Sep 022009
 

Column from 19/08/09

An Cúinne Harbour, Sherkin Island

Image via Wikipedia

House martins whirl and swoop overhead, making the most of a brief spell of sunshine to feed themselves up before the long journey ahead. They’re gathering now in large numbers, preparing for a migration that will take them across Europe to sub-Saharan Africa for the winter. After the summer we’ve had I wish I could join them.

Soon the swallows will follow suit, the hedgehogs will intensify their hedgerow foraging before settling down to hibernate, squirrels will horde caches of food, blackberries will ripen…. It can all mean only one thing: summer is already drawing to a close.

But nature isn’t the only thing telling us that things are about to change. Parents the length and breadth of the nation will have noticed other signs. As the new school term approaches the kids start getting restless, realising that their long weeks of freedom are coming to an end. It affects parents too: conscious that there’s not much of the holidays left, we rush to cram in all the things we’ve been putting off over the summer break.

Last week, for example, we found ourselves on Sherkin Island putting up the tent in weather that was, let’s face it, marginal at best. It was certainly a far-cry from camping nirvana, but we’d promised the girls, and after letting much of the summer slip by waiting for a break in the weather we suddenly realised that time was running out. We panicked, packed and headed for Baltimore.

Sitting on the ferry watching tendrils of mist settling over Sherkin, I couldn’t help wondering what on earth we were playing at.

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Jul 032009
 
Fathers Day

Image by loswl via Flickr

Fathers’ day is one of those days that I’m not really sure about.

Is it really a "special" day or is it just another one of those "Hallmark" days, invented to put the commercial squeeze on hard-pressed families… applying pressure to buy over-priced cards, eat out in over-priced restaurants and generally spend money that could be better employed elsewhere?

Actually the truth is somewhere in between. Fathers’ Day began, by all accounts, back in the early 20th century in America, as a holiday to celebrate fatherhood and male parenting; something to counterbalance the already popular Mothers’ Day celebrations. The earliest advocate of a male-orientated holiday was a woman — Sonora Smart Dodd — who was apparently attending a Mothers’ Day celebration in 1909, when she decided to hold a similar day in honour of her father the following year. So on the 19th of June 1910 Ms Dodd presided over what’s believed to be the first ever observance of a fathers’ day holiday.

It took some time for the holiday to become official. While the concept of Mothers’ Day was met with universal enthusiasm, Fathers’ Day, despite being supported by influential bodies like the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and the Church, was generally greeted with scepticism and amusement by the general population.

Slowly the idea gained traction… and in the 1930s, spotting an opportunity to boost commerce, the "Associated Menswear Retailers" formed a special committee with the sole purpose of legitimising and commercialising Fathers’ Day among the masses. By the 1980’s the chairman proclaimed the committee’s mission a resounding success. In the US at least, Fathers’ Day had become a three-week commercial extravaganza… a "second Christmas".

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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.

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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 »