On holiday

I took annual leave last week, but as usual I was busy. For me, a holiday is no fun when you are sitting around bored. When I got home from Dublin on Tuesday after the Paul Simon gig, I unpacked my bag and repacked it for Wednesday’s trip to England.

O J and I flew to Liverpool on Wednesday afternoon, and received fantastic assistance in both Derry and Liverpool airports. The assistants were good-humoured and fun, and did their job expertly, until they offered me a wheelchair when I got off the plane. When I politely told them I didn’t need it, the woman just guided me and wheeled my bag in it instead. O J was naturally a bit confused, and kept looking at it.

My cousin and her fiancae just bought a house in Cheshire, so I was excited to see it. It is in a lovely quiet area not far from a village, and you can hear sheep from the field beside their garden. Trains also run past, so between seeing them and lots of cats, O J did a lot of barking!! Cheshire is a place I travel to at least once a year, so it is nice to know that O J can become familiar with an area that he will regularly spend time in. The garden is fenced in too, so its the perfect place to bring a dog. And God does he get spoilled when we are there!

I spent Thursday relaxing while Sarah and Rob went to work. They left lunch for me, showed me where the food and everything was kept, and even put Jaws on a laptop so that I could go online. Hows that for service! They have a digital piano that I tried to play, but couldn’t find the plug and didn’t want to knock anything over by searching too much. It turns out that it was plugged into one of those extention leads that goes through the wall, which explains my confusion and didn’t make me feel so stupid!

I went to Barnton school on Friday, to spend the day with Sarah’s class who I had met last year. O J was a star, like he usually is around lots of children, and they were very excited to see both of us again. They were well behaved and under control, well as much as thirty-eight kids can be. The school was a bit manic with inspections taking place, but all the teachers were very welcoming. O J had a quick run around the field outside before leaving the school. Sarah and I took him for a walk, made brownies and had dinner before people came round for drinks. I hadn’t met a few of them before but we all had great fun!

On Saturday Rob watched O J while Sarah and I took the train to Manchester for a complimentary day at
Double Take makeover and photography studio
We had our hair and make-up done and then had some professional photos taken. The staff were all very friendly, and our photographer was a bit excentric! She took us around the studios to different sets, telling us what she wanted us to do, and surprising us by making it less awkward than we thought it would be. It took forty-five minutes and there was an opportunity for three outfit changes, although we only changed our tops and did too. Most of the photos were of both of us together, and before you ask, they were all civilised and modest 😀
We laughed the whole way through and didn’t take it seriously at all, not like other people there. It was something I would never do again, but it was good fun. I just wish I could have had one professional photo with O J. We were there for over five hours, so it wouldn’t have been fair to bring him and expect him to stay with other people for that length of time. We had to wait for over an hour before going into a room with a big screen to view and pick photos if we wanted to buy any. We almost missed our train back to Cheshire because the girl doing the viewing was so talkative, but the silly train broke down and we had to change anyway. We got a huge happy welcome from O J and a lovely dinner with Rob’s mum when we got back.

Just like the journey there, the assistance at both airports was great, and O J was completely relaxed on the plane on the way home on Sunday morning. The only thing I do have an issue with regarding airport assistance is how inconsistent they can be. Sometimes they board people with disabilities first, sometimes last. In Liverpool they have often brought me to sit in a separate area after check-in. It is away from the general crowd, and you sort of feel like you have lepracy or something! Other times I get to sit with everyone else, where people usually come up to talk and keep me company. Finally, I hate when they think they are being more helpful by taking me up on the wheelchair lift thing instead of the steps. I am completely fine with steps and they are quicker, and don’t slightly freak O J out. Apart from all that, air travel is usually great, and in my experience, much more enjoyable and simple with a dog than a cane.

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Rhymin Simon!

I’m not the biggest Paul Simon fan in the world. By that, I don’t mean that I don’t really like him, but that I am not familiar with all his music, and still have a lot of his back catalogue to explore. But when he announced a gig in Vicar Street ahead of his gig in Cork, I knew it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see him in such an intimate venue. Thanks to a mate managing to get tickets, and another offering to watch O J while I was at the gig and then let us stay with them, I saw one of the most amazing gigs ever on Monday night.

The Vicar Street staff were very helpful, since two of us are blind and one was visually impaired, so not a decent eye between us 😀
They brought us down a corridor and we had no idea where we were going since it was away from the direction of the crowd. The man told us that it would be easier to get out at the end this way, but in fact we ended up getting seats at the wheelchair section, right in the front rows! I was two steps away from the stage. Although I didn’t have a proper seat and it wasn’t very comfortable, the sound was fantastic and in my opinion I had the best seat in the place! We were so close that even the lights hurt my eyes they were so bright. That’s saying something, because my light perception is rubbish!

I really didn’t know what to expect from Paul Simon’s performance. I had only heard the new album ‘so beautiful or so what’ once the day before, and thought since he was touring it, I wouldn’t be too familiar with the new songs. He played a great combination of hits as well as new material, which blended in perfectly, with a few cover versions too. For a man of almost seventy years old, he is acceptional. His voice is perfect and he sounds so young. He doesn’t talk much but was polite and gracious, and seemed happy to be playing in what he called “a club.” It all just seems so effortless. Performers like him could teach many of today’s generation of bands a thing or two, because it seems nowadays, you are only respected and cool enough if you spend the majority of your performance shouting all the curses you can think of. God, I’m starting to sound like my dad, but you know he’s right a lot of the time, but I’ll never tell him that of course!
Anyway… back to the gig…

Simon’s band of eight musicians are also amazing. I’d love to have seen the stage, because there must have been a large amount of instruments up there. The audience were fantastic, interacting when appropriate and being completely silent at other times. The band even played a couple of songs suggested by the audience. They might have already been on the set list but it was still nice to hear an audience member politely ask, and the band play it straight away.

I left the gig feeling that I was incredibly lucky to have been there, to have seen a musician who has been playing music for so long, and still clearly enjoying his job. During the gig I couldn’t help thinking of Clarence Clemence, who unfortunately and tragically passed away last Saturday. He had a similarly long career, and watching him perform twice was a unique experience. His death was a reminder that musicians of this quality aren’t going to be around forever. Often gig tickets are rediculously expensive and difficult to afford, but if you have the opportunity, seeing a performance from somebody with such “legendary” status (for want of a better word), is definitely worth the extra pounds.

Setlist:
1. The Boy in the Bubble
2. Dazzling Blue
3. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
4. So Beautiful or So What
5. Vietnam
6. Mother and Child Reunion
7. That Was Your Mother
8. Hearts and Bones
9. Mystery Train
10. Wheels
11. Slip Slidin’ Away
12. Rewrite
13. Peace Like a River
14. The Obvious Child
15. The Only Living Boy in New York
16. The Afterlife
17. Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
18. Gumboots
Encore:
19. The Sound of Silence
20. Kodachrome
21. Gone at Last
22. Here Comes the Sun
Encore 2:
23. Crazy Love, Vol. II
24. Late in the Evening
25. Still Crazy After All These Years

What goes on in our dog’s heads

Most of the time I’d rather not know, but sometimes O.J does little things that make me wonder how this dog’s mind works!

My aunt opened a new health shop in our town last Wednesday. I know, your thinking, who in their right mind would open a new business these days, but this woman is such a professional and certainly knows what she’s doing! Anyway the official opening took place on Friday, with food, champaign and everything. I visited my granny and then walked down to the general area of the shop, not far away. I’d been in it once before without O.J, and I just got out of a car and went in, so didn’t have a clue how far down the street it was. I was sure I’d hear people I knew outside as we passed, or somebody I knew would see me, so just told O.J to keep walking. He stopped and pointed his head towards the shop door for a second, then began to walk on, but I smelled the incense and realised where we were. Just then, a woman I know came out to call me in.
I’m not sure if O.J saw somebody he knew, smelled the strange smell or just wanted a nosey, in what was to him a random shop. Its one he will become familiar with from now on, but its good to know that its really easy to find. He has done lots of random things like this before, and found things for me when I’m not really sure where I’m going. I just wonder if its all a coincidence, and what exactly goes on in my dog’s big head.
He probably wonders that about me too! Right now I’m asking myself the same question. Got asked to do some extra work for someone this week, applying for funding for a radio project, trying to pick wooden floors, babysitting, working and recovering from a party last night.
I will be happy to be on annual leave in one weeks time, for a week of travelling and fun!

Annual vet visit

I’m writing this more as a record for myself than anyone else!
O J had his annual check-up with the vet today. For some strange reason he jumped out of the car quickly when we got there, and couldn’t wait to get inside. He wasn’t pulling, but just happy to be going in. He must think they can’t hurt him anymore now that his glands are gone. Before that, he would try and go to the door to get out any time it opened, and couldn’t relax much when we were in there.
He was checked by a new vet that I hadn’t met before. She was very thorough, and made sure she didn’t forget anything, so it took about 15 minutes just for a checkup. He weighed just over 31 KG, which is maybe his lightest ever since I’ve had him. I noticed he had lost a bit of weight recently, and a girl I work with mentioned that she thought he looked thin from the back. He’s happy and healthy so I’m not worried, I just wouldn’t want him to lose any more.
The vet advised me to give him denta sticks twice a week because a few of his teeth are starting to show signs of needing a bit of a clean. She said its bound to happen sooner or later because of his age. I haven’t been good at giving him them once a week never mind twice, but now they will be his main treat. After a booster injection, I got flea and worm treatment for both dogs and we left the vet, hopefully for another year.

I did some shopping in Derry today, including a present for my nephew Harry who is one today. Where did that year go!
I also found nylabones in a shop called B and M bargains, for only £2 each, which is better than the £7 I pay in the pet shops. The dogs are obsessed with them and I have to buy them often, so this was great. That, along with
Pet Land
in Letterkenny giving a discount on food for guide dog owners, I have made some good shopping discoveries!

Guest Post: To You I bestow

Many blog readers already know that I produce a music show for my local community radio station
ICR FM
which is broadcast every Sunday between 8 and 9 pm. I enjoy picking music for the show and introducing listeners to the music that I like, but it can get a bit boring because the show is pre-recorded.
When I move house I hope to get lots of new equipment which will hopefully enable me to broadcast my show online from home. I haven’t worked out the exact format of the show yet, but my love of music by Irish artists is making me consider an Irish alternative music show. Who knows how this will end up, but that’s not the main point of this post.

The main point is to give you an insight into a blog which has inspired my appreciation for Irish artists even more. I guest posted on Peter Nagle’s blog
2 U I Bestow
just over a year ago, and he kindly returned the favour when I asked him to write a bit about his blog last week. Thanks Peter!

I’m Peter and I write the 2 U I Bestow Irish music blog and a folk column for the collaborative blog
fourforty4.
For my day job I teach Maths in a special school but in the evenings and the weekends I’m constantly listening to music, discovering great music or going to gigs and festivals. The 2 U I Bestow blog has enabled me to run a sessions gig in an intimate venue in Slane called
Boyles
and we imaginatively called the night ‘Live at Boyles’. Around half of my online traffic still comes from the US, with a sizable amount from the UK and the rest from Ireland. I’d say that there are over two hundred views from Ireland per day which I’m delighted with as the blog is just a hobby and there’s no revenue from it. I’m going to talk about the origin of the blog and where I see it in years to come.

The main inspiration for me to become a blogger was when I discovered
Mp3hugger.com
around five years ago now. The writing was and is still crisp and to the point with an opportunity to listen to new music before going off to buy an album or to see the band live. As mp3hugger only satisfied the indie/alternative side of me I went looking for blogs that were writing about Irish artists, or singer-songwriters or even good blogs writing about artists I adore like Ben Harper and Jack Johnson. So when there’s a spot in the market you have to go for it. I began a blog in February 2008 called Mixtape4Melfi. I was thinking along the lines of a website which provides good music to escape from the mundane day to day life. Yeah I didn’t think it through enough. Anyway while writing the Mixtape4Melfi blog I realised that I was writing about Irish artists that no one else covered such as Finglas born but Pittsburgh based Mark Dignam or Galway’s Peadar King. I therefore began planning an Irish artist only blog which went live in November 2008. I wanted a name for the blog that was the name of a popular Irish song. It came to me that I remembered reading that the Romeo & Juliet soundtrack has sold millions worldwide and it contains that Mundy song To You I Bestow.

There have been times in the past where I wondered if I was of any help to the bands I write passionately about. My ‘best of … ‘ lists rarely include albums that end up on the Choice Awards lists or are revered by other established bloggers. It’s taken some time to build an Irish readership because the blog is my own thoughts suited to my own tastes and it’s not a tool used by PR companies, record labels or concert promoters. I therefore have free reign to write about those artist I value and to ignore the music I do not value. Over time I hope those artists I write about gain the recognition and attention they deserve. I’m particularly delighted for artist such as Lisa O’Neill and Henrietta Game who are building a sizable fan base years after I first wrote a few words about them.

I aim to continue writing until I lose passion for the blog. I’d love to see the establishment of a Nationwide Irish music only radio station because we have so many wonderful musicians and bands. Ireland unfortunately is too small to keep a band gainfully employed full time. They need to look beyond Ireland to the UK, Europe and beyond in the way Villagers, Julie Feeney and James Vincent McMorrow have been touring and promoting recently. For this reason I hope all of my readers from the US and the UK keep returning to the blog to discover new Irish music.

Thanks Jen for asking me to write a guest post for you. I hope your new radio show goes well and that you continue to find new Irish music from 2 U I Bestow.