Friday, April 30, 2010

Launch of Immrama Travel Writing Festival 2010 - Exploration and Endurance in Lismore Castle

Last Wednesday night I attended the launch of the 2010 Immrama Festival of Travel Writing, which just keeps on growing from strength to strength, even seemingly recession-proof. This year's line-up is as star-striking as previous years, and we are all excited and looking forward to the big weekend itself, just over a month away. The festival takes place in Lismore from 10th-13th June and there are some innovations that could become part and parcel of future festivals.

The format is quite similar to last year in that there are two main speakers on the Saturday, and this year they are the renowned Arctic explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes on Saturday afternoon, followed that evening by the intrepid voyager, Tim Severin. They are indeed a stellar pair, and promise to be captivating for their audience, and they embody the theme of this year's festival - Travels: Exploration and Endurance.

Another exciting innovation this year is the world premiere of a film on the life and times of Dervla Murphy, Lismore's very own world-renowned travel writer. That she allowed a film crew to shadow her for some time is indeed quite a coup, as she is media-shy and leads a quiet life in Lismore between her travelling. This is going to look at her life and interviews with Rachel, her daughter who lives in Italy will be included, among others.

Dervla follows in the tradition of the great women explorers of the Victorian and Edwardian era, of the Freya Stark and Mary Kingsley mould, where she heads into the great unknown and eschews modern means of transport as much as possible to enable her to see and engage with the local people and see the country in depth. This usually means by bicycle, though she has had adventures with mules and horses, and even buses and trucks, where the bike didn't make it or she had to abandon it through injury, as happened in Laos, when she injured her foot and had to go by bus to Luang Prabang. Hence the title One Foot in Laos. She met a number of our old friends and former colleagues, and it is lovely that we still have contact with the self-same friends thanks to the wonders of Facebook and email. Some progress you just have to love!

Jan Morris, who wrote for the Guardian and is a prolific historian and travel writer, will speak at a new venue, Fortwilliam House, outside Lismore. This is a private big house not normally open to the public so it's a rare opportunity to visit and admire its fabulous location near the River Blackwater close to Glencairn Cistercian Abbey.
Two new names for me, Pico Iyer and Damien Lewis will speak at the festival - Pico on the Friday night and Damien at the literary breakfast. This is one of the best-loved events at Immrama and the thought of getting out of the scratcher early on a Sunday to face the full Irish in Ballyrafter House Hotel at 8.30am doesn't seem to be a deterrent at all.

I feel I am getting to be quite a regular in Lismore Castle, between the Sotheby's Irish sales preview and the launch of the summer exhibition last Friday (not more of which anon as it just baffled and bewildered me to the point where I couldn't possibly blog about it, but I am sure it has merit for those into video installation art form. It just didn't float my boat, and a blacked out gallery devoted to looped videos of obscure subject matter with a recurrently minimalist theme just had me wondering what it was all about. It evidently brought out my inner philistine, much to the despair of all you art aficionados out there.

The launch was held in the Pugin Room which you will have seen on my Devonshire day posts here and there, as well as last year's post on the launch. It was attended by various dignitaries and officials, and was launched by Waterford's County Manager. There was a tension-mounting PowerPoint slideshow revealing slowly the various speakers and presenters coming to Immrama, with the unveiling of the keynote speakers left till last. As ever, there was a collective gasp of astonishment from the gathered audience as people who didn't know from Adam who was coming realised what a terrific treat was in store for the punters at Immrama 2010 in Lismore this June.

We all enjoyed cheese and wine or apple juice (the best ever made in Cappoquin and called Crinnaughton after the townland where the apples grow, it's an artisan local product and is not that widely available, but worth the search!). Some of us then repaired to Foley's on the Mall for further celebration of our good fortune at being involved in one of the best boutique festivals in Ireland - if the Irish Times calls it that then it's good enough for us!

Bookings have been flying in since the launch, just over a day ago, and it looks like some events will sell out fast. The national press has featured Immrama already, as in this article from today's Examiner. Watch this space in June for the posts on the festival itself, and if you're on Facebook, sign up to the Immrama fan page for live updates and news!

The Photos show the Launch - from the top:

  • Slide of Keynote Speakers

  • Jan and me

  • Jane Jermyn (ceramic artist) and me

  • Edward Lynch, Garrett Daly, the producer of Dervla's documentary from Mixed Bag Media, and Bernard Leddy, Mayor of Lismore & Immrama chairman

  • Mary Houlihan (Immrama PRO) presenting launch

  • Helen Leddy and me

  • MC Edward

  • Castle Courtyard (with WLRFM Beetle!)

  • Presenters of children's workshop at Immrama Pippa Sweeney and Alan Murphy, with Jane Jermyn

  • Peter Dowd, Immrama president

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Scones, Square Meals and TV licences - Bargain-basement Baking for Taxing Times

I found this simple recipe for scones this week from browsing two great cookbooks. One is the Square Meals cookbook from the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) - an Irish public body which helps people in financial difficulty to manage their debts and finances. They are run off their feet these recessionary days and I know they do a great job at keeping the wolf from many a door - as well as keeping the moneylender and debtor's prison at bay.

Imagine in this day and age there is something so Dickensian and Micawberish as a debtor's prison in a so-called civilised country? Makes me wonder why so many white-collar embezzlers aren't locked up behind those bars, instead of some poor person who defaults on a hire-purchase or credit union loan, or the dreaded TV licence. Those ads on TV and radio imply there is no worse crime than not having a TV licence, which is supposed to fund Irish public broadcasting - yet we are all watching Sky and wonder why if RTÉ is commercial and gets load of dosh from its ads, we need a licence.

Even if you only use the TV for playing the Wii, you must have a licence per address, which makes it totally unfair as a hotel or business premises pay the same as a private household. I do not see why one has to have a licence to watch DVDs or play Wii or Playstation - but that's the law and it's enforced inefficiently, intrusively and at great cost through the courts of the land, and like debtor's prison victims, it disproportionately targets low-income earners. (Yes, we have one and so does our son who has no TV provider so only plays Wii on it - costly games!)

That's today's polemic rant - back to the scones. The other cookbook is Grandma's Best Recipes, one of those bargain-bin books from Eason's that turn out to be a real gem. The recipes differ in that one calls for self-raising flour and the other for plain flour with baking powder, and one has an egg and a pinch of salt, and double the butter quantity which makes for a shortbready scone rather than a doughy one - much nicer! But you choose.

I have taken the best of both and merged them. They are so quick to make that there's no excuse for not having a fresh batch made on a whim, if the mood takes you. They are delicious with butter, strawberry jam and fresh whipped cream - which totally ruins any healthy low-fat benefits of the basic scone, before you start feeling smug.

I usually make half the recipe portion unless the house is full, as I hate waste and stale scones won't do it for anyone. This recipe will make a dozen, which will last less than a day all going well, and you can make them every day you want them if you feel particularly domestic goddess-like, and are having a Rachel or Nigella moment. You can see the lovely digital kitchen scales Tandy gave Jan - another great Lidl purchase.

Scones - Basic Recipe


  1. 8ozs/225gm Self-raising flour
  2. Pinch salt
  3. 1oz/25 sugar
  4. 2ozs/50gm butter
  5. 1 egg (beaten)
  6. milk


  1. Chop up butter in flour and rub it in to breadcrumb texture
  2. Add sugar and mix
  3. Add beaten egg and mix
  4. Add enough milk to make stiff dough
  5. Turn onto floured surface and knead lightly
  6. Roll to half-inch/1cm thickness
  7. Cut with cookie cutter or cup (I used round cutter)
  8. Place on floured baking tray (I used a silicone baking sheet on a baking tray)
  9. Glaze with leftover egg/milk if you like a glazed top (I did half glazed and left half plain - catered for all tastes!)
  10. Bake in preheated oven at 180 degrees Centigrade/350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes
  11. Cool on a wire rack


Add any of the following to the dry ingredients after Step 2:
2 ozs/50gm raisins/sultanas/mixed dried fruit/glacé cherries (washed and halved)/blueberries.
For savoury scones add grated cheddar cheese.

...and finally...

While cooling, make the tea, and then enjoy the fresh baked scones with
  • Butter (no substitutes please!)
  • Strawberry Jam (preferably homemade or good quality)
  • Freshly whipped cream or clotted cream.
Pure indulgence - and you can feel virtuous as they are low in fat and sugar (or were, before you pimped them with the butter and cream!)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Spring Stroll through Dublin

Last Monday I went to Dublin with hubby Jan for the day as we had some business to deal with which involved two meetings in the city centre. Both were across the Liffey on the Southside; one on the quays and the other off Baggot Street, near St. Stephen's Green, the leafy centre of Dublin, famed in many a song and story.

I spent years living and working in Dublin from my student years and between travels abroad and while I wouldn't swop country life for city life any more, I loved the buzz of the city when I was footloose and fancy free. It's a great time to be in the city: no cares in the world other than studying, working and getting from one party to another by bike, in no particular order of importance!

We had a lovely day driving up from Lismore -we drove via Cork as we dropped Shayne and Jany and Sofia back home before driving on the nice nearly-new motorway to Dublin, with not a plane in the skies, which were fluffy cumulus clouds all day long, no sign of the Icelandic Volcanic ash that had grounded every plane in Northern Europe. (The link above gives you some jokes on the volcano!)

We parked at our friends' house in Glasnevin which is one of the few free-parking streets left in Dublin, and walked into the city centre, down Dorset Street and O'Connell Street via Temple Street and Parnell Square, by the Garden of Remembrance and the Gate Theatre and the GPO, scene of the Easter Rising in 1916, all famous and historical landmarks.

After our meetings we came back by Kildare Street, home of the Dáil (Irish Parliament) at Leinster House, and Trinity College. While Jan stopped to take a call on his mobile on College Green, I took some snapshots of Irish "mounties" - Gardai on horseback riding around by Trinity College (home of the Book of Kells) and of the statue of Thomas Moore, the 19th Century poet whose ballads were collectively known as Moore's Melodies.

Some are cited in some Joycean works - there was a plaque in the footpath (pavement) to mark one quote from Ulysses. That's a book I confess to not having read, Dubliners being the only one of his books I could master. Mind you there are many Irish people who are defeated by his writings even if he is the father of Irish literature - the greatest Irish writer nearly never read. This plaque is at the foot of the statue of Moore, directly opposite the Bank of Ireland which in colonial days housed the Houses of Parliament.

Across O'Connell Bridge to "de Nortsoide" of the once-whiffy River Liffey - now pristinely unpolluted and repopulated with fish and university rowing club kayaks and canoes - to O'Connell Street, the main drag of Dublin.

The photo from the bridge shows Liberty Hall, SIPTU trade union HQ and still the tallest building in Dublin. This street has undergone major refurbishment in recent years, including wider footpaths, a car-free roadway only open to public transport (taxis, buses, Luas trams) and the dubious crowning glory of the Millenium Spire. This needle has spawned colloquialisms that true to Dublin wit are far more apt if cruder than the official title. The Skewer by the Sewer, the Stiffy by the Liffey, and the Stiletto in the Ghetto are but some of its more printable monikers. The photo of the Spire also shows the statue of that hero of the worker, Big Jim Larkin, founder of the ITGWU and honoured in Irish Labour Party circles to this day.

We had something to eat with our son who's doing his Graphic Design MA in Dublin Institute of Technology this year - I had a treat I only enjoy in Dublin from the Perky Chick Italian Chipper on Dorset Street - Curry Chips and Battered Cod (Joke alert - why are chefs cruel? 'Cos they whip cream and batter the fish!) which is the tastiest around. I love real chipper chips which are chunky and made from real spuds, and fish that's a proper fillet in batter that's deep-fried before my eyes, by a genuine Italian chipper proprietor (even if they are often 2nd or 3rd generation, it's a unique trade they pursue and they have even lately formed a brand organisation ITICA.

We collected our car and had a cuppa tea and a chat with our friend and his son, and were on the home stretch before 8pm. We listened to The Arts Show on Radio One and watched an amazing sunset on the way home, again thanks to the Icelandic volcano (we tell ourselves, though there's no real proof of a link - just romantic speculation), and arrived home about 10.30pm.

I enjoyed being a passenger as I was able to take some photos (including the one of the iconic Irish Independent printing press on the Naas Road and Avoca in Rathcoole), and have a snooze en route.

By the end of 2010 it should be motorway all the way from Cork to Dublin, which will shorten our trip even more as the current bottleneck of Abbeyleix will be bypassed. Hard to believe that 10 years ago there was hardly any motorway between our two main cities. All that'll be needed then are some Services - there are no pit stops anywhere on our motorway network and tenders haven't even been requested, so strong bladders will be needed for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, enjoy the views of our stroll through our historical capital city.

The photos from the top are:

  • The Spire and Big Jim Larkin on O'Connell Street
  • The M1 near Fermoy, Co. Cork
  • College Green with Bank of Ireland and Trinity College
  • The Joycean Plaque at College Green
  • The Statue of Thomas Moore, College Green
  • O'Connell Bridge with Libery Hall
  • Irish Mounties on College Green by Trinity College
  • Bank of Ireland (ex-Parliament Houses)
  • Avoca cafe Rathcoole, Naas Road
  • Independent Printing Press, Citywest, Naas Road
  • Sunset from M1 near Portlaoise

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Of Food Festivals, Lotto and Art Millionaires - Sotheby's Irish Sale Preview 2010

Sotheby's Irish Sale Preview for 2010 is running at Lismore Castle Arts this weekend - at least 65 of the works for sale are on display again, despite rumours that it might fall victim to the recession after last year's preview, which was heralded as possibly the last. Thankfully this is not the case and I am delighted the sales are having the inaugural leg of the Irish tour in Lismore. It's a fantastic venue for showcasing any artworks, and I did a post on last year's preview also which you can check out here if you didn't see it first time round.

Jany and Sofia and me went to the exhibition yesterday and had a lovely cultural experience - it was Jany's first visit to the Castle Arts gallery and we had a nice wander around looking at the diverse collection of artworks from the early 1800s to the present day.

There's a great online catalogue for anyone interested in viewing all the works on sale; 65 of the over 100 items were shipped over for the preview exhibitions in Ireland - only in Lismore and Dublin and Belfast will the public get to view the wonderful works close up before the May 6th sale in Sotheby's London.

The signature piece this year is The Gold Turban by Sir John Lavery with a price tag up to €660,000/£600,000, for those with deep pockets. It's a portrait of his second wife, Lady Lavery, who is famous in Ireland for having been the face of Cathleen Ní Houlihan on the Irish currency notes until 1975, when the "new money" came in - same value as the "old money" but smaller more modern-looking notes.

There were some pieces by sculptor Edward Delaney (d. 2009) whose well-known bronzes adorn College Green and Stephen's Green in Dublin.

As ever with these exhibitions - there's an element of the Emperor's New Clothes where I am probably showing my ignorance of art as a real aficionado by just not "getting" a lot of the very contemporary art - cubism and very abstract art just doesn't do a lot for me, which is possibly my loss and purists among you will be throwing your hands up in despair of such philistinism.

That the Seán Scully stripey abstract painting "Eriskay" commands from £200,000 to £300,000 (€221,000-€331,000) kind of wrecks my head as I can't see how such a value is put on a piece of work. Yes, it is nice to look at - strong colour stripes with an inlaid smaller block - but as it is similar in style to all his work and is instantly recognisable I don't see what distinguishes it from other signature pieces.

When I look online at his body of work and his reputation it is apparent that he is very renowned - coincidentally I saw a programme on him last week on Irish TV - and I read a recent Sunday Times supplement feature on him - his is a rags-to-riches life of the order that would make Frank McCourt's miserable Limerick childhood seem privileged.

There were many others - known and less known, and many totally new to me - which I liked and which were under the €100,000 level and some were under €10,000, which probably put them in the bargain bin. I liked the Seán Keating paintings - they were warm and traditional and appealed to my basic art appreciation instincts! So too were the Paul Henry "Peat Stacks" which I love, and the super-realistic petrol pumps by John Doherty. Like I said last year when I saw one of his works here, they remind me of Edward Hopper's gas pumps painting - which I came across first in Alain de Botton's Art of Travel, a philosophical treatise on travel in its many forms with links to art. The Louis le Brocquy "Spanish Shawl" was another £500,000 painting, and was unlike the more ethereal "Presence".
I hope you enjoy browsing the e-catalogue, and anyone in Dublin on 21-22 April and Belfast's Waterfront on 23-24 April may get a chance to view the Collection before Auction Day in London on May 6th. There may even be some buyers among you at the Auction in London on May 6th - especially any lotto winners out there.
The National Lotto Jackpot was won in Co. Waterford this week - the winner chose to remain anonymous - but it wasn't me, I assure you. €16 million plus was won, and it would certainly be a life-changer.
I was in Eason's in Dungarvan Shopping Centre, where the winning ticket was sold, and the manager Pat White was keeping shtum about the identity in radio and TV interviews - he was a man with a secret and he wasn't about to disclose anything. That all adds to the speculation which is growing by the day - mostly good-humoured jibes promise to be aimed at anyone with a new car or unexplained absences from work over the coming weeks.

It was a nice symbiosis - having a lotto millionaire in Waterford, right in the vicinity of the means of disposing of a fairly large whack of it in one fell swoop by investing in some serious art! For the rest of us, we can dream of ownership of a favourite piece, while enjoying the pleasure of visiting a lovely art gallery and gazing in wonder at at the paintings and scultptures, even if they don't all have universal appeal.

It was a beautiful sunny day, and we wandered around the Castle Gardens (which you already
know about if you read my posts on Devonshire Day in March 2009 and 2010). Jany was chuffed to meet Laura, Lady Burlington (the wife of Lord William Burlington who runs the gallery and spends a lot of time in Lismore Castle - he's the son of the current Duke of Devonshire) and their little girl in the garden, where they had a nice chat about babies and toddlers. We have been invited to the launch next Friday of the Summer Exhibition in the Gallery - Gerald Byrne is the artist, and that will be quite avant-garde.

The Waterford Festival of Food was on this weekend and Lismore had the Farmers' Market going all day Saturday in the Castle Avenue, with delicious food stalls and demonstrations from various chefs. The weekend in Dungarvan had a lot more foodie events and celebrity chefs like Neven Maguire and Paul O'Flynn of the local Tannery - but I was happy to stay in Lismore and soak up the atmosphere - without any noticeable Icelandic volcanic ash deposits - in glorious sunshine where you could for a while think you were transported for a day in Provence.

The photos show some of the works of art and an overview of the Gallery:
  • Sir John Lavery's The Gold Turban, the money with Lady Lavery,
  • Sean Scully's Eriskay,
  • Paul Henry's Peat Stacks,
  • Sean Keating's Self Portrait,
  • John Doherty's The Odd Couple - open for petrol in Castletownbere,
  • Louis le Brocquy's Spanish Shawl,
Me and Sofia at the Farmers' Market and Jany and Sofia in Lismore Castle gardens

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lunch on the Beach - Ardmore and the Round Tower

Last week Wednesday was the first of the many lovely spring days we've had in the past week - and I just had to mark it with some of these great photos taken in Ardmore in West Waterford. One of the delights of my job as a Public Health Nurse is that I feel so lucky to be working out and about in the community doing house visits, driving through magnificent coastal countryside from place to place.

I was working in that area cross-covering for my colleague and had to make some calls there, so when it came to lunchtime I decided to take advantage of the beautifully sunny and mild day and spend it playing tourist in a place that was already starting to waken up to the caravanners who were in residence for the Easter holidays.

A number of kids were actually swimming in the sea - without wetsuits! Which really bemused me as the water must have been freezing cold - "One Swallow doesn't make a summer" came to mind, as well as the old saying "Don't cast a clout till May is out"! I sat on the sea wall near the playground with my scone and read the Irish Times, and then went for a bracing walk along the beach with a few other walkers - though they were power-walking, whereas I was just strolling along listening to The News at One on RTÉ Radio One on my phone.

The wonders of modern communications technology are nearly rendering my iPod obsolete as I find myself listening to the radio on the go as much as to podcasts. My new phone (since Christmas) is not an iPhone (much as I covet one, I wasn't prepared to wait for Vodafone to get the contract for providing it, which they've just done last month, and I had to get a replacement for my ancient Samsung clamshell which needed charging every few hours. Now I am the proud owner of a Samsung Tocco Lite which is more than enough for my needs - should I wish I could go online and browse Facebook or my blog or gmail.

After my beach stroll I drove up to the Round Tower which is Ardmore's most famous landmark, and is in the grounds of a beautiful church ruin and graveyard, dedicated to the local patron saint St. Declan. The views from the Tower area are spectacular as it is high up a hill and overlooks the bay and the cliff. The Towers were fairly ubiquitous in Ireland from the monastic era or Saints and Scholars as they were used by monks as a safe haven from the marauding Viking raiders where they went in the door high up in the tower and pulled up the ladder leaving the raiders helpless below. They could presumably continue to repel them through the slit windows, arrows or whatever weapons were handy.

After taking in the views and photographing the tower, I drove up the hill in Dysert and continued down the Cliff Road, passing the Michelin-starred Cliff House Hotel, which has got accolades far and wide for its tasteful renovation and spectacular location on the cliffside overlooking the bay. The hotel is barely visible on the photo above, as it is built almost organically following the contour of the cliffside. It is a 5-star hotel, with presumably 5-star prices too, but will be worth a lunchtime visit one of these days when I feel flush!

Enjoy the views, and maybe click on the links to read about the places that interest you - I won't lecture too much in the post as it's just meant for aesthetic pleasure! Also I am not on the payroll of Fáilte Ireland so I don't need to do any more to promote such a beautiful place as it manages to do that pretty well by its very presence. As a local character said about Lismore when Mary Robinson was President and visited the town for a Famine Commemoration, when asked in the pub that night what the President had said about the town in her speech -"she said Lismore would be a grand place if it was somewhere else"! (Apparently Mary Robinson had said that anywhere else in the world a place as special and beautiful as Lismore would be inundated with tourists probably to its detriment and how had it managed to stay a hidden jewel in the crown was a mystery - so that's how Chinese whispers can lead to things getting lost in translation in a local pub!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Musings on Midlife Madness - my Brand-new Birthday Bike

I just had to share this with you - I got a lovely new bike yesterday from hubby Jan as a belated birthday present - a sort of midlife milestone that doesn't end in zero but momentous nonetheless. As it's nearly thirty years since my last bike was stolen from the house in Drumcondra we shared with my mother before we went to Tanzania, it was not before time for a replacement. I was a bit like Flann O'Brien's Third Policeman in that my bike and myself were so unified it was hard to tell where where one ended and the other began and there was probably an atomic exchange between us. It took me to work in every hospital in Dublin when I did agency nursing in the years before and after my Bangladesh sojourn.

Suffice to say that wherever I went, like Mary's little lamb, the bike was sure to go. I say "bike" advisedly, as a generic term, as I nearly went through more bikes over the nine-year period when I lived in Dublin (with two years off for good behaviour that I spent volunteering in Bangladesh with Concern, where I met Jan) than the proverbial hot dinners I may have had. Through the mid-1970s I lived in the heartland of Dublin flatland, Rathmines where it was always open season for bike thieves. The chances of having your bike nicked from the railings of your own or a friend's flat were pretty high that no self-respecting gambler would take bets on the bike's chances of survival. Kevin Street Garda Station had regular auctions of bikes that had been stolen, abandoned or recovered and unclaimed, and a £10 or £20 bargain could be had for the canny cyclist.

There was a whole culture around cycling in Dublin in those pre-Celtic Tiger days - everyone cycled, no-one had a car (students or young Civil Servants or nurses) and the buses were never going where you wanted to go. This was generally from one suburb to another on the Southside, but all the bus routes worked on a hub and spokes basis (no pun intended!) - with the City Centre (An Lár) as the hub and the routes to the suburbs radiating out as spokes - which added cost and hours to a journey of maybe a few minutes by bike, as you had to go everywhere off the bus route via the City Centre.

The first intimation I had on the demise of the bike as an essential mode of transport was when I returned to Ireland in 1980 from Bangladesh, took up the two wheels again to traverse the city when I started agency nursing,and realised every nurse in Ireland seemed to be driving a car. Even though the 80s is generally decried as the decade of the first recession, it heralded a shift for the bike's place in Dublin society as far as I was concerned, and when I left the country in early 1982 for the next 16 years, I had resigned myself to a four-wheel future.

So now the two wheels have come full circle - bikes are eco-friendly, recession-proof, and more popular than ever - and I am delighted with my new bike. We chose it yesterday from a small specialist bike shop in Fermoy, after looking at a big chain store (another unintentional pun?) where we felt the spotty youth didn't really seem to care whether we bought or not and certainly wasn't offering much in the way of service or information. The other shop had a different take on customer service - I got to ride a few bikes up and down the street, the pros and cons were detailed, my dumb questions about gears and ratios and different types of bikes were patiently and unpatronisingly answered, and I felt they weren't just about selling the dearest bike but more about what I wanted from a bike - not a mountain bike, not a "High Nelly", but something in-between.
I ended up with this lovely bright red Kelly's Kappa Hybrid bike which has a nice gel seat (minimising the numb bum effect!) and 21 gears with 3x7 speeds. As my last bike had 3 gears (a nice Raleigh Tourer) and was a High Nelly for the 80s, I am having great fun playing with all the gears on this one. Yesterday I went for a short 3mile spin and today Jan and me went for a longer haul - 15km on fairly level ground in a circuit that took us home along the beautiful Blackwater river. Never mind gel seats - I had the original jelly legs and an extremely numb bum on arriving home! I'm assured this will get better as time goes by - Jan had already cycled 93km on his racer earlier today so this spin with me was like a cool-down for him. In fact a classy new racer is top of his wish-list and will be fulfilled for his upcoming significant birthday next month!

Those of you who've been following my blog for a while will remember my post on Jan's 100km charity Seán Kelly cycle last August, and know he's a seasoned cycling enthusiast. He's already signed up for the 2010 Seán Kelly Tour of Waterford, and suggested I do the 50km "starter" circuit! Right now that seems way beyond my capability so I will have to review that in a few months and see if the quads and hamstrings are bearing up - on the plus side I envisage the cellulite falling off and the coveted size 12 regained in no time - the old mantra of "No Pain, No Gain" never seemed truer than now.

Watch this space for occasional progress reports as I will be shamed into keeping up the good work if I blog about it from time to time, so all encouragement will be welcome!