The King and I

The passing of Her Majesty Elizabeth II shook us all, even though we knew she was 96 and had been looking frail for some time. “London Bridge” was the code name for the various protocols and actions that were to begin on her passing, but as she was in Scotland it was “Operation Unicorn”. And as I was to find out, in Northern Ireland we had “Operation Shamrock”.

She died on a Thursday, and I was already planning to travel to London on the Friday, having got tickets for 2 shows including one starring my daughter. Lots of events were being postponed or cancelled, such as the football, so I wasn’t totally sure whether theatres would be affected. But I went to the capital anyway.

I managed to run a parkrun parkrun tourism: Highbury Fields on the Saturday morning, though some parkruns were cancelled either as a mark of respect or because geographically there would be traffic and parking issues. But as I was chatting to some other parkrunners we agreed it was important to keep some semblance of routine and normality, in this strangest of weeks. Over lunch with my daughter, I asked what changes they had made to her show. “Oh” she said, “we had a 2 minute silence and then sang The Song.”

“The Song?” I queried, “Do you mean the national anthem?”

“Yes, the one about the king!” she replied. To be fair, we are all still trying to get used to the unfamiliar words.

I flew home on the Sunday, and early on Monday morning I was checking up on emails, including the account for Chairman of RSCDS Belfast. And I let out a cry of horror, as I had missed a number of important messages from the Northern Ireland Office, inviting me to a special service of reflection on the Tuesday, but replies had been due by 9pm on the Sunday. I cried even louder when my husband reminded me that Tuesday was the day that the new King Charles III would be in town. But I submitted an apologetic email requesting if possible to be added to the guest list. And to my delight I received an acceptance a few hours later! I fair skipped around the kitchen whooping with delight.

But what to wear? My work colleagues always used to joke that I had a frock for every occasion – so here was a real test of my wardrobe. I tried on an asymmetric hemmed black dress – too tight. Navy drawstring waist from White Stuff? Too casual. Dark blue twist waist? Too short. And then at the back of the cupboard I spotted one I’d bought from Joe Browns a while back, but had never worn. Black tafetta with just a hint of red tartan, and long sleeves. (Probably why I hadn’t worn it as I don’t like dancing in long sleeves). Black jacket with little RSCDS brooch, and we were nearly there. Then I discovered I had no black handbag, and all my black shoes were very casual. So I made a quick last minute dash to M&S for a neat bag that I could tuck under an arm, and flat shoes with a little bow.

On the Tuesday morning I pressed the frock, and took my time doing my makeup before heading to the Eikon centre, where we would collect our invitations before being bussed into Belfast.

There were a large number of invited guests, many wearing medals or chains of office. There was tea, coffee, sandwiches and shortbread. I chatted to chef Paula MacIntyre, who is a regular customer at my sister’s farm shop, and to a former Head of the Civil Service. We shared tales about our dogs and how much we are enjoying retirement. I said hello to former colleagues from the field of integrated education, and to representatives of the girl guides.

Around the table I asked who else had made that dash to Marksies for a bag, and many hands went up. We checked we had all the essentials in the bags – spare tights, sucky sweets, tissues.

Then we formed a good-natured queue to get on the bus, where I met some folk from the dental association. Once off the bus there was a serious level of security check to pass through, understandably.

At St Annes Cathedral, there was a crowd forming behind the barriers, and television crews everywhere.

Inside the cathedral, staff with “shamrock” lanyards showed us to our seats, where there was an order of service, decorated with a black ribbon. I watched the other dignitaries entering. There’s Dame Mary Peters (very tall), and health minister Robin Swan (very short). Oh there’s Irish President Michael D Higgins (even shorter), and our new PM Liz Truss.

Cameras on booms glided overhead as the TV teams worked out the best angles.

We were asked to switch off our mobile phones, and no photos to be taken during the service. I knew the King had already had a busy schedule this morning, and I wasn’t expecting things to begin on schedule. But at about 5 to 3 we heard a loud cheer from the crowd outside, indicating their majesties’ arrival, and bang on 3 pm the buglers sounded their heralding welcome. A procession of church dignitaries began their slow march up the centre, and then our first glimpse of the King and Queen consort.

The service was beautifully crafted, with readings and prayers shared between leaders of the main faiths, the Duke of Edinburgh youth ambassador, and the Assembly speaker. The sermon was very poignant, highlighting her late Majesty’s important role in reconciliation on this island. I wiped away a tear during the Nunc Dimittis, and found the final hymn to the tune of The Londonderry Air very moving. But singing God Save The King, while he was there in the same building, was a really special moment that I will treasure for years to come. At least the words were printed in the booklet, so we all managed to get the correct he/him/his/King.

As they walked out of the cathedral, the King was on my side of the aisle, and he caught my eye as he passed, and I smiled and bowed my head.

After a little wait for the buses to return we all piled back on. I seemed to end up in a bus with most of the DUP on board, but we were all in jovial spirits, passing polo mints around and waving out the window to the crowds.

Once back home, I was able to re-watch some of the footage, and shout “there’s me!” at intervals, and one of my very sharp-eyed friends even managed to get a few pictures of me. Apparently I looked deep in thought during the sermon, and was spotted singing in the final hymn.

It was a real honour to represent the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, of which the late Queen was patron, at such a moving and respectful service.

parkrun tourism: Highbury Fields

parkrun #319 event #88

Reason for visit – Jemima starring at Sadlers Wells! Oh, and I got to see Hamilton while I was there also….

Access:

Normally when I’m visiting Jem we sit on Friday nights trying to match nearby parkruns with route maps, and they can be quite lengthy and complicated. This time I was staying in the Travelodge Royal Scot, where I could see St Pancras out my hotel window.

Highbury and Islington is one stop on the Victoria line, and the course is only 200m from the station! Definitely one of the easiest London ones to get to by public transport.

Course:

No gonna lie, it’s 5 laps. Mostly on tarmac footpaths, with any obstacles such as “mud corner” marshalled or coloured coned. Starts and finishes on grass, and there’s a designated baggage area. It does go up a slight hill (I was tempted to do a Crocodile Dundee-esque “Call that a hill?”), before a slight meandering path at the top of the park, (no short cuts across the grass!) and then a delightful gentle downhill section. For those at the back of the pack like me, you will be lapped a few times, but the last couple of laps will be quieter and less crowded.

Facilities:

Start and finish is at the same spot, so there’s always someone around near the bag drop. There is a 20p public loo, I asked politely and was allowed to use the ones in the little leisure centre. Plenty of cafes around for parkfaffing – I had to get back and changed as I had a whole day of theatre-going ahead of me. And a snigger-worthy pub.

Gear:

It was just after the death of Her Majesty Elizabeth II, so I wore my black 100 volunteer shirt. (I did see someone in a rarely spotted 250 vol one). Skirty leggings, cow cowl, and zippy belt. Sadly, when I got back to the tube station, my debit card was missing, must have fallen out of the zippy belt while I was taking photos. I was quite glad of the short lap, as I retraced my steps, but to no avail. I wore my Saucony shoes – the What Shoes spreadsheet does suggest road shoes, though the wet grass bits can be slippy.

Crowd:

Having beaten the slugs at (S)Limefield and Knockbraken, this time the slugs beat me!

A few tourists chatted to me having spotted the cowl, and there plenty of cheery volunteers.

Time:

My reported time was 38 minutes, which frankly I don’t believe. But the official result is the official one, so I’ll take it! I wasn’t wearing a sports watch so I can’t corroborate, but it would be the first sub 40 in quite some time if it’s correct.

Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

I wasn’t listening to any music or podcasts- running on busy public footpaths I like to be fully aware of my surroundings. Over the weekend, though, we had several renditions of God Save The King, which we are all trying to get used to.

And the Rest:

Jemima was – of course – amazing! And I got to meet up with my best friend and her husband, and my cousin and his wife, so we had quite a fan club for her.

Hamilton was just mind blowing, so much happens on stage that it’s hard to take it all in.

All my parkruns:

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

Fast 800-4-1 Week 6

A weeks worth of recipes for those following the Fast 800 plan, but just cooking for one.

Note: I don’t eat meat, but I do eat fish, eggs and dairy. Recipes from the Fast 800 books referenced if appropriate.

Monday:

Out for lunch so I had no breakfast. Made a good choice and had the tomato and burrata salad, which was delcious.

Lighter meal for dinner, courgette soup based on Blue p53, but I used chilli instead of curry powder, and also added some peas and spinach.

Tuesday:

Small piece of cheese mid morning.

Lunch was mackerel pate on cucumber slices (red p97). Rest of the Pate kept over for another day.

Dinner Mediterranean fish (sea bass) bake (red 117, I did the quantity for 2, but just one fish, and kept the leftover veg for later.

Wednesday:

Scrambled eggs in large mushrooms. I did 2 large eggs and 2 small mushrooms, so the proportions were a bit off! I added a splodge of creme fraiche for added creaminess. I also did these in the microwave, as I’m trying to avoid using the oven for just one item. Do the mushrooms first for about 90 seconds, then do the eggs before piling them into the mushrooms.

Lunch down town – Yo Sushi is a good choice, I had miso soup, seaweed salad and salmon nigiri.

Dinner – steamed sea bass with ginger and lime. Based on the recipe in the original small book ( p226) which uses haddock. Very easy to do this for one, I served it with steamed green beans and broccoli rice.

Thursday:

Boiled egg for breakfast, did a couple of extras to have to hand. Lunch courgette soup with pepper mackerel pate on cucumber rounds.

Dinner – Prawn nasi goreng, red book p129, no picture in book. This is one of my favourites, a huge plate of food for 350 calories.

Friday:

Breakfast – overnight chia pot with kefir yoghurt, blackberries and walnuts. I make up a double portion to do 2 days.

Lunch – quorn pieces with the leftover Med Veg from Monday as a cold salad, which worked really well.

Dinner – Japanese omelette (BSD p55), a lovely and simple omelette variations with pickled sushi ginger and spring onions.

Saturday:

Rest of the chia pot for breakfast.

For lunch I made smoked mackerel and mushroom fritatta from the BSD book. Recipe serves 2 so I ate half, and then kept 2 quarters for upcoming breakfasts.

Dinner – fish curry, blue p111, no picture. Recipe serves 4, I halved it, did one fish, and kept the leftover curry sauce for another day.

Sunday:

Smoked mackerel fritatta 1/4 for breakfast, then the mini portobello pizzas (blue 78) for lunch.

Dinner was a huge stirfry with quorn pieces, onion, pepper, courgette, and bean sprouts, always a good way to add in more protein and crunch.

Previous weeks menus:

Fast 800-4-1 week 5

Fast 800-4-1: Week 1

Fast800-4-1 week 2

F800-4-1 week 3

Fast 800-4-1 week 4

parkrun tourism: Lymington Woodside

parkrun #317 event #87

Reason for visit – meeting my new grand-dog, the bestest boy, Apollo!

Access:

In the lovely village of Lymington, Woodside Gardens in a short walk from the centre. Nearest train station is 2km away. I was staying in the New Wheel Inn, about 3 km away, and took a taxi. There are a couple of car parks, though they fill up quickly, and one has a height barrier.

Facilities:

Runners meet at the pavilion, where there are loos, and also a café that opens at 9.

Course:

The terrain is quite mixed, partly grass, partly tarmac. around the playing fields and the gorgeous gardens. It’s one small and two larger laps, and a bit confusing, but well signposted and marshalled at all corners. My only problem was that after getting scanned, the faster runners congregate on the path in front of the pavilion…..while slower runners are still trying to get through on their last lap.

Crowd:

I saw a couple of other cow cowls, but didn’t get a chance to say Hi. The tail-walker caught up with me after the previous slowest person dropped out, and he and I just chatted as we walked the last wee bit. But of course the most important for me was my son, who I rarely get a chance to run with, and newest family addition, Apollo. He’s too young to run just yet, but I’ve no doubt he will be a great canine competitor in time.

Time:

Since I’d stopped to take photos, and then walked with the tail, I knew it would be slow, and I was happy enough with a 46 mins.

Gear:

Sauconys, skirty leggings, WMN top, cow cowl and headband. Cracker came with me for the ride.

Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

I was listening to the With Me Now podcast, which was describing the idyllic sounding North Yorkshire Waterpark – definitely one for the bucket list!

And the rest:

I had a great time catching up with family, Lymington is a lovely sport with a busy harbour, and a market on on Saturdays. We had really nice coffee and brunch the dog-friendly Bohemia cafe. Later we visited Bournemouth and took a boat trip, I went on the helter skelter, we had ice creams and then went to Poole for fish and chips.

All my parkruns:

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

parkrun tourism: Limepark Playing Fields

parkrun #316 event #86

Reason for visit = regionnaire status regained, and calling in with parents on the north coast where my sister was visiting.

The Dark Hedges, a popular tourist site a few miles from the parkrun.

Access:

Situated just outside Armoy, it’s on a pretty good road between the Frosses roundabout and Ballycastle. I drove, public transport options are not great.

Facilities:

Plenty of car parking, and there are even loos! No cafe on site, but there are options in Armoy, or if you’re touristing in the area, try the Dark Hedges.

Course:

It’s 3 laps, though they loop and switch back and forth quite a bit. Mostly flat, one sharp hill.

Mixed terrain, slippy grass and loose gravel. First time ever I’ve heard “slugs on the path” as a course hazard – definitely a merch opportunity there, “I beat the slugs at Limepark”. (I thought I’d taken some photos of the slugs, but somehow they are not there!)

Crowd:

It’s a bit out of the way – I’d expected a few more regionnaire chasers there at event 3, but there were just 65 runners. I did bump into some Wallace parkrun chums, and there was the full range from speedy gonzales to slower jog-walkers. Might pick up some Ballycastle holiday makers, or Portrush wans looking for a change.

Gear:

Blue hokkas, shirty capris, WMN top, cow cowl, and zippy belt for phone and keys. Wraparound sunglasses and black headband, sweat wristband in matching grey. Apple watch behaved itself!

Appropriate Song On Shuffle:

I’d actually chosen my start song on Spotify, given that this was my 316th run: The country boy’s trifecta of “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3-16” by Keith Urban started me off, and then Spotify threw me a selection of self recriminating, joy of drinking, she used to be mine type ballads. My brain winced at lyrics that talked about dancing under the stars in the September rain……..

Time:

I’d just hot-footed it (geddit?) from the podiatrists, but was still struggling with plantar in my heel, so I was jog-walking around, and stopping to take photos of slugs, which didn’t work, so a time of bang on 46 mins was OK.

We were really lucky with the weather, the early morning rain dried off and we had plenty of sunshine. Other parkruns in the East were less fortunate.

All my parkruns:

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

parkrun tourism: Holyrood

parkrun #315 location#85

Reason for visit: en route to St Andrews Scottish Country Dance summer school

I’m sure other parkrun tourists do the same when booking accommodation – have the parkrun events page open on one browser, with a map searching for BnBs on another, trying to find a close match. When I’d booked my Edinburgh Air BnB a few months back, I’d thought it was close to Portobello. But when I arrived it was going to be a bit of a journey to get there, and anyway, the new kid on the block had started just 3 weeks previously in Holyrood. And it was a simpler option.

Must get me one of these! You can decide whether I mean the tartan skort or the big dog.

Access:

The course takes place in Holyrood park, which is very close (walking distance) to the city centre and the foot of Royal Mile. A number of buses have stops nearby, all set out on the event’s course page. Buses take contactless payments, and I found the range and frequency of routes to be very user friendly.

Course:

The course is just one lap, starting and finishing near the same point close to St Margaret’s Loch. It is all on tarmac roads. The first 2 km is a steady uphill climb, before it levels off round the far side of the hill, and then a glorious 2 km downhill. You could be quite canny about your racing line here if chasing a PB – stick close the the inner side of the circuit, but take the shorter straight line when the path curves.

The views are nothing short of spectacular, and there was even a swirl of the bagpipes to be heard carried on the morning breeze.

Watch out for other users, particularly cyclists.

Crowd:

As a newcomer, situated in a capital city, this is going to be a big attraction for tourists. The inaugural attracted over 500, and there were 400 and something when I visited at their event number 4.

Despite this I saw no other cow cowls, and even though I was wearing a WMN top, I got no “Dolly or Bev?” “Arbitrary!” exchanges.

Good range of ages and run times, and plenty of dogs.

Gear:

Zippy run belt held my phone, keys, and emergency fiver.

I wore my grey “is it fancy dress” WMN top, and grey skirty capri pants. Cow cowl, headband and sunglasses. Saucony trainers – road shoes are fine for here, tarmac surface all the way.

Time:

I’m nursing a problem heel at the minute, and walked the uphill section, but was quite impressed with my time of 43-06, which was faster than I’d done Crystal Palace in a few weeks ago.

After:

I had a lovely cappuccino and croissant in the Holyrood Cafe, which has lovely clean loos, and a fresh water station. There is also a cafe in the Holyrood government building nearby.

Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

I was running without music, listening to the birdsong, and that bagpipe air drifting across from the town.

And the rest:

It was great to be back at Summer School after the Covid-pause, though my heel wasn’t improved by all that hopping and the long walks between venues.

All my parkruns:

Link NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

Go anywhere Nice this year?

Why yes I did, thank you, I was treated by my daughter Jemima to a wonderful few days in Nice, down on the beautiful French Riviera.

Nice is the 5th largest city in France by population, but its contribution to the tourist economy is immense. The airport is right on the beach, so the views as you land of the sparkling azure sea, with all sorts of water activity happening, and the mountains setting a dramatic backdrop, are nothing short of jaw dropping. And its the first airport where I’ve spotted a sign pointing out the toilets are next to the heliport…..

A taxi took us to the apartment we had rented for the week, just across the 7 km long Promenade Des Anglais from the sea. We had a short wait before we could get in, so I suggested we visited the sign that said “Brasserie” next door. This in fact turned out to be the glamorous https://www.hotel-negresco-nice.com/en/hotel Le Negresco Hotel, one of the most fashionable addresses and recognisable buildings in Nice. We settled in for champagne cocktails, and a charming uniformed waiter provided complimentary snacks of rosemary cashews and smokey almonds.

Suitable and impressively refreshed, we had our first look around the apartment, stunningly decorated with modern light fittings and a large kitchen lounge area (though bizarrely only one tiny toilet with the worlds smallest basin, for the whole apartment). A mirror on the back of the front door demanded selfies every time we left.

After a quick stock up of supplies from the nearby Carrefour, we set off for our first orientation wander along the prom. The weather was very warm (30+ degrees), but the gentle Mediterranean breeze made it feel very pleasant.

The girls were tempted to try parasailing, and we were all fascinated by the waterfall high on the hillside at the end of the prom. We had a delicious dinner including moules et frites, and even popped our heads around the Casino on the way home.

Day 2 was an early start, as J had booked us all onto a full day tour of the lavender fields and the Gorge du Verdun, https://www.verdontourisme.com/en/the-verdon/the-verdon-gorges-the-largest-canyon-in-europe/whose deep blue green I had even spotted from the plane yesterday. The tour was in a thankfully air conditioned vehicle, and included stops in the delightful villages of Castelane and a lunch stop in Moustier Sainte Marie. We saw how lavender oil was distilled, and learned about its many health giving attributes.

Sadly the harvest had just happened (the hot weather had meant it was early this year), but the hazy purple fields were still impressive.

Next stop was down at that stunning lake, which gets its colour from the clay underneath. The girls were brave enough to have a swim, and there were pedallos and kayaks for hire if you had some more time to spend.

Once back home, we just had a supper of pizza and frites at a nearby restaurant.

Day 3, and the girls wanted to spend the morning on the beach, so Christina and I took the open top bus tour. This gives stunning views of coast, and passes by a villa formerly owned by Elton John. We stopped for lunch at Villefranche sur Mer, a beautiful port with many restaurants and shops set around the harbour and the small sandy beach. I opted for the selection of local specialities, including stuffed courgette flowers, which I’ve long wanted to try.

Later in the afternoon, when it was slightly cooler, we walked all the way down to the ILoveNice sign, and the climb up to that waterfall. There was a lift, but it was closed. “When does it open?” asked Lisa. “In a few months when its been repaired!” was the answer. A long climb up countless stairs followed, but the views from each balcony point were worth it. At the very top we got some water from the cafe, looked down onto Nice harbour on the other side, and eventually found the waterfall itself, enjoying the refreshing spray.

At the foot of the hill, we found a window seat overlooking the prom, and played I-Spy, fashion bingo, and spot the dog, over a GnT.

For dinner I had a Salad Nicoise (of course!) and a glass of my now favourite local rose, a Minuty. Some street performing acrobats added to the colour and spectacle.

Following the recommendation of a couple we’d got chatting to earlier, the next day we headed for Monte Carlo. The train costs only 8 euro return, but the process of buying a ticket at the station was rather arduous and stressful. You need to specify exactly which trains you’ll be travelling on, the age range of each passenger, whether they had any discount cards, and even give a phone number and email! Hot and bothered, we piled onto the train, and found seats on the upper deck to enjoy to lovely coastal views.

Arriving in Monaco 20 minutes later, we began the long climb down many steps to the harbour, from where we picked up an open top bus. It was pretty packed, but we were only going one stop to the Palace, where we were just in time to catch the changing of the guard. Lovely views over the harbour from here, and then we were back on the bus to find a suitable lunch spot. We’d considered the Japanese garden, but there is a towering and noisy forest of construction work happening round here, so we instead continued to the Casino stop.

A never ending stream of fancy cars crawls round here, doing the famous Grand Prix circuit. The elegant terrasse of Cafe de Paris called to us, and soon we were settled at a table in its gilded sumptuous surroundings, admiring the waiters passing with long trays of dishes out to the Chanel and Louboutin clad clientele.

I do love a Ceasar salad, but I don’t eat chicken, so I was delighted find a version with prawns on offer here. Bread and water were provided, and they had my fave wine available by the glass – result! Coffees were served with a delightful selection of petits fours – chocolates, butter biscuits, and little pate de fruits.

We had a quick look inside the Casino, were you can get to a selection of slot machines which will greedily take 5 and 10 euro notes off you in the blink of an eye. And no photography allowed!

The traffic in the city moves at a snail pace, and we were quite hot sitting on the top deck of the bus, so it was a relief to get back to the cool and cavernous station. The train home was jam packed, so we treated ourselves to a taxi ride back to the apartment, which I followed with a refreshing dip in the sea itself.

For our last evening, we dressed up in our finest flocks, and had a seafood platter followed by crepes suzette.

On our last day we had plenty of time before our late night flight, and had managed to arrange a late check out time. In the morning, the others went to the rather rocky beach, suitable shod in waterproof shoes, while I explored the tram system. This is very clean and efficient, and well worth using to get around the city. One journey is 1.50, a multi journey ticket for 10 trips costs 10 euro, and I treated myself to an all day ticket for 5 euros. I was in full-on research mode, took a tram to Place Garibaldi, walked to the harbour, to the tram all the way to the airport, enjoyed a glass of rose in my matching frock and fan, before getting off at the station nearest to us.

Over lunch using up all the remaining cheese, strawberries, and crackers, we discussed options, and decided to take the tram to the old part of Nice. This is just adorable, little winding alleyways crammed full of shops selling herbs, honey, soaps, clothing and trinkets, as well as food stalls serving fish and socca. Not to be missed!

The tram out to the airport was smooth and quick, but we were having difficulties in checking in online. This would mean that we couldn’t get through security to all the shops and restaurants beyond until 90 minutes before the flight. Thankfully, Jemima managed to work out that my little card sized Irish passport is an ID card, not a passport, and we were soon taking our time choosing lavender honey, Fragonard perfume, truffle oil, and the all important rose wine. Suitably stocked up, we went for a meal at Jamies Diner, which had a disappointingly small range of options, but did have a lovely view out to the runway and the beach and mountains beyond. I treated us all to macarons from the nearby patisserie.

Our plane was already delayed by over an hour, and by the time we finally boarded it was going to be another hour before a take off slot was available. I have to give full credit to the Easyjet team here: They were communicative and managed expectations well. The captain came out and invited anyone who wanted to come see the cockpit, get photos, ask questions etc, to do so, and the crew passed out soft drinks and chocolate bars.

The very late (early?) landing at Gatwick meant there were no trains running, and a massive wait for taxis. But the impressively efficient Jemima managed to secure an Uber, and we all fell into bed about 3.30. Given that there are so many delays and cancellations of flights right now, I was just so glad that all our flights had actually succeeded in getting us to and from destinations. (My add on flights between Belfast and London were also problem free, so full marks to “greasyjet”!)

Final thoughts – I absolutely love this part of the world, and will happily revisit Nice, as well as other destinations along the Cote dAzur. Nice was exactly as it should look, including our local, Le Negresco, old Nice was charming, but Monte Carlo disappointing. The food and wine were all delicious. But the most memorable and enjoyable part of the holiday was the fun and laughter I shared with the best bunch of ladies in the world – love you Nicoise Gals xxx!!!

We’re Going On a Brunch Hunt!

Now that I’m retired, I’ve set myself the mission of finding the best Brunch in Lisburn. Well that’s probably subjective, so My Favourite Brunch Spot is a better title. Here’s the first contenders.

Crema

Well located in the main shopping area of Lisburn, so a handy spot if you are visiting the major charity shops up town. Nice breakfast selection, with a few veggie options, though I actually went for the smashed avocado which came with feta and chorizo. But I just left the bits of meat to one side. (I’m not a strict veggie at all, I just don’t like meat). This was very nice, with a perfectly cooked poached egg, though I could have done with a bit more avocado. Trendy garnish of watercress and pomegranate seeds. My coffee of choice was a cortado, a short and strong white coffee. It was busy when I arrived, and the only available seat was beside the loos, which is always a noisy location. And the low ish ceilings would make conversation a bit of a strain. They do have some tables outside if the weather permits “al fresco” dining. Their tray bake selection is amazing, and if you sign up for the “too good to go” app you can sometimes grab a bargain box of treats. Cost was £10.30, a bit pricey for brunch.

Verdict – handy for shoppers, try the traybakes!

Ground

Free parking by TK Maxx, close to the health centre and library. Very tempting array of croissants, toasties and traybakes, but remarkably few veggie breakfast options. I had a halloumi sourdough sandwich which was delightfully spicy and messy. With a cappuccino this came to £8.40. There are a variety of seating options, from bench tables, to low comfy armchairs, as well as some tables and chairs outside. The glass walls give an airy feel, though the view of the car park isn’t going to make the top ten of “Best Coffee Shop Views”.

Verdict – handy if you’re at the library or health centre and need a pick me up.

Dobbies

Very close to me, this is probably my nearest option. They actually have quite a few interesting veggie options, and I will be back to try the flat mushroom breakfast stack and the smashed avocado. But today I opted for scrambled egg on toast. The eggs were freshly cooked, for which I was happy to wait, and were deliciously fluffy. The 2 slices of malty toast were also freshly made, and butter was unlimited. Staff are really friendly and chatty. The ambience is a bit “school canteen”, but if you get there early and can nab a window seat it’s very pleasant and relaxing. As I have a Dobbies card my coffee was free, so the total bill was a bargain £5.50.

Verdict – surprisingly tempting choice of options, calorie counts given, and if you have a Dobbies card it’s good value

Any Lisburn folks, hit me with your recommendations!

Eurovision 2022

So, the contest is over, the glitter canons detritus has been swept up, and Turin returns to whatever passes for normality there.

How was it for me, I’m sure you are all asking!

I’d had a good oul listen to all the songs beforehand, and made a list of ones I thought would do well, and those I didn’t rate. How did my list compare to the actual final scoreboard?

1st: Ukraine. No surprises whatsoever, and I had them top of my leaderboard too. I think the song is great, has a combination of folky flute hook, as well as a heartfelt message. Oh and I did also enjoy the crumping break dancing that accompanied it. The combination of jury plus televotes will always throw up some controversial winners – I hadn’t rated Italy at all last year, and was behind the jury darlings of Voila and Tous l’univers……but the televote overturned their lead.

2nd UK. Delighted with this result for Sam Ryder, who seems like a genuinely nice bloke, and who worked his socks off promoting Spaceman across Europe in the lead up to the contest. I had him 3rd, and even I was overwhelmed by the love he was getting from juries and televoters alike. I mean, politics, sure, but it just goes to show that a good song, performed well, will get points.

3rd Spain. There was a lot of hype about this SloMo, and it’s a decent enough uptempo number, but the “booty hypnotic” lyrics and the scantily clad costumes were a big turn off for me. I hadn’t them on my list at all.

4th Sweden. The lyrics of “Hold Me Closer” are just heartbreaking, (I found the right one at the wrong time) and delivered with a gravelly voice that melts your heart. Great effort from the Swedes, who were disappointed that this didn’t make the top 3, it was my 6th place.

5th Serbia. Biggest shock of the night to me was the high placing this Goth spa treatment song about Meghan Markle’s shiny hair got. I was amazed it even made it through the semis!

6th Italy. Another much hyped entry, Brividi was a soulful all male duet, by two well known singers. But the performance on the night was rather lack lustre. I had it 9th

7th Moldova. Chisinau to Bucharest! Of the bonkers party songs, this was my favourite, it’s a cheery colourful number featuring fiddles and accordions, and I placed it 5th. Here’s an aide memoire to assist you in naming the capital: Moldova – mulled wine – wine and cheese – Chisinau! You’re welcome.

8th Greece. There were a lot of doom and gloom ballads this year, and Die Together was staged with a whole load of broken chairs, and the singer wore a costume made out of that cellophane your wrap flowers in, so it had a wistful post-apocalyptic quality to it. It was 11th on my list.

9th Portugal. Very soft and low key, tie dye outfits and pigtails, Saudade describe a feeling of missing a place. I didn’t rate this at all

10th Norway. “Not sure you have a name so I will call you Keith”, the yellow suited performers singing about preventing a wolf from eating your Grandma by offering a banana instead. This had a massive support pre concert, but was never going to get a lot of jury points. I had it on my “like” list, but not placed.

11th Netherlands. A very soulful song in Dutch “oooh hoooo, ahaaaaa”, delivered with great sincerity and emotion, from a young woman with very shiny hair (has she been for a Goth spa treatment?). I really liked this one and placed it 4th

12th Poland. Of the doom power ballads from strong male soloists, this was my favourite, and I put it in 2nd place. His voice brought me out in goosebumps, though the staging was perhaps overly busy for a ballad.

13th Estonia. I hope, I hope, I hope went this up beat C&W influenced number, which rounded off the performances on the night in suitable fashion. Was just outside my top ten, but one that I’m sure I will play often.

14th Lithuania. Sparkly long dress and pudding bowl haircut, I found this one dreary and didn’t expect it to even qualify!

15th Australia. Chain mail face mask and very elaborate white costume for this deep and meaningful ballad. Australia haven’t fared well in recent years, and must be asking themselves some Serious Questions. Didn’t make my shortlist.

16th Azerbaijan. My son and I play a game of “spot the Bond theme song” each Euroviz, and this was the 2022 winner. I didn’t expect it to qualify, and it suffered from being so similar to the other male sung power doom ballads.

17th Switzerland. Marius Bear with….yet another male performer doing a doom and gloom ballad. I had as a non-qualifier.

18th Roumania. Llamame bebebe, call me baby, a Latin dancey number, with a bit of cha-cha thrown into the performance. 12th on my list.

19th Belgium. Am I gonna miss you, Naaaaaaah! Strong delivery but rather a slow tempo, it was just outside my top 12.

20th Armenia. Snap it 1,2, where are you? I found this reminiscent of “I belong to you, you belong to me you’re my sweetheart”. The styling was a bit bland and beige, indeed there was a costume alteration between the semis and the final, though it still would be in with a good chance of winning the Barbara Dex award for worst outfit. I had this as my 8th.

21st Finland. The actual Rasmus! I went to see them live back in my Luxembourg days, when they were riding high in the charts with In The Shadows. They benefitted from being the only really rock number in the final line up, and their spooky yellow raincoats and IT balloon made them at least memorable. Just outside my placed songs, but I was really pleased they did so well.

22nd Czechia. Lights Off by Domi, almost a rave quality to it. “Where are you now?”, this will definitely be played a lot on my Spotify, and I had placed it 7th.

23rd Iceland. The sister group…errr…Systur…didnt feature at all on my list, I found it dreary and dull. I’m sure someone must have shouted out “Play jah jah ding dong!”

24th France. I just didn’t get this one at all, and it hasn’t stayed in my memory. Must try harder.

25th Germany. Oh dear, 2 of the Big 5 in the bottom places, they must be casting envious glances across the channel to the UK, and wondering what they need to do next.

The other songs that I thought would do well, but which didn’t make it out of the semis were Malta “I am What I am”, Israel I.M, and Austria’s Halo. I also felt for Brooke Scullion, from down the road in Bellaghy, who gave a fabulous performance on the night, with good staging, costume and dancing, which got a great audience reaction in the auditorium. But it wasn’t enough to save a poor song, and added to Ireland’s poor performance record in recent years.

parkrun tourism: Eastbourne

event#84 parkrun#307 another compass point!

There are a number of recognised challenges that parkrunners try to tick off, one of which is the compass points. So far I’d only managed one point at Southampton parkrun, parkrun tourism: Southwark and Parkruns: South Manchester. So I was delighted to take up the offer of a visit from my best friend who now lives in Eastbourne!

Access:

I’d travelled by train from Gatwick airport, a relatively simple journey. The parkrun takes place in Shinewater Park, and I got a lift there. It is a residential area so runners are asked to park considerately if they’ve come by car. There’s a bus stop at the park entrance, and the nearest railway station is Hampden Park.

Course:

This was the first outing of the summer course when I attended. Quite a bit of the course is on uneven grass surface, so watch your step! One loop of the play park, then onto more solid paths, over bridges, under bridges, and round some lovely lakeside views. Back for one final loop of the playpark, which does mean you have an agonising run PAST the finish line before that last stretch.

Crowd:

There was a good mix of runners, and I certainly wasn’t alone in the jog-walking group at the back. I did worry a bit that the tail walker looked like he was dressed for a speedy run.

Some well behaved dogs, a few family groups, and I got chatting to an elderly couple who were making their 3rd parkrun, having only started as part of their 70th birthday celebrations. A lovely reminder of the inclusivity of parkrun. There were 331 participant when I attended, the average is in the mid 200s.

Facilities:

A cute coffee cart is onsite for post run faff. No loos. There’s a Premier Inn very nearby if you wanted to stay over. Start and finish is at the same point, so the traditional “hang it on a tree” method of leaving your jacket applies.

Gear:

I had travelled in my Sauconys, which were OK for this course. I wore my #isitfancydress With Me Now top, and of course had my cow cowl on, but saw no other parkrun tourists or WMNers! Darn it, I was looking forward to exchanging a “Dolly or Bev”/ “arbitrary” greeting.

Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

I have a choir concert coming up soon, so I have the songs we are singing downloaded onto a Spotify playlist. So I was working on the Irish Blessing ” May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, and the rain fall soft upon your fields”. There were very few hills to contend with, the sun indeed did shine warm, and no rain, soft or otherwise, fell upon my fields. Which was nice.

Time:

I was jog walking, and stopping to take photos, so a just sub 45 minute time for me.

And the rest:

I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend in this part of the world, including a carousel ride in party town Brighton, and ice cream by the sea in Eastbourne, viewing the Seven Sisters, and seeing a big chalk man on a hillside.

All my parkruns:

List of them all NI (and other) parkruns: summary list