Friday, 2 August 2013

Over the sea

After a month of hiatus in July, we’re back in business -- thanks to everyone for your patience, and for the compliments. It’s always gratifying to know you’re not shouting into an empty room.  

The Girl and I had a full month, as Ireland had its first proper summer in a decade. Regular readers remember last year’s never-ending rain and record-breaking chill, when weeds could not be mown, hay could not be dried for winter, pollen washed out of flowers and no bees could fly. This year, though, we saw weeks of warmth and blue skies when the landscape turned into a postcard of scenic Ireland. Sometimes, it really is like that. On one such day, the Fourth of July, my daughter and I headed from our home in the Bog of Allen to the Irish seaside, where a ferry waited to take us to Britain.

“Why didn’t you just fly?” people asked us, demonstrating how recently flying has come to dominate people’s sense of space. Only a few decades ago flying was a rare privilege, often reserved for starting a new life, and people dressed up for it as they did for weddings; for most people today it is as banal as driving and treated with the same impatience.

We didn’t want to queue impatiently, jostle crowds, be scanned and prodded, clamber into a metal box, rise and fall like a carnival ride, and burn more ancient sea-life in an hour than our ancestors did in a lifetime. We wanted to travel through the world, to savour the choppy seas, new smells and strangers as writers did a century ago. The Girl and I were only going to Britain, of course, but for her it was a new world, and as we rocked on the sea or looked out a train window at the mountains of Snowdonia, I could savour the adventure in her eyes. Even the Underground was like a carnival ride.  

The cheapest hostel in London lay, unsurprisingly, in a run-down neighbourhood of mostly Third-World immigrants, but everyone was quite friendly and accommodating, and the long commute to the city meant The Girl had time to devour the third Harry Potter book, finishing it in only four days in-between sights. We hit the usual tourist spots, popular for a reason – boat ride on the Thames, Tower of London, Natural History Museum and many more. We didn’t get to see the inside of Westminster Abbey, Big Ben or Parliament – that’s what comes of touring on a Wimbledon Saturday, and I stretched a nine-year-old’s patience as far as I could.

Some of her favourite stops reflected her child's penchant for the gruesome; she was fascinated by a National Gallery exhibit about the martyrdom of the saints, and with my seminarian background I could ... um ... flesh out the details. The Girl has long held a fascination for “bog bodies,” apparent human sacrifices made by the Druids perhaps two millennia ago, so we went to see them in the British Museum.

Most of all, though, she wanted to go bowling; she had heard about this ritual, and wanted a piece of the action. I found a special place where we could have a lane to ourselves for a while, coached her on the basics, and finally let her have a go. After a dozen tries or so she knocked down three pins, and to her it felt like a world championship.

Oh, and we went ice skating. In July, which awed her most of all.

“London is the best city in the world!” she said. “I want to live here someday.” You can, I said.  

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