It’s my last proper day! Great plans today that have been slightly scuppered by waking up this morning to rain. My great holiday plans today by the way included washing my jeans.
In Ireland, petrol stations as you and I know them do exist, but there are also those that consist only of two old and rusty pumps on the side of the road and the “shop” consists of a till and a man who has never seen a Fiat 500 before, so you have to factor in quite a lot of chatting and chatting-up time. Fiat don’t know this but their car is a magnet for Irishmen. These petrol stations don’t sell audiobooks or 25 piece ratchet sets, but they do sell emergency cattle food and Polish coal. I’m not altogether sure if this is coal for Poles, coal from Poland, or coal you do polishing with. When I first saw it I thought it said Popish coal. If it was Popish coal they could use the strapline: if you’re going to burn in hell, make it a Popish fire! Incidentally I’ve bought a bottle of holy water. Or rather I bought a bottle on which Holy Water is written which I will fill up with something unholy just because I’m childish and don’t believe in quite the same way the gobshite nuns do (footnote: the news in Ireland this week has been the coverage of the disclosure that nearly 800 babies’ and toddlers’ bodies were discovered at the mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway, that was taking in unmarried women between the 1920s and 1960s. Every day on the radio people have been calling in with their heartbreaking stories of unspeakable cruelty perpetrated by these homes, run by the church, and condoned by the state. Women who had their babies taken from them at birth, told their child had died, committed for insanity, and so they go on. Women who today wonder if their child is one of those found in an unmarked grave. It’s another terrible chapter in the history of the Catholic Church. And is one of the reasons I don’t feel that Holy Water has much going for it. Incidentally, I didn’t hear any men ring in and apologise for getting any women pregnant).
I’ve become a recluse! Today I went to Aran and decided I didn’t like being around so many people, and nor did I like being on an organised trip. I went to Inis Mor and had no idea what to expect so plumped for the coach trip. Not a good choice but if you are thinking of coming here all you have to do is get a ferry from Ros o Mhil to Inis Mor and then walk, hire a bike or get a tour bus. The driver of our bus has lived on Aran all his life and told us lots of interesting facts such as how much a boatload of peat costs, and where to get the best stew, although as he says, he shouldn’t really be saying. He also told us about the “tatched cottages” and how you have to keep them the same on the front but you can do what you feckin well like at the back.
I know that most people have a vague idea of their mileage, and if I was one of those I’d know how many miles I’ve travelled. Or kilometres. Coming from imperial to metric is complicated. I still can’t quite figure out the speed limits and have taken advantage of the 100 signs which took some time to register didn’t mean mph at all.
Being on the edge of Europe has a minor downside: you have to go a long way to get anywhere. It is about six miles to the nearest shop, and most places I’ve been going to are at least an hour away. I’ve never knowingly been further than 10 mins from a supermarket so this is extraordinary. The scenery though is fantastic so it’s hardly a chore, but today I decided I’d stay close to home and give the car a rest. This also coincided with Mrs Riordan being out which I don’t think she has done all week. I’ve felt a bit liberated by her absence and have even peered through windows, smoked shamelessly, and have fed Spot my leftovers (strictly forbidden). It also gave me a chance to do some washing – I’m ashamed that despite THE RULES, and although I have been especially careful with my personal hygiene, I woke up this morning to find mascara on my pillowcase and I can’t bear being a future laminated topic.
Today I went to Kylemore Abbey which is run by the “gobshite nuns”.
It’s an abbey now but it’s had several incarnations and of course Mrs Riordan isn’t a fan. “You’re paying €13 to see the inside of a boarding school” she said, but nevertheless it’s pretty impressive.
It was built in the 19th century by the wealthy Mitchell Henry for his beloved wife Margaret and they and their nine children lived there quite happily and presumably blissfully unaware of the potato famine.
I spent today on the coast road and found beautiful beaches at Gorteen, Bunowen and Mannin. Unfortunately I’d forgotten to take notes during Mrs Riordan’s lecture and couldn’t remember what I was supposed to be looking out for. I had a vague recollection of something about bodhrans, smokehouses, atmospheric research and transatlantic flights but the only thing I could clearly remember was that Mrs Riordan’s friend really likes Clifden and judging by Mrs Riordan’s face when she said this, she doesn’t.
In Ireland they have The Great Irish Bake Off. If you can’t imagine what it’s like try to picture The Great British Bake Off in a parallel universe. It’s sort of the same. Here’s what’s the same:
- There’s a camp one, a thin anxious one, a mumsy one and an old one. And of course a man who uses a ruler
- They make cakes
Here’s what’s different:
- The experts are Paul O’Hollywood and Mary O’Berry
- PO’H isn’t a silver fox and says things like “it’s not that you’re a bad baker, it’s just that you bake badly”
- MO’B says things like “you’re an eejit: it looks like a mucky pup ran all over your pastry”
- The contestants say things like “Oi’ve run out of feckin butter”
Ferries are amazing. While I was in the queue at Holyhead a man from Galway gave me the full SP. You don’t, as I had imagined, have to reverse your car back out again at the end which was worrying me because I can’t reverse very well. (footnote: when I first began driving lessons I reversed into a man on a bike. Tragically, clearly observing my reversing manoeuvre, he decided the safest bet was to get off the road and onto the pavement. That was an error of judgement on his part, although to be fair, he couldn’t have known that I would do the same). Ferries also have real toilets, cappuccino machines, and a cinema. They also have a full English breakfast deal which inexplicably costs less if you have toast with it, than if you don’t. Stena Ferries should realise that most of us had been up since three and weren’t up to the complexity of this arrangement.
This weekend I go away on my first ever holiday on my own. Actually that’s not strictly true because when I was seventeen I went alone to Morocco. I’d recently ended a relationship with a man who later went on to be a (not the) manager in Sainsbury’s and whom my mother liked very much. I had inadvertently forgotten to save any money and managed to survive for a week thanks mainly to the generosity of Lloyds Bank, but I had to supplement my meagre overdraft by begging in Tangiers. Back then (it was the olden days) the flight cost £18 and I managed to find a series of “hotels” which were very cheap and totally justified their inverted commas. I had a ball. I travelled from Marrakesh to Fez with a donkey on my lap (it was a very full bus), got pulled over by the police for wearing shorts, and as I’d vowed never again to sleep with a man whose name I didn’t know, made sure I slept with one whose name I couldn’t pronounce.