Saturday, February 25, 2012

More Afternoon Delights - A Wonderful Waterford Hideaway

The Book Centre Waterford and the coffee shop ceiling
In my last post about my trip to Dublin last weekend I alluded to an afternoon in the city and decided it deserved a post of its own. In fact, two afternoons in two cities in one week made for some pleasant R&R, and two separate blogposts. You can read about my day in Dublin here. 

On Tuesday last week I took a half day off from work - not a holiday, rather it was something in the public sector that may have those in the private sector grinding their teeth at the great lives we have - ergo, I had what's quaintly called time off in lieu (of payment), or TOIL. It's a rather oxymoronic acronym as it implies work, rather than the leisure it represents. I had done an evening talk to a Ladies Club recently on Women's Health and as health promotion is an integral part of the Public Health Nurse role, I always enjoy these evenings. I've done about three in the past year to different Ladies Clubs in West Waterford, and I've done them in the past for different Carers' Groups. They are one of the pleasures of my job, the informal sharing of knowledge and information that  people really value. Of course there is no payment from the community group for these talks, and I am delighted with getting a half day back within the month of the talk.

mmm, lekker cappuccino and carrot cake...
So I took a half day during half-term and took my teen queen daughter and three of her friends to Waterford City, an hour's drive from home. The main purpose of the trip was so that she could get her tongue pierced. (I know, I know, there's probably a collective gasp of blogospheric horror at  questionable parenting, but having weighed the option carefully following the tentative request a few months back, we decided to ensure it was done safely and hygienically in a reputable tattoo place rather than some back-street dive.) On foot of this, and after checking it out,  Swineline in Waterford got the gig. They use a numbing local anaesthetic spray and sterile equipment and it was all captured on phone video by one of the pals. I declined to watch, and left them to their own devices, being much relieved when I got the call saying it was done and went fine. The aftercare was well adhered to - ice cubes, Nurofen Extra, and lots of salt-water rinsing. Thankfully no complications, and it's healed by now, and doesn't cause a lisp or look awful like I'd thought it might. The local school is quite blasé about bodily embellishments and doesn't ban piercings, tattoos (tasteful) and oft-disastrous home hair-dyeing. Unlike the school in today's Irish Times - thankfully! Currently my daughter's hair is a sort of Bosco red, which is lovely when newly done but seems to fade fairly quickly. Thankfully it's home dyeing which is cheap as chips compared to salon work - and I love the way they get to experiment in a way that was totally alien to my youth!

Let's Knit! and check out their website.
Can't wait to get cracking here!
Back to my afternoon in the city - I dropped the three girls and one boy in City Square and as I am not at all a shopaholic I headed off to The Book Centre, a magnet for any self-respecting bookworm. I headed for the upstairs reading area, where there are open invitations to browse and read and relax, and then discovered there's a lovely coffee shop on the upper floor. This was too irresistible and I made for the cappuccino  and carrot cake. Before that I made a quick recce of the creative craft section and found some great books and a couple of magazines - and took them off to browse as directed. The relaxed atmosphere of The Book Centre positively encourages inertia and I was happy to oblige. I had my knitting bag with me - well, a small bag with a few things in it, like the Noro Sekku scarf I've been making for the past few weeks in between other things like frilly ruffle scarves. So I spent an entirely self-indulgent three hours on the sofa (oh, did I mention the sofas? None of your cheap plastic bum-blistering seats designed to move  you on in 15 minutes for the discerning browser!) knitting up at least a foot of scarf and browsing books I'd no notion of buying now,  but maybe at some future date, while enjoying cappuccino and carrot cake with whipped cream. I ended up with two magazines - a Burda Style full of lovely sewing patterns and other crafty stuff, which has only recently become available in English in Ireland; I used to buy them in Holland and have a  big library of them in Dutch along with other Dutch pattern magazines like Knip and Marion. Then I saw a lovely Let's Knit! which has a website full of great free patterns and is perfect for the knitting anoraks out there - you know who you are! The magazine came with balls of wool and a pattern sheet for  baby bootees and socks - delightful in pastel green and purple. I couldn't resist this lovely sock book which was the same price as some of the magazines, around a tenner, and will give  me endless pleasure experimenting with various heels on long winter evenings!

Burda Style - with its maze of patterns!
The piece-de-resistance of The Book Centre though has to  be the ceiling of the coffee shop - it's entirely papered in sheets of old newspaper, which must have been a labour of love and begs a stepladder to do a Michaelangelo and read the ceiling. I discovered later on why the shop is so quirky in layout, as it's a veritable Hogwarts of labyrinthine proportions with tiers of floors at all odd angles, and Escher-like optical-illusionary steps and stairs going in all directions. The building was an old cinema - which perfectly explains the stepped layers to the top and the sloping ceiling of the upper coffee-shop level. It's the most atmospheric bookshop I've ever been in and this was my first time absorbing it. I was at a whole other level of relaxation when the teens summoned me to meet them as Penneys was closing, and I was in a Zen-like state all the way home, unperturbed by the booming bass of their high-decibel music played on my car radio from their phones via my knock-off wannabe iTrip.

Dublin can be Heaven - Afternoon Delights around Powerscourt Town Centre

Lunch in The Pepper Pot - Warm Goat's Cheese Salad

Last Friday hubby Jan and me headed off to Dublin for my cousin's birthday party which I've blogged about here. As Jan had a business meeting in the Alliance Francaise for the afternoon I said just drop me off in shopping heaven, the Grafton Street/St. Stephen's Green Centre area. With no pressure to shop till I drop like I might  be in the run up to Christmas, for example, or be on the lookout for something special like an outfit befitting the mother of the groom (help! I dread having to face that at some stage before July!) I was in a mellow place and found an equally mellow place to match my mood. 

That happened to be the Powerscourt Town Centre, on Clarendon Street off Grafton Street. I dashed into Dunnes' Stores in the Stephen's Green Centre first, to see what I might need, and bought a nice ribbon yarn loose cardi, which I could upcycle if I hated. I then dropped into the Westbury Hotel to powder my nose and allow myself a twinge of nostalgia for my last visit, when Martin was still working there before he headed to Australia. Then I cut across the Westbury Mall and emerged at the Powerscourt Town Centre. It used to be the town house of one Richard Wingfield, the 3rd Viscount Powerscourt, and serendipitously there are Wingfields to this day at Salterbridge  House over the road from Lismore near Cappoquin. 

This is Knit - Dublin's coolest shop!
Sign of the times @ This is Knit
The best shop  in Powerscourt by my biased reckoning has to be This is Knit - a haven for knitaholics anonymous and otherwise. It's got amazing yarns and a selection of the best top quality silks and alpacas and cashmeres and merinos and it's just as addictive as any good bookshop. I just browed the shelves and felt the wonderful tactile yarns, and got a ball of DB Andes, which is so soft and sensuous. I couldn't resist a booklet of Noro patterns, which opened up a  whole new world of colourful yarns and patterns made with these beautiful Japanese yarns. I already love working the Sekku and seeing the lovely pattern emerge with the colours melding together. 
Lunch with a view in Powerscourt Town Centre

A late Book Token Christmas Pressie!
Noro and more Noro (Sekku Scarf WIP)
After I'd sated myself in the yarn shop, it was time to eat - and where better than on the balcony outside. There are a variety of cafes and I decided on The Pepper Pot - they had friendly staff and lovely food - I had a delicious warm goat's cheese salad with lovely brown bread, and a nice cuppa tea. I sat there tweeting and reading the Irish Times while soaking up the atmosphere and thinking what it must have been like back in the day of the big house when it was in use as the town house for the toffs from Wicklow

Improv Instruments - Upcycled Oilcans on Grafton St.
I should really get out  more if a Friday afternoon mooching around the shops in Dublin's Grafton Street can be so enjoyable - or else I'm just easily pleased with simple tastes! After lunch and a few photos of my table with a view I wandered off to look for Waterstone's in Dawson Street nearby. Grafton Street is Dublin's Ramblas - great buzz and full of buskers and human statues covered in toxic glittery body paint waiting for a few shekels to fall into their hats before stirring into motion. I love the fact that Captain America's is still the same as it was in my student days back in the '70s.

I took this pic of a busker playing a mean electric guitar made from a Castrol GTX Oilcan as it reminded me of the improv instruments beloved of the roadside sellers in Tanzania and our first watchman in Mishamo who played a  unistring guitar made from a margarine tin and a stick with a piece of wire stretched from one end to the other. I spent a few confused minutes looking for Waterstone's to be told they'd closed - and Hodges Figgis was the only bookshop on the street. Lucky for me they are honouring the Waterstone's book tokens, and I continued to feed my insatiable craft book habit with this lovely Weekend Knitting book. I still have enough credit to cut loose in Waterstone's in Cork one of these weekends. This is some of the pattern selection in the book. I can't wait to get going on some of them!

Stephen's Green Centre
By now I'd met up with Jan and Paul, their meeting in the Alliance over, and was given a conundrum - where in Dublin will you find monkeys playing billiards or snooker? I certainly didn't have a clue - and I'm going to leave you pondering that one for a while before revealing all! That's your Pub Quiz question for today - food for thought over the weekend.

Powerscourt Town House

This was beside the Pepper Pot - a tad OTT!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Party Break in Dublin - Both Birthday and Political

The Spire - Dublin's newly iconic landmark
We're just back from a two-day break in Dublin which was very pleasant. We were invited to my cousin Betty's 80th birthday party a few weeks ago, a significant event taking place in Sutton Golf Club. As she was widowed only last October when her husband Kevin passed away, it marked a milestone in her life, and it was a lovely occasion, poignant yet happy, with lots of memories for many people.

Betty is my first cousin; our fathers were brothers, and while my father died shortly before my third birthday, I knew her parents well, and sadly now all that generation has passed on. There were 12 boys in my father's family and he was second-youngest. In the 1911 Census he is listed as a 4 year old, which I find very moving as I never really got the chance to get to know him. He seems to have belonged to a warm loving close family, and I had lost contact with them over the years of being abroad, and also growing up away from Dublin where they all lived, as my mother and me moved back to her family home in Lismore after my dad died.

At the party there was some wonderful entertainment, as Betty and Kevin were very involved in Variety, the children's charity, and were heading up the Dublin arm of it over many years. They had many friends in showbusiness in Ireland and Brian Hoey, a renowned tenor, was the MC at the birthday party. He has a wonderful singing voice and a broad repertoire, singing a variety of songs from past times. He was joined by the soprano Niamh Murray who sang some wonderful pieces from The Merry Widow and other operettas. My mother would have remembered seeing her at the Pioneer Centenary Celebrations in Croke Park in 1999 which was a nice link for me.

Betty with her family
A lovely touch at the party was the singing of the favourite song of each of the twelve brothers, as  far as could be remembered, by either a family member or by Brian Hoey. I was moved to tears when my father's favourite song was sung by my cousin Paddy - the lovely ballad The Old Rustic Bridge by the Mill. I hadn't known that was his favourite song, and each family meeting in recent years has increased my store of information about my father and fills more  blanks. He and my mother were less than four years married when he died so there's a whole history from his earlier years I am only now learning. It was lovely to renew links with long lost cousins, some of whom I hadn't met since we were children. Hubby Jan is great on the genealogy and has enjoyed filling in the blanks in the extended family tree, and sharing it with interested cousins.

The view from our room -  with Howth Head at sunrise
We stayed in the Marine Hotel in Sutton, about a five minute drive from the golf club - or would be had we not got lost on our first attempt and driven around a few blocks but not quite getting there. We'd no mind to drive miles after the party to a distant hotel, so it was just ideal. The hotel was lovely, reasonably priced for such a venue - I'd booked on and it was 99Euro for B&B for two. Perfect location if you were looking for an out-of-town yet close to amenities as the Dart railway station was just down the road, and the buses run by the gate. We woke in the morning to the most lovely vista of the sunrise over Dublin Bay and Howth Head in the near distance. We could see all the way down to the Dublin Mountains, and I took some photos from the room with a view. We didn't have time to use the pool or the leisure centre, maybe next time!

Bull Island & the Bull Wall from Sutton-Dublin
After a lovely breakfast we drove into town to go to Wynn's Hotel where there was a Labour Members' Forum hosting a number of eminent speakers on the political situation and the place of the Labour Party in the current government and into the future. I won't go into too much detail as politics can be very contentious at the moment - suffice to say that this forum was hosted by a loose gathering of grassroots Labour members who are anxious that the party not sellout to its partner in government, Fine Gael, or to the wider temptation of the trappings of power. The link above will give a good overview to those interested readers.

There's palpable public anger at the cutbacks, we're all trying our damnedest to be understanding of the invidious situation the country is in and the government are in a damned-if-they-do and damned-if-they-don't place. What we don't want is that the  leadership become arrogant and complacent in their position of political power and stay stuck in the moment because they were elected to instigate the reforms that were promised in the election manifesto and the programme for government. We all know there's compromises where there's coalition, but Labour are at risk of being subsumed into the larger party if they don't put a red line under certain issues and claim credit for the good things that get done by their initiation and not have the larger party take all the credit, wittingly or otherwise. It was good to see many TDs (MPs) and Councillors in attendance, our own Ciara Conway TD was there along with many of the other younger elected members.

Labour Members Forum in Wynn's Hotel
A variety of speakers from economists to trades unionists to the National Women's Council of Ireland spoke of alternatives to austerity by deferring payments to the bondholders under the IMF/ECB rulings we're in thrall to since losing our economic sovereignty. They spoke on the impact of cuts and austerity measures on single parents and vulnerable groups dependent on welfare in the absence of jobs. Best line of the day came from Trade Unionist Sam Nolan from the floor - "Give a man a gun and he'll rob a bank; give a man a bank and he'll rob the world." It was a good debate platform with plenty of opportunity for audience participation, and it reflected the mood of the party grassroots who are at pains to protect the integrity of the party we belong to and whose ethos we hold dear. I'm glad we had the chance to attend this conference, and you can get the mood from Twitter by following #labourmembers.

We hit the road home after the conference and it's lovely driving in the lengthening evenings into the sunset - with hubby driving and me knitting we must make an eccentric sight - but it sure whiles away the miles!

I'll do another blogpost on my lazy city afternoons in the past week. They deserve a separate platform!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Knitting Nirvana - Crafty Books, Done Deals and WIPs

Modelling my frilly ChaChaCha scarf
I know, I know, I promised to  be a more consistent blogger in 2012 and I'm already falling by the wayside. I am writing this on Martin's lovely iMac with a big screen and a sleek brushed steel frame, with the iconic Apple and no big tower like in PC world! I'm sorta minding it for Martin but hopefully he'll not be able to fit it in his suitcase when he comes home for Shayne and Jany's summer wedding! Then I'll get to mind it for a bit longer, and will by then have figured out all that I've forgotten about Apple Macs and their quirkily intelligent Operating Systems. 

Already the keyboard is toast, as Martin spilt tea on the lovely slimline objet d'art before  heading to Australia, rendering 5, T, H and N useless and by extension the whole bloody keyboard - *ry worki*g wi**ou* **ose and you'll soo* fi*d out how much you use *hem! So I'm using a clunky old Dell Keyboard - functional but with no aesthetic properties whatsoever! At least the Apple Mouse is still working, except for the scrolldown button. Which I can live without.

This is a little post on recent knitting I  have done. I joined the Knitting Circle at Angela's Design Workshop last year and thoroughly enjoy it. It's on twice every Tuesday in Lismore, and I go to the evening session as being a wage slave prohibits my attendance at the morning session - that's peopled by a number of retired women including a few retired Public Health Nurses - knitting nurses being quite the thing. It certainly whiled away a few quiet nights for me on agency night duty back in the 70s and 80s - yes, even nurses had quiet nights in some of the smaller private hospitals.

Apple iMac - a thing of  beauty!
Rathcooney Mitts in cotton blend - now in Oz!
The knitting circle is a nice social outlet, people meet to chat, share patterns and ideas, and help each other out with tips on patterns and problems , and even do a bit of skill-sharing - some of us who can crochet gave a demo on making Granny Squares a few weeks back. We have tea and coffee, cakes and biscuits and a good laugh is guaranteed. There's something very cosy about a knitting circle, and it's a great leveller as everyone brings something new and we all gain from it, from absolute beginner to experienced returnee  - which I consider myself to be as I only came back to knitting about 3 years ago after a lifetime away from it - probably over 20 years. 

Book Token buys!
My Christmas Wish List this year was books - Knitting and Crochet books - and I had great fun self-selecting on Amazon. I got two wonderful books - Carol Feller's Contemporary Irish Knits and Stitch'n'Bitch Superstar Knitting. The boys and Anne (Shayne and Jany's Au Pair) gave me book tokens for Easons and Waterstones. I still have the Waterstones' one (no shop nearby) and two weeks back spent a blissful hour browsing the Craft Section in Eason's in Dungarvan - where they have thoughtfully positioned tub armchairs for enhanced browsing - and came away with two great books - The Knitting and Crochet Bible, and The Happy Hooker - Stitch'n'Bitch Crochet

Mitts I made to match my cowl Knitmas gift
Great series of books!
I've  been making lots of little things since Christmas - fingerless Rathcooney Mittens from Stolen Stitches Blogger Carol Feller's book being a firm favourite and I made a couple of pairs as presents for friends. I made a matching hat too, and a cowl in Feather and Fan stitch which was like the one I got from Caroline (@scattyhats on Twitter) in the Knitmas Secret Santa which I mentioned in a recent post. I sent some things off to Cathy (@cathyqtpi on Twitter) for her Knitmas gift.  
Rathcooney Mitts for a piano-player friend - Merino wool
Best Irish Knitting book of the year! 
iPhone Cover from Monika on Ravelry
I made some frilly scarves for friends and one or two  for myself - and I have been asked to make some for other people! I made some iPhone covers from Ravelry - which is a fabulous resource for anyone interested in knitting - and right now I am patiently working in painfully slow fine 2-ply Noro Sekku yarn (no 7) - a delicious blend of Cotton, Silk and Wool, which I also got from Caroline for Knitmas. I am doing a Feather and Fan lacy scarf which will take forever as I can't give too much time to it, what with work, baking and blogging amongst other things, and I have other knitting fish to fry as well.

Tivoli Twirl scarf made in car en route to Dublin, gift.
I'll link some of the books and show you some of the photos of the projects.  I hope you get inspiration from this post to try your  hand at knitting - and indeed crochet - and remember start small, you don't have to knit a jumper, something small or baby clothes will give you great satisfaction and you'll have something very special to share with the world - or at least your friends and family!
Modelling my Rathcooney Knits