Retreat from the Renovations

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And so we bought…. and moved… and are “all happy”.  But as I have previously mentioned, and as the estate agent clearly never would, buying a century old house and living in it while the renovation work is ongoing is no walk in the park.

Some days, chemical paint stripper perfumes the air like a Yankee Candle scented by someone with a weird sense of humour – and trust me, 100 years of gloss paint on woodwork and banisters requires quite a lot of the stuff! Suffice to say that no amount of scented candles can neutralise a chemical odour of this magnitude.

Other days, dust from an industrial sander creates a thin veneer on every conceivable surface, as a century’s worth of wear and grime is stripped away (I would like to say “lovingly” but frequent audible expletives from the man – hopefully still a friend – attached to the machine may attest to the contrary).

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And then we have the worst  – the mortar and dust that were remnants of the wall skimming. The walls look great now – but Oh My God that dust would stress the Dalai Lama!  It teases and taunts you, and then invariably has the last laugh as you wash it away for the 1000th time, only to leave and return to that lovely film of grey still all over the floor. You swore it was gone, you watched it dissolve in the boiling water but, like those annoying birthday candles that keep relighting, there it is again as soon as the moisture dries. However, as one of my wisest friends keeps reassuring me, progress is being made, and soon the worst will be behind us and our little bijou terrace will be suitable for occasional visitors.

But we are not there yet and so, in the short term, I decided to take a much needed trip home to recharge and escape the grime…..

And what a lovely trip it has been so far….

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People who have never been to Kerry really need to sort that one out because long walks on deserted beaches are the best cure I know for stress. I can assure you that there is no expensive therapy that will so physically and metaphorically blow away all traces of dust!! Some days I go to Banna Beach, well deserving its recent Trip Advisor accolade (No. 1 Irish Beach), and other days to the slightly more local and generally deserted Derrymore Strand. Here’s a few shots from the last two days.

And when fresh air and exercise have done their thing, there is family and friends to chat with and laugh with. Lots of home cooking and lazy afternoons, peppered with an occasional treat meal. Like, for example, a girlie dinner in Cellar 1, the restaurant of The Ross Hotel, was a perfect treat for the weary DIYer.

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I have featured The Ross on the blog before and it is one of those places with which I have never been disappointed. It is funky and modern without trying too hard. The restaurant has an ambitious yet compact menu that comes accompanied by the inoffensive and atmospheric background noise of a resident pianist. The bar is bustling, serving cocktails in fancy glasses to the well heeled. The vibe throughout is contemporary and youthful. It struck just the right chord for four female friends, who share amongst us decades of memories and a love of good food. We were not disappointed.

Starters sampled included a spicy Arancini, mussels in a red curry sauce, scallops and monkfish skewers. The menu is seafood heavy but there is a twist to every dish and there were no complaints about any of the offerings on this occasion.

For mains, we all toyed with the idea of surf and turf but only one of us went for it in the end – and I for one was guilty of a little food envy. The other carnivorous selection was an extremely attractive looking pork belly, while the two of us remaining opted for a prawn dish in an agave and tequila sauce. All four dishes were deemed successful… what more can you ask for?

Only half of the group had the stamina for dessert, the other half opting for a strong espresso to aid digestion, although we did all put a fork or two through the chosen sticky toffee puddings. A nice slow Hendricks with Elderflower tonic in the bar before the journey home rounded off the evening, reinforcing the notion that most loads can be lightened by a good natter, delicious food and great friends.

I am still on retreat in The Kingdom but the new smell in the old house is apparently fresh paint (surely a sign of progress). And although I am aware that when I return next week it is likely that there will be no operating kitchen sink or cooking facilities, and a whole other range of debris that will need to be disposed of, I will face it refreshed and re-energised. And, given that the aroma of a rack of lamb with stuffing is currently wafting from my mother’s oven, and over the next few days an afternoon playing with my adorable goddaughter and lots of walks and coffees still await, I am happy to be distracted for now.

Dingle in a Day

One of my favourite things to do is travel and, of late, my ventures have been somewhat scarce, so when opportunity does knock, I like to be ready with my toothbrush packed. This post features a very local trip but when there is a suitcase to be packed, a hotel check-in and meals in new spaces, I still think it constitutes travel blogging.  And if you have never been, you may learn enough about West Kerry to contemplate a little trip of your own.

Dingle was the destination for this short but sweet overnight stay-cation.  If you have never had the pleasure of visiting, it is a town with a distinctly bohemian vibe. Almost all businesses are independent, lots are artisan, and it has a paradoxical sense of being a bustling yet laid back town. Artists come for the peace to create and the landscape to inspire. Chefs appear to want to allow the fruits of land and sea to take centre stage, making restaurants feel more about the food than the business model (not unfortunately the case everywhere). Musicians know they can just drop into a local licensed premise and simply start to play, soon to be accompanied by some collective foot-tapping, while writers can find both solitude and inspiration in this bi-lingual hamlet that has a lyrical soul.

Dingle is a small town, with 38 pubs, that doesn’t take itself too seriously  (potentially related observations!). But it is clear that this is a town that is making the most of its assets. As a tourist town, it extends a welcome filled with genuine warmth.  The art of conversation is celebrated in many languages, but mostly with dry local wit and buckets of sarcasm. Despite its remoteness, there are ways in which Dingle is contemporary and multicultural. In other ways it is a slice of an Ireland of yore, where tradition is valued and heritage preserved.

I know this part of the world quite well so if tour guides and museums are your thing, this will be the wrong type of travel article for you. But if you like slow drives through stunning landscape, great food, local products and understated luxury then I just might have some tips for you.

I started my day in Tralee, in perfect driving weather. There was a chill in the air but pretty clear skies. I popped some music on the radio and followed the twists and turns of the road, high up over the ever-stunning Conor Pass. The narrow roads with steep drops may see hearts occasionally leaping into mouths but the views are a very worthy reward. Have a look…..

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Eventually, the road descends towards the sea, and before you know it you will be looking for parking and nourishment in the town. On a Monday lunchtime, I was lucky to find both with ease. Usually I research where I will eat in advance but this was a trip without a plan and so I just worked on instinct. It was a good move. I had one of the best lunches in a long time in the very welcoming Goat Street Social. It is a small space, channelling an industrial chic look. The menu is a compact mixture of some salads, a variety of hot dishes and a couple of sandwiches. There were a couple of specials on a chalkboard and I ordered one of these – haddock in a sesame and garlic tempura with sweet chilli and coriander mayo. This was served on a bed of wilted spinach with a side of skinny fries. It was exceptional!!!!!

Happily sated, I took a little stroll, shopped for some locally produced candles and a new book, before grabbing a coffee from Bean in Dingle. This very cool cafe has some great cakes to accompany some quality coffee, and the vibe is as much Williamsburg or Shoreditch as it is Dingle. And then it was back on the road….

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I have been lucky in life to have seen a lot of the world…. not as much as I would like…. but quite a lot nonetheless. I am not sure where I have been or could dream to go that would rival Slea Head when the skies are blue. The landscape is both welcoming and threatening. The sea sparkling and foreboding. The locals warm and weathered. The charm is in the contradictions. Again I will let the pictures do the talking….

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By late afternoon it was time to return to town and check into our lodgings for the night, the highly rated Castlewood House. It is an antique-filled, small hotel with a big heart. The rooms are spacious and each one is individually styled (this wasn’t my first visit).  It is full of little touches that make a stay feel special – a buck’s fizz on arrival, Lily O’Brien’s chocolate treats in the room, complimentary tea and scones served during the afternoon from vintage china and a takeaway coffee for the long drive home. The justifiably award winning breakfast has more choices than most dinner menus and the accompanying buffet stands out from the norm. For example, my fruit bowl had plums poached in a honey syrup and apples stewed with cinnamon. There was desiccated coconut, almonds, banana chips and chia seeds to sprinkle on top. All this was before a made to order Eggs Benedict for me and fluffy pancakes with berries and maple syrup for my slightly ginger travel companion. It’s easy to see why Castlewood House is continuously winning awards.

Based on several recommendations we dined at the Global Village, where food is presented with a nod to fine dining. The early bird is great value, but after that this place is definitely at the upper end of affordable. We were early birds!! The confidence and competence of the kitchen shone through, the staff were friendly and efficient and there was an impressive drinks selection. The menu had a good balance of land and sea, not always the case in this maritime town, and the food was definitely Instagram worthy. Having read and heard so much about this place over the last number of years, my slightly anti-climactic sensation was perhaps inevitable, but it was still a lovely meal. Definitely worth a try in Dingle.

Finally, even those who are teetotal are unlikely to leave Dingle without checking out some local watering holes and here is where humour, charm and local colour are most abundant. There was the cheeky local barman in Foxy Johns, who allowed the German tourist to sample two beers before choosing, but warned him that was his lot “because it’s not a feckin icecream parlour we’re running“.  Dick Macs had a man handcrafting products out of leather behind the bar, beside the barman who smugly informed the French couple that there was wine “both red and white”. And finally, in my new favourite pub (which feels like a farmhouse living room) Kennedy’s, we encountered a charming local girl who regaled us with the impassioned tale of how her very conservative parents sent her to an all girls convent, a boarding school in another part of the country, in an effort to get her to change her mind about her sexuality. Scary thing was this was since the year 2000!!!! It was also a bit like sending sand to the desert!!! But all ended well, she clearly emerged no less gay but her parents adjusted to this reality with time. Although it sounds like granny needs a little more time.

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So all in all, the verdict is that you should definitely find a place for Dingle on your travel itinerary. And maybe try and stay a little longer than me.

Moonlight: In Review

Moonlight was the winner of the Best Picture Academy Award 2016 but will it be remembered for its cinematic prowess or its starring role in one of the Oscars’ biggest ever gaffes? Because let’s be honest – it was a clanger.

To answer my own question, it is a film that should be remembered for all the right reasons – as a melancholic, beautifully shot drama worthy of the highest accolades.

Apparently, this was a low budget creation and it is definitely not replete with Hollywood A-Listers, but financial constraints did not translate into artistic ones, at least not to my untrained eye.

Moonlight tells a story. It tells it subtly. It tells it slowly. It tells it poignantly. If none of this appeals then you are at the wrong movie, and I would imagine lots of people felt they may have taken a wrong turn somewhere on their way to their seat. Because unusually, this is a tale of drug dealing in “the hood” with minimal violence and zero gun shots. My husband seemed both shocked and a little disappointed by this, but I think the lack of gratuitous violence was part of the magic.

Moonlight is a story of addiction, prostitution, drug-dealing, bullying and homophobia, and yet it is not moralistic in tone. It portrays a cycle of poverty and ignorance and in so many ways each and every character is a victim. Due to  a lightness of touch and a genuine sensitivity, this becomes a story not of heroes and villains but of human beings. Humans who are often deeply flawed but who have lived lives without hope, privilege or advantage. Bad starts leading to bleak futures!

Mostly, Moonlight is a coming-of-age narrative. It tells the story of Chiron, first as a nine year old with more battles than any child should have to face, essentially raising himself in a community ravaged by crack-cocaine. Chiron is a child who stands out when all he wants to do is fit in. He is a miserable child trapped in a miserable world that seems actively trying to reject him.

Chiron’s teens, perhaps predictably, are a battle. A high-school battle against bullies, as the awkward young man struggles with his sexuality, and a personal battle with his mother who had long since abdicated her maternal role.  This was a movie that could so easily have become a cliché  – Chiron could have made defence a form of attack by fighting back both literally and metaphorically. Or he could have received some fairy tale passage out of the world of his birth and on to pastures greener. But Chiron is not a cliché and he does not try to conform or even seem to aspire to his society’s one-dimensional view of masculinity. Nor, however, has he the courage or self-belief to be proud of his individuality and to step away from his social world. He is quiet, awkward and perpetually unsure of who he is or what he wants to be, and it is the depiction of this non-stereotypical boy (and later man) that is where the movie shines brightest.

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Chiron is the central protagonist, who doesn’t say much. His uncertainty, his pain and even his joy, is communicated in other ways. Facial expression and body language are central to the creation of his character and three different actors combine seamlessly to portray one credible person. From Chiron the boy to Chiron the man, their performances combine to create something moving, nuanced and at times heartbreaking. But this is not a sad story either and there are wonderful, wonderful glimpses of humanity, compassion and love. Moonlight is just a very real story and one that deserved to be told.

If you haven’t guessed by now- I loved it, although I imagine not everybody will. Some may think it too slow, too silent or too ambiguous. Others will see it as both breathtaking and believable. If you missed it in theatres, Amazon Prime will be airing it soon so if haven’t already seen it, do yourself a favour and give it a chance. Make up your own mind on this one xo