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Memoir: my first snowman


Our back garden in the snow. Let’s build a snowman, says my father. The winter light is milky, shot through with a tentative sun.

I am wearing a brown pinafore. Its fabric is thick and scratchy. Do I have gloves? I don’t know. I don’t feel the cold.

The snowman is made before I know it. He is a fine creature, as tall as me. Dad fetches pieces of coal from the coal bunker for his eyes.

We have a grooved metal rubbish bin at our back door. The snowman needs a hat. The bin lid will do the job. It clangs as we lift it.

Years later, my daughters sing songs from the hit Disney film ‘Frozen’. The character of the little snowman who longs for summer brings me back to my own first snowman, his stick arms pointing skywards, his wide-brimmed metal hat shielding his eyes from the sun.

Put up your arms like the snowman, says Dad. Click.

Do I really remember the day itself, or have I retrofitted a memory from the photograph? I am sure I can still hear the metallic ring of the bin lid.

It is 1977. I am just gone three.

orla in snow 1977

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Meningitis World Day Special: Siobhan’s Story – Ordinary People with Extraordinary Lives series


Today is World Meningitis Day. To mark the day, I’m re-blogging a post by Carmel Harrington in which Carmel interviews Irish paediatrician Dr Siobhan Connor. Essential reading for parents and anyone who looks after small children:

Siobhan’s Story – Ordinary People with Extraordinary lives Series, Meningitis World Day Special.

Waterford Writers’ Weekend 2013 – a look back


www13 logo

Phew! Another Waterford Writers’ Weekend has been and gone.

I was delighted to make it to five events over the weekend. Here’s an overview in pictures.

soc media panel

Event: Making Social Media Work for You

Speakers (l-r): Orla Shanaghy, Catherine Ryan-Howard, Derbhile Graham (chair), Derek Flynn

Venue: Greyfriars Gallery

self pub panel

Event: Self-Publishing

Speakers (l-r): Hazel Gaynor, Catherine Ryan-Howard (chair), Sheena Lambert

Venue: Sabai restaurant

blogging panel

Event: To Blog or Not to Blog

Speakers (l-r): Hazel Gaynor, Mark Graham, Anna Carey, Mona Wise

Venue: Waterford Medieval Museum

short stories panel

Event: Writing Winning Short Stories

Speakers (l-r): Vanessa O’Loughlin (chair and festival curator), Declan Meade, Clem Cairns

Venue: Greyfriars Gallery

m grehan launch

Event: “Love is the Easy Bit” by Mary Grehan book launch

Speakers (l-r): Caroline Senior, Managing Director of Garter Lane Arts Centre, author Mary Grehan

Venue: Garter Lane Arts Centre

The festival organisers really hit it out of the park this year. One of them told me that their aim with the programme was to focus on the writers. They certainly achieved this aim with a line-up of events that covered a huge range of the skills that today’s writers need, or at least need to be aware of: social media, self-publishing, blogging, how to approach writing competitions, breaking into journalism, and more.

The panel discussion format was used for most of the events I attended. This worked very well. With the best intentions in the world, the audience can start to get a bit glassy-eyed at events where a single person speaks for an hour or more. With panel discussions, on the other hand, there is a variety of faces and voices to sustain your attention, the discussion is naturally more varied and dynamic, and there is a chairperson to keep it all together, move things along when required, field audience questions, and make sure everyone gets their say.

A highlight for me was the final event of the weekend, which was held last night in Garter Lane Arts Centre. It was the launch of Mary Grehan‘s novel, Love is the Easy Bit. Mary is a huge success story: she is the only new author to be signed by Penguin Ireland in the last 18 months. We are very proud of her here in Waterford and delighted to bask in her reflected glory.

The format of the launch was interesting. We all took our seats in the theatre auditorium and Mary gave an excellent reading. She was then interviewed on stage, which was highly entertaining and interesting. Lastly, there were questions from the audience by means of a roving microphone.

The organisers of Waterford Writers’ Weekend have set the bar very high for themselves if they are to make next year’s festival as good as or better than this one. But they are a bunch of highly motivated, organised and ambitious folk. I’m looking forward to WWW14 already!

PS. Needless to say, there were lots of other events over the weekend that I didn’t make it to. If anyone out there wants to contribute something about any of those other events, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Waterford Writers’ Weekend 2013 venue review #3: The Granary café


Tempus is fugiting! Saint Patrick’s Day is now behind us and Waterford Writers’ Weekend 2013  is right in front of us. So here’s the third in my series of reviews of alternative venues to visit over the festival weekend.

The Granary café, Hanover Street, Waterford

granary cafe

Google Maps location

Website

Food and drink: Above average prices with standards to match. On offer are quiches, pies, salads, panini and daily specials. Everything is of exceptional quality. The salads in particular are among the best I have had anywhere; the beetroot and carrot salad takes the two humble roots to new heights. The main dishes change daily; a recent example is pan-fried hake with lemon and tarragon cream. The coffee is very good, though not the best in Waterford (for that, see my previous venue review). If you are booked in to any of the early morning events at Waterford Writers’ Weekend, the mushroom omelette breakfast (two-egg omelette with mushrooms, sausage, rasher and wholemeal toast) comes highly recommended.

Service: Self-service. The counter staff are highly efficient, though some are not given to smiling. An exception is manager Artur, who is equally efficient and very friendly.

Layout and accessibility: The cafe is located in a high-ceilinged, glass-walled extension to the beautiful old granary building. These days, the former granary is home to the Waterford Institute of Technology School of Architecture.

The cafe itself, located on the ground floor, is one of the best in Waterford in terms of accessibility and family-friendliness. The main doors have no steps or door-sills. Inside, there is plenty of space to manoeuvre wheelchairs and buggies. The seating area is large, and there are leather sofas and good-sized coffee tables at the back by the lift. This area is also good for quiet conversation, and local movers and shakers of the arts and commerce are often to be seen holding meetings here.

Toilet facilities: Upstairs, accessible by lift only. The lift itself is well located. The toilets have baby changing facilities.

Free wi-fi: Yes.

Parking: There is no parking directly outside as Hanover Street is pedestrianised. The nearest on-street parking is on Thomas Hill, across O’Connell Street. A little farther away, there is the car park on Little Patrick Street behind The Book Centre. Charges: €1.80 per hour.

If you’re planning to head to several events over the day, park in the private car park just off Thomas Hill (head up the hill, follow the street around to the right, entrance is on the right) for €5.00 a day flat rate.

Accessibility to festival venues: The Granary is a 60-second walk from Garter Lane theatre, one of the main venues at Waterford Writers’ Weekend. Other festival venues are a maximum of five minutes’ walk away.

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Waterford Writers’ Weekend 2013 venue review #2: Café Libro


In my last post I introduced my series of reviews of alternative venues to visit during Waterford Writers’ Weekend 2013. Here’s review number two!

Café Libro, The Book Centre, 25 John Roberts Square

cafe libro logo

Google Maps location

Website

Food and drink: the menu looks ordinary enough at first glance – pre-packed sandwiches, pizza, cakes and pastries, coffee – but the quality and freshness of the ingredients elevate the fare here well above the ordinary. The made-to-order pizzas have fabulously thin bases and the sandwiches are delicious. The cakes and pastries are home-made by local artisan bakers, which is particularly commendable for a chain. The cinnamon rolls are worth the visit alone. And the coffee is – drum roll – the best in the city.

Service: Very good. Friendly and efficient. Order at the counter and staff bring your goodies to your table.

Layout and accessibility: Now we come to the real USP of Cafe Libro. Like the other cafes in the chain, it is situated in a book store. But this one is special, because it is in The Book Centre. This book store is notable on two fronts: it is one of Ireland’s few remaining independent book stores; and it is housed in a former cinema. The cafe is located on the mezzanine, overlooking the ground floor and main entrance – ideal for people-watching. The atrium construction preserves the cinema feel.

Appropriately, the cafe serves as an informal meeting place for writers, and many can be spotted here on weekdays mornings, tapping feverishly on their MacBooks. The tables are quite close together, but not unreasonably so. There are leather sofas and a low coffee table near the counter. The walls are lined with books on sale just like the rest of the store, and the ceiling is decorated with an impressive newspaper collage made from real newspapers (I checked with the manager!).

Accessibility is fine for the non-mobility-impaired, but if you use a wheelchair, or have a buggy or pram, this is where things get tricky (despite the sign outside proclaiming the cafe to be “child-friendly”). There is a lift in the building, but it only goes to the higher floor, not the mezzanine. Buggy users have two options: fold up your buggy and carry it up the stairs (hopefully you will have someone with you to carry the child), or leave the buggy downstairs. Wheelchair users have no means of access that I have been able to make out.

Toilet facilities: up a flight of stairs, basic, clean, very cramped, no baby changing facilities.

Free wi-fi: yes.

Parking: behind The Book Centre on Little Patrick Street. Charges: up to €1.80 per hour.

Accessibility to festival venues: this cafe is bang in the city centre, within two or three minutes’ walking distance of all festival venues.

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Waterford Writers’ Weekend 2013 venue review #1: Harlequin cafe-bar


Waterford Writers' Weekend

Waterford Writers’ Weekend 2013 is fast approaching. This is one of the smaller of Waterford’s many festivals throughout the year, but that doesn’t stop it from being a vital, vibrant weekend.

One of the challenges faced by festival organisers the world over is to vary the content of their festival programmes from year to year. The Waterford Writers’ Weekend organisers, Waterford City Library, Galanta Events and Vanessa O’ Loughlin of writing.ie, certainly seem to have achieved that this year. The focus  of the programme is on emerging writers, self-publishing, independent publishing and social media.

The Weekend has a selection of official venues and partners, all of which are great and worth visiting. I thought it might be useful in the run-up to the festival to attempt to complement the official list by posting reviews and information on additional venues from the viewpoint of a local person.

These venues are perhaps lesser known for whatever reason, but offer people something different and a good reason to venture off Waterford’s main thoroughfares and do some exploring.

I’ll make my reviews as practical as possible by including information on parking, toilet facilities, accessibility, child-friendliness, availability of wi-fi and any other useful tips.

Here’s my first venue review!

Harlequin cafe-bar, Stephen Street

Google maps location

Website

Food and drink: Authentic home-made Italian food – such as gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce – great coffee, good selection of Italian wine. The staff don’t mind you popping in for just a coffee and pastry or a glass of wine.

Service: Excellent. Beautiful native Italian coming from the staff as they work. Some of the best-looking male staff in the city (sorry, men of Waterford!).

Layout and accessibility: compact, tables close together. Buggies have to be folded up and even at that there is not much space to stow them. Having said that, the staff are very welcoming of families with small children. Wheelchair users should be able to get in the door easily as there is no step.

Toilet facilities: on same level, basic, clean, slightly cramped, no baby changing facilities.

Free wi-fi: yes.

Parking: on-street outside the cafe or nearby Mayor’s Walk. Charges: up to €1.80 per hour.

Accessibility to festival venues: maximum 10-minute walk (if you’re a slow walker – five minutes power-walking!).

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Don’t put the kettle on…


Events intervened since I last posted on the progress of my latest short story. It has progressed –  just not enough to write anything meaningful about yet. There should be a new report early next week. In the meantime, something a little lighter for a Friday evening…

An hour ago I had never heard of a kettle bell. If asked, I probably would have hazarded a guess that it was something our ancestors might have used to alert them when the kettle had boiled – possibly a more soothing, rural version of a kettle with a whistle… No?

Sadly, not this.

No. A kettle bell is a recent phenomenon that has nothing to do with hot beverages (NOTHING, sadly) and looks like this:

Yes, this.

Bit scary eh?

You may be wondering how I discovered what a kettle bell is. There I was this evening, innocently wandering into my local gym here in Waterford, nice and relaxed and feeling very pleased with myself for being there instead of tucking into a glass of red wine on the sofa in preparation for The Late Late Show (and let’s face it, some chemical assistance is needed to sit through The Late Late Show these days).

In the gym, I noticed that instead of working the machines, the members already present were standing in a circle, stretching and bearing distinctly tense facial expressions, with the aforementioned bizarre-looking objects lying in the middle of the floor.

I had inadvertently wandered into the Kettle Bell Class and it was just about to start.

Despite the cuddly-sounding name, I had a strong feeling that the kettle bell was not about to add to my happiness levels.

What could I do? I had got changed, got myself down there, and everyone was ready to go, eyeing me balefully. I manned up, picked up a kettle bell and found myself doing my first class.

It is not for the faint-hearted (me).

The tattooed, muscle-bound instructor swung his kettle bell around like it was an empty handbag for the duration of the one-hour class. We did everything with them: lifted them above our heads, down to our legs and back up again, clasped them to our chests while rotating our torsos from side to side, and lots of other things that I have blanked from my memory (no doubt to resurface again in a disturbing dream).

And this, please.

Now, safely ensconced at home again, I have that great post-exercise buzz and incredibly, am considering – in a very measured, considered way – going again next week.

Now for that kettle – I mean glass – of wine.

Tall Ships Festival 2011 in Waterford, part 2


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.

Tall Ships Festival 2011 in Waterford, part 1


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.

Guest blog post: itsafeeling.com


The lovely folks over at itsafeeling.com, the fantastic new tourism website run by Waterford County Local Authorities, have invited me to guest blog for them this week. Visit me there!

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