’ve just departed, somehow I can’t bring myself to embrace the excitement.

As I ponder all of this New Year whimsy I glance at the children and see three individuals refreshingly unencumbered by all this nonsense. Shielded from the worst of what the year throws their way by the insulating buffer of good parents, for them every year is a happy one, and the prospects for the new year are always bright. They live in the comfortable bubble of consistency that we provide, blissfully oblivious to the ups and downs of our topsy turvy world. You’ve got to envy them that.

Happy New Year!

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Sep 182009
Truancy hotline road sign.

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the hand-wringing and guilt parents go through when considering whether they should take children out of school to accommodate a family trip or holiday.

An article in the Times last month claimed that in the UK some 1.5 million school-days were taken for family holidays last year, 325,821 of them without the appropriate authorisation from schools.

Those are pretty big numbers… but I don’t necessarily buy the assertion that this is such a big problem.

Who, these days, can afford to take their family holiday during the school breaks… when prices for flights, ferries, accommodation, attractions and practically everything else are inflated to the max? Not to mention the fact that, if you travel in peak season (i.e. the school holidays) wherever you’re heading is bound to be crammed with throngs of tourists. Thanks but no thanks!

I can see how children bunking school without the school or their parents’ consent is a crucial issue that needs to be tackled head on, and how missing a stint during the latter years of secondary school, with exams looming, might not be the best idea in the world. But seriously, if a child is out for a week here or there during primary or early secondary school, what are they really going to miss?

Not a lot, I’d venture… and think about how much they have to gain.

Continue reading »

Jun 172009
School's Out for Summer

Image by Jagrap via Flickr

The little one was staring intently at the calendar this morning… her lips moving silently as her finger traced the days. She "shushed" me when I asked what she was doing, turned the page to the following month and kept on counting.

When she finally finished I asked her what she’d been doing. "Seeing how many days there are ’till my birthday," she said, brimming with excitement about an event that was still more than a month away. She was already making lists of who she wanted at her party, what sort of food she wanted, what games we’d play, even what she was going to wear.

That’s when it hit me… there was something coming a lot sooner than her birthday, something big that had approached under the radar and was now almost upon us. I grabbed the calendar, and the letter full of dates from where it was pinned by a magnet to the side of the fridge.

Sure enough, there it was in black and white: the kids only have two weeks left in school before they break up for the summer holidays! Two weeks… and then they’re home for more than two months.

Continue reading »

Jun 042009
Sea side of Marbella

Image via Wikipedia

Catching up with a few missed posts… this one from the end of April while we were leaving Spain on our way to Morocco….

We’re sitting on the ferry as it pulls out of Algeciras on the southern tip of Spain. Our destination, Cueta, a Spanish port on the North African coast, and from there across the border into Morocco, and on to the Rif Mountains and the Mediterranean coast. The crossing takes around 45 minutes – highlighting just how close Europe and Africa really are. So close, and yet a world apart.

Ferries are frequent, with ships from the various companies leaving approximately every hour, so there’s plenty of choice and no real need to pre-book.

The girls have been getting more and more excited about the trip to Morocco as our week in Spain has progressed—it’s like going on holidays, they said, when you’re already on your holidays. They’re turning into accomplished little travellers, and I have to say that so far this trip—from check-in at Cork Airport, to collecting the hire-car at Malaga to boarding the ferry to Morocco—they’ve taken it all in their stride. There have been surprisingly few arguments and complaints.

It’s the same now. After a brief skirmish about window seats on the ferry they’ve all settled down nicely and are reading their books or playing with their “Nintendos”.

Ahead of us lies Morocco, and a completely new adventure, but for the last week we’ve been exploring the Costa del Sol, and I have to say that, after a first impression that lived up to all of my low expectations of the region, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised.

Continue reading »

May 062009

They say that first impressions are important. That opinions are formed quickly, and, once formed, are very difficult to sway.

That’s as true when you’re visiting a new country as it is when you’re meeting new people. Your original experience of a place colours your perception of subsequent events. The better it is, the more you tend to enjoy your visit, and the better the impression of the country you take away when you leave.

Morocco and I had got off to a shaky start. The border crossing from Spain had been a nightmare-the worst I’ve ever experienced on this or any other continent. Then our accommodation turned out to be miles from the nearest town, in a moderate-to-advanced state of disrepair, and lacking most of the facilities listed when we’d booked it.

“Spacious, luxurious accommodation matched only by the warmth of the welcome” extolled the details on the web-page. They were right in one sense-the sullen, jaded staff matched the run-down appearance and atmosphere to a tee. “Shabby-sans-chic” was how I took to describing it as the week wore on. Continue reading »

Apr 232009

Morrocan sweet mint tea, anyone?

Morocco… what can I say? Culture shock doesn’t even come close.

After a week in Spain we were all looking forward to our stay in Morocco-something a bit different, something to challenge our preconceived notion of the world and open the children’s eyes to a completely new cultural experience.

Reading about other countries in books or seeing them on the telly is all well and good… but there’s nothing quite like visiting somewhere for yourself to highlight that, despite the steadfast march of globalisation, the world isn’t the homogenised melting-pot of western values we all too often assume.

That diversity is a good thing-but when you’re travelling with children (notice we’re “travelling” now… our “holiday” ended when we left Spain) it can be a challenge to say the least.

Our first taste of Morocco wasn’t a pleasant one. After taking a taxi from the Spanish port of Ceuta to the Moroccan border we crossed on foot. Walking through a long, desolate no-man’s-land of concrete and razor wire I started to wonder what on earth we were doing. Continue reading »

Dec 312008
Happy New Year from Sydney, Australia!

Image by Leorex via Flickr

That’s it then… by the time you read this 2008 will be coming to a close. In the wake of the Christmas festivities it’s only natural for us to reflect on the events of the bygone year. The ups and downs, the side-to-sides… the struggles and the joys, the challenges and the achievements… all done and dusted.

For us 2008 has been an interesting and productive year. We got a lot of work done around the house. Stuff we’d been meaning to get around to for years is now finally sorted. It’s an old house, so there will always be more to do, but you get a great feeling of satisfaction from finally accomplishing the niggling little and not-so-little jobs that you keep putting off.

One of those jobs was to finally insulate the attic. We finally got that done last month, and what a difference it’s made. In a house with 10 ft ceilings keeping warm had always been a bit of a challenge… now, with the solid fuel range installed and the attic swathed in insulation it’s veritably toasty… and we’re using less fuel. The question that immediately springs to mind is “why didn’t we do this years ago?”, the answer, of course: time, money, kids….

Somehow despite all the doom and gloom surrounding us I can’t shake the feeling that 2009 will be a very positive year. Folding banks, collapsing economies and a global climate in turmoil notwithstanding, I’m feeling very upbeat about the coming year. Which is unusual from a person who’s response to the “do you see the glass as half full, or half empty?” question is typically “What glass?”.

It’s hard to pinpoint why… but I’m sure 2009 is going to be a really wonderful year. Bizarre, I know, but there you go… you heard it here first!

One of the things I’m sure will endure into the new year… and for many year’s to come, is the tendency to conduct completely useless research that reveals absolutely nothing of any tangible value. Why do we keep pumping money we can ill afford to spend into studies that we really don’t need?

Continue reading »

Aug 092008

Published in the WOW! supplement of the Evening Echo last Wednesday.

Photo Credit: Rain! by tanakawho

Raindrops keep falling It’s August already. One month will see the kids back in school… but the rain it keeps a falling! The buckets, spades, nets, balls, kites, fishing rods and all the other summer paraphernalia remain steadfastly in storage, untouched and unneeded.

I used to think we were lucky living down here in West Cork – making our home in a place where people choose to come on their holidays. This year, watching disheveled holiday makers trudging their way through the deluge, I’m not so sure. They, after all, are heading home to more clement weather, leaving us to weather West Cork’s unpredictable climate.

With rivers bursting their banks left, right and centre, Cork had the unenviable distinction of being the wettest part of the country for the month of July. The highest rainfall for the month since 1975 was recorded at the Cork airport monitoring station. Soggy, to say the least.

For parents rainy summers are tortuous. Wet weather is bad enough when the kids are at school, but when they’re home it can be particularly traumatic. One of the key parental survival strategies during the summer holidays is the ability to hunt the little devils out to play. It gives them… and perhaps more importantly, you… a bit of breathing space. With that option curtailed by the rain this year, everyone’s been stuck indoors, and it doesn’t take long before tempers start to fray and things go haywire with alarming rapidity.

It’s not just about being out of doors either. The weather affects everybody’s disposition. Bright, sunny skies tend to lighten the mood, while dark, sombre ones send it plummeting. Little wonder, then, that the children are proving difficult to manage this summer.

Planning things is impossible. Organising anything like barbecues, picnics or anything outdoor-related puts you at the mercy of our unpredictable and inhospitable climate. You always have to have a plan B, in case the heavens open. There’s no consistency; everything is spur of the moment – grabbing at fleeting opportunities to make the most of the sunshine while it lasts.

In other countries you’ll find predictably warm, fine summers, and crisp, cold winters. Here in Ireland we seem to occupy a perpetually soggy middle ground that offers none of the benefits of either. Sweden is a case in point.

You might expect the Swedes to have weather just as bad as ours. But not so. I was talking to my uncle recently, who’s spending a lot of his time over there these days. It was a scorching 34 degrees Celsius. When I spoke to him in March it was minus 15 degrees Celsius, and he’d just returned from a spot of cross country skiing through sun-dappled forest. Both times I looked out of the window in West Cork onto a vista of brooding clouds and driving rain. Depressing!

Surely we’re due a bit of a summer between now and when the girls go back to school. A few weeks of consistently fine weather, is that too much to ask? The beach gear is in the car, ready to go (alongside the wellies and the raincoats)… so come on sunshine, we’re ready for you. We don’t mind the occasional half-day of rain here and there, it helps to keep the verdant scenery at its best, but please, let’s have a bit of sunshine to see out the summer.