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La Carioca
September 27, 2014
04:01 PM

La Carioca

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Our friends Toni and Silvie, who are from Switzerland, had been talking about this great restaurant down in Grau d'Agde called La Carioca. They said it was very unpretentious- in fact downright shabby, but the fish was spanking fresh, in from the auction in Agde and cooked simply and beautifully. It is only opened for 5 months of the year and last night was the last chance before May for us all, along with our Anglo Irish friends Pat and John, to catch it before it shut for the winter.

The first impressions were that the building had been thrown together by a carpenter but its site was superb, directly on the beach and we got the table next to the sunset.

The fish was certainly the best I have eaten in France, my Friture of Tiny Sprats was followed by huge Gambas in a wonderful cream and brandy sauce every bit as good as it sounds. Excellent Mussels, John Dorey, and Bass on the bone were also eaten. Half way through we discovered why it was called La Carioca but, and this is a huge compliment to them, even that could not spoil our pleasure in the evening. The serving was done by two lovely cheerful and efficient girls, all the cooking etc by two not young men but boy did they know their stuff. Its a long time to May, hope we can last out!

Lost in Translation One Hundred and Two
September 25, 2014
02:24 PM

Lost in Translation One Hundred and Two

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Further Saga of the Elbow.
Basically I am still awaiting my scan so am busy shrugging along with the French medical profession. My Surgeon instructed us to tie it up- 'with what' asked Síle.'Une Echarpe' (A scarf) he told her. That was last Monday and since I kept it tied up in an Indian scarf of Sile's it has stayed in position. Until last night that was. We had a busy one, I had a dinner for 10 on the terrace so I obviously over used the joint- resulting in two nasty disjointings, one on my way to bed and the other happening when I was actually asleep.
This morning I realised the scarf was no longer adequate to keep the elbow docile so we decided to ignore the doctor's advice and get a proper, state of the art, 24 strap French Sling. Down in the chemists we discover that (a) the sling is free (b) the French word for a sling is-also- Une Echarpe- this was what I should have had on all the time. Now, I am happy to say, I really do look like I am suffering!

Cork Christmas Revisited
September 23, 2014
04:32 PM

Cork Christmas Revisited

Since I showed the picture of Lotaville, my Granny's house which is for sale again I felt I should put some life on the bones by revisiting this piece I wrote on December 2005.

A Cork Christmas in the Fifties.

My brothers and sisters and I in the early fifties
Deirdre George Valerie David Fifi Teddy and Martin

We always went to Lotaville for lunch on Christmas day.
Lotaville was my fathers family home, a stately Victorian Villa in Glanmire, overlooking the river Lee about 3 miles outside Cork city.
It was what they call a “Gentleman’s Residence”, in about two or three acres of gardens, including a disused tennis court and large greenhouses where we were allowed pick the delicious black grapes in September.
The house itself was quite large but without a lot of bedrooms, probably about four or five , but these were huge.
It also had a tower built in on one side, a piece of Victorian/Gothic whimsy which could only be scaled inside by a series of ladders, and which the boys were allowed climb after lunch on Christmas day.

The tower at Lotaville

The inhabitants of the house were an odd lot to my young eyes too.
The head of the house (we would always have described a trip there as going to Granny Dwyers) was my Granny.
She was small and round and, as far as I was concerned, permanently cross.
My elder sister remembers someone quite different, someone warm who spoiled her, but, by the time I got to know her life had squeezed most of the joy from her, and, as the seventh child, the best emotion I could expect from her was tolerance.
My grandfather we called Dubs, he and Granny lived totally different lives within this house. Their marriage was endured not enjoyed, it was a type of early Irish divorce.
As well as having his own bedroom, Dubs had his own drawing room, a large brown masculine room with large windows overlooking the river.
This he shared with various small dogs of whom he was very fond.
He was also fond of his grandchildren and I remember always feeling welcome when I entered his room.
Granny’s Drawing room was at the end of the corridor but also looked over the river. In contrast with Dubs room it was feminine and chintzy with carpet and curtains in pale greens and pinks.
Granny shared this room with two other members of the household. Auntie Gill and Auntie Kat.
Auntie Gill was my father’s only sibling and 18 years his junior.
She was at this stage in her mid twenties, unmarried and, even to my eyes strangely old fashioned. I would also have rated her as cross and could see that she was interested only in the older children.
Auntie Kat on the other hand was kindness itself, it was obvious that like the younger children she was tolerated rather than loved and as such there was an unspoken bond between us.
She was a classic maiden Aunt, my Granny’s unmarried sister and she was shared between Granny’s household and that of her younger sister in a farm in Mitchelstown. It was always obvious to me, from the way she used to talk about the farm and the family there, that that was her favoured billet and she enjoyed her stays in Lotaville as little as Granny and Auntie Gill did.
Auntie Kat smoked “like a chimney”, she always had a Woodbine in the corner of her mouth and her cloud of white hair had permanent brown nicotine stain in that place where the smoke ascended.
The other member of the household, and to me much the most interesting was Lena.
Lena was the cook and her kingdom was in the large, dark basement kitchen.
Lena was an old retainer and as I remember her quite lame, she got about with some difficulty using a stick.
This did not stop her doing all the cooking and ruling over the girls who had been brought in for serving on Christmas day with an iron hand.
She was a kindly lady though and would tolerate us children “under her feet” for short periods.
These visits to the kitchen would have to be organised with some skill as it was strictly forbidden to go “annoying Lena” before lunch on Christmas day.
Despite all embargos I can still remember being put by her up on a chair in the kitchen to better see her making the bread sauce for the turkey.
I still have a memory of the delicious smell of the milk infusing with an onion studded with cloves, as Lena grated stale bread with which to thicken the sauce.
The lunch itself was not my favourite part of the day.
For all Lena’s kindness the food was much better at home.
The younger children were put at a small side table and, under orders to behave well, fed apart from the adults.
I can remember a certain amount of jollity at the large table, I can remember the surprise I felt when granny allowed a paper hat from a cracker to be put on her head.
I presume that Dubs would also have broken out of his part of the house and joined us for lunch, even though I have no memory of him being there.

I would hate anyone to think that Christmas day was not a happy day for me.
It was in fact a day full of magic, the lunch in Granny’s being just a formal and perfectly acceptable hiatus in the middle of a joyous day.

Santa Claus, and his stocking were a great source of joy when my eyes first opened on Christmas morning.
I would have lain for hours in the bed, too excited to sleep and knowing that “He” wouldn’t come until I did.
The morning stocking was always filled with cheap toys and sweets and always had a silver wrapped tangerine at the toe.
Unlike other households Santa didn’t provide the main Christmas presents for us.
This was reserved for the “Christmas Tree”
“The Tree” as we called this time was, without doubt the highlight of Christmas day.
After morning mass, for those who were reckoned too young to be allowed up for midnight mass, we had breakfast in the breakfast room which was next to the billiard room.
The billiard room was the biggest room in the house, large enough for a billiard table but as yet not holding one.
There was no decorating done to this room until after the younger children had gone to bed on Christmas eve.
Then it was transformed.
There was a large amount of ceremony attached to “The Tree”
We all had to line up in age at the door to the billiard room.
This was the one time of the year when the youngest took precedence.
Then once we got into the room itself we had to join hands and dance around the tree singing “Here we go round the mulberry bush”
This does sound just a little twee in 2005 but I promise you that in the fifties there was no embarrassment whatsoever.
The tree was put in the middle of the room, decorated with lights and the shiny glass balls which rested for the rest of the year in the attic in boxes.
But it was what was under the tree was what made the magic of this moment.
Here were piled all our presents.
This was what “The Tree” was all about.
Again tradition dictated that you were not allowed pick or open one of your own presents. Anything with “To Martin” on it, no matter how tempting, had to be passed by and one picked out one for George or Valerie.
Eventually you ended up with a sizeable pile of presents in the corner and then there was the excitement of unwrapping and glorying in your new found wealth.
I never remember being disappointed.

Then it was off to Granny’s for lunch.

When we came back from Granny’s we would find the Billiard room again completely transformed this time for Christmas Dinner.
The tree would be re-erected in the bow window in the corner and the floor covered with trestle tables covered with white linen.
To my childish eyes it seemed that these tables were set for hundreds of people but I now suppose that it couldn’t have been more than forty or so.
These would have been members of my mothers large family, and my mother and fathers equally large circle of friends.
There would be various extra staff recruited for the night so, for us children it was difficult to decide where the most fun was going on, in the billiard room or in the kitchen.
In direct contrast to the staid and old fashioned lunch the dinner was a bit of a bacchanalia.
I can remember that we were allowed smoke, yes us 8 to 10 year olds were allowed to puff away!
I can also remember that much drink was consumed by my various uncles.
I have a distinct memory of someone’s paper hat being ignited and then the flames quenched by another uncle with a soda water siphon.
In the meantime there would have also been much hilarity and drink consumed in the kitchen, I can remember a steady stream of uncles and aunts arriving in with bottles to make sure that the “staff” were able to celebrate as well.

Stephens day was “The Wran” and we would be allowed dress up in rags and sing outside our neighbours houses, passing others up to the same tricks on the way.

“The Wran the Wran
The king of all Birds
St Stephens day
Was caught in the furze
Up with the kettle
And down with the pot
Give us our answer and let us begone”

“Knock at the knocker ring at the bell,
Give us a copper for singing so well”

“God bless the mistress of this house
A golden chain around her neck
And be she sick or be she sore
The lord have mercy all the more”

And we would be given lots of coppers and this money, unlike the money we would have collected for carol singing the week before, was for ourselves and so, once we were finished we would divide the spoils and head off to Mr. Sullivan’s shop on the Lower Road for a gorge of sweets.

As you can see it was easy enough to put up with lunch in Lotaville knowing what other treats Christmas had in store for us.

Lotaville - for sale again
September 21, 2014
10:26 AM

Lotaville - for sale again

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The granny's house is for sale again, I spent every Christmas Day there when a child but was always deemed too young to climb the ladders to the tower.

Canute Fails Again
September 20, 2014
09:06 AM

Canute Fails Again

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  Martin Dwyer
Consultant Chef