Yesterday I wondered if the spirit of discovery I felt on day one of the
Tall Ships Festival might be just a product of the excitement of a much-anticipated event finally getting under way. Now as day two draws to a close, I’m delighted to report that the spirit is still very much alive and well.
Here are the ways the Tall Ships Festival took me out of the ordinary today:
– Cycling into town dressed as a pirate first thing in the morning – definitely a first (and possibly a last).
– Strolling up the middle of the Quay mid-morning with hundreds of other “pirates”. We were supposed to be marauding, though I’m not sure we did a great job – do pirates normally chat, bask in the sunshine and carry small children on their shoulders as they maraud?
– Realising that men in their fifties and sixties have a hugely unfair advantage in the piracy imitation game – stick a bandana, an eyepatch and a billowy white shirt on them and they look so much the part, they blow everyone else out of the water (sorry, couldn’t resist…).
– Leaving a city-centre cafe without ordering when the daughter and I noticed to our total shock that the prices on the “Tall Ships Special” menu were double the normal prices. We were shocked, A – because of the bare-faced cheek of it, and B – because the city authorities had specifically requested local businesses not to put up their prices during the Festival (and most have taken heed).
– Sitting at one of the rows of trestle tables on the Quay, admiring the TS Royalist docked alongside, helping the daughter handle her foot-long hot dog while I tucked into Thai noodles, chatting to friends and neighbours passing by.
Now, like yesterday evening, the sounds of the Tall Ships Festival are resounding out across the City – tonight it’s fireworks, their banging and whizzing oddly dulled at this distance. These evening sounds are wonderful, reminding those of us tucked up at home on the outskirts of the City that the Festival is in full swing.
Now to get some sleep for (hopefully) more marauding tomorrow.
The thing I love about big public events like the Tall Ships Festival 2011, which kicked off in Waterford this afternoon, is that they take you out of yourself. They lead you to do things you wouldn’t normally do.
Sitting in Jordan’s pub on the Quay on a weekday afternoon, chatting away to total strangers, is not something I normally do. Granted, I only ended up doing it today because it was the only way the daughter and I could find to escape the crush around William Vincent Wallace Plaza, where the formal launch of the Festival was taking place. We squeezed our way through the river of immobilised bodies, up the little flagged alley and in the side door of the bar. Five minutes later, the daughter and I were perched on red velveteen seats in the window, sipping lemonade, watching Keith Barry predict something amazing on the Plaza across the way (admittedly it did lose something with the lack of sound) and sympathising amiably with fellow street-refugees about the crush outside.
Once the crowds eased, the daughter and I were off again, doing a grand tour of the market on the Quay, gaily spending money on whatever took our fancy (because spending outside your budget doesn’t count on special occasions, didn’t you know?), eating our own body weight in burritos, hotdogs and cupcakes (an unusual combination, I grant you, but hey, the Tall Ships only come every five years!) and dawdling deliciously with nowhere to be and no schedule to stick to.
When we’d seen and eaten everything we could, we decided to deal with the non-appearance of the bus by walking most of the way home. The Quay to Williamstown on foot was a joy: Strolling along in the late-afternoon sun, hardly a car in sight, daughter in a blissed-out world of her own with her iPod plugged into her ears and her hair dancing wildly around her face, the view of the City spreading out behind us as we advanced up John’s Hill towards Grange and home.
Now I’m sitting on my sofa, listening to the ship’s horns as they echo out from the Quay, across the City and out into the County, bidding us goodnight.
To close, a confession. Jordan’s is one of the most historic buildings in Waterford Ciy. I have often marvelled at it from the outside, at its cheeky sideways tilt and its faded, half-timbered glory. I was born and bred in Waterford. Until today, I never saw the inside of Jordan’s. Circumstances combined today to lead me there.
There are three more days to go of the Tall Ships Festival 2011. I can’t wait to see where it takes me tomorrow.
One sunny morning last September, I was strolling down the river side of the Quay here in Waterford City. The air buzzed with conversation, shouts of laughter, and people calling out to each other. Mouth-watering aromas made the head practically swim. The car parks, emptied of cars for the weekend, were packed on both sides with market stalls piled high with every possible kind of food produce. It was the Waterford Harvest Festival 2010in full swing.
With all the negative news to hit our City last year, it would have been no surprise if visitors had found the atmosphere on the streets to be glum and muted. Instead, they found the people of Waterford engaged in what was basically a year-long party.
For me, like other locals, the hardest part was picking what to go to. It would have been physically impossible to attend everything.
There are some highlights that have stuck in my mind. A day in early July spent at Spraoi in the Park, when it seemed like the whole City and County was in the People’s Park, sitting on the grass in the sun, listening to the live music. My husband hoisting our daughter onto his shoulders to see and hear the drummers in Arundel Square at Spraoi a month later. My then-one-year-old kicking up her feet in delight at a “Baby Boogie” dance session with Libby Seward in Garter Lane as part of SprOg, the children’s pre-Spraoi festival. My older daughter and I joining in the dance moves to “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” that Rev. Bazil Meade, leader of the London Community Gospel Choir, taught the audience at a rousing concert at the Waterford International Music Festival in November. (We still do the moves when we think nobody is looking.)
There are too many other special moments to describe: “Seussical the Musical” in the Theatre Royal at the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera; Joseph O’Connor reading from his new novel at the Imagine Arts Festival; leaning against the wall across the road from Azzurro in Dunmore East on a Saturday afternoon in August to catch the music of the Jack Grace Band playing on the restaurant terrace at the Dunmore East Bluegrass Festival.
Now that we are almost half-way through 2011, with Ireland’s biggest ever open-air banner presiding proudly over the Quay, the excitement is palpable as the City gears itself up for the Tall Ships Festival 2011. It’s going to be some party.
Speaking of the Quay, I am reminded again of that morning last September. With the parked cars replaced by rows of market stalls and the place jam-packed with people, my seven-year-old was feeling a little disoriented. She looked up at me with a puzzled expression. “Mam, where is this?”
I could not help but smile as I gestured at the scene in front of us. “This is Waterford, love. This is Waterford.”
In one sense, my encounter with the reality genre has been one of the most unrealistic experiences I have ever had. Under what real-world circumstances would you encounter the following downright weird scenario: you are required to prepare, serve and host a three-course dinner plus entertainment to three relative strangers, all entirely unassisted, while everything you say is recorded for broadcast on radio?
On the other hand, for those of us in the “reality-equals-gritty” school of thought, my Come Dine With Me experience was as real as it gets. It’s possible that my three fellow hosts threw together their divine dinners an hour before each meal (though the standard of the meals strongly suggests otherwise), and probably their houses are always immaculate so they didn’t need to get themselves into a sweat with a last-minute burst of cleaning. Personally, taking the day before my dinner off work, as well as the day itself, spending several days beforehand planning and shopping, neatly slicing off the top of my finger and fingernail when practising my dishes the previous weekend, and to top it all off, having to abandon my dearly-beloved usual weekday uniform of jeans and Crocs in favour of a SKIRT (slyly hoping that its bright pink colour would distract my guests from any deficiencies in my hostessing skills) was more than enough reality for me, thank you very much.
So both extremes of the scale were covered – from wandered-into-the-wrong-film weirdness to gritty realism. Where does fun fit into the reality continuum?
The four dinners were some of the most fun experiences I have ever had. Going over to people’s houses every evening to be served delicious food, get to know some absolutely lovely, funny, talented people (including the presenter and sound engineer), and have cocktails and wine poured liberally down your throat, with full permission to say exactly what you thought of the whole evening afterwards and give your host marks out of ten into the bargain – what’s not to like? Or as my eight-year-old would say: “Uh, HELLO??!”
So how did I do? Nobody knows – yet. The dinner parties have been broadcast on The Saturday Show with Maria McCann on WLR FM, one per show, over the past three Saturdays. Only one individual score for each dinner has been broadcast, so nobody yet knows their total score. The final dinner and results are broadcast on tomorrow morning’s show, when the winner and recipient of the €1,000 (in vouchers for the foodstore that sponsors the show) will be revealed. Keep your fingers crossed for me! (I’d do it myself, only the one I sliced open hasn’t fully healed yet.)
Until then – keep it real.