For those few of you that may have been following my little excursion back to the place of my birth I thank you and I do realise that it is getting on for three weeks since I posted here. As we have now entered another new month I thought I had better bring you up to date a bit once I have finished wondering where this year has gone to. Like so many clichés the old one about time moving quicker as you get older does indeed have a basis in truth and I really have no idea how the last seven months have slipped by.
I am still in Northern Ireland and enjoying myself although doing nothing worth writing about which is the first reason for the long absence here. I have not been at all idle on the blog front though despite my very limited internet access as I have been concentrating on constructing pages about my rather crazy ramble about Europe last year and have been quite pleased with my progress although it is time-consuming. The only way I can hope to keep myself vaguely organised here is to back publish entries to the dates to which they refer which means that you may not have seen them as they are buried away at the bottom of the homepage. If you would like to have a look you can click on the link here and see what you think. Believe me, it was a pretty mad journey one way and another.
There are a few bits and pieces for me to share with you and I shall start with the World Cup which was in full swing the last time I posted in this section. Despite the increasing hype in the British media football didn’t “come home” as England did very well but eventually fell short losing to Croatia in the semis. They are a young side who should get much better especially if manager Gareth Southgate remains in charge as he seems to know how to get the best out of them. They certainly did not disgrace themselves by getting to the semis.
When I saw the way the semis had worked out I actually managed to predict what would happen although in truth it was not too difficult. The fixtures were France vs. Belgium and England vs. Croatia and I said that either team in the first match would beat either in the second and so it was to prove. France beat Belgium and then an ageing Croatian side who are probably just about over as a group defeated the considerably younger English team.
In the game that I never see the point of i.e. the third and fourth place playoff a very decent Belgian team saw off England fairly comfortably. I didn’t think England looked that good in the game.
On to the Sunday and the Final and naturally, with the odd things that happen to me something a little strange took place. I was going to the pub quite early as I knew it would be crowded for the game and I wanted to get a seat. I popped into my local supermarket and saw a middle-aged guy wearing a Croatian football (soccer) shirt accompanied by a teenage lad who was almost as tall as me. I know that number of Eastern Europeans have moved into the village of late but I had not heard of any Croatians and I was intrigued as they seemed to be poring over a computer printout of a map with the young lad who works in the shop.
All soon became clear and it transpired they were a Father and son, the Father indeed being Croatian but they were now resident in the USA where they had flown from into Dublin airport that morning. They were heading for Limavady in the Northwest of the country as the son was playing in a large international youth football competition in that area. Almost unbelievably, the shop assistant did not know where it was which surprised me as Northern Ireland is such a small place and Limavady is a comparatively large town. How they had managed to deviate off the A1 and ended up in Tandragee is something of a mystery to me but here they were and in a bit of a bind as their hire car had no satnav and the guy could not get his American mobile (cell) ‘phone to work here. I told them the place was the best part of two hours drive and had formulated a route for them but when I told them that they would be struggling to get there in time for kickoff they asked if there was somewhere local that they could watch the game. No better man to ask and I told them to come with me for the 100 yard walk to the Montagu Arms of which I have spoken often.
In I walked with the two Croatians and announced to the assembled company that as it was the biggest day in Croatian footballing history I had arranged a couple of my own fans to help interpret the finer details of their team. Utter nonsense of course but my mates looked incredulous until the situation was explained and I bought the guys a drink (Cokes all round for them), introduced them and we all began to chat. As you probably know by now I am a great believer in the “interconnectedness of all things” as the late Douglas Adams so wonderfully termed it and also “what goes round comes round” as they say. Some years ago I had been in Zagreb during a major football tournament and I was staying in an obscure local area as usual. It was my practice every evening to go to a particular little locals bar to watch the games and I was treated brilliantly despite not a single word of a common language and here was I returning the favour to a couple of Croatians all these years later.
There still remained the problem of getting them to their ultimate destination after the match and fortunately my mate Ritchie was on hand. When Ritchie is not entertaining people with one of his selection of excellent guitars he is by trade a lorry driver and knows every road in the country. I had picked my route not because it was the shortest but because I thought it was the simplest involving mostly motorway driving but Ritchie came up with a shorter and apparently equally simple alternative which he managed to get printed off on the bar computer and explained in detail to our new Croatian friend who seemed well pleased.
When we are not slaughtering each other the people of Northern Ireland are the friendliest you will ever hope to meet and I am hope the man and his son will take home happy memories of their brief unplanned stop in a tiny village they had undoubtedly never heard of. What are the odds of such a thing happening? If I had been five minutes earlier I would never have run into those lovely people but, as the late Terry Pratchett once very intelligently remarked, “Million to one chances happen nine times out of 10”!
Whilst they may have been happy with the hospitality the result of the game was less to their liking with their home nation going down to a very talented French side who had played some stunning football throughout. Still, for a nation of a shade over four million people they had done remarkably well. For those of you who do not love “the beautiful game” that is the end of that although the domestic season is merely days away now.
My other two staples of blog entries are breakfast and the weather so I’ll do breakfast first and it rarely changes although, in an unusual departure it was bacon sarnies (Brit slang for sandwiches), orange juice and coffee today which is not usual but I do like a bacon buttie (more Brit slang) now and again. I have posted photographic evidence of same here! I did hear once that the majority of vegetarians who go back to being carnivores do so because they want to eat bacon. This was borne out as one of my Father’s carers came round when I was “slaving over a hot stove” and the incomparable smell of bacon wafting about the kitchen. She told me that although she had eaten recently that her mouth was watering with the smell. I genuinely feel sorry for those that for religious or dietary reasons cannot enjoy this quintessentially British item that has kept armies of builders and the like going since time immemorial.
Other than that it has been fries all the way so I’ll include another image here of one of my better efforts. This really is causing my poor Father some bemusement as he regularly sees me photographing whatever I am about to eat and, on the odd occasions my sister-in-law does not cook for him, what I have prepared to eat for him. I suppose he has a point but I reckon I shall have enough for a decent gallery of “Fry-ups of Northern Ireland” when this little jaunt comes to an end. I promise to post a warning at the top of it so you can pass quickly on if you do not want to induce a heart attack at the mere sight of my cholesterol-laden offerings.
The third part of my unholy triumvirate of topics here is the weather, that perennial staple of conversation here, and I really do not know where to start. I have been telling you about the record-breaking heatwave we had been having but, with it being Northern Ireland, that didn’t last. We had been hearing horror stories on the TV news from farmers (are they ever happy) that there would be no carrots for Xmas dinner as the crops were failing, we had a hosepipe ban and so on and everyone was praying for rain. Be careful what you wish for as last weekend not ten miles from here in Lurgan there were homes and businesses destroyed by flash floods. Today was absolutely awful with rain all day being driven by a blustery and none too warm wind.
In due course I shall get round to writing a series of entries here about my wonderful trip to Sri Lanka earlier this year where I had enjoyed 30 degree temperatures every day and watched TV images of Western Europe gripped by blizzards and battered by Atlantic storms. Six months later and we are having a heatwave and flooding in the space of a few days. What is going on with this weather?
In local news (as they say on TV) we have had what they refer to as “the marching season” in Northern Ireland which can be a lively time of year to say the least. Without boring you it revolves around a series of marches by the Orange Order which is a Loyalist organisation and which have caused (the marches, that is) untold trouble in years past for reasons mired in centuries of history in this all too volatile country.
Traditionally, the “11th night” i.e. the eve of the marches was a time when huge “bonies” (bonfires) were lit and when I say huge I mean huge. Vast pyres of wooden pallets and tyres were constructed over a period of weeks if not months and usually dwarfed the surrounding buildings leading to all sorts of issues for the Fire Brigade. There were some problems this year when contractors, who had to wear ski masks to avoid reprisals. were brought in to dismantle some of them. Yes, when I say that things have changed out of all recognition since when I left, there is still an undercurrent of fear which I think will last for many generations. I should be clear here and say that the visitor has absolutely nothing to fear because, as I mentioned, we are the friendliest people imaginable towards outsiders, it is purely an internal friction.
With the bonfires done, the marches themselves passed relatively quietly but all things are relative, especially here. In the lead-up to the marches there had been all sorts of trouble in the City side of Londonderry / Derry (they cannot even agree on the name) at the interface between the Nationalist and Loyalist areas with shooting incidents and so on. They have been roundly condemned, and rightly so, by community leaders on all sides and seem to have calmed down and yet again I must stress to the potential visitor that they have nothing to fear from this as they would need to be Hellishly unlucky to stumble upon it accidentally.
I have some more observations to make about the last few weeks but, as usual here, time is against me and the delightful Sam is going to kick me out of the bar shortly so that is my internet done until tomorrow. I think that if I work quickly I can get this posted and the further observations will wait so stay tuned and spread the word.