It’s a long long way from Clare to here…

ClareCroft

I knew that the drive from Ballyferriter to Clare wasn’t a long distance, mileage speaking.  Around a hundred kilometres to get on to the Wild Atlantic Way in  that county, and to find our way to Kilkee.

I’ve never been to Kilkee before, and in honesty I don’t think I ever heard of it.  The hotel we booked, The Stella Maris (Star of the Sea I think that means) was pet friendly, and just managed to slot us in … I only booked it after breakfast the same morning we left Ballyferriter, so a big thank you to them.

First impressions of Clare after the postcard scenery of Kerry are somewhat bleak.  It’s the kind of landscape you need to come straight into, and not compare with others.  It has an empty windswept cast to it, and most of it seems devoid of trees.  Sea-gales, and lashing winter storms shape it.

Approaching Kilkee, the landscape is dominated by bungalows, small housing estates and mobile homes.  There’s a sort of nothing feel to the place.  The Stella Maris was a slightly tired, but not weary, hotel from an age gone by.  Music from the thirties and forties crooned from small speakers, and people sat about having afternoon tea in that mish-mash of tee-shirt, cardigans-and-towel combinations, only ever found at the seaside.

The strand of Kilkee was unusual in that the eastern end of the beach was arced by large ghat like steps that served multi-functionally as storm walls, viewing points, changing areas, and a climbing area.  The western end of the beach is overlooked by what must be the old part of the village: an attractive series of detached Georgian houses, that took you out to a nice cafe and a great cliff walk.

Kilkee I imagine is where the good people of nearby Limerick come to holiday.  Gaggles of skimpily-clad teenage girls meandered about watchful for boys of their own age, or over-vigilant parents.  Similarly aged boys moped here and there in wet-suits, or egged each other to jump from heights on the cliffs into the sea.  Adults were scarce in comparison.  It could have been any year of my life between 1980 and now … the subtleties of swimwear or wet-suit designs were perhaps the only indicator of the present.

Food in Kilkee was regrettably unimaginative, and we only ate one main meal at the hotel outside of the breakfasts.  It was forgettable, and I have indeed forgotten what it was.  It’s a sort of pizza-chips, burger-chips, steak-chips, or seafood options kind of place.  Not great for us, and we were both a bit chipped out after Kerry.

We had a beautiful cliff walk though, to the western side of the inlet, and found the remnant markings of an organised run which we went back later to do.  Saw a few choughs along the cliffs when we walked, and came across some Pollock Holes, which neither of us had ever heard of.  They’re large holes in the limestone that fill up with water and are used by bathers wanting a gentler experience than the ocean might be offering on a given day.

Moved on towards Lisdoonvarna.

Stopped along the way to take in Lahinch and Spanish Point before continuing on to walk the now overridden paths up to the Cliffs of Moher.cliffs of moh
Still a beautiful sight, despite the people traffic.  I remember sitting up here some years back with a friend and picnicking with a spliff and a bottle of wine.  Not a soul did we see, and we must have been there for three hours.  Hard to imagine now.  Streams of people seemed intent on walking from one end to the other of the walk without really taking time out.  There were also a number of ‘dogs forbidden’ signs, which Zak ignored, and it got us talking with a few others we encountered about the difficulties of tootling about in Ireland with dogs.  The pubs don’t allow them.  Most of the hotels don’t allow them.  The beaches don’t allow them.  The walks don’t allow them.  The fields don’t allow them.  When did this absurd nonsense arise?  I grew up in Ireland, and took our dogs everywhere, and back then I don’t think I ever Zakwalkaboutowned a lead.  Today we all have leads, and the dogs are less feral generally.  The country needs to wake up a bit and look at it as an opportunity.  People today like their pets and don’t just see them as beasts in the yard to help them go kill some game when the season comes.  One hotel suggested that I might use a shed they had (windowless, three feet by three feet, concrete floor, formerly used for coal).

As we’d gone on from the nineteenth century, I declined to stay there.  Family pets just aren’t housed that way any more.

I’ve been to Lisdoonvarna several times.  This time, it looks old hat.  Living off a match-making festival and a couple of traditional music festivals can trap a place into a time period and prevent it moving along and evolving naturally.  We stayed at Elements B&B just outside, as we couldn’t arrange a pet-friendly hotel.  Some say they are, but need to be contacted in advance.  They didn’t answer the phone or reply to emails, so we stayed with a lovely Brummie couple instead.  I got potato cakes with breakfast (okay, he called them bubble and squeak but there was no squeak so I’ll call them potato cakes)!  Lovely couple, and although they’ve stopped taking pets (they have two dogs) they honoured the booking and were smashing.

I introduced Gaelic Football to Storm on a walkabout, and whilst not greeted with the same enthusiasm she shows for hurling, she preferred the look of it to footie and could see the appeal.  Sometimes they’ll say anything to keep you happy or just shut you up.

We were on our way to visit some friends, which was why we came up to Clare, so decided to go spend a day in The Burren first.  I think it was Patrick Kavanagh who said The Burren was where the bones of the earth had been uncovered, or came out to get some air.  Mists rolled in from the sea and drifted about in different directions.  The mood there is always one of mystery; you sort of expect a fur-clad woman with long red hair and a leashed wolf-hound to appear on the hilltop shouting instructions into the wind before disappearing with the mist; and if you can get away far enough from other people, it also has a bizarre  lunar feel to it.  @Stormfreshphoto took some nice flora shots which I was hoping for, but they’ve probably been sent out elsewhere.  I’ll have to try get them again.

We went down to Quilty beach (Choill Quilty I think) to see the recently revealed fossilised trees on the beach.  Several people mentioned a legendary storm of 2014, or was it 2013?  They were unusual though, but I’m not sure if the photos could do them justice, but the sky was amazing and went on forever.ClareSky3

 

 

Ballyferriter Blues…

kerry lakesOver in the west of Ireland at the moment, tootling about.

Just finished in Kerry where we stayed in the village of Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsula, out in the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) area.

Absolutely beautiful out here.  Miles and miles of empty beaches, the water crystal clear, and verging on tepid … it’s where the Gulf-stream hits after all.  Fuchsia bushes thirty feet high line the winding narrow roads, terrifying the life out of the American visitors.  We spent Monday evening with some sheep on the heights of Dunmore Head watching an Atlantic sunset over the Blasket Islands.

Had too many Guinness on Tuesday and listened to a musical French family called Trotwood who’ve been coming to the Gaeltacht for years to play, and it was nice to hear some improvised reels on cellos, and non-traditional instruments.  They were joined by a bongo – tabla – bodhran player and having arrived at the pub around six, I finally found my bed around two, having forgotten that we had a MSP_1886four hour winding drive planned for the following day.

If you’re ever in the area, check out Tig Uí Murcú in Ballyferriter.  Great staff, and a ridiculously friendly crowd.  The music doesn’t start until around 9, so I’d say about half-eight is the right time to get in there, unless you want to eat.

 

Stayed in a hotel across the road from the pub called Ostán Ceann Sibéal which had fantastic spacious rooms with panoramic views from the front, and was also pet friendly.  If you stay, go for room 18!  Zak, our dog was even more reluctant to leave than we were.  He went nuts on the beach too.  I think he thought he was in dog heaven.  The hotel’s food wasn’t fantastic for us, as we’re both veggie, and Kerry is still in the goat’s cheese phase when it comes to vegetarian food, but it was an easy going place, and they had some great craft beers in the bar too.

From the strand (beach) near the hotel you can walk a few miles across the bay to Baile na Ngall and the Tabhairne Uí Chonchuir.  The walk takes about an hour and a bit, and most of it can be done on the beach or the beach bank.  Swimming is good at several points, but especially on Wine Strand which is a smaller lagoon-like bay.Kerry sea view

If anyone from the area does pick this up, I’ve published a series of short stories with Vegetarian Recipes that are pretty simple, (http://tinyurl.com/poam5pa) but many also have an Irish twist to them.  Too many chefs and cooks find it too easy to churn out the same old nonsense, and visitors are hoping for something a bit different to what they might do at home.

Having a full ‘Irish/English/Scottish/Welsh’ breakfast is about as exciting after day one as having a dump, and I’m told both get equally trying over a fortnight.

Breakfasts could have all come with potato cakes, with onions or herbs even, to add something a bit different.  These are cheap to make, filling, and traditional, and they fit with almost anything in the morning.  I didn’t encounter them anywhere?  I did come across some nice breads, but nobody seemed to play with any ideas and add things like spring onions, carrots, parsnips, or even wild thyme and rosemary, which is everywhere.  Breads like these can add a dimension to a simple bowl of soup, and use up any leftover vegetables.  Again, they’re cheaper to make, add something a little different to the table and make a visit more memorable.

Kerry was absolutely stunning.

We’re off to Clare…and a special thanks to @Stormfreshphoto for the shots.

 

 

 

Open mic night…

Recently went to an open mic night with a friend, who’d put together a couple of tracks with his son and wanted to ‘air’ them … his words, not mine.

It was interesting, I have to admit, but also, it was ‘odd’.  I didn’t allow him the word weird, because weird can be good too, and even head-twisting cool.

This wasn’t the first open mic night I’ve been to, nor the only venue.

But, I have to say, even after more of these evenings than I care to mention, so far, all of them seem to pan out in a similar fashion.  They’re all ‘odd’.

There’s a pub, a club, a hall, a venue, a space … you know the kind of thing.

There are individuals wanting to do their thing, and there are bands wanting to do their thing … you know that kind of thing too.

There should be an audience …

I’ve seen some good stuff over the years.  I’ve seen some beautiful people doing good stuff.  I’ve seen some beautiful people doing to their good stuff to other people, and then, I’ve seen those good people doing their good stuff, right back at them.  Those were even good nights too!

I’ve seen bad too.  Don’t get me wrong here.

There should always be an audience …

A man singing about being dumped, to other men waiting to sing about being dumped, to women, singing about being dumped, or dumping men, who were so wet they had to dump the buggers … well, that whole lonely life dumping cycle kinda gets to wear on ye.

There’s talent there no doubt, but something about the whole shebang is all wrong.

For a start, the setting’s only suited to those crying about being dumped.  Why the fuck is that?  It’s like a hidey-hole for down-in-the-dumps dumped dudes.

This ain’t my scene, in that kinda possessive posse way.  I’m kinda too old for the posse game.  I don’t do, or play music.  I like music, don’t get me wrong, and musicians too, when I can stay awake, or get them off talking about music, or picking out two second samples from tracks that float their boats … I thought that little foible had died with vinyl, but how wrong I was about both.

These new open mic heroes, well, it seems to me they just upload their outpourings to iTunes, and spread the half-baked misery of comparative articulated futility they’re feeling, desperately hoping someone finds it poignant, meaningful, connecting, anything … or just finds it, perhaps.  And then buys it, of course.

Is that what the writers’ forums on twitter are too?  Is that what the multitude of self-publications are doing?  Is this the e-book revolution?  Writers writing to other writers about writing, and how their writing is all about the beauty of writing, and about how their need to write overrides all other needs?  I write to write what I write knowing that what I write I must write, in order to be a writer … a sort of poor man’s Sam, with the hope someone takes it seriously?

Are we talking in shit circles, or talking shit circles?

Am I missing something?  There’s gotta be more than this self-promo, plagiarised paraphrasing, smart-ass, bigging-me-own-ass-up, bullshit!

Is anybody just reading good fucking books by authors who give, or gave a damn, and know how to ask questions, or give answers, when telling stories about why, and what the fuck we’re doing here?

Am I the only one at the open mic night who wonders this shit?

The shower tonight, were utter crap btw.

Opening…

This is the opening, or introductory page, to my new novel, ‘By Hook or by Crook’.

Other than vaguely establishing a setting, and being of general or background interest, it’s not a direct part of the narrative.  The novel is set in The Barony of Gaultier, which extends from outside Waterford City, running eastwards until Tramore Bay, and incorporates the village of Crook(e).

The area has an odd and surprisingly busy history, for what is today, a quiet and out of the way spot, and this is also touched on in the book.

See what you think, and if it tickles the interest buds?

Feedback always welcome

 

By Hooke or by Crooke

“By Hook(e) or by Crook(e)” etymologically originates in the middle ages, according to some sources, and refers to an ancient aspect of Forest Law. The forests were owned by the King, and interference with them in anyway, from common grazing, foraging, assarting, or harvesting any kind of wood, were all strictly regulated. Seemingly, a man could often only gather what wood he could reach on the trees ‘by (use of his apple picker’s) hook(e) or (his shepherd’s) crook(e)…

In the south-east of Ireland, where a busy, and historically much used, inlet, known as Waterford Harbour lies, two villages sit on opposite banks of the estuary, no more than a few miles apart.

The first, a hamlet named Hook(e), retains a very old, but still functioning lighthouse, and boasts its origins as a protector of seafarers to the fifth century, when monks from Dubhán’s Monastery made their way to the headland tip, to light warning bonfires.

The second village, Crook(e), further into the estuary, has witnessed a multitude of invading forces avail of it. From the early Vikings in 852, to Richard de Clare (‘Strongbow’), and Henry II, the first self-styled Norman ‘Lord of Ireland’, followed by John Lackland, that notorious money-grabber of Sherwood Forest lore, through to the largest invasion force ever to sully Ireland’s shores, accompanying the last of that Avengian line of Norman Kings, Richard II, in 1377, Crook(e) played a pivotal role in all their plans.

Some years later, it is believed that Cromwell, on his way to take the hitherto ‘untaken’ city of Waterford, uttered the promise that he would do the deed ‘by Hook(e) or by Crook(e)’ … and he did indeed proceed to land in Hook(e), and advance to Crook(e).

Etymology being what it is, nobody can say for certain what the origins of the phrase truly are, but as Apple Pickers and Shepherds no longer concern themselves with the nuances of Forest Law, the denizens of Hook and Crook perhaps will carry the phrase safely into the future and make of it their own … if it isn’t already theirs of course.

After this, the novel begins …

I’ll post the first chapter over the week.  Right now I’ve got to get packing as I’m off to Ireland in the morning, and may well find some nice images around The Barony to send out, and give people a feel of the place.  I’m hoping for lead grey skies, blattering rain squalls, biting wind, cold rough seas, squinting old biddies, and pints settling on trays in The Saratoga Bar, as all of these turn up in the book.

 It should still be light enough during daytime in July to capture some of these…

By Hook or by Crook

Just finished a novel with the above title…

It’s been through a few edits so far and I’m kind of happy with it now.  I think it’ll run as a series.  Its full title is By Hook or by Crook, The Harry Johnson Chronicles Book 1, it runs for about 360 pages, or just shy of 120,000 words, and I seem to already 60 pages into book two…

Not quite sure how that happened, but I seem to have developed a disturbing stare.

It’s an evolving cozy mystery thriller literary fiction piece … a sub-genre of a sub-genre of a sub-genre, that’s likely to become a genre!

The generalities of genres always irked me, but I’m beginning to warm to them, now that someone expects me to pigeonhole my own piece.  A few eyes have roamed over it so far, and the feedback is good.  These eyes are not the back-slapping, happy-clapping, life-sapping, enthusiasts of some kind of joy killing support group.  So I’m happy!

I’ll put a few chapters up over the next few weeks, and see what people say.

Now, I think I need a beer!

 

 

Leave to Remain

Remain or Leave,
wrong or right?
To right a wrong
is a right that’s right,
to wrong a right
is not a right,
but wrong,
even if that right
is but right,
yet not a right,
for not all rights are rights,
yet rights are never wrong,
and wrongs are always wrongs,
and never right,
so remember only
to right wrongs
and to never
wrong rights
remain right
and leave
wrong
alone

A recipe for you

 

RECIPE

Colcannon (with a twist)

IMG_0834
Most Irish people know colcannon well enough to be almost fed up with it. Generally on Mondays it was served up with the remnants of yesterdays cabbage or any other greens that were left over(and some extra added if needed). If a joint of ham or bacon had been served, that too was stripped and added, if there was ever anything left. Sometimes an onion, or a scallion or two would be thrown in, and if you pleaded long enough, you might get a few swipes of grated cheese added to the top. In many ways, it’s similar to bubble in England in principle, although shaping the remnants into patties for frying probably distinguishes them from each other.

So traditionally, colcannon was a mixture of creamy mashed ‘floury potatoes’ cabbage or spring greens with, with milk and butter added, and cream if you had it, and maybe a few bits of bacon. In the south-east of Ireland it’s mainly served with a rack of boiled ribs, and those boiled with cabbage. Open the kitchen windows if you’re doing that, as the house smells like a thousand farts otherwise.

Having grown up with it, I’ve made multiple variations, and still call them colcannon, and I don’t care if anybody tells me it’s not…it’s food, and I’ll call it what I want! Here’s my favourite. (Serves 4-6 depending on what kind of a spud monster you are)

Ingredients

16-20 medium sized potatoes, with skins scrubbed, sliced in half
3 leeks, topped, tailed, and sliced
1 small savoy cabbage, finely diced or equivalent in finely diced kale leaf (remove the stalky bits)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 Quorn gammon steaks, fried and torn into small pieces
1 lump of butter, for the mashing
2 heaped tablespoons of double cream, for the mashing
2 heaped tablespoons of mascarpone cheese, for the mashing
2 unwaxed lemons…grated rind only, with a tiny twist of juice
1 teaspoon of yellow mustard seeds
salt & pepper

Cooking and Serving

Boil potatoes until soft (20 mins or so)
Saute the onions for five minutes before adding the mustard seed and leeks. Keep frying until the edges of the leeks begin browning.
Steam the finely diced cabbage/kale for six minutes, until turning soft
Fry the gammon steaks for six to seven minutes and tear into small pieces
Add butter, cream and mascarpone cheese to the potatoes and mash well adding the lemon at the end and giving it a last whip in.
Once mashed and creamed up, add everything else and fold it all in together
Take 4-6 warm ramekins and fill each as desired

If you’re feeling peaky, add a bit of cheddar to the top and let it sit in a hot oven for five minutes…ignore what anybody tells you! It’s still colcannon. Goes well with most things, like pies, steaks, chops, ribs…the lemon even helps if there’s a freshwater fish on the go, but leave the cheese if there is. It’s gentle on the stomach too and was probably popular as a kind of settler after a weekend.
Colcannon (with a twist)
Most Irish people know colcannon well enough to be almost fed up with it. Generally on Mondays it was served up with the remnants of yesterdays cabbage or any other greens that were left over(and some extra added if needed). If a joint of ham or bacon had been served, that too was stripped and added, if there was ever anything left. Sometimes an onion, or a scallion or two would be thrown in, and if you pleaded long enough, you might get a few swipes of grated cheese added to the top. In many ways, it’s similar to bubble in England in principle, although shaping the remnants into patties for frying probably distinguishes them from each other.

So traditionally, colcannon was a mixture of creamy mashed ‘floury potatoes’ cabbage or spring greens with, with milk and butter added, and cream if you had it, and maybe a few bits of bacon. In the south-east of Ireland it’s mainly served with a rack of boiled ribs, and those boiled with cabbage. Open the kitchen windows if you’re doing that, as the house smells like a thousand farts otherwise.

Having grown up with it, I’ve made multiple variations, and still call them colcannon, and I don’t care if anybody tells me it’s not…it’s food, and I’ll call it what I want! Here’s my favourite. (Serves 4-6 depending on what kind of a spud monster you are)

Ingredients

16-20 medium sized potatoes, with skins scrubbed, sliced in half
3 leeks, topped, tailed, and sliced
1 small savoy cabbage, finely diced or equivalent in finely diced kale leaf (remove the stalky bits)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 Quorn gammon steaks, fried and torn into small pieces
1 lump of butter, for the mashing
2 heaped tablespoons of double cream, for the mashing
2 heaped tablespoons of mascarpone cheese, for the mashing
2 unwaxed lemons…grated rind only, with a tiny twist of juice
1 teaspoon of yellow mustard seeds
salt & pepper

Cooking and Serving

Boil potatoes until soft (20 mins or so)
Saute the onions for five minutes before adding the mustard seed and leeks. Keep frying until the edges of the leeks begin browning.
Steam the finely diced cabbage/kale for six minutes, until turning soft
Fry the gammon steaks for six to seven minutes and tear into small pieces
Add butter, cream and mascarpone cheese to the potatoes and mash well adding the lemon at the end and giving it a last whip in.
Once mashed and creamed up, add everything else and fold it all in together
Take 4-6 warm ramekins and fill each as desired

If you’re feeling peaky, add a bit of cheddar to the top and let it sit in a hot oven for five minutes…ignore what anybody tells you! It’s still colcannon. Goes well with most things, like pies, steaks, chops, ribs…the lemon even helps if there’s a freshwater fish on the go, but leave the cheese if there is. It’s gentle on the stomach too and was probably popular as a kind of settler after a weekend.

Into December 2015

So that last post was really some background to how Three Dead Dogs got off the ground…I won’t try to recap the whole thing.

It was a sub-project in truth, but ended up taking over my life for a bit. I’d forgotten how much I liked the short story format in truth, and although

IMG_0516

a simple tapas

weaving the recipes into the narratives could be a bit trying at times and caused me to abort several stories, ultimately I felt the ones I left in worked.

I’m still working on a novel. First draft is complete, and I’m beginning the editing process. The rough is about 120,000 words, which is a nice length I think, especially in a series. I quite enjoy the editing too, and often find that once I’ve immersed myself back in the fictional world completely, doing the re-writing, and messing around with additions, omissions, and cuts and making the whole thing a coherent piece is one of the most enjoyable parts of the whole process. It also allows me, or my mind, over which I don’t seem to have complete control, to begin to plot out book two.

When I say ‘plot out’ I don’t mean that in a schematic plan way…you know, with charts and the like! I’ve tried that previously and for me I find it saps me of the will to get on and write the story as I feel like I’ve already done it. I prefer to just write, allow the world and story to unfold and come back later to tweak and weave. Also, the beauty for me so far with this process is that occasionally my head isn’t quite in the right place, even though I’m writing away, and the story takes me off to somewhere else. This has resulted in five new short stories, plus recipes for ‘Cook in the Book 2′(untitled yet), I don’t know how many the series will run to,  but I’m pretty happy with the way they’re coming out at the moment.

The novel itself is set mainly in the Barony of Gaultier in county Waterford, southern Ireland.  Some of the characters have popped up in the shorts, and will continue to pop up in different works I suspect. Tom and Mary Fortune, from Goosegog and Apple Pie feature as background

IMG_0834

Aggies, in the Barony of Gaultier

people, as for some reason they’ve almost become real to me as people of the place. Bill in The Saratoga,  a real Landlord from a real bar on Woodstown beach continues to pop up amongst others, but the overall story is a different beast. Also, I don’t have a name for it yet either…that’s bugging me a bit.

 

Once I’ve decided on a name I can begin thinking about a cover, and all the other stuff that begins to take over life as I know it…

 

 

a bit of background to Three Dead Dogs…

Here we are once more in November

Three Dead Dogs Book Cover

Available on Amazon Kindle

Last year I resolved in October to push on and get some writing work finished. I began a Novel, with a rough outline in my head for two or three books in a series…Not the first time in my life I’ve had such notions, and on occasion I have pushed on beyond the two hundred page mark only to lose my focus, and in my younger days, go on a bender, and lose whatever it was I’d been up to. This time, I’ve got on with it, and have about two hundred and fifty pages first draft completed, with the exception of the final chapter, as I want to allow the second book in the series to develop for a while before finishing the first and building that bridge between the two…I’m aiming for sometime around March 2016 to launch it on Kindlebooks.

At the same time as I began my novel series, my wife and our mutual friend Chris, were chatting to me about doing some recipe books…or at least providing some local pubs with some recipes for some kind of vegetarian meals that anybody with the ability to use a knife and read English could follow.

IMG_0521

One of my tapas medleys

For some background I perhaps should explain that I like to cook. When I say like to cook, I mean I’d prefer to make something nice to eat than open a packet of something and eat that…I’m not a trained chef or cook, but I’ve been eating a long time, and it’s amazing how much information you can gain about food by consuming it. I’ve also been vegetarian for nearly thirty years and get annoyed at being offered a farts-on-a-plate meal when I do go out to your run of the mill establishments for an easy night out. You know the sort…cauliflower cheese, mac and cheese, goats cheese tart (always shop bought), pasta with a hint of ‘ragu’ or some other jar of tomato based sauce with a vinegar preserve that’d make a wino squint. ‘Taint rocket science…and for crying out loud, we all eat multiple times every day! Surely the pub trade can figure some of the basics out…and especially if that’s your livelihood!

I’m not over fussy by a long stretch, and I live in an area of outstanding beauty (designated) called the Chiltern Hills, where there’s a permanent (seems like it to me) small country pub crisis. In this crisis, establishments that have been serving food and drinks back through the centuries are finding themselves and their business no longer viable, despite being surrounded by more money than ever in history.

The pub crisis, and the ever looming threat of closure seems to hang over almost every pub.
Partly, this may be due to changing habits, I mean the Drovers meandering through country lanes are long gone, and the labouring classes who once serviced the land and the pubs are no longer either.

cropped-country-lane1.jpg

A country lane in the Chilterns

Old photos seem to suggest that people previously spent most of their time out of the house and really only went indoors to eat and sleep. The houses we live in now are far more comfortable too, larger, and keep within them all we might need to sustain ourselves. It also may be due in part to unrealistic rents being demanded from Landlords and Landladies who attempt to run and make a living from these places. Those letting out the pubs don’t seem to have noticed, but people by and large can’t drive to the pub anymore, and the days of people staggering out en masse with bloated bellies and empty wallets, and faffing around at the wrong car before swapping with the fool messing with their own car, seem pretty much behind us. Even designated driver evenings are occasional events, and people being able to pick beers up in a supermarket for not much over a pound are reluctant to part with four pounds plus to sit on a hard chair for the evening, so even if they do make it out, they drink less, far less, than hitherto.

Also, the wine in pubs tends towards the more dreadful end of the scale, history having ingrained in the very fabric of the buildings a resistance to anything with a whiff of French about it.

I’ve digressed enough, and have ended up in pub-talk, about pubs, so enough about that.

Suffice to say, the girls…or women, now that they’re all grown up, have formidable stares and ways of fixing their clothing that seem oddly threatening, they, or more specifically, my wife leaned on me, and niggled at me to do this recipe book. Being mildly stubborn, I reluctantly began one. You know the type of thing…starters section, mains section, desserts, soups…there must be a million of the buggers already done and cluttering up the bookshops. They’ve become the chicken and egg question of television celebrity…the question could we have smashed the bloody egg before this thing began being the elephant in the room! Anyway, I started into it, thinking it would be a straight forward kindle book, with photos etc., and something I could do in between writing and researching my novel. After a week or so I began to notice I was avoiding the ‘recipe’ book and was thinking about other things…or anything else if I’m being honest. This is normal for me, as in day to day life, if I’ve scheduled myself to mow the lawn, when it comes to it, I’d prefer to wash the windows, or dig a great big hole with a spoon, and vice-versa on any permutation of those activities.

What I did notice though, and it worried me, was that my narrative voice hadn’t found its way onto the pages of the novel properly yet, and I was struggling a bit. A lot of this was to do with planning I discovered. I’d lay out the chapter, thinking it through, with key points and twists, or whatever, and a structure guide, after which I then didn’t want to write it. My head had already done the work and was reluctant to go over it again, and finding a tone that suited me was like trying to catch an eel with my feet.

But this time I didn’t give up and move on to something else. I thought I’d just free-write some shorts and get myself moving. I’d had a break for a few years from writing and thinking in that manner so it was like my writing gears had half-seized and needed a spin.

The Irish voice has always been a natural one for me to fall into, and the novels I’m working on are intended to be set in that part of the world with a dominant cast of Irish characters.

Somehow or other, the queries about recipes and food must have got under my skin.

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Ballymacaw Bay from Masala Soda Bread

I wrote the story, later called Masala Soda Bread, about Paddy Fitz’ fishing off the flat rocks in Dunmore East in a couple of hours, on a day off from working in London. I also baked the Masala Soda Bread, that morning, and had made notes of everything I put in it…not a usual thing for me. Paddy’s wife Marian also needed something to do that day, and I wasn’t in the mood to take her about the villages or into the main town nearby to do some shopping, so I had her make the bread. In the first couple of drafts, I was pernickety with the details of the actual cooking, and was determined that the reader would be able to cook directly from the short story and a ‘follow me recipe’ wouldn’t be needed at all. I think the time spent learning to plan and lay the recipe out and learning how to wrap text around photos and other bits had put me off somewhat. Give me a bare fridge and no options to leave the house and I’ll somehow come up with a meal…and even enjoy doing it. Later that night, I wrote the story that became Leftover Boxty. A flashing blue light went by our cottage, which is a rare to never happened before event, and I wasn’t able to tell whether it had been a cop car or an ambulance. Fog, misty rain, and hedgerows along the fields stopped my distracted gaze…I was supping a beer and trying to find a way in to a story.

That was two ‘recipe stories’ in one day, and as yet I hadn’t mentioned them to my wife.

I’ve found over time that the slight euphoria I feel once I’ve finished a story (first draft) needs a few days cooling for the read to become more objective…otherwise the whole thing is still fresh in my head, and other than a missed comma, spelling or spacing, my mind races through and gives it a big mental tick. Like it’s saying, YES, that’s the story you wrote, now don’t mess it up and start editing it to death! Three days later, the same voice normally says, what’s all this shit and who did it? That’s when I know I can begin to edit.