Relentlessly snowy Berlin

I'm just back from a relentlessly snowy Berlin. 10 times the size of Paris with an ever growing and developing creative community. Iconic monuments, grungy clubs and cafes, graffiti on everything, and always reminders of the Cold War.

They may have tried to kill off diversity in the 1930's but today Berlin is one of most multi-cultural and open cities in Europe. It is also a city that can never afford to forget.

The young artists who make it their home don't carry the baggage of the past. They eat Lamb Koftas and African Yams on alternate nights. They dance in the snow. They weave their way through the streets without a consciousness of the gaping holes left by the absent wall.

In the 1970s I went through Checkpoint Charlie from west to east, barely understanding it's significance. Another country another border. The Guard checked under the van with a torch on mirrored wheels. He glared at my passport thinking I might be an imperialist American. Irischen!!! Gut! Smiles and relief all round. We spent a day in East Berlin trying to fritter away the 10 dollars they insisted we exchange. No matter how many beers with sausages and potatoes we tried to consume, it was an impossible task.

Then we were staying in the Western sector near Tiergarten, in the home of exiled Chilean diplomats. Today I stood in that same spot, a winter wonderland and remembered the grim grey streets and confusion of those days. A brown legged man in an orange singlet and little more jogged past me on the snowy path. Running with a cold breeze in his face and the warm sensation of a free man in his heart and I felt like cheering for Berlin, for the Germans and for all of those who lived to tell the tale.........some things do change.....

See a connected piece about the bright city lights calling, today on Vision and Verb


The Mare's breakfast!

When would he arrive with breakfast? The snow had settled as it rarely ever does. The hours were passing and the icy grass was none too appetising.

The mare heard the engine before the foal even realised that at last he was on his way.

Bale after bale of warm hay, thrown over the hedge. Steam rose from it as they both dived in.

Now the mug of coffee and the crunchy toast for me. All of us lucky to have our much needed breakfast on this beautiful but freezing cold morning beside the lake.

Then across the field, the sounds of happy munching........


Snowy dawn!

As the evening draws in, the snow settles and I ponder the long trip I have to make that next day. The forecast suggests it will linger long enough for a dawn ramble before I head off.

Just as the sun rises I am out on the snowy lane. One set of tyre tracks tell me that my neighbour has already made it up the hill. This is the spot where I sailed off into the ditch a few years ago in similar conditions.

The sun highlights the few warm spots and the mare and her growing foal are sheltering with their backs to the ditch, lapping up those first rays. A young girl wanders into the field no doubt plotting a day off from school.

A simple change to the lane and the Comeraghs, but one that makes for a giddy stroll and a decision to postpone my long drive to the midlands for a day or two....


For the week that's in it......a real Irish pub......

Come in out of the cold ya poor craythur!

Smoke from the fire and a kettle on the boil. The clock tick tocks. A lad sits at the counter. He dropped in "just for one" to his home away from home......

You know they don't serve "coffee" so don't even ask. This is where my Grandfather drank a pint of Guinness and a chaser of Rum and Blackcurrant. Where at closing time the doors were locked and himself and the Uncle adjourned to the widow's kitchen. They cycled here the 6 miles resting their bikes against the lampost outside.....there was no need to lock them....and they cycled home again in the early hours of the morning.

Here you could buy biscuits and bacon while you sipped a hot whiskey. Here the kids waited for hours, bribed with Red Lemonade and packets of Tayto playing under the tables and in the dark back corridors. Here we spent our teenage years planning our imminent escape to join the revolutionaries of South America.

On a Saturday night you could watch the Late Late Show while the widow did her ironing, demanding hush with a pleading tone. The warm pints were lined up and took an age to settle, gathering in number as the evening progressed. Here is where on Sunday after Mass, the men stood against the wall in their suits and hats while the women went home to make the dinner.

I was passing Morrrissey's of Abbeyleix, County Laois and shyly took a few snaps. It was exactly the same as I remember.......

Have a great Seachtain na Gaelige and a Happy Saint Patrick's Day


Her labour

Her labour

Salty finger tips cling to aching wrist.
Pumping elbows,
hang from cliff hanger shoulders.

Taut chords strangle the hardened neck.
Delivering a weighty head
through brain blowing tedium.

Leaves tangle and soak her skin.
Cool on cheeks, all hot from google alerts.
Eyeballs tense and dry, wanting to weep.

But the heart says gently;
Only hours now, only minutes,
to flashing furzelight freedom!

And you will rise,
high into the layered mist.

For International Women's Day, March 8th, 2013


How far would you go for a fairer breakfast?

A sleepy dreamy morning. Not a breath of wind. Too lazy to fill the feeders again, a handful is sprinkled on the garden table. Let me get my breakfast first little friends! 

And still they come, their feathers a little askew. Cautious but alert and a few sleepyheads. First things first, a cup of delicious coffee and some pictures of the guzzling Bluetits. 

Meanwhile in San Jose, Costa Rica, Gerardo Arias Camacho will set out for a day in the fields. He will  earn a fair basic wage thanks to a world wide movement called Fairtrade. It's Fairtrade Fortnight at the moment, how far would you go to ensure the sustainable future of businesses like his? 

Probably like me you won't even have to leave your kitchen. Won't have to push a wheelbarrow load of coffee across a mountain to avoid coffee sharks. Won't have to spend the day picking, washing and processing the beans, rain, hail or shine. 

Just check out your cuppa, make it a Faritrade one, and throw your weight behind a fairer solution.