Friday, December 23, 2011

No Mistletoe, Just Wine

Apologies for my absence. It's been a busy run-up to Christmas this year. Buying and sending presents, cleaning, shopping, prepping food, filling the freezer and all that goes with it. Oh, and the little thing called work, as well. With Mr S being gone over to the neighbouring island, I was kept busy on my days off getting everything ready.


Work got wrapped up nicely last Sunday and we headed off to Galway to our Christmas party. It was a successful night all round. Lots of happy smiles, plenty of good food and more than enough wine and other beverages. Having said that, my decision to wear magic knickers under my party dress (eBay purchase, for 15 euro) somewhat hampered my ability to enjoy the food to my stomach's full capacity. The famous knickers were bought in Penneys and I really wonder why would you spend any more than the €6.50 I did on them? I mean, I've seen them go for well over €30 in some shops, but these ones worked a treat and even after a wash and a spin in the tumble dryer they seem to be holding onto the magic just fine. I'll report back after the next time I decide to suck everything in and not eat for a night.

We had time to do some shopping on Monday after the party, I got a lovely coat in a¦wear (that I can't seem to find online to show you), cream tweed with a faux fur collar, €37.50 down from €80. A colleague got a coat in Oasis for €62 down from €125 (website says original price was €95, I wonder what that is all about?), apparently now is the time to shop for a nice, comfy coat.

Then, Tuesday night, it finally happened. Mr S came home!! Those were the longest five weeks of my life!But he's home now and we're both on holiday! I'm not going back to work until next Tuesday, Mr S will potter about at the hotel doing a few bits and pieces there but not until after Christmas.



I spent all day yesterday baking. I need to have my Finnish Christmas treats, and Mr S is more than happy to go along with that, to be honest I think he'd be equally happy with a pizza on Christmas day than a massive feast. Anyhoo, I made the traditional little star pastries (puff pastry with plum marmalade), gingerbread biscuits, mince beef and rice pasties and mince pies with a twist. The twist being that we don't really eat raisins, so I made the mincemeat filling using fresh and dried cranberries, apple and liberal amounts of port and brown sugar.


Everything is ready. The tree is up, decorations dotted around the house. Presents wrapped and under the tree, cards posted and received. There's food and wine in the house, all is peaceful and quiet. Let Christmas come!

To all of you and yours, a very happy, peaceful Christmas!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Keep It Local II

A couple of month ago I posted about the appalling lack of customer service I experienced while doing my shopping in two shops in the nearby town. If you want to refresh your memory, the post is here. I told you how I had emailed both shops and was waiting on response. They both did.

Shop A apologised profusely, gave me the whole "this shouldn't happen" and apologised again. What baffled me the most was the statement that this issue had been brought to their attention before and that they were "putting measures into place to deal with it". So I wasn't the only one to find myself leaving the shop feeling as if I was an inconvenience to their staff. I was surprised that they admitted to there having been more than one complaint about their staff. Surprised, but at the same time a little bit glad.

Shop B gave me the standard apology letter, assuring me this wouldn't happen again and wished I would continue to shop with them and that all their staff was trained to a high standard in order to provide excellent customer service. They told me that should I go back to their shop I would find my shopping experience only delightful.

After driving to the further away town once a week for my shopping for a month or so, I decided to give my local town another chance. Mainly because I needed to go to the bank and the beauty salon and didn't fancy driving to the other town for my food shop after my lovely, relaxing massage. So in I ventured to shop A.

Full of Christmas cheer and sweets, christmas puddings and fairy lights. The shop was, not me. Maybe the Christmas cheer had infected the staff as well, but I did think I was seeing an awful lot of smiles around. And the service was excellent. Had a nice chat with the man at the till, smiles all around and a big "Thank You" at the end. I spotted the woman who had served me the last time and prompted me to email the shop. She was serving another customer at the express counter and she was smiling! 



Shop B was an equally positive experience. No pushing of the shopping into the trolley to get customers out of the way; no broken bags of cat litter; no rush and no hurry. There was an item that they used to stock, but I was unable to find it this time. I was told they had stopped stocking it because of low sales in this branch but would be able to get it in for me from another branch if I wanted to do so. And all this done without sighing or rolling of the eyes.

After these to experiences I decided to bring my pennies back to my local town. I also emailed both shops to let them know I had seen a marked improvement in their level of customer service and that they had succeeded in convincing me they were indeed dedicated to improving their services. I feel that if I took the time to complain about bad customer service, I should take equal amount of time to thank them for good customer service. And seeing as I didn't name and shame these shops in my first post, I shall leave them anonymous in this one, too.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Grey Skies

Today has been bloody miserable, weather-wise. At around noon I decided I wasn't going to leave the house at all, there's no point in getting soaked. I started the day with a winning breakfast of bacon and fried eggs. And liberal amounts of coffee, of course. The cats kept me company for all of half an hour before racing into the bedroom and taking up their assigned corners of the bed and went to sleep. Lucky kitties.

I got all my shopping done yesterday; more than I needed if I'm honest but I am actually buying bits ready for Christmas as well in an effort to spread the cost over a few weeks rather than doing a mad dash at the shops on Christmas week. I picked up a few bottles of wine over the last couple of weeks, seems like every shop is doing some sort of a promotion. I'm going to try this one out soon, mainly because it was so cheap I'm struggling to believe it can be in any way drinkable. Having said that, in Italy we enjoyed some really nice wines that cost at around €2per bottle. So there may be hope for this little Australian Shiraz.


It was also pointed out to me that the lizard in the label bears an uncanny resemblance to my tattoo:

As far as my anti-social experiment is going, all I can say is "So far, so good". I haven't started climbing the walls yet, I've not been reduced to tears watching the John Lewis Christmas ad nor have I been trying to converse with the cats. Yet. It's been a week and a bit and I must say I'm holding up remarkably well. That being said, I feel I must point out that I've spent precious little time at home, so maybe I haven't just yet realised that I am home alone. I even watched a scary movie by myself the other night, and didn't feel the need to sleep with our trusty baseball bat beside my bed.

This next thing is going to annoy some of you; I've started my Christmas shopping already. And for once, it's Mr. S's present that I got sorted first! He's so difficult to buy for, I'm usually picking his brain for weeks and weeks before an epiphany hits me as to what to get him. The epiphany-fairy must've been doing his rounds early this year, that's one present out of the way and dealt with. As for the rest, I know what I'm getting everyone else, so there's really no big panic. Now all I have to do is get off my arse, get down the shops and buy the bloody things. No panic at all.

The work Christmas party date and venue were announced the last day as well. Cue dress panic. I've had a quick look on asos.com and came to the conclusion that most of the dresses are ridiculously short! I don't like my legs all that much and parading them around in a teeny tiny dress in front of all my work mates isn't something I'm planning on doing no matter how much Morgan's Spiced Rum you pour down my throat. I do have a dress already that I haven't worn all that much at all that I could fall back on if all else fails. Still, the temptation to buy something new may prove too much to resist...

I'm off to fight the greyness outside with a nice big fire, some candles and some bad telly. And a drop of wine.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Home Alone

Hello, there! You may or may not remember my anti-social experiment form two years ago. I'm more inclined to think that you many not, so feel free to refresh your memory here. Done? Okay, then.



I find myself in the same situation as I'm typing away right now. Mr. S has gone off to England to do some work on his dad's house. He went last Sunday. Today is Wednesday. I'm already a little bit bored of being home alone. Saying that, compared to two years ago, I'm working a full five days a week rather than the three I was doing back then. Today and yesterday are the first two days I have had off since he went.

The house has been cleaned top to bottom, all the washing has been done and dried outside (I'm determined to use less electricity), I've thrown out loads of magazines and newspapers I was holding onto for lord knows why etc. etc. I find I can be very productive when left alone and in need to fill my time with something other than TV.

I'm saving my visitation rounds for later. For all I know, Mr. S may be gone for four, five or even six weeks. He has promised me he'll be home for Christmas, but that is all I'm working on at the moment. Last week we bough a chest freezer (I know, exciting, right?!). Mainly because I've been nagging to get one for what seems like forever but what probably is a few months. Seeing as we're here for Christmas, I want to start prepping things well in advance rather than facing the horrible Christmas Shop sometime during the few days before the big day when every shop is packed, people are cranky and there's no parking anywhere!. Seriously, it was like that in Galway last Wednesday and I pretty much promised myself that if I have to go there again, I'll head out at 7am and have everything over and done with by 11am.

So, I've been baking and buying things to get ahead of the game. The freezer is looking nice and full with cakes, pastries and breads. I also got a few bottles of wine which I stashed away discreetly to wait for the holiday season to be upon us. I already know where I'm getting my Christmas ham (we don't eat turkey) and I've picked the place to put our Christmas tree.



Just in case we get another bloody Big Freeze this winter and I won't be able to leave the house, I'm safe in the knowledge that it'll take me quite a while to eat my way through the contents of the freezer, even if I have Mr. S to help me. Which reminds me, I must bake another loaf of rye bread. You know, just in case.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

While I Was Away

Hello, there! Been a while, hasn't it? Last time I posted anything I was ready to go on my holidays to see my family. Can I just say that it was one helluva long journey. I worked a full day on Monday, got home, finished packing, fed myself and the cats. We headed off in plenty time for me to catch the bus to the airport. Well, in plenty time we thought at the time. The weather was hideous, roads were covered in water and it was bucketing down accompanied by a lovely gale force breeze. I ended up having to ring the coach station and talk to the driver to let him know I was on my way in. In a very laid back Irish way which holds very little regard to timetables and such, he said there was no problem for him to wait for me to get there. In the end I got there all of four minutes before departure time.

Thanks to the extremely loud man on his phone for 3 hours sat across the aisle from me, I got no sleep and arrived bleary-eyed at Terminal 2 at 5am on Tuesday morning. Breakfast, security check, more coffee and board the plane. I was looking forward to sleep. The 6-year old boy sat beside me had other plans. His granny apologised to me roughly 47 times during the flight. All I could think of was the four hour train  journey still ahead of me and how I would enjoy sleeping there.

My brother met me at the airport and took me to lunch, I had three hours to spare before my train. After consuming an obscene amount of nachos with spicy beef, salsa, cheese sauce and sour cream, I was in dire need of coffee again. I had been awake at this stage for about 28 hours. I was surprised I was still functioning.

Once I got onto the train, my brain decided it had given up on sleep and decided it was time to read now. Karen Rose's book kept me company for four comfy hours. I love the trains in Finland, they are so comfortable. Although, they did do a complete overhaul on their ticketing system which caused the online ticketing service to crash for a few days and saw actual people selling tickets at train stations. Can you believe it?! I got charged twice for my ticket in the online ticket shop, but got a refund of 150% of the ticket price. I call that a win.

My parents met me at the train station and we spent another hour in the car before I was properly home. Hours awake at this point: 34. After being fed and watered, I don't think I have ever slept as soundly.

And then we cue hours spent with family, catching up with friends, eating, drinking and making merry. I needed that break, badly. I spent a week and a half at my parents' and then went over to my brother's and his partner's place for a long weekend of more family, eating, drinking and making merry. Lots of laughs, and badly needed down time.

I got back into work straight away and did a gigantic 12 days in a row, to cover someone else's holiday. To be fair, they covered mine so I can't really complain. Especially when I now have four days off. While I was gone, my friend had a baby boy, the people of Ireland elected a new president and my cat has developed a strange affection towards my slippers.

Yup. Lots to catch up on.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Going, going, gone

Everything is packed, all ready to go. Now it's only a matter of travelling by car, then bus, then plane, then train and finally car to get home. I am armed with a fully charged iPod, two books and a sudoku magazine. You may or may not hear from me over the next two weeks. If you don't I'll be back at the end of the month. Otherwise, I'll be reporting on my holiday antics. Either way, I shall be seeing you.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Joys Of Packing

I have once again brought out my battered and much travelled suitcase. The cats were very interested as to how they might gain access inside the case. Lily in particular knows that the appearance of The Pink Thing is always followed by the absence of a Food Bringer/Belly Scratcher. She needn't worry this time, Mr. S is staying home so the two furballs won't have to encounter the horror that is The Strange Food Bringer.

Excuse me? How do I get in here?

I am going home (Finland) for the first time since last October and can barely believe it's been a year. I got my flights very cheap from Aer Lingus. A quick look at their site now and it would seem that I really did get a bargain; same flights now would set me back about €100 more than they did in the beginning of September. And what's more it's a direct flight. I normally fly with Scandinavian Airlines because they fly throughout the year whereas Lingus only flies between March and November, but all of the SAS flights include a stopover in Copenhagen, Oslo or Stockholm. Saying that, shopping at Copenhagen airport is bloody fantastic!

So, anyhoo... I need to decide what to pack for two weeks while leaving room for stuff to bring back home (Ireland). Stuff like salmiakki sweets, rye bread and some moose meat. Normally on the flight back to Ireland I'm hoping and praying my bag doesn't get chosen for a random security check. Packing for Finnish autumn weather is tricky to say the least. You could pack your summer and winter wardrobes and still find yourself woefully unprepared for the weather conditions. I have been religiously checking the weather at my parent's town and have decided to bring layers that'll keep me warm and dry but at the same time I'll be able to peel stuff off in case it gets warmer.

I am ridiculously excited to get going. I finish work on Monday, and I'm catching a bus from Galway to Dublin 1am that night. Travel up to Dublin, check in, four hour flight to Helsinki, grab a taxi to the train station, four-something hours on the train to Eastern Finland and the final leg of the journey in the car with my parents for an hour. I'm looking at a little over 20 hours of travel in total. Better charge up my iPod! I'm lucky enough to be able to sleep on planes and trains; all I need is my earphones in and my trusty megascarf which doubles as a blanket. Sorted.

I have very little planned for when I actually get there. Catching up with friends and family, eating my body weight in Finnish foods, relaxing and recharging my batteries. Not having had more than a few days off together since last christmas has taken its toll. I feel tired and drained but knowing a two week break is just a few days away will be enough to get me through until Monday evening.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Real Men

I've been meaning to post this ages ago. It was a random conversation with a few of the girls that reminded me of this topic. We were talking about what, in our own opinion, makes a man a Real Man. Despite the ladies taking part in this particular conversation being educated, modern, liberal and free-thinking, all of us shared the same, rather old-fashioned image on a Real Man.


1) He can, when needed, put up a shelf. And the said shelf will withstand substantial weight put upon it, and it will, most importantly be level. What it is about this thing with shelves and putting them up that appeals to me and my friends, but it seems to be a deal-breaker. So basically, if you can't put up a sturdy, level shelf, there's no point in coming over knocking on our doors.

2) He can wire a plug. And change a light bulb. Or a fuse. Or anything relatively simple to do with household electrical stuff. I suppose it is comforting to know that you share your house with someone who will save the day when your hair dryer has decided to blow a fuse, or when turning on the washing machine has somehow caused a blackout throughout the house. Just don't go fixing the toaster with a fork and you're okay in our books.

3) He can change a flat tyre and change the oil in a car. The former, I can do without breaking a sweat. Mainly because my father wanted to make sure I knew how to change a tyre in case I ever got stick in the middle of nowhere with a flat. I know how to do it, but still, when given the choice, I would expect Mr S to do it for me. The feminist part of my brain screams in protest when the princess side of my brain makes my mouth utter the words "But I'll get dirty...". I pride myself in being independent and self-sufficient, but there's something about cars that make me automatically turn to a man. I am also ridiculously easily impressed by Real Men, who know exactly what is wrong with a car just by listening to the noise it makes. To me, that's nothing short of magic.

I cannot help but thinking, am I really that conditioned by traditional values and my up-bringing that I automatically conform to these old-fashioned stereotypes? I grew up in a house where both of my parents worked, but where my mother worked from home up until I was in my early teens. My father travelled a lot because of his work and was sometimes gone for weeks at a time. So there were times when my mother ran the house for both of them.

But if anything needed fixing, building or tinkering with, we never called a handyman. My dad would fix anything that was needed. The only time we had tradesmen in our house was when we were extending the house. Building regulations stipulate that you need a registered tilers, plumbers, electricians etc. to do the work in order for the building inspector to approve it. Outside of that, my father has built a barbecue hut, a back porch and few other bits, not to mention the house itself. Him and his brothers and brothers-in-law are all handy with a hammer.

Maybe it's just that generation. Are those skills disappearing? My paternal grandparents' place needs a bit of fixing up every year. It's my dad, his brothers and brothers-in-law who do the fixing. No need to get the builders is, everyone mucks in and the job gets done. And it gets done right. Real Men doing Real Work. Last summer, at the time of my cousin's wedding the whole family was there. The timber cladding at the front of the house needed to be replaced. What better way to spend quality time with your extended family than partake in a small project like that? Myself and my brother's fiancée were painting said timber boards that were later to go up to clad the house, in +35 degrees centigrade, being eaten alive by horse flies. But it got done.

So maybe it is just our family. Everybody mucks in, but men are expected to do the hard work. Real Men.

I appreciate sensitivity in a man, I love a man who knows his art and his culture. I like being able to go to the theatre with a man without dragging him there. But at the end of the day, despite being quite handy with the cordless drill, I want a man who will put up a shelf for me, and hang pictures on the walls without having to call someone else in to help. A Real Man. Lucky for me, Mr S is just that. A Real Man.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hazy Days

What has happened to this month? All the days and weeks have seemingly blurred into one big blob labelled "September 2011". We're nearly at the end now, I thought I'd pop in here to say hello. I've been updating my Finnish blog a bit more frequently, but I hereby promise to mend my finnophile ways and blog in English more often, too.

I missed about a week of this month to a nasty flu. I'm still all sniffly with a tickly cough but it's a great improvement from the state I was in few weeks back. In bed, sore all over, delirious from fever and generally a very miserable human being. Mr S was thankfully at hand to dispense medicinal cuddles and hot whiskey. I think the hot whiskey was meant to knock me out and give him a break from my whingeing. It worked a treat.

Our workplace was a stopping spot for the Cannonball 2011 this year. 150 super-cars driving across Ireland to raise money for charity. It was great fun, especially when we didn't realise most of the drivers were going to be in fancy dress until two German police officers walked in followed by Jesus, a nun and two men in naked lady-suits. I wish I'd had time to take photos, but feeding 350 people kinda took up most of my time. I did manage to ogle at the cars, though. Some gorgeous Lamborghinis and Ferraris there. Have a look at their website, all the cars are there.

My main news this month however; I've booked flights to go home!! I haven't been since October last year, and that was to go to my grandfather's funeral so it'll be nice to go under happier circumstances. I have two whole weeks to catch up with family and friends, eat my bodyweight in Finnish foods, enjoy the sauna as often as I like, and take in my favourite time of the year. It would be an understatement to say that I am really looking forward to it.

Anyway, that was my little update. I shall return soon with something more relevant to say.

Promise.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Keep It Local

I'm all for supporting local businesses and I try to use our local shops, petrol stations, hairdresser and other services as much as I can. By "local" I mean within a 30km radius, seeing as we live in what classes as rural Ireland. There's a fairly well stocked local shop on my way home from work and I get bread, milk and other bits and pieces there but for fruit, veg and meat the shop is quite expensive especially when you get the likes of Supervalu, Lidl and Aldi only 20 minute's drive away in town.

I tried supporting the Supervalu in town, I really really tried. Even when the Lidl and Aldi moved in with their remarkably lower prices. After doing my shopping in both Supervalu and Lidl on Tuesday I think I'm going to take my business out of that town completely. And it's not because of a smaller product range or the fact that half of the things advertised are "not available" to us here in the West. It's because over the last six to nine months, the level of customer service has gone downhill faster than an olympic alpine skier.

I work in customer service. I know it's not always possible to be your best, happiest, smiliest self. But you still make the effort because that's what you're paid to do. I went into shop A. I had a basket with six items in it. The express counter cashier ignored me because she was talking to a colleague. I joined the queue at the normal till. The woman behind the till was standing up, wiping clean the conveyor belt. Not once did she even look at me in the eyes, she mumbled a hello and then added "I was just going on my break". Now, I know how it is sometimes; it's busy, you don't get your break on time and your bellybutton is saying hello to your spine. Having been in that position myself I asked her if she was closing her till and wanted me to go to another checkout. She sighed and without saying a word started putting my six items of shopping through.

I felt as if I was an inconvenience to this woman, keeping her from her break. There were no other customers queueing behind me, so I was the last customer she served before going on her break. Me and my six items. I'm sure it felt like an epic task. She scanned my shopping and then just stared into space. I was packing my things into my shopping bag. I turned to her, waiting for her to tell me how much I owed her. She was still staring into space. I asked "Sorry, how much was that?" thinking maybe I hadn't heard her, that she had told me what I owed. Another great sigh, it looked like it took every muscle in her body to move her head those two inches to bring the till display into her view and she told me the subtotal. I gave her my Laser card, and while she was swiping my card I checked my purse and asked her for cashback. She rolled her eyes at me and said "Too late, it's gone through. I'd have to cancel it and put it all through again". I'd had enough, took my card and went away fuming.

I then went into shop B. Me and my trolley went around, picked up the bits that I needed, including a pack of six 1,5 litre bottles of sparkling water and two heavy bags of cat litter. Now, in this shop some of the cashiers know the codes to the aforementioned items so they can enter them into the till manually, and there's no need to lift them onto the conveyor belt. Some of the cashiers either haven't been told the codes or they haven't bothered to learn them, and they either ask me to lift them onto the belt or they do it themselves. I don't mind lifting them up, it's far easier for me to do as I'm already standing up than it is to the cashier who is sitting down.

There was a queue at the only till open, and soon the bell rang to get another cashier out. The man came out of the back room, "I'm opening number four" and ran back into the back room again. A woman in front of me started loading her shopping onto the belt on number four, I followed suit. Soon the man reappeared with the cash drawer and sat down. It was painfully obvious he would've rather been anywhere else but there. The woman in front of me was elderly and it took her slightly longer to put her shopping back into her trolley where she had placed a bag to put the things into rather than packing the bag at her car. In the cashier's opinion, she was taking too long, so he proceeded to push all of her shopping into her trolley with force and said "You can pack over there." And started to put my shopping through. I said I wasn't in a rush but the cashier clearly was.

He yanked the pack of water out of my trolley informing me "All items need to be on the belt" before throwing the water on top of the cat litter, tearing the bag open, sending cat litter flying all over the floor. I lifted the bag out of my trolley and said I was going to go and get another one. "You pay first." he barked at me. Seriously?? I walked off to get another bag of cat litter and when I came back I found my shopping had been shoved into my trolley, the fresh bread I had picked up being squashed on the bottom. I pointed this out to the cashier who shrugged his shoulders and said I could go and get another one after I had paid. He already had a sign up saying his till was closed. Where ever it was that he was in a rush to get to, I decided it could wait as I went over to pick up another loaf of bread before paying him.

"There'syourcardgoodbyethankyou" and he bolted from the till, pushing my trolley out of his way as he did so. Needless to say, that shopping trip has left me appalled at the "service" I got. I have emailed both shops and am waiting for a response. Shop A in particular, I outlined four different instances where I felt as if I was inconveniencing their staff by daring to show up and wanting to buy things. The sad thing is, all these instances in shop A have happened with their permanent, long-term staff. Their summer staff are very helpful, chatty and courteous.

But, as of tuesday, I have decided to take my business to the next town. It's going to add some time to my journey there, but if that means I can shop in peace without being told I'm keeping someone back from their break, I'm willing to go those few extra miles. I will still continue to use the bank, the chemist and the spa closer by. Their customer service is always excellent, and once I find I'm being treated well, I will return time and time again.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Autumnal

I won't lie to you, as much as I love summertime, this right here is my favourite time of the year. It's not cold yet, but you can feel it lurking in the background. Like today, it's +18 and (kinda) sunny, a nice mild day, in Ireland this classes as summer weather. But there is a definite feel of the autumn just around the corner. Just venture outside at night and you feel it. Fresh, cool, earthy. It's there. It's on its way.


This, to me, means a roaring fire, candles, comfort food and red wine. I tend to turn inwards, spend a lot of time inside my head. Summer for me is the time to go out, spend time with your friends, make the most of the long evenings and not worry about not getting enough sleep. Autumn is me-time. It's cosy time.


Saying that, I'm not a complete hermit just yet. Last Monday was the last Monday the majority of us would be around for a night out before heading back to college. Sure, there's a good gang of us staying put, but we wanted to make sure we got one night out with all of us there. Our lovely local, Paddy Coyne's pub started doing food a few weeks back, and having heard great things about the food there, it was an obvious choice. Obvious choice because that's where we spend our Monday nights anyway.

Through word-of-mouth 11 of us gathered around the long table. The food was great, well priced and in generous portions. Haddock, chicken and steak dotted around the table, a lot of sampling went on and the general verdict was that it was indeed very delicious. They somehow talked us into having dessert as well (really twisted our collective arm), and in the interest of getting the big picture, we ordered all three available. Chocolate orange mousse, Baileys cheesecake and fruit crumble. Needless to say, we were stuffed.

Evening continued out in the beer garden until 1am with conversations ranging from cannibalism to the Rose of Tralee competition to hairy men. After doing a killer week at work, it was the perfect ending, especially as I was safe in the knowledge I didn't need to get up early the next day; something I took full advantage of the next day and didn't get up until 11.30. It was bliss.

Seeing as I only took one day off last week, I'm being spoiled by three days off this week. Today is day number three. Day one I went to the hairdresser and went to see my ever-expanding friend Marjo who's juggling an energetic two-year old while housing a new arrival in her belly. Day two was spent with Mr S, lounging around, running a few errands and general "stuff". Today is my day. I plan to watch DVDs, drink coffee, cook some pork cacciatore and possibly open a bottle of wine in the evening.

More meaningful posts to follow.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Quickie

Hello! I'm still here even though you might say otherwise judging by the frequency of my posting lately. Work is somehow building up to the annual crescendo of hordes of Italian tourists which marks the end of the season. Italian tourists travelling in groups are noisy, they seldom speak anything else than Italian or Louder Italian, are impatient right up until the the moment they're being served at which point they lose all sense or urgency and consideration towards those waiting to be served after them and can come across as a little bit ignorant.

I'm not saying that's all Italians, I'm only pointing out what I have personally observed. I'm also glad that these same Italian tourists have a sense of humour. They laugh at the fact that they don't understand what I'm saying or that I don't understand what they're saying. There's a lot to be said for the remedial properties of an espresso. Or the fact that someone knows how to say please and thank you in Italian. But click your fingers in my face one more time and I will magically run out of espresso just as you're coming up to collect yours. Just saying.

Anyway, I took a few snaps the last few days. Apparently one of our neighbours is hiding a pot of gold under their house. I'm sneaking over tonight with a shovel just to be sure. And then there's that sunset. I actually sat on our front step for a while, just admiring it. Our neighbour's fat doggie waddled over to keep me company. How she managed to crawl under the fence I really don't know, I'm expecting to see her stuck there any day now. So there. That's what I've been at. I'll get back to you with something more relevant next week.




Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Predicted Riot

Nobody within earshot of a radio or television, or with internet access or the day's newspaper has escaped the horrid scenes all over the UK over the past few days. It's like scenes from a post-apocalyptic cultural breakdown and the end of all civilisation. Only this isn't a novel or a movie, it's what's actually happening to people in their homes and on their streets.

It started with a protest on August 6th. It was a peaceful protest, people demanding more information, and in doing so were perfectly within their rights to do so, I might add. What followed has nothing to do with Mark Duggan or his family. Four nights or rioting, looting and arson. Four nights, four lives lost, millions worth of damage caused and thousands of people waking up to a world that somehow doesn't feel safe anymore. People have had their property destroyed, looted and burnt down to nothing. Why?

The "Hug A Hoodie" -movement seems to think this is all society's fault for not providing enough funding to create more activities for youths. For not providing more funding to support an educational system that can keep the kids in school, see them through further education and see them become productive members of the workforce. For "marginalising the poor". Basically, this is the proletariat rising up to The Man and getting their own back, right?

Wrong. This is nothing but a bunch of opportunistic little ball bags seeing that the police is unable to do anything other than wait for them to get close enough to use their batons on them. And being the little cowardly shits that these looters are, they're not going to chance getting that close. They are throwing anything deemed fit enough to do some damage at the police, covering their faces while doing so, and then running away to set another car on fire or to destroy someone else's livelihood. These masked vandals representing the country's "poor" were wearing several hundred pound's worth of clothing and filming their criminal activities on smart phones worth easily £200 if not more. These are the same people who supposedly are living on £2.20 per week. Is anyone else seeing the gaping hole in the logic there?

The police have finally been sanctioned by David Cameron to use water cannons and plastic bullets to deal with these thugs on the streets of the UK. In his statement Cameron said "We will do whatever is necessary. Nothing is off the table." And the hoodie huggers were up in arms yet again, treating this as some sort of a watershed moment which is about to ring in a new age of totalitarian police state in the UK, where the police force will randomly gun people down on a whim and douse them with water cannons whenever the mood takes them. Because that's what's going to happen, right?

Wrong. The only thing that is going to happen is that these rioters will realise there is a consequence to your actions. If you choose to break the law, you will face the consequences. If you have proved your lower than average IQ by posting photos of yourself on Facebook or Twitter posing with your loot, you deserve a plastic bullet to somewhere it really hurts. And you deserve to go to jail. The courts are sitting in through the night to deal with the ones that have been arrested and I'm sure they'll continue to do so to make sure all those responsible will be brought to justice.

These events will be analysed to death in the coming weeks, months and years. There will be those who refuse to place any blame on the actual perpetrators of this hideous vandalism and violence and choose to blame the society and surroundings of these thugs for making them what they are. These people know what they're doing is wrong. They wouldn't cover their faces otherwise. There's no point in saying that they don't know any better because the society has let them down. Okay, fair enough, let's say the society has let you down and you feel as if your government is marginalising you, pushing you aside, brushing you under the carpet, and you finally decide to rise up and protest. What would be your first port of call? The government buildings? The police station? The social welfare offices? Something symbolic, surely, to hammer home the point of who you feel has let you down. So I guess the poor, marginalised people of London, Birmingham, Liverpool and other cities are angry with HMV, Tesco, several jewellers and sports retailers.

There is no political, sociological, economical agenda to these acts of destruction. They are malicious, evil and opportunistic acts with no other purpose than maximising the damage and filling their own pockets with as much free stuff and possible. This is no social commentary that will be in the coming years analysed and seen as a turning point in the UK history. This is a small minority of mindless cowards hell bent on causing as much trouble as possible because they've been swept up in a mob mentality. Sheep following sheep.

I want to say one thing, though. In amidst all this there are stories emerging which are going some way in restoring my faith in humanity. Communities working together to protect their streets and their properties. People showing up to the thankless task of cleaning up the streets just because they want to help. And below, the photo that had me in tears of hope while watching the live coverage on BBC: a couple serving tea to the police officers securing their street. I will focus on that.

00:38 9/8/2011: Camden Town, London

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Saving The World

Save the world.
End poverty.
Cure disease.
End global warming.

For some reason we have been afflicted with all of the above on our collective "to do" -list. It's only fair, after all, we've been blessed with a planet nice enough to tolerate our race of humanity for thousands of years, it's seemingly time to earn our keep. Does anyone else get the feeling we've been staying in a posh hotel for a few weeks only to find out we're stuck with the bill of the last two occupants of our room as well as our own? No? Just me, then.

I am environmentally conscious, of course I am. It's practically impossible to be these days. I recycle, I buy organic, I buy local. At the same time, I buy clothes I know I won't be wearing for more than one season before getting rid of them, I drive to work alone and I -prepare to be shocked- often get the disposable plastic bags when doing my shopping. But it's an expensive business this saving the world, isn't it?

Organic food is always more expensive than food that isn't organic. I'd like to think you can taste the difference, but it could be just my brain trying to justify spending twice as much on organic tomatoes than the bog standard, stores own-brand tomatoes. As much as many of us would like to contribute to this collective task of saving the world, it often proves too expensive. When faced with getting week's worth of potatoes as opposed to two day's worth for the same amount of money, the principal shopper of most families will more than likely opt for the former. And can you blame them?

We're getting the guilt trip for using our cars too much, not sharing lifts, not using public transport and all that comes with it. I wouldn't mind getting public transport to work. Too bad that where I live, it doesn't exist. Cycling surely is an option, but these roads are so badly kept and so narrow that cycling into work carries the risk of losing a limb or your life. It really is not being made easy, is it? This saving the world business.

And it is a business, isn't it? Huge big productions, events and shows are being staged all over the world to draw our attention to the cause du jour. To make us appreciate what we have and share our good luck with those less fortunate. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I just think that it should be easier being green and that it shouldn't have to cost us the earth, either. What I'm saying is, that it could be made a lot easier on us.

Could the governments of the world not decide to make it easier to grow organic produce and therefore reduce the cost of the produce to the consumer? Or, instead of guilt-tripping people travelling by aeroplane, guilt-trip the ones who use their private jets to hop over distances that could easily be covered by train? Or while we're on the subject or air travel, I find it utterly ridiculous that travelling by train is often more expensive or not significantly cheaper than travelling the same distance by plane. And while private cars are critisised and public transport being bandied about as the greener way to go, nobody is extending the same comparison to private jets versus commercial airlines.

At a time of a global recession and international debt crisis, everyone is tightening their belts. Is it possible that now is not the time to save the world, but to try and save you own daily life more or less intact while we're waiting for better times? Let's combine the wages of the top 20 Hollywood stars for whatever movie they're filming next with the wages of the top earners of the Premier League footballers for a month and we'll see how much closer to our world-saving target figure we are.

Enough to keep us on track with the saving and curing and ending until we're all back on our feet financially and we can all actually contribute. How about that?

John Bishop has some funny points on the matter.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Misery And It's Company

I think we all know at least one pair. The ones who always seem to think the weather is too hot or too cold. The economy is really bad or it's so good it's only a matter of time it all collapses and we're all bankrupt. Their work is horrible but nothing compared to what their other half has to go through on a daily basis at work. You know who I'm talking about; Mr and Mrs Miserable.

There's a girl I know, I say girl, she is slightly older than me and calling her a girl makes me a girl as well by default. You can count on her to dig out the negative on everything. A mutual friend had a healthy, happy baby girl after four years of trying and failing to get pregnant. Miss Miserable whispered to me as we're stood outside her hospital room to go in and see the new arrival "I bet her boobs have gone all droopy already". Miss Miserable's brother was in a car accident and broke his leg. While everyone else was delighted he was still in one piece, Miss Miserable piped up to announce that the hospital had probably fucked something up when setting his leg again and that he probably would never walk right again. On a beautiful, sunny summer's day you can count on her to remind you that you will probably get melanoma. It is as if she's decided to be miserable.

She found her match a couple of years back in the shape of Mr Miserable. You can tell he's miserable just by looking at him. He's face may as well have "MISERY" stamped all over it, and in a only-slightly-less-than-literal sense, it is stamped all over it. The pair of them, were they in cartoon form, would have a dark cloud hanging over them, following them where ever they might go, spreading their misery. But it does seemingly prove the old saying according to which misery does love company. Miserable company, that is, because for the life of me, I cannot imagine how anyone not sharing their bleak view in life could stay in the company of such all-enveloping misery for any extended periods of time.

Mr and Mrs Miserable
www.life.com

I don't know what it is about these kind of couplings that make me very sad and sometimes a but angry. I feel like going over, shaking them vigorously (soap opera dramatic -style) and telling them there are so many things in this life to be happy about. Sure, it's easier to point out the negative, but you keep doing that and you end up with what I like to call a "misery face". I can only imagine the conversations at the breakfast table where the coffee is too weak/strong/cold/hot and the corn flakes too soggy, the toast too dark/too pale and the jam is always, always the wrong flavour. 

I don't know if a negative attitude in life is something genetic or something a person adopts somewhere along the way. Miss Miserable's family seems normal enough, nobody else in her family has ever told me that they were sure a mutual friend's husband was "bound to be bankrupt" just because he had just changed jobs. Her mother is great company and a wonderful woman to be around with. I don't know how Miss Miserable turned out the way she did. I suppose you're bound to be pleasantly surprised every so often if you keep preparing yourself for the worst but that is no way to live.

I think I am actually allergic to miserable, negative people. I find myself getting very annoyed and irritated when faced with people who do nothing but complain. Maybe I'm the strange on with rose-tinted specs perched on my nose but I'd rather be an idiot in blissful state of ignorance than always looking for the steaming pile of crap that just fell out of the backside of the beautiful, thoroughbred champion racehorse. 

Misery in welcome to it's company, more misery. I for one am quite happy gazing at the silver lining. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sadness

There is so much sadness. In the news and closer to home. When the news from Norway hit on Friday I was in disbelief. A bomb? A mass murderer killing innocent teens on an island? A nightmare that had me checking my Twitter feed every couple of minutes. Maybe it was a hoax? Surely not 80 people dead, surely not? A peace-loving, (in my head) idyllic, modern Scandinavian country in the grips of a hateful, spiteful lunatic. One person causing so much pain and suffering to so many others. It was hard to believe but I had to.

It makes me worry, it really does. Right-wing extremist views have gotten more and more foothold in Europe over the last couple of years. Anti-multiculturalism, anti-Islamic and overly nationalistic political views have seemingly gotten more mainstream, somehow more acceptable. Historically speaking, I think it is a symptom of the global recession. Think back to continental Europe in the 1930's. Recession, unemployment, general feeling of malaise. One man placed the blame on the Jewish people. Stealing "our" jobs, forcing "their" culture, "their" way of life on "us". "They're" different to "us", "they" should be gotten rid of. Sound familiar? We all know how that panned out.

I was reading this piece on both Finnish and English news and I cried when I could only scarcely imagine the horror. The girl, 16 years of age, sending text messages to her mother who is following the news, pleading her daughter to send her a sign of life every five minutes. Horrific.

I've stopped following the story in the news now. It's getting out of hand, and I have had enough. I read the story about the couple who rescued tens of those trapped on the island, risking their own lives in the process, by going back and over the water on their boat. That was where I wanted to stop. A little ray of positivity to restore my faith in humankind. I have no interest in what the media will dig out next. I agree wholeheartedly with Charlie Brooker; the shooter does not deserve this publicity he so clearly was after.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Solar Powered

Exceptionally good weather we've been having, eh? Good weather by Irish standards. I know I've been living here long enough when I describe summertime temperatures of over +20 as "roasting". In Finland, that's average summer weather for July and August. It's been sunny and warm and it hasn't rained. So, by Irish standards, we've been having great weather. And I have been stuck at work until 7, 7.30 in the evenings.


But not yesterday! When I got up on Tuesday and saw the near-cloudless sky and that it was +17 already at 9am I got giddy. I skipped to the kitchen, got myself a cup of coffee and went outside. Just to feel the sun on my skin. It was bliss. And that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day. Mr S ran a few errands and went to a meeting, and I refused to leave my seat in the sun.

I know I'm from Finland where it's cold and dark for most of the year. I know most people think Finns are some sort of trolls who can see in the dark, live in caves, drink a lot of alcohol and are generally quite surly and depressing. But something happens to the normally introverted Finn when the first rays of warm summer sun start to break through. The Finn becomes more excitable, more extroverted and smiles for no reason. I believe the Finn is a solar powered creature.

Mr S first noted this the first summer I spent in Ireland after moving here permanently in spring 2004. He said he noticed a change in me as soon as I got some sun. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but he noticed a change which, according to him, lasted for weeks afterwards. I'm inclined to agree with him. I need sunshine. I need to feel the prickly, tingly heat of direct sunlight on my skin. I don't care about a tan, I have more or less accepted the fact that I will only ever go a slightly darker shade of pink, that's it. I don't want a tan, I just want sun.

I nearly melted into my seat with the same pleasure I see my cats melting onto a hot, sunny windowsill. I feel relaxed, supple and very very mellow. Sun seems to be my natural high. Needless to say, I spent the entire day outside. A small breeze from the sea every now and then was a lovely contrast against the heat. I felt as if I had plugged myself into a generator of sorts to be recharged. And that is exactly how I felt in the evening. My skin still hot and tingly, smelling of suncream, sea and heat. I went to bed that night and had a wonderful sleep and I woke up in the morning energised and ready for work.

I'm inclined to agree with Mr S. I think I am, indeed solar powered.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lazy Days

I booked myself three days off this week. It has so far proved to have been a brilliant idea, even if I do say so myself. I found myself getting very annoyed at the fact that I seemed to spend one of my days off running errands, doing the shopping and generally being out of the house for the whole day. The other day off was spent firmly in the house, cleaning, washing, tidying up and such lark. Any time left over I try to catch up with friends and maybe get some me-time, but seeing as there still is only 24 hours in a day and I really do ideally need 8 hours sleep per night, it really is limiting my options.


I shared my first day off with Mr S. Few errands, bit of shopping, bit of cleaning. Our old neighbour had contacted me the day before to ask us to help her move her dog house from the old house to her new place. Apparently our old landlord had just flung the dog house over the wall to the side of the old house where Mr S and I used to live, despite her telling him she was coming back for it. Charming man. So I went up to help her move it, my little car is surprisingly spacious when the back seats are flattened. When I got home, after a tour of her new house, which is lovely, we just lounged. I tried out a new recipe for a pizza base which was a huge success. I got the recipe from one of my Twitter-friends only to realise that I'd had the same recipe in Jamie's Italy -book for a few years now, earmarked and everything. Nothing like a recommendation to get you moving, eh?

Yesterday I spent catching up with friends. Good old chats, lots of laughs, insane amounts of tea and coffee and plenty of biscuits and cake. My Finnish friend, Marjo is something short of a wizard in the kitchen. Mocha-squares they're called in Finland, I suppose the closest thing here would be a brownie, but these things are a lot lighter and more sponge-like in texture and topped with a chocolate-coffee icing. See, I'm drooling already. So so tasty!

So, my third day off is today and I am blissfully aware that on a normal working week I would be getting stuck into trying to explain to a German tourist, who doesn't speak any English, what a parsnip is. (Apparently, calling it a white carrot isn't informative enough) Yet here I am, in our office, in my comfiest (and by default, the ugliest) baggy tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie, sporting a rather fetching bedhead, sipping my second cup of coffee, trawling the internet for stuff and not caring how long it takes me.

Conveniently enough, it's raining outside so I'm not likely to feel the need to go out and rake the grass we finally got cut on Monday. Or go out for a walk. Or, indeed anything that requires getting out of the house. The wheelie bin is at the bottom of the driveway, I may stretch to going out a bringing it back up. But I'll wait for it to stop raining first.

I have a stack of magazines to catch up on, the last two issues of the National Geographic on the top of the pile. I'm still reading Jo Nesbo's The Redeemer, which is proving very good indeed and nicely filling the void left by Stieg Larssen's Millenium-trilogy. I'm doing two loads of laundry, and two only, washing the sheets (I love Clean Sheets Day). I also have a pile of DVDs to watch, I'm contemplating on either having a Harry Potter marathon, or a Bones marathon. But the important thing is, I don't have to do any of these things if I don't choose to. I could quite happily veg out on the couch, listen to the radio and pet the cats. How about that for a lazy day, huh?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Time Warp?

What happened to June? Seriously, I seem to be missing a whole month. I was at work, signing off something and dating it 1/7/11 and then realised I seemed to have by-passed June entirely. If I was in an episode or Doctor Who, there would, no doubt, be some fantastic explanation as to where my month of June 2011 disappeared off to and we would probably find out that it was indeed the Cybermen who were to blame. Alas, not quite.

Where I work is now open until 7pm, and usually being the last one out of the building after cashing up and locking up, it means that I don't get out until about 7.30 the earliest. Factor in a stop at the local shop and the drive home, I'm usually not home until well after 8pm. Shower, dinner, washing, feeding the cats, ironing, some telly and off to bed. See how I have no time for blogging and it annoys me. I've had so many ideas floating about in the incoherent mess of my mind, but forgetting to write them down on the spot means I lose them almost as fast as I think of them.

It hasn't all been work and no play, mind. We've had some great nights out, some even enjoying warm, sunny weather (gasp!). On one of these nights, we hammered out a Murtaugh list for one of my friends, Teresa. She also has a blog here, but is even more sporadic in her writing than I am. Anyway, the list started out with about 20 items on it, this was at the start of the night. Oliver brought in the list and a pen. As the level of intoxication rose, the items on the list multiplied and got more insane as the night went on. Few examples of said items

  • camp outside by yourself in a tent
  • dye your hair a crazy colour
  • get something pierced
And these are the ones that are somewhat printable. Others involve things that play into Teresa's fear/dislike to men in white vests, for example. You can tell a lot of thought went into this. The list deserves it's own Facebook page, we think. Or maybe a blog. Watch this space.

So, you can tell my June was very productive. I try to mend my ways in regards of blogging in July. I'm not making any promises, though.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Absence

Oh, hello! Long time, no see. I've been preoccupied for the last few weeks, and for that, my sincere apologies. I will, however, make no apologies for thoroughly enjoying my self-imposed blog absence. During which, by the way, I didn't go anywhere near my laptop for anything other than a spot of online banking. It's handy having an iPhone, isn't it? Email, Facebook and Twitter all there, with me all the time with no need to sit down at a keyboard and type anything. For blogging, I find the iPhone just too small. I like having more room to play with when it comes to posting. I have a few blogging apps on my phone but none of them have felt right. Any suggestions are more than welcome, by the way.

Anyway, the last week of august saw my dear old brother visit us with two of his friends. Him and his friend flew over from Finland, rented a car in Dublin and headed towards the lovely west coast. Meanwhile his other friend was on his motorbike, somewhere between Cork and Mr S's hotel en route. My brother arrived around dinnertime with his friend. Friend on motorbike appeared about a pint and a half later, walking like John Wayne. 650km in one day on Irish roads on a motorbike will do that to you, I guarantee it.

The following day was dedicated to travel up north to Enniskillen via Sligo and Bundoran. In Enniskillen the lads very nearly became local celebrities when people realised the lad on the motorbike is the spitting image of Brian O'Driscoll. Newspapers were pulled out to demonstrate the uncanny resemblance. Couldn't argue with it, he does look a lot like him. Needless to say, for the rest of the trip he was known as Brian.

After a night in Enniskillen it was back to base where Brian had to follow his obsession to climb a mountain. The rest of us decided on a slightly less arduous activity of visiting our house and having a couple of drinks at the local before heading back to the hotel with the promise of heaps of mussels and prawns accompanied by nice, chilled Pinot Grigio. Brian had found his way back down from the mountain, but it was the road leading to the hotel that had him stumped. Determined, he was marching along the road in the wrong direction when a friendly local picked him up and dropped him off at the hotel. A detail Brian failed to mention until quizzed on it.
My brother didn't think there was enough lemon
on his friend's prawns

Brian deep in thought after is mountain trek

We ate (some more than others) until fit to burst, after which Brian retired up to his room. Three of us continued propping up the bar until it was decided it was far too late to be up, considering the lads were to travel to Dublin the following day. Bedtime.

Some of us ate more than others
Friday morning saw my brother and Brian having their now customary topless wrestling match on the front lawn of Mr S's hotel, to great amusement of Mr S's mother. And hotel guests. And passing motorists. After a brief visit to the abbey, where Brian decided to sit that one out and my brother and his friend came up with a brilliant idea of a karaoke bus, it was time to say goodbye. The visit was brief but most welcome. The tail lights of the Astra and Honda were the last thing I saw. They all made it home, safe and sound.

Tail lights say goodbye
 Do call again!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Liz in Ireland

Liz and Mary


Aer Lingus uniform
She arrived around noon yesterday, on a plain white plane, which didn't despite many speculations carry the Union Flag on the side. Would've made too easy a target, I suppose. Liz was wearing something that reminded me of the Aer Lingus cabin crew uniform. Very fitting. When greeted by president Mary McAleese wearing a lovely shade of fuschia, someone on Facebook commented that the two women looked like the last two chocolates on the bottom of a tin of Quality Street.

Not everyone was happy that the Queen finally followed her grandfather's footsteps onto Irish soil after a mere 100-year gap in between visits. Protesters lined the heavily barricaded streets in Dublin, along with as many gardai as I've seen in my 9 years in this country. Protesters chanting, shouting, swearing and throwing things. Shouting how you don't want Brits in Ireland while wearing British football jersey makes you a bit of an idiot, ok? The relationship between Ireland and the UK is fraught to say the least. So much history, so many wrong-doings and so much violence.

Protesters
History is the key word here, though. It's in the past. And while the past should not be forgotten, nor should it be wallowed in whenever something doesn't go your way. There's a recession on; let's blame the Brits for dragging us down with them. The unemployment figures are up again; let's blame the Brits for luring Irish people away to work there. The war, the famine, the oppression, oh the size of the chip on the Irish shoulder!

I am in no way undermining the sacrifices made by people on both sides of this conflict. What has happened in the past is appalling, there's no other word for it. But isn't it time to move on and let go of the grudge? I, for one see the Queen's visit as a step towards a more amicable relationship between these two neighbouring islands. Her laying a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance was a clear message. Her visit to Croke Park, the site of Bloody Sunday sends a message that's even clearer. By acknowledging what has happened in the past and making amends, there's hope of a more peaceful co-existence here.

Laying a wreath at Garden of Remembrance

She is meeting Ireland half-way, she is, in effect, apologising on behalf of her country. The least Ireland can do is to accept the apology and move forward. I saw a photo of the crowd of protesters and was shocked and disappointed to see amongst the protesters a girl no older that 12 years of age. She was holding a sign "Britain out of Ireland" while sitting on the shoulders of a man I'm assuming to be her father. I can see how grudges can be held for generations, that being a perfect example. Handing the burden of hate to your children, teaching them to hate something or someone they really have no grasp of, other than the fact that their parent thinks it's important, therefore it must be important to them also. Irresponsible.

Empty streets in Dublin
I'm not asking for a crowd to line the streets waving the Union Flag or throwing street parties, it's hardly going to happen any time soon. The general atmosphere seems to be of subdued interest. "It's nice to have her here, but let's not make a big deal of it". It's about time she visited and it is nonetheless a historical event, no matter what is being said against it. I see it as a positive step forward and a historic point in the Anglo-Irish relations.

The Queen is visiting Croke Park today and making a speech later on at Dublin Castle. I, for one will be tuning in.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Literally Speaking

I think I did post this on Twitter if nowhere else in English; I was reading Katherine Webb's book The Legacy. I did do a quick post in Finnish, but thought I'd ought to say a few words in English as well. So here goes:

It's bitterly cold winter in the English countryside. Beth and Erica Calcott have recently lost their grandmother Meredith, whose old manor house they now stand to inherit. On one condition; both women must move in to Storton Manor to live. Permanently. Neither one of the sisters has been back since their childhood despite spending many happy summers there. It all changed on that summer when Beth was twelve and Erica was eight. Their cousin Henry disappeared without a trace.

Since they stopped visiting their grandmother's house, they lost touch with their best friend, Dinny. Dinny came from a family on travellers who camped on the edge of the manor's vast lands despite Meredith, and Meredith's mother's, Caroline's open resentment towards them.

Up in the attic, sorting through Meredith's things Erica comes across an old photograph of Caroline holding a baby boy with motherly pride. The photo was taken before she married the girl's grandfather, Lord Henry Calcott. Who was the boy? Why did Caroline leave behind her high-society life in America and moved to England to marry a Lord? Why did she hate the travellers who lived next door to them, at the invitation of her own husband?

As Erica delves deeper into her grandmother's past, she starts to remember bits and pieces of that summer Henry went missing. The reappearance of the girl's friend Dinny only stirs things up even more. Why cannot Erica remember what happened to Henry? She feels as if she should. She knows it's something that affected Beth profoundly, she believes it is at the root of Beth's depression.

Covering romance, thriller, mystery and themes ranging from motherhood and the legacy we leave to the generations to come, and how, should we choose to, we can leave all of that behind and find out own way through life.


I thoroughly enjoyed it, hope you do too.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Questionable Festivities

There's been some reason for celebrations lately, hasn't there? First there was Easter, with bunnies and chocolate and the breaking of Lent for those who observe such customs. I don't. I don't like to deny myself anything, if at all possible.

Here in Ireland, we followed the long Bank Holiday weekend of easter with another long Bank Holiday weekend because it was the beginning of May. Cause for celebrations, no doubt. Locally, in my corner of the world, the May Bank Holiday weekend always plays host to the local Mussel Festival. Local pub, marquee or two, bucketloads of mussels, great chefs, live music and plenty to drink. My friend Kenneth was playing at the opening of the festival on friday, I'd say the festivities and the food rivalled that of a certain high-profile wedding that was going on at the same time in London.


I tried not to get caught up in the wedding hype but still found myself trying to catch a glimpse of Kate's wedding dress on colleague's iPad which was conveniently streaming live footage via Sky News. I loved her dress and her sister's dress. That evening, when calling into my neighbour's we watched the highlights and laughed when her son came in with the comment "William is punching way above his weight there". Which is true, he does look very horse-y. Harry on the other hand...

Then, from across the Big Pond came news that everyone's Number One Enemy, Osama Bin Laden has been sent to meet his maker by the US Navy SEALs. Seeing the footage of people celebrating made a little bit sick. I am in no way condoning what he did but celebrating someone's death in such a way made me uneasy. Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth will leave us all being fitted for dentures and learning Braille. I know this quote by Martin Luther King Jr. has been bandied about a lot recently, but it does seem to capture the mood of a lot of people:

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

I have been tempted to speculate whether or not this bit of news is actually an elaborate hoax cooked up by the White House/CIA/FBI/NSA/X-files/Aliens to boost Obama's popularity. Withholding any photographs while deliberating if it's appropriate to publish them (photos of dead bodies have been a permanent feature in any news cast for a while now, why so cautious about publishing these?), not that I have any interest in seeing them. The timing of his death, quite soon after the whole hoo-ha about his birth certificate. And loads more fuel to the conspiracy theory fire. 


Fighting fire with fire doesn't seem to be the best options, especially when you think of the explosive global political climate we are in now. Riots, revolutions, protests and such are happening globally. Taking such joy out of having killed a man (no matter how evil) seems to me a bit foolish. You're attracting the wrong kind of fans. The kinds who love to hate. 

I, on the other hand am wholeheartedly embracing the 4th of May as the important, international holiday that it is: Star Wars Day. I'm glad to see that the twitter hashtag #maythe4thbewithyou has overtaken the likes of #obl #binladen and anything else less celebratory. I think it may well be time to dig out the old DVDs and spend hours watching these sci-fi masterpieces. And just for clarification purposes, these masterpieces include episodes 4, 5 and 6. Episodes 1, 2 and 3 are not recognised in this household as Star Wars movies. The only good thing about them was Liam Neeson, and even he isn't brilliant enough to balance out the horror that is Jar Jar Binks. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Surprise!

Ahh, I felt a proper feeling of accomplishment when I got to yell that at Dublin airport Thursday morning two weeks ago. That was the little surprise myself and Mr S had planned for my visiting family. I had emailed dad with bus timetables and the like, instructing them to take the bus from the airport to Galway where we'd pick them up. Tee hee. They were pleased and so were we.




The five days they were here went by in a blur. We walked miles in the national park, the abbey, on the beaches, we ate well (thanks to Mr S's mother) and drank even better, listened to traditional music and generally showed them what my life is like here on the edge of Europe. It was so good to catch up! I got the usual pressies, too; rye bread, salmiakki sweets, coffee, chocolate and sausages. Yup, they really made sure I wasn't going to go hungry any time soon. Most of the sweets are gone, as is most of the sausages, too. I'm rationing the rye bread, mainly because it has an interesting effect on my digestive system, something Mr S calls "the after burn". So, in order for him to avoid having to use a gas mask on entering the house, I'm limiting myself to a couple of slices per day.

My parents brought me this painting. It's been sitting in their house waiting to be moved here and finally, after 10 years of me getting it, it's finally here! The vase/pot in the painting is the spitting image of a pot my granny used for butter in my dad's home. Granny brought the pot from what is now Russia, where she was born before the war when it was still a part of Finland and I'm sure it's seen a lot in it's day. It's still there, in the old kitchen where my dad's side of the family gathers for midsummer every year. Mum and dad spotted the painting somewhere and got it for me as a graduation present. It now has the pride of place on our dining room wall.


  My little bit of a holiday was over too fast and I returned to work with a bang. This Easter was the busiest we've ever seen it, making it exhausting to work in the process. It was all worth it, though, we did have a very successful Easter egg hunt in the gardens, and two Easter bunnies hopping about the place. More on that later, I'm off to enjoy the lazy day off with Mr S.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Visitors


There's some excitement around the place. Ireland is getting some high profile visitors in the coming months. Prince Albert of Monaco paid us a little visit here in "The Wessht" of this lovely island just last week. I always find myself distracted by the fact that I think Prince Albert is the long lost twin of Neil Delamere. Just look at them, the resemblance is uncanny. Maybe it's the Irish heritage of Albert's mother, the lovely Grace Kelly, whose homestead in co. Mayo was also on the to-visit list of Albert and his lady friend whose name escapes me.

And just today, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is visiting Dublin and Kildare as I type. Now there's a cool dude I'd love to meet. Adding to the list of visitors, Liz and Phil from next door are popping over the small water for a quick hello and a catch-up. Nothing formal, nothing fancy, just a quick visit. Or so I've been told. And we might as well keep the nice tea set dusted and in use, because Barack Obama did mention something about visiting us sometime after Liz and Phil have departed. Ireland is going to be busy playing hostess to all this folk.

I, however am having not-so-high-brow but infinitely more exciting (well, exciting for me, anyway) visitors tomorrow (eep!). My parents are flying over for a visit with two of my mother's sisters and their husbands. A sextet of relatives for a whole of four nights. And because I have been working until today, it is time to cue the mad dash around the house dusting, hoovering, mopping and tidying up. I'm not sure why I'm doing this seeing as they won't be staying in the house. Six was just two people too many to accommodate, so they've opted to stay in Mr S's hotel instead. Handy thing to have, a hotel, last my a gang of my family decided to drop by, there were 16 of them. Yup. 16.

We have a little surprise planned for them on their arrival, but apart from Mr S, my brother Mika and his fiance Terhi, nobody knows yet. And I'm not going to put it up here until I'm sure they have no access to internet and therefore have no way of finding out until they get here...

Tee. Hee.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Murder Mystery

Not ideal bedtime reading
My eye was caught by this headline on the Internet today, and my interest was immediately piqued. I find stories of unsolved murders and serial killer infinitely interesting. It is horrific, I do understand that, I'm under no illusion that serial killers aren't seriously disturbed, sick people. It doesn't make me any less interested in the subject. Years ago I found this book, which I have since read several times over. Murder is fascinating.

I'm obviously aware that it is only fascinating when it's not a personal experience, but looking from the outside in, it never ceases to keep me captivated and wondering what went on in a killer's head. Psychopathic, sociopathic, unempathetic, twisted thoughts, no doubt. But how did they get that way? Did something happen to them to make them that way? Can we blame their parents, someone who treated them badly, the society? Or do we have to come to the truly frightening conclusion that, in the absence of any visible reason for homicidal behaviour, some people are born bad?

Because that is the really scary bit, isn't it? Because I like to think that there was something very very bad in that person's past that made them see the world in a dark, twisted way. That in itself is scary, that there is something in us, that given the "right" circumstances, we can be driven to horrific acts. But there is a reason behind it. Something to explain the atrocities. What happens when there is no explanation? Nothing to fall back on, nothing to make you go "well I suppose that's why..." Just the cold, harsh reality of the fact that some people are capable of great evil and that is the long and short of it. They just do it, there's no "why" or "how".

In fiction, we're given an explanation; Norman Bates had a multiple personality disorder and was traumatised by his mother's death. Leatherface was a product of inbreeding, even Hannibal Lecter had a method to his madness. Things don't always wrap up nicely in real life, and even in cases when there is a reason we never find it out. Jack the Ripper, what was his story? Why did he attack those women? It's the element of unknown that has me intrigued. It's the same element of unknown that has me lock my doors every night.

You never know what might go bump in the night.