Monday, 24 June 2013

A Book to Read When You're Having a Crap Day

Posted By Daisy
TODAY somebody projectile vomited beside me, and I had to clean up a river of puke while holding my breath discreetly and trying not to gag. My long-time day-job boss gave me a disappointingly formulaic written reference. My car started to make farting noises and after dropping it to a garage in town, I discovered that the exhaust pipe is rotten and it will cost €200 to fix. And the guy I’ve been on two dates with is now blowing hot and cold.
But…..nothing can ruin the excitement of going to Eason’s bookshop this afternoon and picking up a copy of my first glossy magazine feature - and poring over it proudly on the bus home.
Daisy opened the magazine ostentatiously on the bus, wondering if anyone realised they were sitting next to a magazine writer (albeit a small magazine that no-one in her family had ever heard of).
It only takes one nice thing to turn the whole day around - and now I feel like this!

Elevator Pitch: A seven-year-old girl puts her teenage brother behind bars after witnessing the brutal murder of her family. But what really happened that night in the blood-spattered farmhouse?

After the birth of my very sick nephew three years ago, I gave up reading violent thrillers. There was simply too much real-life suffering to bear. Despite it being compelling, I almost renounced ‘Dark Places’ as being too disturbing. But couldn’t stop myself from reaching for it in bed every night. Gillian Flynn is a brilliant writer whose writing style makes me gasp at times.
In her acknowledgments at the back of the book, Flynn writes: 'Thanks to my brilliant, funny, giant-hearted, super-hot husband...What do I say to a man who knows how I think and still sleeps next to me with the lights off?'
Not for the faint-hearted, although the ending is fairly unbelievable.

Monday, 10 June 2013

A Book To Read On The Camino - Summer Holiday Idea #1

Posted by Daisy

Summer's coming and with it thoughts of holidays. Why not try the Camino de Santiago - a holiday where you rise at 5 a.m., walk all day, rarely drink alcohol, sleep in the same room as hundreds of strangers every night, and regularly feel blisters popping inside your shoes - what's not to like!

'I'll always dream of this' (Miriam)
'Would ye ever get up, Miriam and Daisy, it's 6am and we've 35km to walk today' (Lou)
'I'll never have buns of steel' (Daisy)

All amazing photographs by Lou, Director of summer festival, Vantastival

I walked the Camino de Santiago in 2005. Starting at Roncesvalles (just over the border of France), we walked 750km in five weeks.  We trained by walking around the Lough in Cork twice before we left.


On the first day, we emptied our rucksacks out in the middle of a park and realised we’d have to dump all non-essentials - fake tan, make-up and earrings. That night, we slept under gothic chandeliers in a converted monastery with a hundred other pilgrims in double bunkbeds – and were treated to a cacaphonic symphony of snores and grunts all night. If you bring one thing on the Camino, make it earplugs.

The first day we walked 22kms through fields and forest paths, running up hills and congratulating ourselves on our marvellous fitness levels. The pain came the following day.

We rose at about 5am every day, and walked towards the nearest town for breakfast. One morning, we stumbled upon a running of the bulls in Puenta La Reina – at 8:30 a.m.

We slept in a hostel in Estella that resembled a Thai prison. Thirty triple-decker bunkbeds, one window, and one windowless shower. My waking view was the long arm of a stranger dangling from the bunkbed above.

We were lucky to meet Pablito, a well-known Spanish man of the Camino, who showed us how to use our wooden sticks properly. By the end of the five weeks, my stick-bearing arm was Michelle-Obama-like toned.This juggling man tied a different bell to his rucksack everyday, so he could make his own music as he walked. He was walking from Spain to Scotland, and back again.

 Every morning saw us hunting for the yellow arrows spray painted on walls, and the yellow and blue Camino markers.

We walked through many different regions; the beautiful Rioja and lush green Galicia. In the searing heat of the treeless Meseta, we plodded on, blisters popping inside my shoes until the village of Hontanas appeared like a mirage in the distance. Would it take an hour or five to reach it? Hard to tell. Everyone shouts ‘Buen Camino’ or ‘Animo’ or ‘Ultreia’ as they pass – new pilgrims were obvious by their lack of greeting.

 Even though I had proper footwear and high-tech ‘1000km socks’, I got blisters on every toe. Every morning I dosed myself with painkillers and walked on. Every evening, I sterilised a needle and threaded string through new blisters to pop them, and plastered them up. In bed at night, it was common to wake up in pain and feel the throbbing of blisters old and new.

Other pilgrims knew we had arrived at a hostel when they saw our three pairs of Asics lined up outside the door. One morning, one of my shoes was missing from the doorstep, and after an hour of running around the tiny village, I found it in a dog's kennel!

Opening the wrong door at the outhouse toilets in Manjarin - arghh
The lovely lady who found us a bed for the night - serendipity!

We usually stayed in the pilgrim hostels, where bed and board was about €10 per night. In Arzua, there was no room at the inn, and just as we were about to sign up to sleep on the ground of a sports hall, we met a friendly Spanish lady on the street who found a lovely apartment for us.

We heard about the cool ‘hippy’ hostel in the middle of a deserted village at Manjarin and decided it would be a fun experience, man. On arrival, we were told there was no food and shown to our beds - ten dirty mattresses pushed together in the attic of a cowshed. We sunbathed for a few hours (with flies buzzing constantly around our heads) until we realised that we were lying in the dogs’ toilet area. At last, one of us nervously suggested leaving, and as the sun set, we hotfooted it down the mountain to the nearest B&B.

Pilgrims place stones from their home country at La Cruz de Ferro - apparently one man lugged a 3kg stone all the way from Switzerland.
Most days we walked together. We sang lots. Some days, without needing to discuss it, we split up and walked alone. 
We dragged our feet for the last 5km to Santiago, no-one really wishing to reach the destination. Pilgrim's Mass at the cathedral and receiving our certificate was lovely, but bittersweet.  After a few days relaxing in Santiago, we took a bus to Finisterre – the end of the Earth – and had paella on the beach where pilgrims used to throw their boots into the ocean.

I currently know two people who are walking the Camino solo right now. And my friend Grace will walk for ten days next month with her 72-year-old mother. A definite bucket-list experience.

'The Camino taught me that everything seems impossible at the beginning, but if you break it into small steps, you can achieve anything' (Miriam)
'A Rural Affair' by Catherine Alliott
Having arrived at the tail-end of a two-month manic work stint, I don’t have the energy to read anything at the moment. ‘A Rural Affair’ proved ideal sleep-time material after emailing yet another feature to my editor at 2 a.m.
Poppy Shilling is always fantasising about her prissy husband’s death. When all her friends were getting married, Poppy panicked and ended up with boring, anally-retentive Phil, who insists on wearing Lycra and going on cycling holidays to France. Now she wants him and his trophy cabinet and ghastly brown leather sofas gone. But be careful what you wish for , Poppy….
I loved this book and the descriptions of ‘Valley of the Squinting Windows’ English country life. The friendships amongst the women is lovely, and the description of the hunt ball sounds fabulous. However, a friend recently went to a hunt ball in Adare with an ex-boyfriend, and described it as ‘fierce country-ish’.
Next Monday: Farting lambs and lame chat-up lines in Galway.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Books to read after finding fish fingers

Posted by Jenny

My son is a little monkey. All my kids are monkeys, but this week he is particularly a monkey. He’s adorable with his red hair, brown eyes and sallow skin. He’s gentle, sensitive and enjoys problem solving. He loves his family, loves his friends and loves going to school. One of his favourite tv shows is a programme called “Finding stuff out”. Every episode kids can send in why-does-this-happen/how-does-this-work questions and a kid called Harrison will “find the stuff out”. Very annoying, if you’re an adult.

Anyway, to get back to why my son is a monkey, surprise surprise, it has to do with him implementing a thought process that clearly has had results in the past during or just after dinner time. My son is a good eater. However, his diet is very limited. At least it’s limited to the good stuff (and so far I’m not complaining), carrots, broccoli, sweetcorn, potatoe waffles and fish fingers. This is all he eats. Every day. For dinner. Except Saturdays, that’s Pancake Day in our house, a sacred tradition. As is Daddy Dinner Day on Fridays (nutella sandwiches!).

He’s not too keen on the fish fingers, but we insist he eats it. Better then nothing, right? Right. Well, let me take you back to the bit where I said that he’s enjoys problem solving. “If mummy doesn’t see me hide the food, she thinks I’ve eaten it, even when I didn’t.”

I’m not claiming that his reasoning is flawless. He’s only 7 years old. But he has clearly thought about it in enough detail for it to lead to an execution of a plan. I started to find fish fingers in his pockets…. Clearly he hadn’t taken into consideration that mummy eventually will find the food and that it was a very short term solution to an obviously longer term problem with a fairly significant consequence as mummy is now AWARE.

Last week I had taken a much anticipated week off work. I had no plans made, other than be mum for the week, which I don’t get to do that often as I work full time. I’m not complaining, merely stating a fact. I was really looking forward to doing school runs, homework, chatting and playing, cooking and yes, cleaning. Our “old” au pair was leaving on the Monday and the “new” au pair was arriving on the Thursday. So while I was doing my chores I was compiling a list of “things” in my head that I had to organize for the “new” au pair. The list usually contains vague items like:

·         make a new time table,

·         show her around here and there,

·         do the how-to-disipline-a-3-year-old talk,

·         do the how-to-discipline-a-5-and-7-year-old talk,

·         do the child-safety-don’t-take-the-widow-chains-off-in-your-bedroom-when-you-open-the-window talk and the

·         keep-your-make-up-locked-away-because-my-3-year-old-will-rob-you-blind talk

While I was industriously vacuuming the floors, I discovered a new talk. I pushed away the toy box, which I admit with shame (not), happens only a few times a year and found 1, 2, 3….. 12 fish fingers! 12!

I have added the watch-my-son –when-he-eats talk to my au pair list. And my son? Well, he has to go back to the drawing board. I am honestly looking forward to finding out what he’ll come up with next.
I have recently read my way through six Sookie Stackhouse books. Charlaine Harris, you got me hooked! They were great pieces of entertaining escapism and kept me reading book after book. I’m preparing to get my hands on the next instalment and I can’t wait.

The books are different from the tv series. The story line has obviously been adapted for television and in my opinion both work within their own medium. Box-set heaven! For viewing when the kids are in bed though, as they’re a bit explicit on the sex side of things. Series 6 is due out soon, I believe….