Beers at Capstang
May 04, 2016
Beers at Capstang
With Síle's brother Conal.
April 26, 2016
Sat on their park bench
Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy.
From Figueres Home.
April 24, 2016
From Figueres Home.
I dropped my old friend Michael down to the station in Figueres this morning so he could catch a train back to his home in Andalucía. It’s not a long trip for me, about an hour and a half down into Spain and it saved him a mountain of kerfuffle getting train connections between France and Spain.
As a result I had an hour and a half in the car by myself on a perfect day, sunshine and wind, to travel back over the Pyrenees home and plenty of time to let the mind wander on the journey, which is a particularly interesting one.
This road, through the Pyrenees is an ancient one and has been much used in history. It is the first pass through the Pyrenees travelling west along the mountains from the Mediterranean. On modern motorways of course it is easily passed over but you will notice that on the French side of the border there are several long viaducts which, historically, would have been much more difficult to negotiate. This however didn’t stop the Catalans as the ancient nation of Catalonia manages to spread out on both sides of the mountains, north at least to Perpignan and south to Barcelona and indeed east to the Balearic Islands. The old kings of the area, the Kings of Majorca, lived in their palace in Perpignan. Indeed this area was always staunchly independent being ruled by the house of Aragon from Toulouse until the French king (and the pope) used the excuse of the Cathars to launch the first crusade against them and bring them into the kingdom of France. This I surmise is the reason why most of my neighbours hold Paris in some contempt.
It would have been through these very roads that the moors made sorties up from Moorish Spain, right up through France- and through this pass that Hannibal passed, with his magnificent herd of elephants, using the Roman Via Domitia. This road is the road I am travelling on today. Now it has of course six lanes and a different sort of behemoth thunders along but La Languedocienne still passes along the path created by the Romans which was Hannibal’s route to the Alps and into Italy.
During the last war this pass was also a crossroad of refugees running in both directions, left wing Spaniards herded into camps in Argeles and Jewish refugees, often children being smuggled out of German France towards Portugal and freedom in America.
All along the road from Perpignan up to Narbonne I pass along the Mediterranean, but always separated from the sea itself by Les Etangs, the huge salt lakes which are a feature of this part of the Med. The train also follows the coast from Perpignan and it was in this train, on a journey to Beziers that Charles Trenet wrote his most famous song;
La Mer :
Près des étangs
Ces grands roseaux mouillés
Ces oiseaux blancs
Et ces maisons rouillées
Les a bercés
Le long des golfes clairs
Et d'une chanson d'amour
A bercé mon coeur pour la vie.
And I must admit that, even away from the sea, the whole road looks spectacular on a clear April day. You pass along right under Canigou, Prince of mountains and sacred to the Catalans, still capped with snow and awe inspiringly high. Even the valley roads cut out through the folds of the mountains are all a uniform pale purple with the Tamarisk bushes, the Judas Trees and the copious wild Valerian all matching beautifully.
When I woke up first this morning I confess that I cursed inwardly at the notion of a three hour journey down and back from Spain but, strangely, sometimes a good deed is its own reward and I enjoyed very much my passage back through history on the way home in the car.
April 20, 2016
The Dwyer matrimonial bed, could it talk, could well have a story to tell. It started life in Stonybatter in Dublin where it was intended to be the marimonial bed of my daughter Caitriona Dwyer and her husband Aonghus Butler. Unfortunately they discovered that they couldn't fit the bed up the stairs of the tiny two up two down. Not at all phased they cut a hole in the floor of their bedroom through to down stairs and wriggled it up that way. Then, when they erected it there they discovered that with the bed up in their tiny room they could no longer open and shut the door. At this moment they decided to abandon it, kept the mattress and offered it to us for our French B&B. We were delighted and brought it out with one of our loads. The bed was a five foot wide one which translates beautifully into the metric 1.5 metres. We trotted down to the local bed shop only to discover that the French do not make 1.5 mattresses. For some unknown reason they make 1.4 and 1.6 but never 1.5. However the pleasant bed man told us that he could order a special, custom made 1.5 for us. Which he did. As soon as we saw the "custom made" 1.5 we realised that a canny mattress maker had just shaved 10 cms off a 1.6 and sewed up the end. However we needed our sleep so we ventured on. After about a year I began to notice that my side of the bed was quite a bit lower than Sile's. Sure enough the shaved side was sagging disasterously under my weight. (At this stage the bed shop had gone out of business so there was no hope of recompense.) Then a friend who lived in the village told us that he would be driving down to Thezan from Mallow with a truck and did we want anything brought ? Did I what. I successfully ordered a 1.5 Odearest from a shop in Mallow and waited in expectation for the joys of a decent mattress. I did notice that my Irish friend was a little short with me as he delivered the mattress. Then I discovered the reason why. His truck was an open one and so, he and his co-driver had to bring the mattress into their hotel rooms on the way down for fear of rain during the night. This had caused some embarrassment. However the mattress was a great success and we have been enjoying great sleeps since, or that is until last year when the leg fell off the bed. Now truth to tell it didn't fall off so much as wobble on the edge threatening to fall and every night would have to be hammered back into position before we got in. A little nerve wracking. Now my old friend Michael who is staying and is an engineer is also an excellent DIY man- a skill I very much lack. Michael spent the day yesterday re dowelling, gluing and finally screwing the leg firmly back into place.
So,a mere eight years after being given the present, we finally have a perfect bed.
Sixty Seven things I like about being Sixty Seven
April 17, 2016
Sixty Seven things I like about being Sixty Seven
Hunter Davis wrote in last weeks Sunday Times the Eighty Reasons why at 80 he never had it so good.
Friend Finola Wiltshire sent it to us and I got inspired !
Sixty Seven things I like about being Sixty Seven.
1. I don’t have to try and dress to try to look sexy anymore, skin tight trousers, stomach hugging shirts, not for me anymore, comfort is now the word.
2. I can no longer remember books, even ones I particularly loved, except that I enjoyed them once. So now I mostly graze on my own library. If I enjoyed it before I will probably love it again.
3. I can get a pension, instead of being a contributor I am now a beneficiary
4. Grandchildren, the reward of old age, constantly entertaining and guilt free.
5. My children have somehow snuck into our inner circle of friends
6. My wife- now of 43 years- a fact of which I am extremely proud and a person of whom I am extremely proud.
7. The fact that this time, for the first time in my life work has become optional, we only work because we want to.
8. Because I am fat I now am constantly on an intermittent, day on day off diet, an odd thing to like I know but Oh! The joy of Breakfasts when you have been dieting the day before and the joy of the dinner (albeit strictly calorie controlled) when you have only been eating scraps all day.
9. Writing, I have discovered that I adore writing- having spent most of my life on a hard physical job (cooking) I now have the time to write.
10. Brothers and sisters-all the old sibling rivalry has long gone and now we all just love to hang out together and remember our childhood.
11. More or less as above- but old friends. They have now become brothers and sisters, above criticism and extremely comfortable.
12. Facebook- my method of keeping contact with the above.
13. New friends; and we have made quite a few since we moved to France, stimulating and always interesting.
14. Nephews and Nieces, young, lively and mighty craic they keep me feeling young.
15. Adopted Nephews and Nieces- You Know Who You Are ditto to above.
16. There is also a special category of great nephews and great nieces and adopted same. Keep coming to see us!
17. My crosswords and my Sudokus. My excuse to disappear into a corner and recover- just like my father did.
18. I am so grateful that my career as a chef/ restaurateur has proved to be a brilliant apprenticeship, for my career as proprietor/chef of a chambre d’hote here in France
19. I am also grateful that running a busy restaurant for fifteen years in Ireland has furnished me with loyal customers who continue to support me here in France.
20. Stories, my long life has given me loads of stories. I have one for absolutely every occasion and, if my wife lets me, at the drop of a hat…….
21. I cooked all my life but always under pressure of time, now I still cook but, respecting my age and general decrepitude, people now are prepared to wait for me to finish to my satisfaction. Damn right too.
22. I have lived long enough to reach this electronic age. Don’t let any of the dinosaurs fool you- it is way easier to email a letter than to search for pen and ink and paper and stamps and then struggle to the post office to send it. Vive the emails.
23. Ditto for mobile phones, to phone France in my youth we had to get on to international calls in London and they then Paris and the crackly re-routing would begin. Now? I just dial a number. Hey Presto!
24. Ditto ditto for Skype and Facetime, the grandsons can see us and we them- such a difference.
25. I no longer have a mortgage. Enough Said.
26. I have the time to read poetry- something I never allowed myself in my youth- now it is one of my great pleasures.
27. I no longer need to sunbathe when the sun comes out to turn myself a fashionable brown. Now I enjoy the heat, and sit comfortably in the shade.
28. I am now happy to leave certain skills to one side and realise that I will never master them- like trigonometry, the washing machine and the off-side rule.
29. Shoes, deserve a special mention, fashion no longer comes into it, now it is comfort, comfort all the way.
30. Getting reductions into museums, art galleries and even sometimes cinemas as a senior is just marvellous. The sense of privilege and surprise will never leave me.
31. It is a marvellous feeling when your children are no longer dependant on you, after all these years now if you hand out it is for your pleasure.
32. Drink. Thorny one this but certainly there happens at a certain age the realization that if my drinking was going to make me alcoholic it would have done it by now.
33. Job Satisfaction changes totally when you do it for pleasure rather than reward. Even ironing shirts becomes a pleasure when you decide that you have the time to do A Really Good Job.
34. Dying loses its more terrifying aspects when it slowly sinks in that they will all manage without you- they are old enough and sensible enough.
35. From the above, at my age you can enjoy the fantasy of being present at your own funeral party.
36. Collecting stuff, visiting vide Greniers and Brocantes. Over the years I was so acquisitive I would let nothing pass. Now I look with relief at a crack or a stain and walk on by with impunity.
37. I am now old enough not to be ashamed to confess to having been totally enamoured by dance in my youth. The prospect of this old fat man turning pirouettes is just too absurd for people to take it seriously.
38. Old age has given me the confidence to approach people who impress me and congratulate them on their successes and the gravitas of old age allows them to usually respond. I recently sent Judy Collins an email to tell her to reassure Joni Mitchell on recovery from a brain haemorrhage. She replied and promised to do just that.
39. I am no longer embarrassed by having to pee three or four times in the night or indeed three or four times during a party. First thing I do in a strange house is locate the loo.
40. Talking to strangers- even here in France- has become much easier when you know that they realise that you are way past being threatening.
41. Memories are wonderful; sometimes I can just sit quietly and be flooded by memories of happy times in the past. It is magical.
42. I now can summon people, relations, family, and friends to come and see me. They usually realise that it might be easier for them than me and well might be the only way to shut me up.
43. Scrabble- I seem to be getting better at it.
44. Sleep seems much more manageable in old age, if I can’t sleep I just don’t and potter around and do something else.
45. And sleeping when you are tired, like after lunch or in the terrace in the afternoon is just simply wonderful.
46. Travel becomes a totally different thing in old age. You go somewhere because you want to, not because you feel you should. No bucket list is ever worth disturbing the pleasure of old age.
47. Certainly your critical faculties become different. You will no longer continue reading a book you don’t enjoy or watching something on the box which bores you. Life has suddenly become far too short.
48. Things come back to you in old age, my Irish language is returning little by little. All those years in primary school wrestling with the modh coinniollach are beginning to pay off.
49. Shopping can become an unexpected pleasure when a rare moment happens when you find something which you like which fits! I usually buy two.
50. Like books, films you know you have liked in the past can be revisited with renewed pleasure any time. The joy of the familiar is something that youth don’t have.
51. A bath! What a marvellous thing- not something to bother washing in, just to soak in until you wrinkle like a white prune. Particularly in the winter and wonderful in the huge bath which I presented to myself as a reward for getting old.
52. I gather music cd’s all the time so the amount and range of music I enjoy is constantly expanding. Opera is a comparatively new interest, fuelled by the live Met productions in our local cinema. And then there is French chanson- a whole new world ripe for investigation.
53. The middle of the night- this is a moment I cherish. I wake and potter, as alert as a puppy and then, after an hour or so, I can sleep for the rest of the night.
54. Being allowed to live in France, we had to be retired to do it, we failed the one time we tried to work here in our youth but as retirees all is possible.
55. To hark back to the rewards of the internet age- I just love that I can make new friends through the social media stuff. Friends who I will probably never meet but with whom I talk every day. You know who you are!
56. The permit of old age to be an occasional curmudgeon. To get annoyed about other drivers, cross and tetchy about impolite people in shops. It is such a relief not to have to hold it in.
57. I love that I no longer have to pretend to despise steak and chips, or a good breakfast fry up but nothing will persuade me to admire tomato ketchup or Hellman’s mayonnaise.
58. An unexpected benefit of our family is that having been entirely in female company in their youth , having three daughters, I love the fact that now the balance is reversed and there are now six males in the family, me the three partners and the two grandsons. I love all the ladies dearly but it is lovely to have a few men around too.
59. I love our old age duvet, made from 100% goose down it cost about twice as much as our first car but Oh ! The comfort and I know that nothing would have justified such extravagance when we were struggling to raise the family.
60. I love the way Ireland has come into the 2000’s and has gotten so many of its priorities right from Gay Marriages to plastic bags. It could so easily have gone the other way.
61. The garden, ( I can hear my wife scoff) I know she does basically all the work but I do love to look at it- and have been known to do some of the heavier lifting. It is a thing of beauty for the old age. Thank you for making it so Sile.
62. Art- now there’s a thing, I find as I age that I am loving- and hating – pictures more and more. Now I seem to have crushes on artists rather like I used to have on pop stars. (My latest is for Raoul Guiraud- a man from Beziers who died in ’76)
63. I also love that, in my old age, I seem to becoming a little bit of a writer and now do pieces for two publications and have a book which is at least in discussions with a publisher. What fun to do something new in ones 60’s!
64. One of the great pleasures of our old age is our beautiful house here in France- it is also a pleasure to us to share it with so many people
65. Alep soap- made in Syria- which in recent years because it is made with olive oil and bay leaves- has meant that for the first time in my life I am itch free.
66. I am so pleased that in my old age I have now forgiven my ancestors for being amazingly successful in business in Cork. For years I was such a left wing snob that I wanted to deny their achievement. Now all is forgiven and I am suitably proud.
67. My last reason to be glad of being 67 is that my life has been able to provide me with the leisure and the time to take
several hours out of a day to do this act of trivia.
Thank you Hunter Davis for the idea.