Two ‘Wild Food’ books: Food for Free and Wild and Free

Before we go any further I would just like to say that it’s a moot point whether these books a) really count as Landing Tales reads as they don’t live in that shelf region and b) would really be a better fit into our retired craft and garden blog Curiously Creatively. I say moot point, because whatever the arguments either way, these foraging books are what I have decided to feature in today’s blog post. And anyway, as you all already know, I can be somewhat flexible as to what constitutes a bona fide Landing Book Shelves title. As to the subject matter, I refer you to the Landing Excursions category and to the occasional garden or cookery feature that creeps in here. So that’s that out of the way then…

Front over of the 1992 edition of Food for Free showing a variety of plants.

Food for Free, 1992

Food for Free by Richard Mabey (Harper Collins 1972, 1992) was given to me about a year ago and is a former library book, so it had already performed much service by the time it passed into my hands. I think there has been a more recent reprint, which I may try to buy. Wild and Free by Cyril and Kit Ó Céirín, (O’Brien Press 1978; Wolf Hill Publishing 2013) actually belongs to The Bookworm, though I confess that I have rather commandeered it lately. This is what happens when you buy people books that you really want for yourself! Both books were originally published around the same period, looking at British and Irish wild food respectively. There is of course much overlap between the two books as far as flora and the uses to which they were/are put. Each book has its own approach, Food for Free being more of a field or gatherers guide to edible plants. It gives notes on habitat, season and details on how many of the plants have been used in the past, sometimes with basic cooking instructions. For some plants, the text merely notes that the plant is edible (eg the White and Red varieties of Dead-Nettle) without any further detail. In contrast, Wild and Free presents a collection of methods for a range of dishes, cordials, wines, jellies etc based on a seasonal foraging calendar and tried and tested family recipes. The Ó Céiríns write in detail of about twenty-four sources of food, giving plenty of instructions for making such tasty items as elderberry syrup, nettle soup, crab apple wine and a whole host of blackberry treats. There also seems to be a lot of beer and wine recipes!

As the Bookworm and I have a penchant for foraging, they are both handy books to dip into now and again as we like to extend our foraged food range now and again. Up until this year, I’d say that we have arrived at a fairly regular pattern of free range goods, focussing mainly on berries. Usually we end up with a good supply of blackberries, haws, rosehips, rowan berries and elderberries in the freezer for jelly making. We have used various recipes for preserves, but most frequently the Thane Prince book mentioned over on Curiously Creatively. The exception to all of the berry harvest is elderflowers, which we have picked for a lovely refreshing cordial in the last few summers (one batch already made so far this year, we hope to do another). Wild and Free gives a recipe for Elderflower pancakes that I would like to try for a change – I imagine they’d be great for a weekend breakfast.

Cover of Wild and Free showing blackberry jam & fresh berries.

Wild and Free, 2013

But in this particularly strange spring and summer, with the help of our two foraging guides, we have branched out slightly and explored some new foraged food. For quite a while we have been thinking of turning towards having a go at collecting some young ‘greens’ from the wild plants on offer to see if we could make a meal out of wild vegetables. As Richard Mabey points out, ‘It is easy to forget, as one stands before the modern supermarket shelf, that every single one of the world’s vegetable foods was once a wild plant’. This is obvious if you think about it, though as The Bookworm pointed out, you can quite see why nobody ever thought that cultivating and selling nettles was a great idea. Though maybe, a cultivated nettle would have no sting?

As you might have guessed, nettles were one of our target greens, having been meaning to make nettle soup for years. Funnily enough, we were rather wary about the idea of picking something so stingy to eat! Tip: stout gloves are required. It is also worth poiting out that venturing near a nettle patch with ripped jeans means that you get your knees stung at the very least. In the end, our foraging and cooking went very well thanks to the handy recipe in the Ó Céirín book. In the chapter on nettles, the authors retell a story about St Columcille and his Lenten instructions that his soup of nettles, water and salt should have nothing else ‘except what comes out of the pot stick’. The enterprising cook apparently hollowed out the pot stick and poured milk and oats into the broth. A much more substantial meal. Inspired by a note in Mabey’s book, we have also tried Goosegrass or Sticky Weed, which he tells us was recommended in spring soups and puddings by the diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706). We did ours in a pasta dish, which seems to be a much more twenty-first century twist on things.

Moving on to something that we still haven’t tried yet, I was tentatively considering looking for mushrooms and fungus. Mabey’s book has a section on fungus, which I found fascinating reading. I would love to try foraging for edible fungus, but I am aware that I need to do much more research first. At some point I hope to attend a workshop as a starting point, though I’m not sure if I will ever feel confident enough to try it for myself. In the meantime, I am happy to try to merely spot a few examples. The authors of Wild and Free describe a lovely foraging session, when they once gathered bags full of field mushrooms on a walk, which sounded fantastic. Sadly, we don’t live within easy reach of green fields, despite our lifting of distance restrictions now. That’s one for the future. Meanwhile, I will settle for our usual delicious berry harvesting.

I would love to hear from anyone who forages or who has any good book recommendations to pass on to us.

Culture Night: Owt for Nowt?

Brocure Cover

Our passport to culture!

Last Friday evening saw yours truly, accompanied by The Bookworm heading into Dublin’s city centre for some more Culture Night activity. As usual, we had been studying the brochure and marking possible activities. We had decided to more or less stick to the ‘Trinity and South Georgian Quarter’ to be handy for the Luas. In no particular order (as if memory serves me), here is our final tally of venues visited: The Arts Council, Merrion Square; the Pepper Canister Church; the National Gallery of Ireland; and the Science Gallery. We listened to musical offerings at the NGI and Pepper Canister and then explored differing ways of seeing at the Science Gallery. I am not sure whether tea and cake at the NGI counts as a cultural activity, but it was very tasty all the same. We were disappointed that three of our book marked events were cancelled, but it was not clear whether this had any connection to the bus strike or not. Particularly, we felt the loss of the light show at the Royal College of Surgeons as we had planned to round off our night seeing the 3D display before jumping on the Luas to head home.

On the morning after the night before, I scrolled though plenty of tweets from happy, satisfied Culture Night goers and event organisers. However, poet Colin Dardis made the reasonable point that ‘If you loved the free events at #CutlureNight remember to support your local artist and pay for their work during the rest of the year!’ Art practitioners and writers clearly all need to eat and welcome paying punters. One commenter, The Fingal Pimpernel went a stage further and declared ‘Great as I think #CultureNight is it shows up how stingy fuckers will turn up in huge crowds for free but won’t pay their way other 364 days’. I’m not sure whether the latter comment was intended to be genuine or tongue in cheek (such is the peril of Twitter) but as a dedicated Culture Night-er, I felt vaguely miffed at being apparently included under this tag. Confession: I admit to a liking for free stuff to do; after all, what parent doesn’t welcome the opportunity to do interesting (even educational) activities with kids that doesn’t break the bank. Having said that, I am not averse to paying for events etc and I frequently do so during the rest of the year. As a member of the book trade, I try to do my bit by attending (paid) events to hear my favourite writers. Now, I can’t be sure how many other Culture Night visitors fall into that category, but inevitably you are going to get folks who always want something for nowt and will never pay for anything. To some extent, I suppose such people fulfill a function on occasions such as Culture Night, by performing the role of ‘warm bodies’ to help to give the event its air of success.

Nevertheless, I  feel that complaining about ‘stingy f****s’ misses a couple of the great aspects of Culture Night. One of the big attractions for me, (and judging by the queues, I am not alone in this) is the opportunity to view places usually closed to the public. It’s a chance to see behind the scenes, in a way that another great festival, Open House, also offers. In other words, many people are just plain nosy, rather than miserly in their Culture Night activities. For example, one of the biggest queues I saw on the night was to tour Iveagh House, home of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. There is usually a queue of similar length to have a tour of Freemasons’ Hall; to the extent that it took us about four years of dedicated event queue monitoring to nab an Open House tour in a quiet-ish moment last year. One of my regular Culture Night/Open House goals is to add another previously unexplored building to my repertoire.

Culture Brochure

Deciding on our culture route!

Another great aspect of Culture Night is that institutions and charities not directly involved in the business of culture open up and invite visitors to learn something new. For example, Concern Worldwide, The Mendicity Institution, Amnesty International and Focus Ireland were all giving talks and raising awareness of their work. Add to that various community groups such as the Irish Polish Society and the Afghan Community of Ireland and you can see that there is much more to Culture Night than an open invitation to free loaders. It is also worth pointing out that many of the places open, such as the national cultural institutions would be free to visit anyway (though donations are requested). There is the additional pleasure of visiting cultural venues after hours, which can only be good for encouraging people to take the time to browse the exhibits. Visiting places out of hours feels like a delicious treat to be savoured.

I think it is reasonable to suggest that many people who visit places during this events will follow up new discoveries and pay for events or buy a piece of art in the future. All in all, I think that the Culture Night is a positive initiative one which should have a productive knock-on effect over the years. Or maybe that is just my wishful thinking. I admit though, that it is going to be hard to calculate the benefits in terms of hard cash to various arts organisations, practitioners and writers.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this question…

 

 

 

Book Temptation in Blessington

This will be a brief post, its purpose to illustrate just how difficult my task of reading around the Landing Bookshelves is going to be. The difficulty, I am forced to add, is entirely of my own making as I find it almost impossible to pass the ‘Just Returned’ or ’New Titles’ shelves in any library that I happen to visit. In this case, my little difficulty was in discovering a new bookshop on a recent trip to Blessington. Not one, but two bookshops can Blessington boast, one being the lovely Blessington Bookstore and cafe and the other, a second hand and antiquarian emporium.

Four Books

Too tempting to resist!

We had been in the former, where we enjoyed a browse, a beverage and some yummy cake at the end of our day trip to the Blessington Lakes. We were waiting at the bus stop over the road, when I spied what I thought was a sign saying ‘Books’ over in the as yet unexplored shopping centre. At that distance, despite my long sightedness I could have been seeing ‘Boots’ but I wasn’t about to take any chances. As the bus timetable declared a wait of more than thirty minutes, there was certainly time to explore the potential bookshop. Off we trotted in eager anticipation.

I am here to inform you that it was indeed a bookshop (Broadford Books), one that we didn’t even get inside of before we had found three books (plus an old map of The Wicklow Way) to buy. Booksellers shamelessly put stock outside at bargain prices to tempt us from our good intentions. Here is the result of our brief shopping spree: Miss Mapp by EF Benson, Angel Pavement by JB Priestly and CS Forester’s The African Queen. I was particularly pleased to spot The African Queen having recently watched the film version for the first time in years. He Who Put The Shelves Up is reading it at the moment so I will have to wait awhile. The Bookworm has now been introduced to the delights of Miss Mapp’s social circle and is keen to read the rest of the Mapp and Lucia books.

So, we had a very successful day out, which is good, but I am a step backwards in my mission to conquer the TBR Pile! I did however resolutely ignore an Arthur Rackham illustrated book of fairy stories…maybe next time…

Have you spotted any bargains lately? Do tell!

 

Picture Credit: The Bookworm (with thanks)

 

Culture Club at Liberties Upstairs

I have borrowed my post from the Members’ Blog on Writing.ie, in which I talk about a new venture that I am involved in organising for Liberties Press In Dublin. The main reason I want to mention the Culture Club venture here is that the first session features a previous #LandingAuthor, Daniel Seery (author of A Model Partner). Sometime soon I hope to include a guest post from Caitriona Lally (Eggshells) as well so that’s a another reason for borrowing my blog post. Of course, I’m also not averse to spreading the word about the Liberties Upstairs Bookshop’s Culture Club either!

A Model PartnerThis post sees me wearing my Liberties Press (Liberties Upstairs) hat, as I want to spread the word about a new venture that I’ve been involved in organising for the Liberties shop. Inspired by the positive experiences of organising the Liberties Upstairs Saturday morning book club (running since November 2014), I have decided to try setting up a monthly Culture Club. My aim is to have a varied programme, drawing on the resources of Liberties Press authors, publishing insiders and the arts and crafts contributors at Liberties Upstairs. The pattern of the sessions will be a talk and or reading followed by the opportunity for questions and discussion over wine or coffee. We might even rustle up a few biscuits to keep up our strength for the Q and A (well, what’s sauce for the book club….)

As the Liberties book group runs in a morning, we‘ve opted for an evening culture club, which we hope will be similarly supported by the local community. Indeed, some book club members have already expressed an interest in the new Liberties venture. The club will run on the last Wednesday of the month, with the inaugural event on 24 June at 7.30 pm. For this session, I am delighted to have debut authors Daniel Seery (A Model Partner) and Caitriona Lally (Eggshells), both alumni of the Novel Fair to talk about writing, pitching and getting a publishing contract. Both writers will speak and give a short reading, so it will be a packed evening to start our series of events. It should be a lovely beginning to our new programme; Daniel and Caitriona are looking forward to appearing, so I hope that a good time will be had by all.

Events and launches are an important part of any bookshop’s strategy in the ceaseless quest to increase footfall, that dread word. The Liberties Upstairs bookshop has hosted several events since setting up Liberties Upstairs in November 2013. However, this is the first time for embarking on organising a series of events. Initially I have planned a programme of six sessions with a further six in the pipeline for next year if all goes well. We plan to announce the first part of the programme at the June meeting. I hope that some people will be keen enough to sign up for the whole six sessions. My technology skills (!) have enabled a booking facility through our online shop (€5 euro per event) so I felt quite a sense of achievement when receiving the first confirmation.Eggshells

I’m looking forward to next week’s event; perhaps our author talks will inspire at least one would be writer to give it a go and aim for the Novel Fair. You never know what might happen…

Look out for a future post on The Landing from Caitriona Lally, and if you’re Dublin based, look out for future Culture Club events in Liberties Upstairs!

 

Fantasy art buying at the Sculpture in Context exhibition

During our visit to this year’s Sculpture in Context exhibition at the National Botanic Gardens, the Bookworm and I decided to indulge in a little harmless window-shopping. It was a variation on the ‘which one would you take home if you could afford it’ game that we often play after an exhibition. The rules were as follows: we had a budget of €20,000 to spend on art to show case Irish artists in a foreign embassy (unspecified) garden. Don’t ask me why we picked that scenario, it made sense at the time. I suppose that even in fantasy, we felt squeamish about buying things for ourselves. We felt constrained to honour our imaginary budget to the extent that we invented another commission; that of buying for a children’s hospital when we came across more art than our budget could accommodate. It was probably taking the art buying fantasy a little too seriously, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. I just hope nobody overheard us earnestly discussing our ‘purchases ‘and took us for genuine buyers.Bell

We set off for the Botanic Gardens on a dull morning, but it was at least dry, though rain threatened all afternoon. After taking one look at the louring sky, we decided to view the outdoor pieces first while the going was good. Before heading into the gardens, we detoured into the Alpine House in the little walled garden near the Visitor Centre. There, we came upon out first virtual purchase: ‘Bell’ by Deirdre Hayden and Jeremy Simmons. This was a small brass bell, coated with bluebell heads in resin, suspended above the central planting bed in the glasshouse. As we stood and admired the flower finish, we heard a bell chiming. We belatedly realised that the piece had a sound installation component (it helps if you read the exhibition programme) and immediately decided that we wanted this piece. Given that we were paying with funds even more imaginary than Monopoly money, we could afford to pay the asking price of €2,500 without wincing too much.Ruin

Our next imaginary purchase was only a short distance away, perched in the middle of a very small ornamental pond. This was Veronica Stellet’s ‘Ruin’, a miniature gothic ruined castle made from wood, metal and stone. It was a mere snip at €180 and of course, we had the required imaginary pond (in our fictitious embassy garden) upon which to site it. All we needed was a few miniature people to inhabit it, but fantasy will only stretch so far. Warming to our pretend art-buying task, we strolled around the gardens, catalogue and pens in hand. As always at Sculpture in Context, there was much to see and admire. However, inevitably we could not enthuse over some pieces for various reasons. The great delight of this exhibition is finding pieces in unexpected places. There is a magic in discovering site-specific artworks, which enhance and complement the natural surroundings. It is also brilliant to see so many families enjoying the exhibition; spotting the sculptures seems to be a great game for younger kids.

I think we did actually manage to see almost all of the 150 plus sculptures, despite running short of time and having to scoot around the indoor pieces in the Visitor Centre. The range of materials and styles of work are incredible. I’m pleased to see artists exploring ways of re-using materials and objects, such as Deirdre Hegarty’s ‘A Rose by any Other Name’ (using drinks cans)  and Joe Nagle’s ‘Floral Subversion’ (amongst other things, traffic cones). I love wood carvings and there were pieces in chestnut, pine driftwood, oak and elm. As I have probably said before, one visit to Sculpture in Context is never enough; neither is an imaginary purchase budget of €20,000 (we ran over by €1,860) so next year we may be rash and up the figure to €30,000 unless I manage a win on the Prize Bonds by then so that we can use real cash.Inner Sanctum II

And what about our extra role-playing purchases I hear you enquire? Well, when we spotted Breda Marron’s willow and wood sculpture ‘Inner Sanctum II’ we simply had to give it a good home. The piece is a large construction that you can enter, walking round a spiral into a cunningly designed private space. At €16,000 it over ran our embassy budget by miles so we decided that we ought to buy it for a therapy centre or a children’s hospital where it would, I am sure be greatly appreciated. In sheer generosity of spirit, we added Nicky Hooper’s ‘Caliope’, colourful horses made from laser cut Perspex at €85 a pair for our imaginary children’s hospital. I won’t bore you with the full list of our ‘purchases’, suffice to say that we enjoyed our choices and wished that we could really take them home!

If you’re in Dublin this week and have time for a stroll, it’s well worth a visit to the National Botanic Gardens to catch the exhibition which closes on 17 October. If you have already been, I’d love to know which were your favourite pieces!

Picture Credits: Verity, with thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

Words on the Street: Literary Dublin

It’s been a while since I featured anything of an excursionary (I think I made that word up) nature on The Landing so I’m taking the opportunity offered by last Thursday’s ‘Literature Crawl’ around Dublin for European Literature Night. This was the second time that I’d participated in the Words on the Street event and for me, as it was last year my attendance was in the guise of a book club outing. Last year we managed to tick of three events as we didn’t make it into town very early. This year however, we were planning to go for broke and be ready to start at 6.30pm with the first reading and not give up until the last one at 9pm.

The devil was in the decision-making: about which readings we were to attend, strongly influenced by which buildings we wanted to see inside and which reader we wanted to hear. It was a tricky balancing act indeed, because it is physically impossible to hear all of the readings (eleven) within the evening unless you run very fast and only stay for half a reading anyway which would be pointless. I’d have to admit that I was unfamiliar with any of the authors/works except for Jon McGregor so I was willing to have a go at any of them in the interests of literary discoveries.

For my part also, one given was that I wanted to hear Bryan Murray who was such a good reader last year and secondly, I wanted to see inside Buswells Hotel. One of our party vetoed Joe Duffy, so we agreed to part ways for one event as the building (a usually inaccessible part of the National Gallery) won out over any other considerations for the remainder of us.

Therefore, these were our final tally in route order. Where possible I’ve added in publication details below if anyone wants to follow anything up.

Even the Dogs Jon McGregor (UK, in the National Library, read by Jon McGregor)
Bloomsbury, 20111

I’d meant to read Jon McGregor at some stage but I’ve not yet got around to him. It was nice to have a reading by the author himself and to start off our literary crawl in one of my favourite buildings added to the pleasure of the evening. McGregor planned his reading so that he would read the first chapter at the first session and so on. An intriguing first chapter, sad, spooky, bleak yet not without human warmth.

At Livia’s Bar Pierre J Mejlak (Malta, in Buswells Hotel, read by Aengus MacGrianna)
http://wordswithoutborders.org/article/at-livias-bar
http://www.pierrejmejlak.com/xita_en.htm

I loved this short story but I don’t think much of Mejlak’s work has yet been translated into English. I found the short story published online and another piece on the author’s website which is worth a read too.

Nothing Ever Matters José Ovejero (Spain, No 5 South Leinster St, the National Gallery, read by Joe Duffy)

Apparently the author specified which extract was to be read at the event, which was as far as I know the only time this was the case, unless it just wasn’t made obvious by other readers. There seems to be a mistake in the title given in the brochure, as the book I came up with on Google was Nothing Ever Happens (Hispabooks, 2013). This novel seems especially intriguing as the chapter read (Claudio) seems to be part way into the novel, which neatly throws up questions yet gives very little away.

Ceasarion Tommy Wieringa (Netherlands, St Ann’s Church, read by Bryan Murray)

As ever, Bryan Murray brought the novel alive with his enthusiasm and obvious love of literature and reading. This is one I would definitely like to get hold of; it depicts the relationship between a mother and son who have been abandoned by the boy’s father. The tensions between one very absent parent and one very present parent are the focal point of the story.

The Prophets of Eternal Fjord Kim Leine (Denmark, the Mansion House, read by Phelim Drew)
Gyldendal, 2012

This seemed to be a very sombre historical novel, literally dark in the sense of being set in Greenland where the winters are very long, but also one full of dark passions and cultural and religious clashes. Phelim Drew seemed suitably sombre in his presentation of the piece.

Love Virtually Daniel Glattauer (Austria, Hodges Figgis Bookshop, read by Maria Doyle Kennedy)
Quercus Publishing, 2012

This was a great one to finish with as it was amusing and witty, promising a modern style of romance via email rather than letters.

I enjoyed all of the readings as an introduction to new reading avenues and I hope to follow up some of the leads. Last year I slipped up on those good intentions, so this year I’ve made a point of tracking down some publishing information while the event is still fresh in my mind. It looks as if some of the books will be easier to get hold of than others, though I haven’t checked everywhere yet. Hodges Figgis certainly had stock of Love Virtually, but I can’t remember which others were available on the night.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who attended the Dublin readings that we didn’t choose. Ideally I’d have gone to all of them! Drop me a line below if you can recommend any of the others or if you have been to any of the readings in other cities. It would great to hear about them…

Spoils from the Trinity College Book Sale

As regular readers probably realise, I  don’t need to be adding any more books to the huge TBR Pile that is the Landing Book Shelves but nevertheless I brought a few new additions home recently.  I hasten to add that the photographic evidence shown here is slightly misleading in that some of the books belong to one of the other book bugs in the household. Note that I’m attempting to fudge the numbers here.

Book Sale Purchases

Now where to put them…

I was particularly pleased to spot a Noel Streatfeild novel, When the Siren Wailed that I had not come across before. This was originally published in 1974 (William Collins) with the Collins Lions paperback edition I found dating from 1984. The book retains its Eason price sticker, originally costing £1.54. The blurb on the back from The Birmingham Post says, ‘Noel Streatfeild vividly recreates the atmosphere of blitz-torn London with all its friendliness, horror, confusion and tragedy. Her book cannot fail to impress young readers.’ The books tells the story of three children despatched with their school mates to safety as part of Operation Pied Piper.

Stories from the blitz interest me because my mum was evacuated from Birmingham during the war and she was lucky enough to make a lifelong friend as a result. I don’t think she ever had any exciting adventures as a result of being an evacuee though. I was struck by the fact that Laura the eldest sibling in the story,  was nine at the beginning of the war when the evacuation programme began. She was given the responsibility of looking after her two younger brothers Andy and Tim on a journey to an unknown destination with a train load of strangers. My mum was also nine years old at the outbreak of war but as an only child would have been sent away without the comfort of brothers or sisters. It’s hard to imagine now a circumstance where you would send a child away alone with a luggage label attached to a coat, a suitcase and a gas mask. Fortunately it all turned out well for my mother in her temporary home.

Closeup Books

Which one?

Now the only question remaining (apart from where to put the books when one bookshelf already covers the only landing window) is what to read next…I’ll keep you posted on that one.

I’d love to hear from anyone else who loves second hand book sale bargains too!

Lewis Chessmen and Noggin the Nog

Last Saturday afternoon my daughter and I went along to one of the National Gallery of Ireland’s regular showings of made for television art documentaries. This week’s film was on the Lewis Chessmen and their strange history. We have (or should I say He Who Put The Shelves Up has) a replica set of the Lewis Chessmen and even though I’ve never mastered the game I’m very fond of the little men (fiendish to dust though they are).

The Lewis Chessmen

Incredible Carving

The history of the chessmen is shrouded in mystery as they were discovered sometime prior to April 1831 (when they were exhibited in Edinburgh) having been at some point buried in sand on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. It is now thought likely that the figures which were carved from walrus ivory, were made in Norway between 1150-1200 AD. But how they came to be where they were found and who owned them is still, and will probably remain unknowable. The most likely theory is that they were being taken by a merchant to be sold. Even the details of the actual discovery of the carvings seems vague and uncertain.

The hoard found consisted of seventy-eight chess pieces plus fourteen counters and a belt buckle. The chess pieces are all exists  from four chess sets but the remaining pieces have never been discovered. The known pieces are all in public hands, with sixty-seven in the British Museum and eleven in the Museum of Scotland and they do also apparently go on tour. The cover shown here is from a British Museum booklet that we have on our bookshelves. I scanned the back too because it gives a good idea of the tremendous detail in the carving. In the documentary, a craftsman explained how difficult and with what skill the ivory figures were carved.

Lewis Chessmen Book

The Story of the Chess Set

But where does Noggin the Nog come into it I hear you ask? The answer is that the creator of the BBC Children’s Television series Peter Firmin was inspired by his visits to see the Lewis Chessmen to tell ‘their’ story. The result was a delightful saga of Noggin the Nog and his kingdom. As a child I loved this series so much that it is an indelible paart of my childhood memories. For anyone out there who has never heard of Noggin, or indeed of Nogbad the Bad, if you have trawl though YouTube you will find plenty of excerpts. The series was made by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate and was first broadcast in 1959, originally in black and white.

Every episode began something like this (I think it was Oliver Postage’s voice):

Listen to me and I will tell you the story of Noggin the Nog, as it was told in the days of old”, or “In the lands of the North, where the Black Rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long the Men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale … and those tales they tell are the stories of a kind and wise king and his people; they are the Sagas of Noggin the Nog. Welcome to Northlands, a tribute to Noggin, King of the Nogs and the People of the Northlands.

I am now feeling very nostalgic for old television programmes. I also have a renewed interest in one day going to see the original chessmen in either location. There have been calls for all of the pieces to be relocated to Scotland but there’s probably not much likelihood of that happening in the near future. However, the history society in Uig, Isle of Lewis has said that it doesn’t support calls to remove the men from London and is happy for them to remain where they are. Now, if anyone ever proves where the chess pieces were actually made then no doubt there will be another claim put foward for return to rival that of Lewis.

 

Credits: Lewis Chessmen image taken from British Museum pages.

Noggin the Nog quotation taken from Wikipedia. 

 

Another Bit of Memoir: The Perils of Travel

Now that Christmas is nudging a little closer, my thoughts have been turning to sorting out the logistics of popping over to see my parents. This also inevitably brings to mind the various travel related mishaps that I’ve had over the years (late trains, snow, rough seas, flight delays etc.).

I wrote the following piece about one of the times things went awry, for a school newsletter a few years ago and have just been fiddling with it a bit more. It’s another of my attempts (along with The Cake Lady) to experiment with memoir writing.

Stranded in Wales: Our Holyhead Experience

Welsh Flag

Motto: “Cymru am byth”
“Wales for ever

A few years ago, I often travelled from Dublin to Birmingham using the Dún Laoghaire /Holyhead ferry route. After one particular visit to Birmingham, the return trip didn’t go according to plan. My daughter and I had planned to be back in Dublin in time for her dad’s birthday and we duly arrived in Holyhead to catch the last Stena ferry to Dún Laoghaire. But the departure area was strangely, evenly ominously quiet. Did I have the sailing time wrong? I was dismayed to discover that Stena had cancelled the evening sailing; our ferry had been sailing through rough seas on the way over to Wales and had been involved in a slight collision in. While no serious damage had occurred, repairs and safety checks meant that we were not going anywhere in a hurry. There would be no ferry until about 9am the next day; an Irish Ferries boat would then (apparently) be sailing the stranded passengers into Dublin Port instead of Dún Laoghaire. So much for my best efforts at forward birthday planning.

So I found myself in the somewhat daunting position of being stranded in a town I hardly knew with nowhere to stay. Oh, and not forgetting the small (very tired) child in tow. I was at least equipped with the necessary cash for emergencies (whether being prepared for emergencies is a legacy of being in the Brownies or from reading Paddington, I’m not sure but nevertheless, generally I am prepared). After patiently explaining our predicament to my tearful four-year old and then phoning home to break the news of the interesting situation, I set about trying to figure out where we could stay. After ruling out a night on hard moulded plastic seats, I thought that our best option might be to head back to Brum and start afresh next morning. The thought of a proper bed to sleep in was strangely tempting. Unfortunately, a quick glance at the train timetable ruled that idea out of court.

Fortune seemed to be smiling on me when I spotted a pile of glossy leaflets advertising a new bed and breakfast place in town. It looked decent and reasonably priced. The only thing that now remained was to find the address given in as short a time as possible. My daughter was still upset at not being able to get home for daddy’s birthday. I tried to persuade her that being stuck on the wrong side of the Irish Sea from the birthday cake and (her own bed) was a great adventure. At that point, she just wouldn’t buy it and I had no more treats in my armoury to placate her. Call it being prepared for emergencies, but only up to a point (this situation wasn’t covered in the Brownie Handbook). Fortunately, sharing the stimulating experience of being stranded in Holyhead was her elephant (Ella).

We found the address of the B&B without too much difficulty, but there our luck petered out. The sign read, ‘Full up, no vacancies‘. Well it was half term so I suppose this was hardly surprising. I decided that it made sense to ask anyway, since we needed help. The owner would probably be able to point us in the direction of another bed (or so I hoped). The proprietor confirmed that he didn’t have any vacancies, but then asked me to wait and said that he would see what he could do. We promptly crossed our fingers and toes (even Ella the elephant did). His side of the overheard phone conversation involved the explanation that he had a stranded mammy and child. It turned out that he had been speaking to his mother who just happened to run a small guesthouse nearby. To my great relief we were sorted. Then instead of just giving me the address and directions, our newfound friend (I regret that I failed to keep a note of his name) offered to drive us to his mother’s house. I wondered fleetingly whether I was being very irresponsible in getting into a car with a total stranger. But there are times when you have to trust your gut and this was one of those occasions.

I was actually grateful to have had the lift over to the house, as we were both rather tired and dispirited. We then realised that we needed to find somewhere handy to eat as the premises didn’t offer evening meals. It turned out that our most likely option was a local fish and chip shop that boasted a couple of tables for dining in. The only question remaining was whether it would be open on a Sunday night or not. To my amazement, our new landlady’s son then very kindly offered a lift to the chip shop. He even said he would wait to be sure the shop was open before leaving us; this was certainly well above the call of guesthouse duty. I did however feel that I should draw the line at phoning him for the offered lift back. 

My daughter was finally reconciled to our Holyhead adventure by the experience of eating piping hot fish and chips hours past her normal bedtime. Thankfully, I found the way back to the B&B after only one wrong turning. I even managed to find an Aldi (or was it Lidl?) to buy orange juice. Cue a brief moment of self-congratulation upon my innate sense of direction. We were certainly glad to see our beds that night; it had been a very long day and we were still not sure whether we would get home on Irish Ferries’ morning sailing. Meanwhile things had turned out much better than I expected, thanks to the kindness of strangers.

Although we were yet to leave Holyhead to brave the stormy seas on our homeward trek…       

I hope you liked the piece and would appreciate any constructive comments! I’ll be back with a Tolstoy update soon..

 

 

 

Open House Dublin: #LandingExcursion Time Again

As fellow fans of architectural Dublin will know, Open House Dublin fell in the first weekend of October (Friday 4th – Sunday 6th). I’ve mentioned Open House before on The Landing since it’s one of my favourite cultural events. As usual many buildings of architectural merit across a wide variety of age and purpose were open to the public at no charge. Guided tours to buildings such as The Chocolate Factory, the Lighthouse Cinema and the Alliance Française were on offer as well as government, institutional and educational buildings. Some tours were available by public lottery only (such as for Freemasons Hall) but unfortunately I wasn’t geared up enough in time to enter. Maybe next year I will be better organised; I picked up the map and leaflet in good time but failed to follow-up.  Having said all of that, we had a good day of building bagging despite the lack of forward planning and we went home quite satisfied (and very footsore) with our discoveries.

Department of Industry and Commerce

A view of the front on Kildare Street

Our last port of call on a busy day was to the Department of Industry and Commerce building on Kildare Street where we just squeezed onto Open House’s final tour. We were really lucky because the organisers took double the optimum number of people round so as not to leave anyone out. We certainly fared better here than at Earlsfort Terrace where the volunteers were saying they were booked out for the last tour. I couldn’t help wondering whether it would have really hurt them to allow a few extras since they were turning away enthusiastic visitors. That’s one to bookmark for next year’s event I suppose. Anyway, back to the over-subscribed government building tour.

The tour was conducted by Angela Rolfe, an OPW architect who wrote a book to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the building and so is therefore an expert on the construction and features of the purpose-built (completed in October 1942) government building. The building was designed by J.R. Boyd Barrett and the building contractors were John Sisk & Son. It now houses two departments: the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. I have to admit that apart from the interest of seeing the interior features of a building that I wouldn’t normally be able to enter; there is a certain degree of plain nosiness in wanting to peek behind the scenes. Not that you get to see anything shocking, apart from the possibilities of seeing who has the untidiest office and leaves dirty coffee cups around. And in fact, it was all pretty tidy by and large. 

The interiors still have most of the original features, apart from it seems some alterations to facilitate modern health, safety and fire regulations. Sadly, the glossy finish on the Australian walnut panelled walls has been a victim of this since the surface was deemed to be a fire hazard. The panelled lobbies and minister’s corridor are still impressive but the walls must have looked wonderful without the more practical matt finish. The craftsmanship of the whole building was very much in evidence as also was the obvious care with which the building has been looked after during its seventy-one years. The sash windows still function and the specially made linoleum is still in pristine condition. But then it was pretty posh lino in the first place I suppose, no bargain basement stuff here. The building seems to have been well designed for the benefit of the people working there and not just for appearances sake, with attention paid to the quality of lighting, space and ventilation.

Decimal Penny (1971)

Gabriel Hayes’ design

I was interested in trying to obtain a copy of Angela Rolfe’s book (47 pp, Office of Public Works, 1992,) but it seems to be quite hard to track down. The only copy I found was listed on ABE Books as a first edition at €25 which is rather more than I wanted to pay. I might just have a look at the copy in the National Library instead. I can’t find an image of it to post up either so I’ve added a picture of the building and a link to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage instead, so that you can see a couple of shots of the carved exterior panels by Gabriel Hayes (1909-78). There’s also more detail about the features of the building if you want to read more. Gabriel Hayes had a long career and amongst many achievements, she designed some of the decimal coins, brought out in 1971 (see picture attachment page for more information).

I’ll be back with more Landing Challenge book news soon but I’d love to hear if anyone else in Dublin was touring the city for Open House this year so drop a line in the box if you have any news… 

Picture credits: Wikipedia, with thanks.