How I Spent My Summer

So, here I am in southern Ireland, due to depart Tuesday (August 23rd) after 2½ months here.  As you’ve no doubt observed, I’ve had quite the flurry of catching up on blog entries in the last few weeks, with the goal of being current when I leave.  You can attribute this new found dedication to the freeing up of my time caused by being done with Fallout 4.  As I mentioned in a prior blog, there’s another content pack for the game that will be released in a couple of weeks, and I may force myself to get back in and play it (it looks kind of fun), but I haven’t touched the game in a few weeks now.  And less time in front of the PC gaming makes me more willing to spend more time in front of the PC blogging!  Everybody wins.  😄

I had fully intended to finish my Ireland posts before I left, and I started it last week in plenty of time. But I had *so* many photos from my months here, that just sorting through them took many hours.  Then, I bought and started playing No Man’s Sky, that game I mentioned a post or two ago, that came out last week. Which I wasn’t going to do immediately, but I was annoyed that there were a bunch of folks outraged that the game wasn’t what they expected, and I wanted to support the game team.  (The basic game is *exactly* what was advertised.  There are some extra things that were talked about while the game was still in development that didn’t make it in to the initial release, but the small development team of 15 is still adding extra features, and none of the missing features appear to fundamentally affect game play.  So the legit criticisms are being swamped by whiny baby people. As usual.) Then, I finally found a local chiropractor (mah back’s all honked up, ya’ll), got an adjustment (I’ll need more such in Glasgow), and had a couple of days of feeling headachey from related neck stuff, which made me disinclined to write. Now, I’m getting back to it and it’s Monday afternoon as I write these words.

I think what I’m going to do is write a main, overall summer post, and release that now.  Then I’ll head to Dublin tomorrow, on to Glasgow on Saturday, and write a follow-up Ireland post that’s mostly photos and side comments shortly after I arrive in Glasgow.  So, sometime next week.  We’ll see.

So, off we go.

Tuesday, May 31st – Getting there

My plane from Edinburgh to Cork arrived at around 2:35, and I had planned to take the bus down to Kinsale, where my host Liz would be meeting me to take me to her place.  So, let’s do a little orientation, shall we?

In the interest of not uploading *another* map of the UK, here’s the last one pointing out where Edinburgh is.  It also happens to show Ireland, with the cities of Dublin (middle east coast) and Cork (south), and a couple of stars at the bottom of the map for where I’m staying (south of Kinsale, on the “Old Head” peninsula), and a nearby town of Bandon.

The United Kingdom is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This Google Map view doesn't make the England/Scotland border obvious, so drawn a rough approximation in green. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, just a little ways north of the border.

The United Kingdom is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This Google Map view doesn’t make the England/Scotland border obvious, so drawn a rough approximation in green. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, just a little ways north of the border.

Focusing more on Ireland, I’m suddenly struck by how much the highways look like tributaries all flowing into Dublin.  It makes me wonder how accurate that is; everyone around here seems to care mainly about Cork, the local city.  But clearly at the national level, Dublin is the hub and the main roads all flow between it and other places.  Going elsewhere, they’re all smaller highways.

Looking at the local area in a little more detail:

The peninsula I'm on is in the south center, with the star on it. Kinsale, to the north, has the pin, about a 17 minute drive away (or a 2 hour walk down roads with no sidewalks -- no thanks!), and Cork is a 50 minute drive north.

The peninsula I’m on is in the south center, with the star on it. Kinsale, to the north, has the pin, about a 17 minute drive away (or a 2 hour walk down roads with no sidewalks — no thanks!), and Cork is a 50 minute drive north.

This actually turns out to be a really appropriate map, because the views from this peninsula really make this coastline clear.  But more on that later.

FYI, Ireland is super pretty from the air. And from pretty much everywhere else.

FYI, Ireland is super pretty from the air. And from pretty much everywhere else.

I got off the plane at the airport (as one does), and found it to be a typical, small city airport — modest lobby space, a couple of cafes, some rental car agencies, and ATMs, which supplemented my leftover Italian Euro stash nicely.  The bus stop was just a a couple of dozen feet from the main entrance, and had a ticket machine that I managed to convince to give me a ticket to Kinsale.  (It just now occurred to me to wonder if I’d bought a round trip ticket… Oh well, too late now if I did.)  The bus arrived in a few minutes and I was on my way, sending my host Liz a status update via the Airbnb messaging.

Ireland, where it's easy being green.

Ireland, where it’s easy being green.

A little under an hour later, we arrived in Kinsale, a little tourist town in an inlet on the coast.

Kinsale has been a significant naval port, with a couple of significant forts, and is now a small, seaside, tourist town exactly like every other small, seaside, tourist town in the world. A nice place, but a bit pricey to actually live in.

Kinsale has been a significant naval port, with a couple of significant forts, and is now a small, seaside, tourist town exactly like every other small, seaside, tourist town in the world. A nice place, but a bit pricey to actually live in.

After about 25 minutes of trying to figure out where she was versus where I was, I found her car and we headed to her place, via a couple of grocery stores (a cheap one that I went to just that once, and a pricier one that I went to the rest of the time).

The Place

Where I was staying was at this Airbnb, and the entire foundation upon which my time in southern Ireland has been constructed can be summed up by, “Not what I was expecting, but it worked out.”

What I was expecting, partly based on text and partly based on images conjured in my head:

  • an older Irish woman in a computer-reliant job,
  • who worked mostly from home, but traveled to Dublin maybe one day a week (so I could ride in with her and see the city),
  • and who had an updated, modernized, old farm house
  • with 3 nice small dogs and 2 cats
  • on a peninsula surrounded by water,
  • at a not impossible walking distance from a couple of villages,
  • in which I’d be renting a sunny, upstairs room
  • with its own bathroom.

What I got:

  • Liz is 60, was born in Ireland, but her parents moved their family to New Jersey shortly after she was born, where she lived into her 20s — before moving to Germany, marrying a German and having two kids, and then having a bohemian, New Age, wandering lifestyle with the two kids and settling back here a dozen years ago.  She has a clear Jersey accent, and the locals call her “American Liz”.  A fascinating combination of good-hearted, no-nonsense, reiki-using, tarot-card-reading pragmatism as you could hope to find, but about as Irish as I am, really.  Her 29 year old daughter Lia (Irish accent) is just graduating college, and moved back in just after I arrived (she’s lovely).  Her 27 year old son Leo (yes, Liz, Lia, and Leo — there’s a story) (mostly English accent, for Reasons) bought a camper trailer, parked it in the back yard, and stays there occasionally, between work, girlfriend, and trying to get a rap career off the ground (a decent chap, though we have few points in common to provide an easy ground for conversation).
  • She’d been laid off not too long before I arrived, and was no longer taking regular trips into Dublin for her job.  By the time I’m leaving, she’s lining up a middle-management tech support job with Apple, who need a tech support manager who can speak and write German, which she does, while working from home.  In between, she hasn’t seemed super worried about money — maybe a combination of Irish unemployment insurance, Airbnb rentals, and maybe some parental inheritance money?  (It seems rude to ask.)
  • The 260 year old farmhouse is just that.  No real modernization involved, rustic as hell.  More on that later.
  • 3 dogs are friendly, smallish, furball dogs, cute enough — and when Liz or her daughter are gone, they’re put into Liz’s closed off bedroom upstairs, from which they bark continuously.  Con. Tin. U. Ous. Ly.  I put in earphones and largely ignore it.  And, about 10 days before I left, Liz tried leaving the barkiest one out to roam the house, to see if that would help, and it did immediately.  Barking fell by 95%.
  • It’s definitely a peninsula, but we’re 2-3 farm fields away from the water and you don’t usually hear the waves (which aren’t terribly wavey, anyway, except in strong weather).  It’s scenic, and quiet, and very nice, but it’s not like I’m hanging out under an awning out back watching the surf.
  • The closest village is an hour walk away, and the pub closed a while back.  There *is* a pub closer, but Liz isn’t impressed with the food and I haven’t bothered.  (4 days left, though — anything could happen! (It’s not going to happen.) )
  • Instead, I have a dark, downstairs room.  More on that later also.
  • Two shared bathrooms, one of which only rarely has hot water in the shower.

Liz rents out two rooms in her house, and I’d rented the upstairs one, which is what that link is for.  However, when we arrived, she led me to the downstairs room instead, which was much darker and low-ceilinged — and a little depressing looking, truth be told, after the light and openness of my Edinburgh place — but it was notably larger, and had a couch, and had plenty of room for the small desk that she offered to roll in for me.  Here’s a picture, taken at the peak of lights and sun and cheeriness, which is how I’ll mostly remember it.

There's a fireplace, but it has birds nesting in it so it's not really useable (not that I'd probably have used it, though there were peat brick in it, ready to be burned). Pillows and blankets are largely positioned to control where the cats will sleep. Otherwise, they'd nap wherever it's least convenient. Because cats.

There’s a fireplace, but it has birds nesting in it so it’s not really useable (not that I’d probably have used it, though there were peat brick in it, ready to be burned). Pillows and blankets are largely positioned to control where the cats will sleep. They spend most of the day in my room, and they’d nap wherever it’s least convenient. Because cats.

He's not a Maine Coon, but he's a serious cat. Don't try rubbing that stomach unless you want to lose skin.

He’s not a Maine Coon, but he’s a serious cat. Don’t try rubbing that stomach unless you want to lose skin.

She said I could have the upstairs one if I wanted, but I gave it a moment’s thought and this one was farther from the other bedrooms, put me closer to everything else in the house (namely the kitchen and downstairs bathroom, and avoided the steep staircase, so I went with the room she suggested.

I feel vaguely like I’d looked at the other room originally, when I was renting the place, and there were differences between the listings that made me pick the one I’d picked, including differences in the photo.  But Liz has been updating the listings since I booked the place last fall, and I don’t remember exactly what the original descriptions look like.  For example, I’m certain there was a price difference, but they’re identical now.  And both rooms now have the photo of the upstairs room — which is either an oversight, or a way to make clear to the other summer guests what their room would look like, since I’m staying in the room that I didn’t technically reserve.

There was a lot of stuff like that.  I’m certain I remember the listing mentioning a private bathroom, which was a notable inducement for me (though not the primary one).  In fact, there are two bathrooms — a tiny one upstairs with the 3 bedrooms, and one downstairs off the kitchen — and they’re both shared, though I’m the primary user of the downstairs one.  And the downstairs shower hasn’t had hot water for most of the time I’ve been there.  The house has a weird hodgepodge heating system, with an oil boiler in a corner closet heating water pipes running through the house that warm the walls and heat the water — but only within a few hours of the heater being run.  It’s run once at night, for an hour, and so the water was typically cold in the downstairs shower by the time I got up.  Liz and her adult daughter Lia kept suggesting I use the upstairs shower, which has an electric heater — but that bathroom is tiny, is right next to the upstairs bedrooms, has the stairs to deal with, and sleeping dogs to possibly awaken…. I just stuck to downstairs, and let the cold showers build character.  (I have soooo much character right now, I could star in a Dickens novel.)

There was a separate electric heater that would heat the downstairs water, but it was problematic.  First, it was installed in the closet in Liz’s master bedroom upstairs, although it only seemed to affect the water in the kitchen OR the downstairs bathroom.  (One OR the other, depending on a switch.) Second, you run it for a while, and turn it off, and then that water is supposed to be hot for many hours — so it must be heating a water tank up there.  But, the whole time I was there that didn’t work — at first, it would only stay hot for a couple of hours, and then it didn’t heat at all.  Third, Liz called her landlord to get it fixed, and the Irish plumber took nearly 3 weeks to come by, worked on it for 10 minutes, called it fixed, and then it turned out not to be. So, she called again, he came back within 10 days, and *did* fix it (which was awesome in the morning), and that lasted for about 4 days and then stopped again.  Liz had many words to say about Irish repairmen: apparently, the repair people her landlord sent about an electrical issue, previously, came 13 times trying to fix it — and then threw up their hands and suggested that she might have a ghost problem.  (She called her own repair guy, he fixed it in one visit, and they were done.)  So, this weird secondary heater never really worked.

I didn’t really complain about the shower — indeed, I kept reassuring them that I was fine, that they should only fix it if they needed the hot water for other reasons (like, as they noted, to have hot water in the kitchen sink), that it builds character, etc.  After all, I *had* the option to use the upstairs shower, and was choosing not to.  Mostly for the reasons above, but at least partly out of a kind of stubbornness — “I was promised a bathroom, gods damn it, and I’m not really feeling like I should have to give that up”.  And also because I can be mostly Ok with cold showers.  A yoga teacher of mine used to sing their praises.  And there were a few of times in my Santa Monica building where the shared condo water heater stopped working and I had a few days of cold showers.  They’re really quite doable, if you can stop resisting them.  And you sure use less water!  (A big deal in LA. Less so in Ireland.)  Eventually, in late July, Lia suggested that they tweak the timer on the main boiler, to run it later during the night, so that the main water would still be hot in the morning.  So, my last few weeks there had a lot of hot showers, and — though I display my weakness here — they were in fact much nicer than the cold ones.  (I feel my reserves of character slowly draining, but it’s totes worth it.)

In other peculiarities: from the original pictures and description, I had kind of a mental image of this being an old house with a lot of modern updates and expansions.  It’s not.  It’s a 260 year old, 2-story farmhouse: originally a kitchen and living room on the ground floor (with low ceilings) and 3 small bedrooms above, with a separate outhouse. Now, what was probably an upstairs closet has become a small bathroom, it has with a more modern kitchen/bathroom (maybe 50 years old?) added onto the side, what was the original kitchen is a living room and the old living room has become a larger bedroom and my Airbnb space.  Rustic as hell.

Taken on the next to the last day I was here. (The day didn't start out nearly this nice, so yay that!) You can see the old farmhouse, with the added kitchen/bathroom part on the left. My bedroom was on the ground floor on the rightmost corner (blocked from view by Leo's camper).

Taken on the next to the last day I was here. (The day didn’t start out nearly this nice, so yay that!) You can see the old farmhouse, with the added kitchen/bathroom part on the left. My bedroom was on the ground floor on the rightmost corner (blocked from view by Leo’s camper).

Nice, once you get used to it, but nothing properly “modern”.  Thick walls, small windows, gets musty smelling if you leave it closed up.  I kept my window at least a bit open, most of the time; thank gods I was here in the summer, when the weather often allowed that.  If the weather’s bad, you just hunker down and wait it out.  Liz says this summer has been unusually warm and sunny — yaay Global Warming! — and, in truth, it’s not been bad.  But there have been plenty of days when it was just high winds and cold rains.  She says that she’s not even renting rooms, once winter approaches.

Also, from the pictures, it wasn’t clear to what degree this house was on the water.  It’s not.  Here’s a satellite view I stitched together from Google Maps.

The peninsula, with Points of Interest.

The peninsula, with Points of Interest.

As you can see, Liz’s place — at the star, roughly in the middle of the picture — is back across a couple of farm fields, from a set of cliffs that you can walk north along to get to some beaches.  It’s all super scenic, as we’ll see below, but I rarely even heard the ocean.  Possibly because the waves were so small here.

There was a surfing class held daily, at the beach north of me with the Pokemon stops/gym. This is about as powerful as I ever saw the surf there.

There was a surfing class held daily, at the beach north of me with the Pokemon stops/gym. This is about as powerful as I ever saw the surf there.

I’m sure there were days with stronger surf. But those would have been days with *much* stronger weather, and I’d have been staying inside on a day like that because I’m not a crazy person.  (Not that kind of crazy, at any rate.)

So, not on the beach.

It’s all a bit free form, but it seems to have worked out.  (This, by the way, seems like it could be Liz’s life motto: “It’s all a bit free form, but it seems to have worked out.”)  Because it really did.

When I arrived and was looking at the dark, low-ceilinged bedroom, I was thinking, “OMG, what have I done? I’m here nearly 3 months!”  And, while the weather was sunny the weekend that I arrived, for most of the first month it was normally inclement, rainy and windy, so it was hard to get out and exercise (and nowhere really to go when I did).

Also, I’d made the reservations last fall, when I’d figured I’d have been in cities for so long that a break in the country, where I could see the stars would be nice.  Then, I was trapped hiding from pollen for most of 2 months, and didn’t need the break after all.  And the night sky is normally cloudy here, so not real big on stars. Sigh.

But. The room gets cheerier when you turn the lights on.  And the internet is generally quite good.  And, most mornings, I could make my coffee and oatmeal and sit out in the backyard and watch across the fields to the bay and read Twitter for a couple of hours, which was lovely.

The backyard in the afternoon. Liz's vegetable garden on the right went crazy after a few weeks and pumped out lettuce and broccoli and cucumbers and tomatoes and all sorts of stuff.

The backyard in the afternoon. Liz’s vegetable garden on the right went crazy after a few weeks and pumped out lettuce and broccoli and cucumbers and tomatoes and all sorts of stuff.

A pano from just outside the back wall.

A pano from just outside the back wall.

Those last couple of pictures were sunny days. In truth, the early mornings as I had my breakfast tended to look more like this. Overcast, chilly wind, farmer, dog, cattle being brought in for milking, etc. Chock full o'pastoral archetypes.

Those last couple of pictures were sunny days. In truth, the early mornings as I had my breakfast tended to look more like this. Overcast, chilly wind, farmer, dog, cattle being brought in for milking, etc. Chock full o’pastoral archetypes.

I really felt bad for these poor creatures, waddling back with their swollen udders. But, the Irish cream I put in my coffee was pretty awesome, so whatevs.

I really felt bad for these poor creatures, waddling back with their swollen udders. But, the Irish cream I put in my coffee was pretty awesome, so whatevs.

Then, after milking, the deflated cows would be sent back into the mist to process more grass for our consumption.

Then, after milking, the deflated cows would be sent back into the mist to process more grass for our consumption.

Often enough, these guys would be standing around on the other side of the wall, when I brought my food out to settle down, prop my feet up, and read.  And, periodically, they’d decide it was time to poop, and a stream of liquid manure would gush forth.  My image of perfectly formed cow pies was quite shattered.  I don’t know if they’re feeding them differently here than in Texas, but it did *not* look healthy to me.  And it sure taught me to step carefully, crossing those fields to get to the cliff path.

The cliff path, by the way, was pretty cool, skirting around the edge of the fields and eventually reaching the tidal beach to the north — a sandy stretch that would become quite vast at low tide, and on sunny days would fill with Irish tourists coming down for the warmer weather.  The sand was quite blinding — no, wait, it was the skin of the Irish tourists that was blinding, the sand was pretty normal.  But the geology along the cliffs was impressive.

I’d catch a ride back into Kinsale once or twice a week with Liz, mostly to get groceries and wander about — and later, to play Pokemon Go (it’s a Google Maps-based game, and towns and cities in the real world have more things associated with them in the game).  We went to another town, called Bandon, once, and once made a brief trip to a Farmer’s Market in Cork (which had amazing local cheese).  And the rest of the time, I’d walk around the peninsula — I started forcing myself to go out for an hour, even in marginal weather, to get the physical movement; then, after Pokemon Go came out, I’d get out for a couple of hours on most days.  And it’s really super pretty — I’ll put up a bunch of pictures later, but here’s a couple more to tide you over:

From a spot along the cliffs, a bit north up the coast, looking mostly west.

From a spot along the cliffs, a bit north up the coast, looking mostly west.

It was a little too hazy to see much of the Perseid showers, when I woke up early for them, but I walked up to the Lusitania memorial and got to greet the sunrise for the first time in a long time. Hail, Mithras!

It was a little too hazy to see much of the Perseid showers, when I woke up early for them, but I walked up to the Lusitania memorial and got to greet the sunrise for the first time in a long time. Hail, Mithras!

And here's a near-sunset to go with it.

And here’s a near-sunset to go with it.

I have to say, the closer I got to the end of my stay, the more appealing the farmland got.  I’m probably getting out before the autumn/winter storms start — Liz has spared no expense in playing up how miserable the weather is going to become.  And I’ve been impressed at how nearly-nonstop the wind has been, and along with that the weather is constantly changing.  I think everywhere I’ve lived, people have talked about how quickly the weather changes where they live: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes, it will change,” they proclaim, as if they’re boasting. Bullshit.  I know that now.  Here, where the wind from the Atlantic whips right across this narrow peninsula with nothing to discourage it, it’ll be heavy fog, then the wind kicks up and 2 hours later it’s perfectly sunny, then it’s foggy on only half the peninsula in the afternoon, and then the winds kicks in again and starts to howl, and the rains come.  And it’s like that all the next day, and through the night, and when you wake up again, and then the next time you look the wind is next to nothing and the kitchen is basking in the sunshine again. It’s proper weather, I love it! And I’m probably glad to escape before it gets worse.

And Liz was excellent company, as was her daughter Lia — really terrific people that I will be sorry to say goodbye to.  Intelligent, funny, easy-going; I’ve gotten on well with all of my hosts so far, but they have been by far the best company, and I keep puzzling over in my brain how I might schedule things to come back sooner than 3-4 years from now.

Reading

My reading was pretty much all done in room, and I did get a few books out of the way, so I should probably include one here.  I almost feel like I should hold off on discussing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child until I’m in Edinburgh (that being a more Rowling city) or even Glasgow (For Reasons That Shall Be Revealed Later), but I read it here so I’m reviewing it here.

Cursed Child

I’ll bet many of you have already read this, despite it having come out just 3 weeks ago.  But, for anyone who’s unfamiliar: this tells the story of Harry Potter’s middle son Albus, who is sent off to Hogwarts in the epilogue of the last Harry Potter book.  Things do not go smoothly for young Albus at Hogwarts, and the events that he gets involved with involve his family and friends and friend’s family, in ways that continue to tell Harry’s story as much as they do his son’s.  So, this essentially fleshes out the tale of Harry’s mid-life, only touched on in that epilogue.

I loved it. Loved. It.  I can see it throwing some readers: it’s written to be the script for a play, and so the reading experience of it is different. And, accordingly there’s a lot less descriptive world-building and sparkly magic stuff, and a lot less of Harry’s (or Albus’s, or anybody’s) internal thoughts.  It’s a play, so it’s all external dialogue and whatever magic could be stage-performed, and it’s also more emotion and reaction driven, rather than fantasy-plot driven.  So it’s a very different way of presenting that world.

But there are funny parts and weepy parts and good-weepy parts, and clever ideas. There were some things I wasn’t wild about.  Like where Rowling deliberately used a name from someone in the real world as a character name; it was a kind of a nice tribute to them, but it quite broke the 4th wall and snapped me out of the story.  My first reaction was, “Hah, cool!”, and then it immediately got under my skin.  And then there’s also — let’s see how to describe this without spoiling any plot lines — the magical premise around which the central plot is built, is one which, I think, is inherently problematic.  You see it more in science fiction than fantasy, and it’s almost impossible to do it in a way that makes any kind of sense.  It’s not just a case of suspending disbelief that a thing exists, you have to suspend any desire to have that thing make internal sense.  Rowling had touched on this kind of magic in a previous book, but did it in one of the few ways that don’t raise any issues.  Here? It’s all about the issues.  I wish she’d built the character development around a different problem, but, hey, she didn’t consult me.

And yet, despite that, I still loved it.  Everything else is everything I would want it to be.  You don’t need me to recommend this book: if you’ve been reading Harry Potter, you’re going to read this, and if you haven’t been you have no reason to.  But it was probably the highlight book of my summer, so there we are.

And with that, I’m going to end this entry.  I’ll add more details and a bunch more photos in the next post, but that’s How I Spent My Summer.

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