Narin, 31 October


We got up early this morning to wave Karen and Maisie off – sadly she had to return to Belfast for a work meeting this afternoon. Karen, that is, not Maisie. Everyone a bit stiff and sore after yesterday’s surfing exploits, apart from Wiseman, who claims to have only staved his thumb.

Last night Broon rustled up the most splendid roast dinner, and afterwards we settled around the fire. Played just the one game of Articulate, no need to bore you with the details.

Still no sign of George’s ghost.

Plans today are to head down to Slieve League to see the cliffs there, and then maybe on to Rossnowlagh for lunch, or back towards Narin and Portnoo. Hoping to get some more beach cricket in if the weather stays ok.


Broon is pouring tea in front of the fire. We’ve just had dinner, and are settling down with a cuppa on our last evening here. My sister texted earlier to say that she’s expecting a little brother for Maggie in March. Tomorrow’s plans are discussed. Gilly is stopping off to see her family on the way to the boat. Wiseman and I will plan to make a pilgrimage to the Giant’s Causeway instead. He’s been going on about for so long, it might finally stop him nagging. About that, anyway.

Today worked out pretty much as we’d planned. A visit to Europe’s highest sea-cliffs at Slieve League, which involved the hairiest mountain road I’ve yet driven on, followed by lunch in Donegal Town. We then decided to head back north to the cottage. Wiseman had spotted another beach at Narin that we hadn’t yet explored, so we drove down someone’s lane and hiked across their fields to get to it. Once there, we did a spot of paddling – at least Broon and I did – and then played a few innings of beach cricket. Broon topped the scoring charts, despite Wiseman hooking a couple into the sea for four. The showers of the morning gave way to a glorious afternoon, and we climbed back up the dunes in the late afternoon sunshine, pausing at the top to bid farewell to a coastline of sandy beach, rocks and little islands, with the sun glinting off the Atlantic.

Farewell, Donegal, until we meet again…

Narin, 30 October


Today dawned bright and fair. No, really, it did. The forecast was right. Having got the call from Kevin, our Irish American surfing dude, that 12.30 would be a good time, we headed off early to Dooey Strand, and got some beach cricket in before he arrived.

Halfway through Broon’s innings, Wiseman, who had been claiming that he was “not quite 100%” for days, threw up at midwicket, but we carried on regardless. I had half a mind to reprise Allan Border’s quote to Dean Jones, who, having batted for Australia through hours and hours of 40C heat and high humidity in Madras, had got to 170 and wanted to come off because he stopping the game every over to be sick. Border told him “You weak Victorian. I want a tough Australian out there. I want a Queenslander”.

Charming chap, Border.

Kev duly arrived with all the gear, and we got into our wetsuits, with some difficulty. I felt a little like Catwoman.

Surfing was brilliant fun. Actually standing up on the board proved a step too far. About two steps too far, in all honesty. In fact, even lying down on the board, and riding it into the shallows without wiping out, took a fair amount of concentration. And after a few runs, just getting on to the board at all proved exhausting. But very exhilarating.

We returned to the cottage and put the kettle on while Broon and Gilly made first use of the showers. Two minutes into our own showers, Wiseman and I found the hot water had all gone, and made sharp exits. I came back downstairs, and found I’d been doubly betrayed. Not only had the girls taken all the hot water, but they’d put on a chick flick in the living room. I escaped with Gilly and Broon to Ardara for some more provisions, and came back to find the film much the same as we’d left it – dapper young gentlemen making opaque statements about marriage, and the inferior breeding and education of young ladies. Most agreeable, I am sure.

Narin, 29 October


Last night was spent digesting Karen’s cooking, which was “just” a wild mushroom and pancetta risotto. Then we fired up Casino Royale on the DVD player, so as to be bang up to date with the Bond story before the new one comes out on Friday. Went to bed with a full view of the stars through my skylight.

Woke up with a full view of the clouds through my skylight, and the rain pattering off the glass. Forecast is for rain all day. Drove into Ardara this morning with Wiseman, and picked up an Ian Rankin novel. It’s a day for sitting in the cottage and reading, I think. It’s the final Inspector Rebus novel – the last of 17 in the series. It seems like a good one to start with. At least it did until Wiseman told me how it ended before I’d even opened it. Broon is baking in the kitchen, which is always a happy occurrence. Forecast for tomorrow is better – sunshine in the morning. Perhaps our surfing adventure will finally get off the ground tomorrow, after having been thwarted thus far by the strong winds.


Didn’t go out much today at all, as anticipated. Gillian, Karen and I made a foray into the village in the afternoon, to sound out possible places to eat tonight. There were none. So we headed back to the cottage, getting soaked en route, and after a quick change climbed into the car and headed into Ardara again, where we found a bistro that looked likely. Headed back there for dinner, sans Wiseman unfortunately, who had sardines for lunch and has since been seen only episodically, looking slightly green.

Dinner was good, there was even a minstrel playing folk/country tunes on his guitar and singing along lustily.

Narin, 27 October


Despite gamely tackling the mountain of baps at every available opportunity, it doesn’t seem to be getting any smaller.

Broon made an excellent bacon, french toast and maple syrup breakfast, after which we piled in the car and headed round our nearest headland, through Rossbeg, where we got out and explored the beach and rocks, and eventually on to Ardara. Wiseman was disappointed, once again, at the lack of ice cream vans around. Sadly it was a local bank holiday today, and so we couldn’t visit many local establishments in Ardara. We had lunch in Charlie’s West End café, the West End of the town not being so far removed from the East End to warrant a separate designation in my book, but there you are.

Picked up some peat briquettes and firewood for the fire in the cottage, which is lit and warming my toes as I write this. Also managed to post to the blog from the Spar there. On our return from Ardara, and after a cup of tea, Wiseman and I went for a walk to a sheltered beach just a little further along the coast from where we were yesterday. We only got soaked by a shower of rain the once. Came back and had a bit more of a nap than I had planned for, which bodes ill for getting to sleep tonight.

Gilly is currently in the kitchen rustling up fajitas. Looking forward to that.


The fajitas were great, enhanced further by the addition of some left-over chilli from last night, and some Coronas. Played a couple of games of Baileys-fuelled Articulate after dinner, and then the chat turned to horses, the Highland Show, and Wiseman’s near-death experiences, as the fire gradually faded. The addition of the fire to an already super-efficient central heating system meant the room felt like a nursing home. Or sauna. Or a sauna in a nursing home.

Not a pleasant thought.

En route to Donegal, 2008

25 October

Stranraer, 7.30am

We arrived here last night, after a largely uneventful trip from Edinburgh, save for the odd mildly panicked phone call from Broon as her and Gillian found themselves heading for Airdrie. The idea has been to break our journey to Donegal with an overnight stop near the ferry, to avoid a distressingly early start on the Saturday morning. All good so far, but today’s wind and rain, and most especially wind, has put paid to our hopes of sailing this morning. Broon texted me from the room next door at 6.30am to confirm that our 10am sailing had been cancelled. It was kind of her.

The crew on this year’s Donegal trip is the same as last year’s, with the sad exception that we are missing Shazza and her not inconsiderable vocal contributions. However, an old school friend – Karen – has stepped in to the breach, and we will hook up with her later today, or whenever the weather dies down and we can get on a boat across the sea. Which may turn out to be the middle of next week, which would be unfortunate, but at least would allow us ample time to explore Stranraer. Both of its streets.

I wandered along to the petrol station last night, while we waited for the girls to arrive from Airdrie, in search of some chocolate supplies. The petrol station was further back along the road than I had remembered, and as a result I had the opportunity to witness even more Ned-driven souped up Vauxhall Corsas cruising round the one-way system than I might have otherwise. What is it about small towns that they always end up with one-way systems and permanently-cruising Vauxhall Corsas?

When the girls finally arrived, we sat down with a cup of tea and some chocolate, and discussed our eating requirements for the week in more detail, so that Wiseman and I, rashly having been trusted with the shopping trip in Derry en route, would not fall out over how many sausages to buy.

This morning, as I gaze upon our depleted chocolate provisions, I fear that we may not have enough for another day in Stranraer, and may have to restock.

Loch Ryan, 7.15pm

Standing on deck, just as the boat rounded the headland and left the comparative peace and tranquility of Loch Ryan for the wild open sea, I felt my phone vibrate. It was mum.

“You’re not sailing, are you?”

“We are.”

“Oh. I called Ferrycheck at 4.30 and they said all sailings were cancelled.”

“We’re definitely sailing.”

“Are you sure you’re sailing?”

“Yes mother, I’m on the boat, looking back at the coastline recede into the distance. We’re definitely sailing.”

“Oh, son.” She sounded concerned. “I think it’s going to be a rocky crossing.”

I was keenly aware of the fact that it was going to be a rocky one. I was standing out on deck and the wind had almost taken my phone out of my hands. We exchanged pleasantries, and I went back to listening to Energy Orchard. As ‘Good day to die’ gave way to ‘Belfast’ for the second time round, I lurched back inside and hoped that Belfast wouldn’t be too long in coming around for real.

Broon was stretched out, plugged in to her iPod, looking a little ropey. Gilly had propped herself up against the seat, earphones in, with her eyes closed in a very determined way. Wiseman, naturally, was downing his first pint of Murphy’s.

Our boat had finally sailed at 4.30pm. We spent a nice enough day puttering about in Stranraer. Wiseman and I patronised the gym for an hour or so, while the girls found a chemist to stock up on travel sickness tablets, and a pretty decent and resoundingly unpretentious café. We joined them there and discussed the journey ahead. Anticipating a choppy crossing, the girls restricted themselves to a cup of tea and a scone. Mark and I decided that there might as well be something there to throw up, and went for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and fish and chips, respectively. We had two different brands of travel tablets, so we split into two control groups. Broon and I opted for the homeopathic tablets, while Wiseman and Gilly went for the more chemical alternative.

Now, several hours later, the chemicals seem to be in the ascendancy. Broon is proving to be a disappointing advert for natural herbal remedies. I am doing ok. Gilly is feeling like going for a sandwich, while Wiseman is feeling so good he is loudly contemplating a steak. Am unsure how much of his buoyancy is down to the effects of the drugs, and how much can be attributed to the Murphy’s, having just finished his third pint.

We totter down to the cafeteria. There are a lot of ill-looking people down there, including Téannich, a ceilidh band from Edinburgh. The boat’s pitching and rolling seems much more obvious than it did up in our lounge on the next level.

It’s going to be a late arrival in Donegal. The lady who looks after the cottage is going to leave the lights on and the key under the mat.

Val d’Isère, Day Two

And to think we were concerned that there might not be any snow this early in January. It’s been snowing almost non-stop since we got here. The Haxtonmeister had to dig his car out yesterday morning, and employ his snow chains for the first time.

Consequently the skiing conditions have been tricky, with low visibility and great piles of powder on the pistes. As a result, everyone had a less than ideal first couple of runs yesterday. Blue skies are forecast for tomorrow, with the snow to return on Wednesday and Thursday.

The chalet is absolutely outstanding, and the food matches it. Each room is ensuite. I am sharing a twin room with Wiseman. The gap between the beds is not what it could be, and the beds themselves are fairly narrow. I woke up this morning and engaged Wiseman in an early chat.

“There was some encroachment last night, mate.”



He just shrugged, obviously underestimating the distress it caused me. Such are the joys of sharing rooms with insensitive people.

I went to have a bath this evening after skiing. Took one look at the bathtub and popped my head back round the door to satisfy myself that there was any hair left on Wiseman at all. Quelle surprise, there was. I spent 20 minutes cleaning the bathtub out. Wiseman declared that I was making a bit of a meal of it.

“That’s what I do, Mark.”

“You do it very well.”

“I’ve practised.”

James popped in to our room sporting a mohican.

“Ooh, it stinks in this room,” he announced.

Actually it had been smelling fine until James arrived and dropped one. We exited the room to find some clean air, and found Nasty Jen lurking in the corridor. Fortunately I had a small bag of snow in my hand, and thereupon commenced a small snow fight, which was fairly evenly matched, until James entered the fray. James, being five years old, knows no boundaries. She nearly lost her trousers, poor girl.

The pranks proper have begun. Broon, whose birthday it was yesterday, opened her wardrobe to the strains of Cliff Richard singing “Congratulations, and celebrations…” They (Broon and Jen) worked out how to turn it off disappointingly quickly. (One imagines that it was Broon who figured it out).

As for the skiing, Wiseman has been finding himself “becoming one with the mountain” fairly frequently. As for me, I found myself becoming one with a random skier on the slope who was surprised to see me skiing up the slope straight towards him. We embraced briefly and then collapsed in each other’s arms. Disappointingly, it was a bloke.

I also had a disaster today while attempting to get onto a chairlift. I skied into the correct position in the middle of a group of three, and then, well, carried on skiing really, right off the front of where you’re supposed to stop. Overbalanced to the right in front of Filipideedoodaa, who completely failed to haul me back into the correct position, and instead kicked me so hard that her ski came off and she collapsed in a heap. The liftie, showing a remarkable amount of restraint, refused to give her a good telling off for her actions, and simply helped her retrieve her ski. Very gracious, these French.

Both the Haxtonmeister and Mental Mo have acquired new ski jackets and trousers, which means that this year they won’t be wearing their all-in-one romper suits on the slopes. This is most disappointing, and the photos will be all the less entertaining as a result.

Finally, quote of the day.. from James to his mum as she shepherded him back from the slopes:

“Ah… it’s good to be alive.”

Did I mention he was five years old…?

Edinburgh, Sat 27 October

Vindication. Didn’t have a collapsed lung, but Gilly heard the mouse just after going to bed. Exited her room pronto and slept on the landing instead. I feel my reputation has been restored.

Left the cottage about 9.30am. Gilly left us in Letterkenny to head home for a break with her folks. Shazza led us all a merry dance across Co Derry and Antrim to the boat at Larne.

Managed to bully Wiseman, Shazza and Broon into a game of Scrabble on the boat. They got hockeyed.

Never ones to make the same mistake twice where good food is involved, we stopped at the Kilmarnock Little Chef this time en route back to Edinburgh. Spotted several New Hollands, a vintage Massey Ferguson and some other tractors on the road in Ayrshire. Even one Shazza and Broon weren’t familiar with. No John Deeres though.

And so it ends. A week’s holiday which met or exceeded all our expectations. Back to the daily grind… but only 2 months ’til Val d’Isère 2008…

Donegal, Tues 23 October

Got a good night’s sleep last night, slept soundly. Still woke at 6.30 though. Sounded windy and wild outside, but when I surfaced at 8.45 all was calm. Might even see the sun today.We heard a weather forecast on the radio yesterday, in Irish Gaelic. Broon was confident the girl was saying it would be a nice day today. Perhaps her grasp of Gaelic is better than I thought…
Since we’re on holiday, we’re all trying to do things differently from how we might at home.

I, for example, am drinking tea with no sugar, which admittedly only happened initially because Broon was detailed to bring the sugar and she didn’t arrive until Sunday night. But have persisted, more or less.

It’s bizarre how we’re all waking early. Broon wakened at 5.15 this morning and felt ready to get up. No-one has so far been able to sleep much beyond 9. This is in stark contrast to my normal experience in Ireland. When I returned home to my parents during my university days, after a day or two I could happily sleep until midday no trouble. I put it down to the country air. However, the air doesn’t get more country than it is here, and it’s not working…

This morning the sun duly shone and we all trooped down to the beach for a game of cricket. Wiseman found a good bit of swing from the Golf Course End, and induced an edge from Broon, but she refused to walk. Outrageous. The game ended once Wiseman started taking a liking to my bowling and despatched me into the soft sand at deep extra cover, twice. Off came the shoes and socks, and we braved the arctic water temperature for a paddle. Once numbness had set in we dumped Broon in the sea, accidentally, although this appeared to be cold comfort for her, and came back for some lunch.

Driving in Donegal can be a challenging experience. To begin with, there are the aforementioned road surfaces. On leaving a village, a sign will optimistically inform you that you can now drive at 80km/h. Not if you value your shock absorbers, you won’t.

Then there are the road junctions, which appear out of nowhere frequently without any form of road markings to indicate whether or not you have the right of way. You have to work out if your road is wider than their road and behave accordingly. If you are on the narrow road, then plough on, and those on the really narrow road will just have to wait.

The signs at junctions are just hilarious. Frequently they will be pointing in a direction which neatly bisects the two roads they may be referring to. As a result, often you have to drive past the junction before you can read the sign you’re interested in. Also, certain regions of Donegal are An Gaeltacht – that is, Gaelic is officially recognised as being the first language there.

When this is the case the signs switch from being in English with an Irish translation, to just simply Irish. None of us are particularly fluent in Irish, Broon’s weather forecasting notwithstanding.

This afternoon we went on a road trip. At least Shazza, Broon and I did. Wiseman stayed back at the cottage to “write”. He’s “a writer” you see.

Shazza and Broon, being farmers’ daughters, have been largely unimpressed with the tractors we have come across on the holiday thus far. There’s been a lot of quantity, but not much quality, apparently. Plenty of Massey Fergusons (“wouldn’t pull the hat off your head”). We saw a couple of John Deeres today, which got them a whole lot more excited.

We took in the Atlantic Drive, which took us through Downings, where I spent a great weekend in the company of a schoolfriend and his family, near enough 20 years ago. Then headed along the coast stopping off at various points en route to the Bloody Foreland. Stopped in Dunfanaghy to buy Broon a shillelagh, since she didn’t know what a shillelagh was. Oh, the shame. Now she still doesn’t know what it is, but at least she knows what it looks like.

We came home to find that Wiseman had been busy in the kitchen, and had rustled up a pot of chilli big enough for a platoon of Mexican soldiers.

After dinner we played 3 games of Articulate, boys v girls. They got hockeyed.

Méribel, Day 3

Three days on the slopes, and the minor injuries count is rising. And that’s just in the chalet, where Tim and myself have been the targets of an orchestrated campaign of intimidation and abuse. It began with the relatively harmless removal of the lightbulb from my bedside lamp on the second evening, and is now threatening to escalate into full scale inter-room guerilla warfare. On discovering my missing lightbulb, I immediately suspected foul play from Room 4, which accommodates Nasty Jen and Broon. I was correct, although it transpires that Jen, on discovering a non-functional lamp in her room, and not completely familiar with the inner technical workings of a bedside lamp, swapped the whole thing for mine rather than simply stealing my bulb. And given that I, on discovering my own newly non-functional lamp, immediately stole her lightbulb (which was in fact mine, of course), she was mightily perplexed that evening when her light still didn’t work.

Anyway, as I say, hostilities have escalated with last night’s disappearance of my duvet from its cover, and tonight’s sewing up of one of my t-shirt sleeves. The blame for all of these atrocities can be laid fairly and squarely at the door of Room 4. However, this very evening, having brushed past a rather static and ineffective sentry at the top of the stairs, I entered my room to discover a newly enlisted member of the enemy forces leaving our ensuite with a rather culpable look on her face and a box of clingfilm badly concealed behind her back. One could be forgiven for expecting a more mature approach from one of the, erm, more senior members of the party. Particularly when they are married to one of our church elders.

It would be fair to say that retribution is on the cards, will be effective, and will continue until the culprits are thoroughly chastised, it all ends in tears or it puts someone’s eye out. That’s the way these things inevitably go.

Although, as more details have come to light, it’s conceivable that more fun could be had by foregoing revenge and allowing them to continue the pranks. To compound the disappointment of the failed clingfilm episode, in a bad case of mistaken-pyjama-identity, Jen’s bumbling accomplices managed to stitch up her longjohns rather than my t-shirt. Quite how they mixed up the two articles remains a mystery but still a source of amusement.

As for the skiing, that’s all going well, with the exception of the Sunday morning, which nearly did end in tears. Your correspondent’s skiing skills were found to be wanting in the areas of stopping and turning, and staying upright. I discovered that sliding into the back of someone’s knees at high speed sends them up in the air in quite a spectacular fashion. I’m very glad Phyllida wears a helmet.

Since then, things have improved somewhat, and skiing-related injuries, at least for me, have been confined to a few muscle strains in the upper arms, and one somewhere in the left buttock. Poor Jody has not fared so well, with some sort of arm injury, and DC’s shins have a bruised and battered aspect. Perhaps that’s why he felt the need to depart for the slopes wearing my ski boots this morning, or perhaps he’s joined in the thieving of my possessions.

This morning began, at 5am, with Tim announcing that he hadn’t been able to get much sleep, and thought he had pee under his bed. I remarked that if there was pee under his bed then it surely was his, as I had restricted my peeing to the bathroom, as per the normal convention. It then became clear that he meant ‘pea’ rather than ‘pee’, which, if he was unable to sleep, confirms his status as a princess.

Tonight we undertook an excursion to the local ice rink to watch ice hockey. It was a junior game between Norway and Austria. One of the features of ice hockey, as I’m sure you’re aware, is the habit of playing little jingles whenever there’s a slight break in the action. Presumably this was designed to accommodate the short attention span of your average N American sports fan. Anyway, the tune aired when a goal was scored tonight was Gary Glitter’s “Rock n roll pt 1”. The locals, and any other tourists that had wandered in, were a little bemused to hear a section of the crowd singing “Nasty Je-n, Oh!, Nasty Jen…” at these times. How many people have had their names chanted in a small-time ice hockey stadium?

Finally Wiseman. Despite not being able to make the trip, he has been in our thoughts, not to mention our bags, on our tables, on the slopes, and in our daily slideshows regardless. See the photo page for illumination.

Well, it’s late, even Haxton has clearly fallen asleep, as the strains of his tenor snores are filtering through from next door. Time to rest some of those aching muscles and dream up some revenge plans…