Sunday, 26 April 2015

Another trip to the Netherlands: Cycling and a Chateau

We spent last weekend in Netherlands again, the second time Kate and I have been there in 2105. This time we went along with my husband to stay in Valkenburg near Maastricht so that he could take part in the Amstel Gold cycling event.  I wasn't terribly excited by this idea when he first suggested it, not knowing very much about Maastricht and the surrounding area, but actually I was pleasantly surprised.

Valkenburg, a pretty little town which is considerably hillier than the rest of the Netherlands, was heaving with cyclists sitting on cafe terraces and enjoying the sun when we arrived on Friday afternoon.  The Amstel Gold event is very popular with a 'leisure' ride on the Saturday followed by a professional race on Sunday.  Husband joined the queue to register for the 125km ride.  Leisure? Why don't I join him on these events I hear you ask?  No chance - my limit is about 10 miles and I'm a bit too wobbly on a bike and scared of traffic.

All of the hotels in Valkenburg were full so we ended up staying in a very swanky chateau hotel nearby.  It is the most luxurious hotel we have ever stayed in and wasn't cheap so we only stayed one night, moving to a more modest one in Maastricht itself on the Saturday evening after the race. Our 'apartment' was spacious and beautifully furnished, though I'm not sure they'd have been too happy if they'd seen the bike in the hallway.

So Kate and I spent a lazy Saturday morning in this apartment lounging around in our complimentary bathrobes.  Then we explored the grounds where, in addition to the established statues and gardens, there was a sculpture exhibition.

My favourite was this revolving giant Easter egg.

I also liked this metal butterfly - it reminded me a little of the Angel of the North

And, for Kate, there was an opportunity for a bit more science revision.  You can see a tiny inverted image of yourself in the centre of the eyeball.

We also liked this big apple.  The gardens were beautiful and it was a lovely morning so we didn't mind when we had to check out at lunchtime and wait until the ride was over.  We made a picnic in our little kitchen and ate it in Rose Garden - no roses yet but it was a peaceful spot where we enjoyed the sun until husband returned triumphant, having completed his 125 km without too much difficulty and pleased with himself as he was able to overtake others up the hills, having had much practice at this on his usual rides in North Wales.

On Sunday we drove back through Belgium, stopping off en route to have lunch with my cousin and her family who live south of Brussels.  It was great to catch up with her as we only manage to see each other every few years when our visits to Northern Ireland coincide. 

A lovely weekend and a good end to the Easter holidays.   

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

An Easter Eggshibition and The Year in Books: April

Sorry about the bad pun.  A quick post before our short break to Belguim and Holland.  When we were in Northern Ireland we visited this Easter Egg exhibition in First Lisburn Presbyterian Church.  Local businesses had produced these contributions to the display which aimed to encouragepeople to visit the newly-refurbished church.   We went along with my sisters and the children and my daughter took these pictures which I thought I would share.  Really impressive and inventive display.

And now another late post for Laura's lovely Year in Books link up.  This month I have been reading Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, a best-selling first book by an unknown author.  I'm slightly curious about how she, a 20-something student,  managed to be in a position where she was given a huge advance for a book and had nine publishers competing for it. How did she get their attention in the first place, when many successful authors, including J K Rowling, are rejected at first?  Did someone spot her when she was doing the Creative Writing MA at UEA?

What is different about this book is that she gets into the head of Maud, her central character, who has dementia, and writes a convincing account of life and events from her point of view.  My mother-in-law had dementia in her final years and much of Maud's behaviour is familiar: leaving the gas on; going out at odd times; attempts to continue with routine activities like cooking and shopping but getting in a muddle about it.  My aunt, who suffered from dementia, once tried to make a ham sandwich for her son with the blood-soaked absorbent paper at the bottom of a plastic supermarket meat tray: she still saw it as her job to feed her family even after the roles had reversed.

What Healey does so well is to show that for Maud, her actions, which frustrate and baffle others, are actually entirely logical in her mind.  She confuses past and present all the time. Her friend Elizabeth is 'missing'. She's actually in hospital, but Maud, who is in English Lit teaching terms, an 'unreliable narrator' never grasps this. Maud confuses the fact that Elizabeth is missing with the disappearance of her sister Sukey in the post-war years, an event that Maud is able to remember in vivid detail.  This means that we, as readers, can understand why Maud says something about Elizabeth which seems ridiculous to her daughter, as we know she is referring to Sukey.  What is also well observed is the reaction of her daughter Helen: Maud notices her eye-rolling and her desire to get away. This reminds me so much about how we were with my mother-in-law and I feel ashamed.  It seems that Healey drew on her own family's experience with her grandmother to write the book.  It must be slightly uncomfortable reading for her mother, if Helen is based on her.

I discussed this novel at my bookclub and one member, who works with dementia patients, says it is a very accurate portrayal of the condition.  And that is what it is - very well written and original book. Did I enjoy it? Yes, though I preferred the next one I read more Colm Toibin's Nora Webster.  But more of that another time.

My next book was recommended to me by Annet, the teacher I stayed with in the Netherlands.  She gave me a battered paperback school copy.  It's The Music of Chance by Paul Auster.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Easter Weekend...

was spent in Northern Ireland with two of my sisters and their families.  We enjoyed catching up, eating chocolate, drinking wine and, for once, the sun came out for us.  We spent Easter Sunday in Dad's now empty house in Ballyronan.  It was very cold when we arrived, but we lit a fire and sister's practical husband persuaded the boiler to light.  I have a mixture of feelings returning: sadness, nostalgia and, this time, a kind of resignation to the inevitable passing of time and the need to let go. We know that we can't leave it empty forever but, for now, it's good to be able to return.  I cooked Sunday lunch and we took the children to play at the marina which was busy with daytrippers and people staying in the caravan park.

Here a few pictures from the weekend.

On Easter Saturday we were trapped in my sister's house in Dromore as the road was closed for the Circuit of Ireland Rally car race.  This entertained some members of the family, but not all of us. So we had an Easter Egg hunt for the children with clues like this around the garden.  My big girl joined in and had her own share of the chocolate.  I spent a large part of the day sitting in the sun reading, only mildly distracted by the roar of race. ('Nora Webster' by Colm Toibin - am planning a books post soon)

Ballyronan Marina on Easter Sunday.  We walked to the 'lighthouse', at the end of the pier and this is the view from there. There's no light, just a concrete tower, but it was always the walk I did with my mother.