Monday 28 April 2014

See What I Almost Missed

Isn't this the most amazing sky? Aren't the colours wonderful? And can you see the sun column?
And to think I nearly missed it altogether.
Yesterday after a relaxing (i.e. lazy) day spent in the garden ( reading not gardening), I was catching up on my social media obligations indoors.
I had  uploaded my photo to my favourite photo-sharing site,  Pbase,  and  has commented on photos by my friends over there, I had  planned a long overdue blog post, and while checking my Instagram feed, realised I hadn't taken a photo with my iPhone, even though I'd taken lots of photos with my DSLR. So I walked outside with my phone and saw  the most amazing sunset.
I  just  had time to run back into the house, grab the camera,  and change the lens before the colours started to fade. It was the most beautiful sky with rich pinks and golds contrasting with deepening blues and grays.

It was a timely reminder for  me that it's all too easy to spend too much time in the virtual world and miss out one what's happening in the real world.
And it's not just sunsets that we miss by obsessing with our computers, iPads, tablets, smartphones.
We miss interacting with family and friends, we miss sending real letters  instead of emails, we miss greeting cards with a heartfelt message instead of a hastily composed 'Hope  you have a great day' written in response to a prompt on Facebook. We miss family conversation when everyone is too busy with their own personal device to talk to the person sitting beside them. What's the point of meeting friends if you ignore them because  you are too busy updating  your Facebook status, tweeting or snap chatting?

It's a thorny question I know, as social media is also a wonderful way of keeping in touch with family and friends who live away from home, of sharing photographs and words with friends and strangers, of learning and exploring how others live. I've made some wonderful friends though social media, some I've been lucky enough to meet, while there are others I'd love to meet some day. As the saying goes 'strangers are friends we haven't met' and as far as social media is concerned, that is often true. (Don't worry, I'm fully aware of the pitfalls, especially for young people who may be lured into situations which are downright dangerous).

At the end of the day, it's a question of getting the balance right. These past few weeks, I've decided
that in addition to keeping up with my 'virtual friends', I will also devote time to those friends whom I've actually meet in real life. I'm trying to send emails to those I haven't corresponded with for a while and am making an effort to meet up with those I haven't as often as I'd like.

Sunday 27 April 2014

On the Road - Part Two

The purpose of our road trip to Cork was so that the teenager could attend an interview at the art college.  Sight-seeing and photography were not on the agenda, or so I was told.
Thus, my only opportunity for the aforementioned pleasures was when the teen was attending said interview.
Luckily, Cork's art college is close by the stunning St. Fin.Barre's Cathedral, so I spent a pleasant while wandering around taking photos.
The French-influenced Cathedral was designed by architect  William Burges who won a competition to build it in 1862. One of the conditions was that the building was not to cost more than £15,000 and he came in for much criticism from  other architects as he didn't include the cost of the towers, spires and carving in his estimate. The Cathedral ended up costing £100,000!
He wrote to the Bishop of Cork (no doubt in response to queries about the budget overrun)  'In the future when the whole affair will be on its trial and, the elements of time and cost being forgotten, the result only will be looked at. The great questions will the be, first, is this work beautiful and, secondly, have those to whom it was entrusted, done it with all their heart and all their ability.'
As the Cathedral attracts many visitors, the answer to both these questions is undoubtably yes.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

On The Road - Part One

I sometimes feel ashamed that the average tourist who comes to Ireland sees more of the country than I have.
While I know our  own wee corner of the country quite well, I haven't seen many of the famous sights which attract visitors from all over the world to our Emerald Isle.
And the reason for that greenness - rain- is the very reason why summer holidays are usually spent somewhere around the Mediterranean as we like to get some sunshine with our culture.
Last month, as I took our son and his portfolio around a number of art colleges, I also managed to do some sight-seeing.
The Rock of Cashel, pictured above, attracts around half a million visitors a year, according to the helpful guide.
Thankfully, March is definitely not high tourist season in Ireland, so we had The Rock more or less to  ourselves, with just a handful of American and Italian tourists all enthralled by the old ancient stones atop a rocky outcrop.
As the wind whipped our faces, it was easy to see why the site  had been chosen, initially as a fortress, as it offers breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside - and any enemies that might be approaching!
Once the seat of the kings of Munster, the Rock of Cashel has been a centre of power going back to the 4th or 5th century AD.
In 1101, the King of Cashel gave the Rock to Church,  and shortly afterwards the first of a series of large ecclesiastical buildings were built  on the site,  including the impressive  round tower.
Cormac's Chapel, currently under conservation, was consecrated in 1134 and is one of the earliest and finest Romanesque churches in Ireland.
The Gothic cathedral dates back to the 13th century with alterations  added in the 15th century. It was used up until 1749. The graveyard  has been in use up until recent times.
Cashel itself seems a delightful town with lots of inviting shops, pubs and restaurants but unfortunately we didn't have time for any further exploration.
It is easily accessed, just a short distance off the M8 Dublin to Cork motorway.

Saturday 19 April 2014

Spring Has Sprung

Spring has well and truly sprung and we are enjoying the most beautiful weather. Sitting in  the garden this morning, still in my dressing gown (it IS well secluded), with a cup of tea, I listened to the glad singing of birds in the trees, the buzzing of bees awoken by the sun,  and the baaing of lambs.

I love  lambs. I love watching them take their first faltering steps, staying close to their mothers' sides.  I love watching them grow in confidence, wandering off and then baaing 'til they find their mothers again. I love watching them play, chasing each other in mad games of 'tag' around the field, and most of all, I love watching them jump.

Sunday 6 April 2014

What I Read in March

I had such good intentions for March. I had planned on reading three books as part of The Year In Books hosted by Laura of Circle of Pine Trees  but it turned out to be such a busy month that I only managed one.
'City of Fate' is the second historical novel for teenagers by Irish author Nicola Pierce, and is published by The O'Brien Press of Dublin.
I don't normally read  teenage fiction, and indeed there was no such thing as teenage fiction when I was a teenager, but a review copy landed on my desk at work so I decided to read it.
The book opens as Yuri celebrates his 14th birthday by swimming in the river Volga with  his friends. As they splash in the water, the drone of planes fill the sky and sirens warn citizens of an air-raid. After months  of threats, the Germans are finally bombing Stalingrad. Yuri spends the next two weeks hiding in the cellar of his home with his mother and baby sister, as the relentless bombing of the city continues.
After she leaves with the ailing baby, Yuri is left to fend for himself, before befriending first, five year old Peter, and then Tanya. Together they live on their wits in a city invaded by the enemy.
Far off in the countryside, Vlad and his classmates are forced to join the Russian army and march to defend Stalingrad. Those who try to turn back are shot on the spot so they have no choice but to advance to the front. 
 They must quickly lose their boyish innocence as they take part in one of the most decisive battles of the Second World War.
Although written for  younger readers, 'City of Fate' pulls no punches in its descriptions of the brutality of war. Telling the story through the eyes of children, it focuses on their resilience in the face of horror. 
I found it a most interesting read and it would certainly be useful to any teenagers studying European history.
As March was a hectic month, I only managed to start the second book on my list - 'A Star Called Harry' by Roddy Doyle, and  I've also started reading 'French Women Don't Get Facelifts' by Mireille Guiliano. I'll tell you what I thought of them at the end of April.