- This is My Hadji Bey
- Eurovision in a Cowshed
- The Boll Weevil 3: On the Waterfront
- A Year in Brocante 11: An Easter Egg
- A Year in Brocante 10: Upscaling and Hacking
- Kevin Pearce
- The Bol Weavil and the Lightning Bug 2: On the Ground
- The Boll Weevil and the Lightning Bug 1: A Home in Ireland
- Love In The Air
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This is my Hadji Bey, this is the Bey I will remember the day I’m dying……
Hadji Bey is a sweet memory for Corkonians. Hadji Bey was a Christian Armenian named Harutun Batmazian who arrived in Cork from London at the turn of the twentieth century, having fled his homeland to set up a Turkish Delight stall at the Great Exhibition in 1902. His product was such a success that he went into business and his Lokum became a famous Cork delicacy and was exported to the grand emporia of London and New York and nibbled in Buckingham Palace.
Hadji Bey means “Prince of the East” and in Cork, not only did the name stand for a soft jelly-like confection, but it was also stood in quite handily as a moniker for anyone of Middle Eastern origin and because of its sweet connotation, it was used in the familiar affectionate rather than the foreign dismissive. Hadji Bey’s made chocolates as well as the rosewater pink and pistachio green Turkish Delight and all the confectionery was usually presented in pink or green boxes, with gold for gift ‘trays’ and chocolates.
The Batmazian family originally operated the business from their home on the Lower Glamire Road. Though Haratun’s fellow Christians and countrymen were in actually being slaughtered by the Turks at the time, local troops returning from the battlefield of the First World War set fire to the premises on the assumption that the owner was Turkish. Batmazian published an open letter called “Live and Let Live” explaining his origins and moved his business to MacCurtain Street, where it prospered for another half century. It was a beautiful shop on a street of remarkable buildings; close by was the fan porch of ‘Dan Lowery’s Palace of Varieties,’ now the Everyman Palace Theatre and the wonderful Art Nouveau tiling on the open front of Quain’s fishmongers…and Crowley’s Music store, where Blues Rocker Rory Gallagher bought his first guitar. The Batmazian family still live in Cork, but the firm was sold in 1971 and eventually went out of business the late l980s.
This gold foil and cardboard tray box has probably been in our family for well over forty years. We probably scoffed the chocs together in Orchard Corner some Christmas long ago when everyone we loved was still alive and I wish I knew who gave us the present. Once holding old photographs in my mother’s bureau, the box has been shunted around and is a bit battle weary.
Recently we were offered some Turkish Delight in the house of Irish friends. The round, simpering pink box bore the trade mark “Hadji Bey”. The delicacy – to the original recipe, the makers swear, passed on from the Batmazian family, who still live in Cork – is now being produced by Urneys in County Kildare and sold in boxes of the period. I ran all the way home (botchawaddy waddy) and rescued my souvenir of old Cork from the attic.
I tried to mount and frame it in a sympathetic way, in the traditional rose water pink but I’m not happy with the outcome and may have to go back to the easel. Another disappointment of this ouvre is its contents; What I really wanted to have inside was an article on a yellowed cutting I know I have kept from the Spectator magazine circa 1964, written by Stan Gebler Davis, entitled “Hadji Bey’s of Cork.” I have searched high up and low down but I cannot find it and no record exists on the Spectator site (…..or could it possibly have been Punch?) In lieu of that special piece, I have included a black and white photograph of the exterior of the Hadji Bey shop on MacCurtain Street and a picture from/by the Spencer Tunic Experience during the Cork Midsummer Festival of 1,000 people naked in front of Blarney Castle. (http://www.thespencertunickexperience.org/2008-06_Blarney_Castle/Blarney%20Castle_Ireland.htm)
In January TG4 (Irish language Television) screened a documentary by the independent company Forefront, called “Hadji Bey: Milseáin na Tuirce I gCorcaigh” on the product and its history, with input from historians and academics as well as archive footage.
(An excellent article by Colette Sheridan “A Sweet Taste of the Past” from the Irish Examiner of 14th December 2011 was invaluable for historic background on this story…thanks cuz! x)
It was twenty years ago today…….. and my nephew Thomas’ First Communion day. It was also the day that Ireland hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in what one English journalist described as “a cowshed.”* It was actually the Green Glens Arena in Millstreet, an equestrian centre in a small town right of Macroom between Cork and Killarney and the smallest and most remote venue for the event ever.
The Green Glens usually hosted agriculture and horse shows and competitions, but due to the foresight and imagination and sheer doggedness of its founder, Noel C Duggan, who offered the use of the hall for the night for free to the national broadcaster, RTÉ, it became world famous. Millstreet is a small place – it had a population of 1,500 at the time – with a small train station and a windy windey road from Cork over the mountains. The Green Glens is an indoor arena, so, with very few uprights holding the roof, it was rather perfect for a big televisual event. For weeks before, huge crews of electricians and builders and technology and radio heads and cable layers and floor layers swarmed over the complex getting it wired up, accessible and welcoming for the big night. Noel C Duggan and Millstreet were having a ball.
A few days before the show, I went to Millstreet to do an article on the place and the preparations and brought my mother. The main artery north west was closed because they were widening it, or re-laying it, or carpeting it or something, so we were diverted through narrow country roads , fringed with lacey May blossoms. It was a bright sunny day and it was such a beautiful journey, I vowed to go back and have a picnic one day on the side of the gentle hills, but that was twenty years ago, and I haven’t done so yet.
In Millstreet we met with Noel C and his son Thomas and I immediately fell in love – though whether with Noel C, or Thomas, a young man with the same energy and charm as his father – I can’t rightly remember. We watched some rehearsals, I got my bumf and my info and my colour and Noel C gave us a voucher for high tea in the canteen. The long wooden tables were thronged with busy people, the noise level was high and the chips were divine. As we were eating, an RTÉ tech crew of seven or so finished their break and stood up as a man, formed a line, put their hands on the shoulders of the guy in front, and swaying and marching they sang “Hey Ho, Hey Ho, it’s off to work we go…….” And disappeared out the back.
On Eurovision day, we celebrated Thomas’ First Communion at a family luncheon party in his home and then headed out for Millstreet, bedecked in lanyards. (I wore a Laura Ashley dress which is now only a tiny bit too tight, but my hair is better.) We had good tickets for the broadcast and because the plastic seats were less than salubrious, every guest got a foam pad with the Eurovision logo on it. I still have mine and though it’s lost its shine, it still makes an excellent knee pad for gardening. I can only vaguely remember the event itself nor the reception afterwards, except that the hospitality tents were far too crowded and we kept losing our friends. But I will never forget the May day I spent with my mother in the Green Glens Arena, the sunshine, the greenness, the excitement, the huge warm welcome and hospitality, the fun. And I’m still in love with Noel C.
*The BBC newsreader Nicholas Witchell later apologized. Our own entry’s singer, Niamh Kavenagh, (who had the audacity to win the competition again for Ireland) has since commented “most television studios are like going into the back of a barn anyway.”
A while ago someone asked “If you were to live in a book, what would it be?” I immediately thought of the book in which I would most NOT want to live: “Room.”
Emma Donoghue’s novel “Room” is a work of fiction told from the perspective of a five year old boy, Jack, who lives with his mother locked in a room. He has never seen daylight. People on television are not real to him, they are just the same as in a story book, except that they move…. because Jack knows no world other than a single Room, he thinks no other people exist except his mother “Ma” and “Old Nick” the man who “cares” for them, bringing them food, treats on Sundays and “visiting” his Ma at night. As the story unfolds, we learn that Ma, then a young student, had been kidnapped by the man and that the man is Jack’s father.
From a Dublin academic family, Emma Donoghue is a literary historian, playwright and author, who became a Canadian citizen in 2004 and lives in Ontario with her partner and their two children. “Room” is a disturbing and haunting bestseller which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2010 and received numerous awards and accolades. It is beautifully written, which makes it all the more devastating. “Room” is art imitating life; the inspiration for the story was the Fritzl case in Austria. Elisabeth Fritzl was held captive for 24 years by her father in the basement of the family’s large home. The abuse by her father resulted in the birth of seven children and one miscarriage. She was 42 years of age when she was freed in 2008, her father in his seventies.
This week, when three women and a six year old child were rescued from a house in Cleveland Ohio, where the women had been imprisoned, I noted the headlines, thought of “Room” and could not bring myself to read the press reports. Since then, the Cleveland case has become impossible to ignore, as the story is on every radio programme, every news bulletin. The women, now in the 20s and 30s were kidnapped separately between 2002 and 2004 and for a decade have been imprisoned within a small house, suffering physical and psychological abuse and deprivation, pregnancies and miscarriages. A 52 year old former school bus driver has been charged with their abduction.
Their release came when one of the women managed to break through a door and screamed for help. Psychologists claim that the probable impetus for the escape attempt came as her daughter got older, from an overwhelming urge to give a real life and future to her child.
Life imitating art.
Emma Donoghue will be taking part in Listowel Writer’s Week from May 29th to June 2nd 2013.
Back in Ireland this week looking for an interim property towards a home in which we might gracefully decline (when we get older losing our hair, many years from now Deo Vult.) we were considering the capital’s inner city. We live very happily in the city of Berlin with all its myriad amenities from opera to green spaces and uber efficient public transport. We step around the dog doodoo and hardly notice any more the artless graffiti – the urban scrawl.
Many of my kith and my kin reside in Dublin city. Before we looked to the old areas – excluding Portobello and Rathmines which have, even in a recession, gone beyond us – we decided with an eye to a good investment, to view some new apartments in the trendy blocks built on the river around the mega International Financial Services Centre.
The IFSC began to spring up in 1997 under the Custom House Docks Development Authority, which they themselves say is “working to develop Dublin Docklands into a World Class City Quarter [their caps] one in which the whole community enjoys the highest standards of access to education, employment, housing and social amenity and which delivers a major contribution to the social and economic prosperity of Dublin and the whole of Ireland.”
The Irish are great for naming civic sculpture, characters and events. (Anna Livia= “The Floozie in the Jacuzzi”, The Liffey Millenium Clock = “the Time in the Slime”, Molly Malone= “The Tart with the Cart”, Gerald Y Goldberg Bridge = “The Passover”, the Second World War = “The Emergency”, civil war in the Six Counties = “The Troubles” etc). The period between 1996 and 2008 in Ireland is known as “The Celtic Tiger”, “The Boom” or “The Madness.”
The main tranche of IFSC/Docklands building took place during The Madness. Still though like, allthesame, we thought we should not reject on spec the square blocks, for there is now a new bridge connecting its miles of piles, the rapid transport trams are running smoothly and Pilates classes are available.
Of a fine morning if you squint your eyes at the Samuel Beckett Bridge (“The Crank on the Bank”) the area can look like the Puente de la Mujer in the docklands development of Puerto Madero, Argentina. The Women’s Bridge was designed (as a “synthesis of the image of a couple dancing the tango”) by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and inaugurated in Buenos Aires in 2001 at a cost of $9m.
The Samuel Beckett Bridge is also by Santiago Calatrava. For the Dublin structure – which was inauagurated in 2007 and cost €60m – the architect said he envisioned the form as a harp, which is handy as he only had to tweek the Dublin bridge design to allow for traffic (the Women’s Bridge is pedestrian only) but it is also true. In Buenos Aires a few years back, I posed on the bridge, singing “Mellow the Moonlight” “plucking” the inclined suspension cables supporting the central span, because it looked to me just like the strings of a harp. The harp is a prominent symbol of Ireland (because the country is run by pulling strings.)
Over the past week as I slouched around the Dublin Docklands, the wind was whistling and howling through its urban canyons through the blocks of glass steel and concrete. It is so vast and the blind slab buildings are all so featureless, soulless and samey behind their locked metal gates and high fencing that I needed directions to get to Apt W Block X, Y House on Z Quay. I approached a young man wearing a blue hoodie (which, along with pyjamas, is the national costume of Ireland) standing on the pavement of one of the older streets hijacked for development. “Do you know where I’d find Y House?” ses I. “How’r’ye doin’?” ses he. “Grand” ses I, as I speak the lingo. During that preliminary necessary exchange, another young man approached from across the street and I expected that as he had seen me waving a map and looking around he had come to assist in the investigation. He walked over and Blue Hoodie held out his right hand, in which was folded a bunch of ten and twenty and euro notes. Other Guy held out his right hand, in which was a foil pack of pills. They did not miss a beat: “over there, that’s all Z Quay there, just turn left and you should find it” they told me.
Ah it really is worth spending upwards of a quarter of a million euro to live in the Dublin Docklands, because it really does seem to be a community enjoying the highest standards of access to education, employment, housing, social amenity and drugs, delivering a major contribution to the social and economic prosperity and mental welfare of Dublin and the whole of Ireland. I mean, where else would you find such helpful, friendly and well mannered dealers?
I viewed the apartment. It was doonshie small and it was dull, like a hotel space skimmed in synthetics. Out on the tiny balcony space there was an audible hum. Neither the agent nor the nice German man also viewing noticed the audible hum, which resembled being beside the funnel of a Brittany Ferries ship as she steams past Penzance, or rush hour in the London Tube. I reckon it was from the air conditioning vents of the underground car park below, the agent thought it might be the cooling system of the Marks and Spencer’s store across the way.
Goodbye now so ses I and made a run for it, out through the metal gates, back into the world, the whipping wind and the wheeling gulls. I felt that like Dorothy, I would be caught up in a whirlwind, along with the cloud of plastic bags rising, dipping and river dancing through the blind streets and grey alleyways….I kinda wished I were, for Oz or Kansas’ plains would be more colourful, have more life.
The next property I viewed was a ‘show apartment’ which meant that along with the black leather sofas de-rigeur in every living space in the Dublin housing market, meant it had Bad Art, a glass table and metal curlicues. I didn’t even look at the bedrooms because I hated it on sight. The windows were dirty – as are those of all the buildings around (no money for cleaning hoists) – and made the dark grey day darker and greyer. Buenos Aires it was not. When I asked about the fate of a huge building site across the road, which would eventually further shadow the apartment, the agent proudly told me it was to be the headquarters of NAMA, the National Asset Management Agency, the Deep Doodoo Agency, which elicits the same cuddly fuzzy feeling in the Irish as, did, say, the Stasi in East Berlin. I made a cross sign with my fingers as one does to ward off vampires, the nice young estate agents in their winkle-picker-toed shoes were not just confused, but wished a gust of wind would pluck this mad woman from their ken.
Next day I viewed another modern apartment in a new block next door to the Google headquarters at the other side of the river, the south side, where I feel much more at home. Two guys were living there, but they were not around and had it very tidy, each had 8-10 pairs of sneakers/trainers neatly stacked and there were two Stand-Up Paddle boards standing against the wall. Men after my own heart but nonetheless, it was definitely not for me. Luckily, I was wearing red shoes, so I clicked my heels and we drove down to Killiney and back up along the coast through Dalkey, Dun Laoghaire, Monkstown and Blackrock to Sandymount. The roads are wide, the sun shone on the water, there were open green spaces (the sea oh the sea, grá geal mo chroí.) We immediately made a decision from the heart, for it is the heart that makes a good investment a good investment:
Despite the beautiful bridges and the impressive politesse of the local people on the Northside Docklands, we have decided we are not inner-city bods ourselves. We cannot escape that we are inexorably drawn to the burbs’ and the thought of living along the Dart line south towards the Sugar Loaf…..
Recently I have been interested in the Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler and as so often happens – it’s called ‘happenstance’ – yesterday at a Marché aux Puces I happened upon a print of his “Genfersee von Chexbres” (Lake Geneva from Chexbres.) Known as a ‘symbolist’ a ‘stylist’ and a ‘parallelist, ’ between 1895 and 1911 Hodler painted two landscapes from this vantage point. The first, on the market for the first time since 1963, sold at Sotheby’s in Zurich in November 2011 for €5,784,660. ”My” Hodler has less human interest and more high, sheepish clouds and is in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva.
Large, mounted and framed – and a bit green around the bottom foreground – I bought the print, by Lopfe-Benz, Rorschach and possibly dating from the 1960s-ish, for €16. Putting it into the back of the car, I was so engrossed in the picture that I distractedly reached up, and slammed the boot door on my head. I saw stars and emitted a pathetic ‘Ouch.’
By the time he was 8 years old, Hodler had lost his father (a carpenter in Berne) and two younger brothers to tuberculosis. Within a number of years, his mother and 3 remaining brothers had all died of TB. He had several wives and mistresses and his most famous work is that executed at the bedside of his lover Valentine Godé-Darel. They met in 1908 and in 1913 she was diagnosed with cancer. Over the next two years until her death in 1915, Ferdinand documented Valentine’s disintegration. Death had ruled his life and influenced his art. He used a lot of the colour blue, symbolizing his loneliness, melancholy and the transience of life.
As nobody in the crowded car park deigned to ask if I was alright, or had just split my skull, I just got into the car and drove away. Anyway, it wouldn’t have made any difference if someone had enquired as to whether I had concussion, because I would only have done the Irish thing and answered “Ah no, no, it’s OK, you’re grand.” By the time I got home, a fine elevated bruise had appeared above my temple, the shape, size and colour of a duck egg ….nay, bigger than a thrush’s egg “like little blue heaven”…. The blue of a Hodler lake, a Hodler sky.
“But are you alright Belle?” No no, it’s OK… you’re grand.
“Upscaling” is the next step up from recycling. It means taking something old or broken or molecularly challenged or unfashionable and re-inventing it as something new. ‘Upscalers’ would qualify as ‘guerillas’, ‘hackers’ or even ‘bombers’.
‘Hacking’ originally meant to extend or modifiy the capabilities of a device for a purpose for which it wasn’t originally intended. There is good hacking and there is bad hacking. Bad hacking is the violation of internet security codes (which computer programmers think should be called ‘cracking’) by what the technology community defines as ‘Hats’, their motivation denoted by colour; black (criminal, espionage or world domination as in the Chinese military) white (computer security experts) and even grey (a mix of black and white) and blue (an individual used by legit firms hired to bug-test a system looking for exploits which can then be closed.) I knew a ‘blue hat’ in Cork, a guy more interested in music than book learning who was so brilliant a hacker that a major systems operator gave up trying to close him down or prosecute him and contracted him instead. ’Good’ hacking is now so popular it is known as a job creator, a movement of those with good ideas and creative skills. ‘Good’ hackers – or ‘guerillas’ take ordinary mass-produced stuff such as Ikea furniture and make it their own.
I haven’t a clue about technology, so couldn’t be a ‘hat’ but I am a hacker, an upscaler, a guerilla and a bomber. I have even been known to add some extra pleats to an Issey Miyake coat, cut-outs and patches to Desigual skirts and tops and have risked the Conformity Police – and the real police – by yarn bombing a piece of public sculpture outside the Esplanade ‘Theatres on the Bay’ arts and entertainment centre in Singapore. (“Yarn bombing is defined as ‘Graffiti for Grannies’.)
For many years, my sisters and I – and then our daughters – have been big fans of Longchamp’s ‘Le Pliage’ and are rarely without one of the French label’s nylon- canvas tote bags slung on its long leather handles over our shoulders. Inspired, the company says, by the Japanese art of Origami, “the simple yet absolutely ingenious Le Pliage bag has become a must-have accessory all over the world.”
What was great about the Lonchamp, beside the huge range of colours, roominess and its light, foldable convenience, was that it was a minority niche favourite and not widely enough known outside of Europe to warrant the mass-production of cheapo versions. In the past couple of years however, the Longchamp ‘Pliage’ or ‘Shopping’ bag has become ubiquitous, is highly desirable and highly prized as “the must-have accessory all over the world” and is everywhere…. “walking” as we say in Cork, or, as one adoring blog of dubious linguistic and literary abilities says “Carrying this sort of a handbag will unquestionably make your lifestyle filled with envying eyes”.
This upscaled bag is my latest bit of fun. The added covering qualifies it for inclusion in the ‘Year in Brocante’ category because it was bought – yards and yards of it – in a flea market here in France. It is cotton lace in creamy beige and white which may have been destined originally for making those short café style curtains beloved of the French. Because I added the lace to a lettin’on Longchamp bag (i.e. a fake) it also falls within several other categories!
The original Longchamp Pliage is less expensive in France than anywhere else in the world, but now that poor eejits believe that carrying this sort of a handbag will unquestionably make your lifestyle filled with envying eyes, it is being produced by the million in Asia for the Australian, North American and European markets. When one can get a decent enough fake, lettin’on version for a tenner, why pay around a hundred for the original? Well, the original lasts and lasts carrying heavy weights without complaining. Lettin’ons don’t last, the poor binding falls apart, the rubbery backing of the fabric sloughs off leaving a sad interior. As nobody wants a sad interior – but I certainly want a bit of fun – the lettin’on is brilliant as a canvas (gettit?) for creativity….well, if Tracey Emin can do it, so can I. (“Do you mean not make your bed Belle?”)
Just don’t give me the ‘Frenchjobsyaddayadda’ spiel; like everything else these days, not all of Longchamp’s merchandise is made in France but is produced mainly in Tunisia and China…as are the cheapo versions. The fakes are sometimes so good that there are countless websites devoted to the perils of buying a Longchamp Pliage from any outlet but a dedicated Longchamp shop or concession, with frantic consumers getting their handles in a twist worrying if their double square of stitched nylon is the real Allie Daley. One sleuth advises using a magnifying glass to spot fakes!
I’ll still travel with my beloved leather-bound heavy duty canvas Longchamp wheeled trolley, briefcase and overnight bags as they’re stylish, low-key, well designed, tough and dependable (Himself even steals them for short business trips) but not loud or expensive enough to warrant notice on the airport carousel. The Pliage is another thing entirely. Now that they’re commonout, farewell leather-handled nylon canvas Longhamp totes and goodbye, we’re off to create the New Next Thing! In the meantime however, I’m having a bit of fun, personalizing my oldies, the worn ones, the tired, the poor lettin’ons, the huddled masses at the bottom of my wardrobe yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of my teeming store.
Kevin Pearce is an internationally famous snowboarder who was critically injured when he struck his head above the eyes on the edge of the pipe during a halfpipe training run on New Year’s Eve 2009 in Park City, Utah. He remained critically ill for many moths,undergoing treatment in hospitals in Utah and in a rehabilitation center specialising in traumatic brain injuries in Colorado. The youngest of 4 sons of glass producer Simon Pearce whose headquarters is in Vermont and his wife Pia, Kevin is a nephew of the potter Stephen Pearce of Shanagarry, County Cork, where his father grew up. His uncle on his mother’s side is Cyrus Vance, Jr., the District Attorney of New York County (Manhattan).
As the months went by and Kevin’s hold on life and recovery were first tenuous then his rehabilitation tortuous, tens of thousands of people, joined in wishing him well. His snowboarding friends and fans from the world champion snowboarder Sean White to children on toboggan runs wore signs reading “I ride for Kevin” at events and family trips and posted them on his Fbk page. I do not snowboard but as a very long time friend of the Pearce family through 4 generations, from his grandparents, father, uncle and aunts, Cork cousins and now his cousin Lucy’s children, I wanted to offer solidarity also….so I carried my (slightly amended!) sign at Checkpoint Charlie, crossing point between the old West and East Berlin.
Now, 3 years later, Kevin is well and though not snowboarding (his mother probably won’t let him!) is playing sports such as golf and giving his time and energy to an awareness project for those with severe brain injuries. Last year, a film was made about Kevin’s accident and recouperation by the British, US based documentary maker Lucy Walker. “Crash Reel” premiered at Sundance recently and is showing tomorrow in Berlin. I am so glad, three years after I posed this pic in hope for his recovery, to be going to the film in celebration of just that; Kevin Pearce’s greatest achievement (to date!) and the biggest, steepest,highest, hardest mountain anyone could ever have climbed – and what is more, what is another of his strengths – Kevin is back at ground level smiling.
Like an over-confident teenager, I thought I knew it all. Teenagers know everything about life, I thought I knew everything about the Irish property market. Actually, I hadn’t a ballsey notion. I’ve just come back from a house-hunting trip to Dublin. In my home from home, a room overlooking the paddocks of the RDS in Bewleys Hotel in Dublin, I surfed and trawled the Web and sat on the ‘phone 5 hours a day (well, unless it was in my back pocket; I didn’t exactly sit on it but in common parlance, one is “ODM…On De Mobile.”) For the other 5 daylight hours and then some, I drove around and around and around and around craning my neck to see ‘For Sale’ signs from street corners, pulling into illegal parking spaces to stab the GPS. At night I went through notes, interrogated the daughter, nieces and daughter’s friends, dreamed in sleep of houses and then woke up in the morning and started all over again.
After four days in Dublin, I’ve learned lots, seen lots, missed a house on South Lotts, met nice people, saw an apartment with promise and a nesting pigeon and now I really know it all. What I’ve learned mainly is what I don’t want.
Let me now make an unreservéd qualification. The opinions and preferences expressed herein are purely personal and to many, off the wall. That’s how opinions crumble regarding allergies, elegies, music, lovers, clothes, other people’s children and castles, as well as cookies. I like Mondays, but not many people do. I don’t like Dublin’s Northside (except for bits of the coast, but unfortunately, they are often accessed through bits I don’t like.) This bias has got nothing to do with the place nor its people (except Bertie Ahern) – even its structures – it’s based on nature and nurture and internal irrationalities akin to why Jack Spratt eats no fat and his wife eats no lean and sauce for the goose not necessarily being sauce for the gander. So there’s that out of the way and no shouts of “Snob!” “Boring!” “Bleaaach!” “Yuuch!” or even “Off with her head!” will be harboured, for, as the Beauty Queens say “we’re all individuals, everyone is entitled to their opinion and I like to travel and see the world.”
Before arriving in Dublin for the recce, I was considering a house or apartment anywhere south city or south of the city, as far out as Dundrum, Cabinteeley or Killiney. Having spent hours driving on motorways, I’ve scrubbed that and deleted anything in the outer burbs, even those with sea views and sweet communities, which rules out the Dalkeys and Dun Laoighres, the Ballybracks and Cabinteeleys and even the Rathfarnhams. Those places are fine for the settled set, for commuters with jobs in that kinda area and for young families, but that’s not our demographic.
We are looking for an interim place, not something which will be our stairway to heaven, but something to get us back on the Irish property staighre* thereto. As yet, I don’t know whether I’d like to be doddering by the Dodder* or declining on the slopes of Mount Leinster, so now is not the time to make the ultimate decision for when I am Lady Gaga and Himself can’t even remember the answer when I ask “how old am I?” Therefore, in order to keep the place ticking over, we have to be able to rent the accommodation we buy in Dublin, which means that we’re actually looking for an investment property. The term ‘property investor’ in Ireland has the same connotation as ‘informer’ so I go against the best advice of those who say I should think of market potential and not follow my heart as I won’t be living in it myself. Sorry, no can do. I’m not a property investor, I’m a Bol Weavil lookin’ for a home, jus’ lookin’ for a home and my heart is too hotly wired to head. In relation to shelter, art and love, I don’t do purely pragmatic.
Interestingly, the same native distaste of the property investor/informer, the same Irish distain for those who move into the cottage of the evicted tenant is evident in relation to bank repossessions or NAMA properties which are for sale because of another’s misfortune (or in some cases, greed.) Though created to off-load land and buildings, they swear there is a website and the information is available but the details appear to be hidden away out of embarrassment. To get the intel on who, what why where and how much regarding Bank or State acquired property, you will be sent all around the houses and come away with a pyramid of email addresses, but knowing no more.
I want to buy something in Dublin south which is bigger than our living rooms in France and Berlin (40m2) has space to store a bicycle and somewhere to put up guests, so 2 beds is the minimum. I love being in the centre city, but in some areas the traffic pollution, the knots of drug dealers, the inability to park, the desolation of dark night/noise, is scary. I don’t want a street so narrow I can’t drive down it or turn a car. I don’t want overhead high-tension electricity cables interfering with my molecules and my radio reception. I don’t want guys mending cars at the end of the road or to be on an airport access flight path. I don’t want the noise/light pollution of a nearby sports-stadium, or to live in an area overbuilt on a traditional flood plain or too close to the high tide mark. I don’t want barbed-wire or a wall outside my windows. I want some connection with nature or the outside world with easy access to public transport and within ten minutes walk of a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk. We are too mature to be allowed a hefty mortgage over a prolonged period and should now be pulling in our horns instead of over-stretching ourselves. The greasy wad is small – in the region of €200,000 – but the expectation is huge.
With that background, I went to Dublin. Himself asked me afterwards if the Estate Agents had been more helpful and forthcoming, not so bored when they heard my small budget, than when we looked for property before in Dublin in 1999. I answered an unqualified “Yes.” With the exception of one guy who had no sense of humour (he was actually British so it was probably a cultural thing) all the professionals to whom I spoke or with whom I met are my New Best Friends. There appear to be quite a few ‘non-nationals’ in the property business in Ireland these days. I’m in touch with a cool South African dude and met a gorgeous dark haired young lady whose accent is a mixture of Mediterranean and flat Dublin.
Meeting her left me covered in embarrassment. We were viewing an apartment (good D8 centre city location, large complex, rag order, leaking balcony, kitchen/living room so tiny there was no room for a dining table and management fees of €3,000 a year) got on great and stayed chatting during a hailstorm. We talked of a little house we’d both seen and liked in D6, but I said I’d scrubbed it because the street was too narrow and lined with cars. She nodded and paused to consider and I thought she was giving me a lead on another property company when she said “Dorinda Day….” So I nodded too, and I almost….almost….took out my notebook and wrote down the name “Dorinda Day.” “Dorinda Day” I repeated, determined to remember and add it to my list of estate agents firms with women’s names, such as Felicity Fox. “Dorin’da day do, or at weekends, everyone is out working or away and it’s easy to get parking……” OMG. The electricity had been cut in the apartment and the sky was dark with hailstones, so I hope the nice young lady with the high-high heels didn’t see me blush.
I saw many flats and houses, but I kept thinking about the one which I called ‘The Pigeon House’ because a feral pigeon had made her nest on the balcony. I am attracted to places with squatters – Berlin had pigeons in our loft apartment before we renovated and there had been squatters in The Mardyke who were partial to a wee drop. The Pigeon House was not in The Pigeon House (Ringsend) by the way, it was in D6, in a very good area and I was already mentally knocking down walls. Though we had sworn we would not renovate, one should never say never.
Despite what one hears about the Irish economy and, if after all that has happened, we still believe professionals, even though it was January, it appeared to me that there was a virtual feeding frenzy going on. Dorinda Day said that she had sold more properties last month than in any January up to this and what was more, they often sold within a week of viewing. That was also my experience. Anything half decent at a half decent price in a half decent area, goes and goes fast. A nice man in Ranelagh told me he had fewer properties on his books this January than any January in the previous 40 years. The reason he gave is that young people who bought during the boom are now in negative equity and can’t afford to trade up, so they are renting out their own houses rather than selling and themselves renting another bigger one in a less salubrious area. Those with fruity D4 accents are even moving Northside to get extra space. I knew immediately on seeing it that the Pigeon House would be a good investment, that we could even live there in a few years time, but I also kinda knew I wouldn’t get it, because I knew it would go at, or higher than, the asking price of €225,000. With taxes, fees and renovations, that would have it at €300,000 which is beyond us. I viewed it the day after it was first put up for sale a week ago. Yesterday I heard that there were several offers and it was now at €230,000. Goodbye Mrs Pigeon, I hope your eggs hatch out. Me, I cannot dwell on the one that got away, for in terms of emotional attachment to the unbought, one cannot afford to put all ones eggs in the same basket.
* stairs (Irish language)
* Dublin River
In 1999 Himself was working in Dublin and only came home to Cork at weekends and desolé being apart, we decided to buy a house in Dublin. I began a search, which, back then, was not online but involved foot-slogging and an awful lot of telephone calls. I left my details with just about every property company in Dublin, gave them all kinds of information, begging them to sell me – at least SHOW me – a house for sale. It was 1999 and the real estate agents were so puffed up in themselves inflating the Irish Property Bubble that not one…NOT EVEN ONE….got back to me.
There was a house I really liked, which I found myself. It was in a badly run-down area, a place called Pearse Square on Pearse Street in the heart of the city. The asking price was IEP£75,000. It was in rag-order and next door to a chipper and right on the street and the square was no more than a rubbish dump with a shed on it but I had a good feeling about the place, knew that the location could be great and hankered after that house. Down at the end facing south over the square there were also 2 other vacant houses which I really wanted to view and possibly buy, but it was absolutely impossible to get any movement out of the small local estate agent, whose grubby paint-peeling offices were on the second floor of a building nearby. It all became too frustrating and indeed complicated, as buying and doing up a house ourselves might not have been advisable while Himself was producing the “Our House” series for television.
Fade to a bunch of bananas (as we say in the film trade) or “things rested so” as Seannachaí Eamonn Keane used to say, and we happened to go to Geneva for the four yearly Telecom, global telecommunications exposition at Palexpo. It was formerly such an enormous event that every bed in every hotel in Geneva and environs would be block-booked. Coming in from Ireland, and not wearing a big industry badge, we were sent out to accommodation over a bakery to the west of Annecy, in the neighbouring Haute Savoie. There is only one narrow two-lane road along the lake so each morning we would be part of a slow snake of commuter traffic, which allowed plenty of time to take in the view. It was early Autumn and before the sun broke through, low mist over a mirror-still Lake Annecy formed a gauze backdrop of the mountains like the wash of a Japanese watercolour. One morning, I saw a man out in a row-boat, one of several anchored on the water close to shore. He held a fishing rod in one hand and a mobile ‘phone in the other. “That’s it” I said to Himself “why would one want to be chasing uppity estate agents in Dublin, when one can have this?” So there and then we decided to move to Annecy. Despite the language barrier, the legalities and French bureaucracy, the finding and purchase of a house all went extremely smoothly and quickly and we have lived happily there ever since. We have snow in winter, swimming and al fresco meals all summer, long golden days in Autumn and spring is a joy of warming earth, lilac and asparagus.
I have never figured out how people actually got people to sell them the houses, but they did and for the next 8 years, house prices in Ireland climbed, then rocketed, and then, with a resounding explosion, shock waves and many, many tragic fatalities, they crashed. In the meantime also, Pearse Street was cleaned-up and polished, hotels opened, Pearse Square was completely re-vamped and landscaped and it became a lovely area of enterprise and community. But as the years go on and economies boom and bust I am constantly amazed to discover that one gets older. We get older and our children finish education and get jobs and even move out and sometimes get married and have their own children and suddenly our friends are retiring from jobs abroad …..and the strange thing is, that despite the economy and the ever worsening climate, even as recent immigrants flee to pastures warmer, it seems we natives are all feeling an inexorable pull back to Ireland and – for Cork people, even more amazingly – a draw to Dublin.
Last summer I broke my arm. The health care and the attention of friends in France was superb but basically, sick, sore and sorry, I just wanted my mammy. As we get older, our mammies tend to die, so I speak metaphorically. I wanted my family and the friends whom I had known from childhood, through fat and thin – even through four generations. Himself and myself are well and we are fit and energetic and we are still very young but before Christmas, we decided that as an insurance against The Evil Day, we would buy a property in Ireland for when we are old and grey and full of sleep and nodding by the fire; an easily-managed accessible place, our stairway to heaven from our motherland.
I began trawling the Web and ‘phoned one of the big property companies (OK, Sherry Fitz, but not in County Dublin) and the nice young guy promised me the devil and all, oh he was going to look after me, he understood that I was out of the country and so he’d find me exactly what I wanted and personally deliver it. Two days later he had a minion email me a list of his company’s offices within the Pale – which I had already got myself with one click of a button – and I haven’t heard a titter out of him since. So I took a different tack and called a small family firm. “We’re living in the French Alps but we’re looking for a place in Dublin because we want to move back to Ireland when we retire” I said. The woman at the other end of the line replied “Are you SURE?” Accustomed to la Politesse, I was taken aback and at a loss….. but then it dawned; I was back doing business in Ireland and that involved a whole lot of chat, jokes, irony, cultural references, maybe a bar of a song, connections made and shared information about the weather and the price of drink. The price of houses? Ah we’d get to that; after we’d gone through the niceities like.
…..and speaking of the price of houses, the very minute I started enquiring in a market which for 3 years was bombing, crying out for investment, demand started going up, the range of available accommodation started going down and I am now hearing a lot of telephonic headshaking and “ah you wouldn’t get anything in that area/price range now…..” A house on Pearse Square is for sale at €500,000 and the new mews house at the end of the garden can be bought either with it or separately….for E200,000. Every day I spend about 3 hours on Daft and MyHome.ie. (“… And the boll weevil spotted a lightning bug/ he said “Hey, I’d like to make a trade with you /but, ya see if I was a lightning bug, I’d search the whole night through”) I am beginning to realize that we have a serious indigenous bladder problem, as many 2 bedroom apartments have 3 bathrooms. I am beginning to know the areas, read between the lines, become immensely bored of the opening phrase “Sordid+Damp Properties are delighted/proud to present to the market a magnificent …..” Amongst the few who are not “delighted” or “proud”with/of their offering is the company charged with selling a 2 bed apartment in Priory Hall. There are almost 2 million references to Priory Hall “symbol of Ireland’s property madness” on Google, including articles from the Guardian and New York Times newspapers and pieces from the BBC.
The engagement and assistance from the estate agents is way better than it was coming up to the Millennium…already, one has even called me back! (Hooke and MacDonald in town) and e-mailed me with advice (Sherry Fitz South Dublin.) In general, the professionals are friendly and helpful and don’t treat me as though I was wasting their time with my small budget and my myriad questions. One guy – can’t remember what firm – was a bit cross, but he was honest. “You don’t want to live there” he said when I enquired about an old property on an old street. “Where did you live in Cork?” “The Mardyke” I answered, a bit timidly “You wouldn’t want to live there” was his emphatic reply. He was right.
The search continues. It is arduous and time consuming, but it is also rather fun. I’m lookin’ for a home/jus’ lookin’ for a home…..
On November 1st 1986, Himself and myself fell in love, in a helicopter out over the County Cork coast.
He was the hands-on producer of a new television series for RTE (Radio Telefís Éireann, the National broadcaster) called “Down Here With a View to Above”, I was the programme’s co-presenter. (The official producer was our beloved Dick Hill.) The first time it went on air was November 1st 1986, a year after Himself and myself met in a local television station, where I was reporter/presenter, he on the production side. Bored with the constraints, he started his own independent TV company, sold a series on regional topics to RTE and hired Alf McCarthy and myself as co-presenters. At the time, it was still quite common to see an addendum to death notices in Irish newspapers “American papers please copy.” In small “Matrimony” ads it was common for hopefuls to illicit replies “with a view to above.” Cork being the second city in Ireland, it always suffered as second cities do; there was one world ‘Up There’ in the capital, Dublin, another ‘Down Here’ in the south. Rarely did ‘Down Here’ impinge on ‘Up There’ and “Down Here with a View to Above” marked the programme’s intention to give some news and views from beyond the Pale to ‘Above’ the rest of Ireland.
I came up with the name, as I also did for the most popular series Himself ever produced, which was, in fact the first ever Home Improvement/Renovation television in Ireland, the UK or indeed, Europe. I named it “Our House” and Himself got the rights to use the Crosby Stills and Nash song, which he had re-done instrumentally by Declan Sinnott. So now, every time you see another Home programme, a dooerupper, a Llewelyn-Bowen, or a Duncan Stewart – whom Himself discovered and plucked from the obscurity of academe and his architectural practice – to become an Irish star.
Incidentally, the formula worked. A version of “Down Here” is still running on RTE, same format and mission, but with a different name. It is now called “Nationwide” but their brief is still regional; what I used to flag as “the extraordinary in the ordinary.” Recently the crew filmed at the Presbytere in Thezan-les-Beziers where our friends Martin and Síle Dwyer, exiles from Waterford, run a Chambre d’hote with his exquisite cooking. (Transmission date TBA in the new year.)
But anyways, back to the romance…..
It was November 1st and the inaugural show of “Down Here With A View To Above” was airing that night on television, but we were already working on programmes for December. The November 1st 1986 “Down Here” included a piece Alf had done on the Irish Warplane Research Group, and pieces I’d done on the new local heroes, the tall dark and handsome basketball players who had come from the US to join Cork teams, and an Artificial Insemination co-operative producing, with a wooden ‘cow’ a bit of coaxing and lots of dry ice, the finest livestock from the finest bulls. I was so used to the acronym “AI” meaning “Artificial Insemination” that when I kept coming across it in Silicon Valley in California this spring I couldn’t understand why they were so much into the breeding of fine bovine herds…..but it was because of the times we live in, and now, checking dates, I find that the Trinity College Dublin Film and Television Archive shows the programme as dealing with “Artificial Intelligence” …because of the times we live in. (Incidentally, “AI” meaning “Artificial Insemination” now usually refers to human reproduction.)
As now, there was a lot of oil and gas exploration in progress off the County Cork coast at the time, and Marathon had agreed for their staff to do a ‘letting on’ Christmas dinner so we could do a piece on how Christmas was celebrated offshore on the Kinsale Head rigs. The whole thing was planned by Himself and Marthon’s PR person at the time, Gerry Buckland. We flew out to the rigs by helicopter; I thought the worst thing was being weighed in front of everybody after we put on our survival suits prior to boarding….but I have a horrible fear of heights, and when we got to the platform, it was very, very high up, on metal stilts sticking out of a November Irish Sea….and they made me do shots from all levels, standing on the narrow, perforated steel treads. I was so scared I had to hang on to the Producer a LOT….
We had our Christmas dinner (and very good it was too, in the tinsel, crepe paper and balloon-adorned dining room) with the men – for all were men, the production assistant and I were the only females for many nautical miles. By the time we were finished the interviews and the filming it was late and Gerry, who was living in London at the time, had missed his plane back from Cork Airport, so the helicopter pilot was instructed to fly on to Shannon. In our steel-capped boots (mine far too big, as they never had call for a size 37 on the rig before) and orange rubber survival suits, unable to move because they were so cumbersome, unable to talk because of the engine noise, cramped together with the film crew, the PR man and a LOT of cameras and equipment in the chopper, somehow, Cupid managed to fire darts into the producer and presenter’s hearts. By the time we touched down at Shannon and Gerry jumped out, peeling off his survival suit as he ducked the helicopter’s idling blades, and running across the tarmac in his natty London Media suit to where the London-bound plane awaited, there were stars in our eyes. By the time we got back to Cork Airport, we were In Love.
Twenty six years and two weddings later, we are still In Love. We also still blame Gerry Buckland.