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Saturday, 29 June 2013

Arklow Tour - Day 7

Last nights entertainment was 'the house of stories'. I didn't know what to expect. It started at 8.30 with a 'band' who were shockingly bad! Not helped by the fact that they kicked off the night with 3 very slow depressing songs. Then a lady from Dublin was invited up to sing which was equally depressing but at least it was kind of in tune! It soon became apparent the success of the evening was all down to audience participation. Any one who wanted could go up on stage to sing, tell a story, read poetry, or entertain in any way they wanted. There was no competition, everyone was equal. The first half an hour was very dull and boring and I was fearing a long night ahead. It was then our very own Sister Sabina took to the stage. The Sister was once a school headmistress and she was telling of funny letters sent in to school from parents explaining why their child had not been at school or asking permission to leave early. The first she read was this: 'Please allow Tommy to leave school early today as he has an appointment at the opticians with his eyes and they usually close at 4!' From there on they just got better and the whole crowd were just bursting with laughter. The story tellers from then got better and there were some very good stories told and songs sung. There was a waltzing competition just for fun, and what started out as a very dull and dreary evening, turned into quite an enjoyable one, although I don't think it's something I'd like to sit through regularly!

It was about midnight when I headed off to bed with all my glass sized bottles of wine which kept appearing in front of me throughout the evening. I must be bringing home 10 bottles in my case!

This morning, all that had to be done after a rather large breakfast was to load the luggage onto the coach. Because everyone had been so late every morning I told them all to be on the coach half an hour earlier than they needed to be. But they were all ready half an hour before that! Typical! So then I had a lot of time to kill! 

I'm now on the fast ferry heading back to Holyhead. I should easily get back to Birmingham and finish work with 2 hrs left for the pub! It's been a good week, I've enjoyed it very much. It's looking at the moment that I will be bringing this group to County Mayo next year, so long as they can get the hotel booked. It's been nice to see so many familiar faces on this trip, and because they had me joining in with everything this week, they have made me honorary Irish! I like the Irish as a race but I hope there aren't too many of their traits rubbing off on me!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Arklow Tour - Day 6

We have another day of beautiful weather today here in Arklow

This morning is just a short drive south for our first stop of the day at Courtown Harbour, County Wexford. We were here just long enough to have ice cream on the sea front, a relaxing half an hour before moving on to Gorey town centre for a hectic 2 hrs of shopping! This was a perfect opportunity for me to have a kip! All these late nights are now catching up with me and once again, I am being put to shame by my more senior passengers who do not seem to be suffering from the effects! From here we are heading straight back to the hotel and dropping off those who wish to do more shopping in Arklow town centre. So I am hoping for a relaxing afternoon before our final nights entertainment this evening. More music, more dancing and the 'house of stories'. It should be a good night.

Well my relaxing afternoon hasn't happened yet. When we got back to Arklow town centre, Paddy was there to meet us. There were a group of 6 teenage girls waiting for us in the park. They wanted to dance for their 'friends from Birmingham'. I don't really understand why there is so much hype about us being here. On Wednesday night The Lord Mayor was here to meet Queenie. Photographers from the national Irish newspapers. Des Willoughby, a very famous young opera singer here in Ireland was the guest star performer of the evening. This morning, Queenie and Sister Sabina had a television interview! And all because, as far as I know, they were hosts to the Arklow Youth Band in Birmingham. We are all, myself included, being treated like film stars and there are so many people wanting to meet us all. It's all very nice although, I feel, a little over the top! For instance, I was asked for my autograph this morning, and to have my photo taken, because I am the lady who drove the coach with 'our friends from Birmingham'! How funny! I was also given a very strange bar of chocolate with crushed up cheese and onion crisps in it. Weird taste!

Anyway, after a delayed return to the hotel, I have cleaned my coach while waiting to go back to pick up the shoppers from town. If I'm lucky I may get half hour kip before dinner and maybe an hour after dinner! It's going to be a long night, luckily with a late start in the morning!

Arklow Tour - Day 5

After a lazy start this morning we set off for Wicklow Gaol. All the usual jokes were coming out, 'watch it Jimmy, they won't be letting you out!', 'I haven't had breakfast yet, I'm going for porridge!' And they were still finding the same jokes funny after they'd been repeated 7 times! Don't get me wrong, they are lovely people, but I do get sick of the repetition! We initially had two guides in traditional costume to introduce us to all the things we'll be seeing and the history of the place. The gaoler immediately picked on jimmy for wearing an Aston Villa shirt, and later because jimmy had said he'd been shoplifting but forgotten something! We were there for an hour before leaving with our release forms!

From there we headed inland to Tinahely. The countryside in this county is stunning and there were some fantastic views along the journey. We had lunch in O'Connors pub followed by lots of Guinness for most and unaccompanied singing on the microphone.

After dinner we headed out to Annacorragh where we had been invited to an irish gathering. On the way the group were informed that the gathering was held in the church hall and so there was no bar! There was uproar! Can you imagine telling 50 paddy's there will be no beer for the evening! When we arrived, everyone was glad to see the pub opposite! I went in to watch the dancing first. It was all what they call 'set' dancing. I suppose I would describe it as a cross between line dancing and irish dancing except you have a partner. The couples make up groups of varying numbers depending on the dance, and they all interact with each other within their group to a 'set' dance where each movement is announced by a caller on the microphone. It was very energetic and completely mental!

After watching a few dances I made my way to the pub and was surprised at how few of our group were in there! By 11 O'clock, everyone was in there although the dancing hadn't finished. We arrived back at the hotel just before 1am and I am grateful for another late start tomorrow. All in all, another good day today, although quite uneventful. I can't imagine tomorrow will be very exciting either as we're only going out shopping. But at least it should be an easy day.  

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Arklow Tour - Day 4

Today has been my favourite day so far. We left Paddy and Paddy behind today and headed up to Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains. The majority didn't manage the mile walk out to the lake and spent their 2 hrs in the tea room. The weather was gorgeous and I would have happily spent the whole day here.

The main path was paved all the way up to the lake and after walking for just 5 mins I was out on my own. As I followed the path, I walked around the corner to find a red deer just stood in the middle of the path, not 10 ft from me. I carefully tried to get my camera as a man with a dog came round the corner behind me and spooked him, so I had missed my photo opportunity. So I carried on up to the lake which was just beautiful.

From there we headed off for the Meeting of the Waters. I was expecting a dramatic scene of two rivers meeting, white water, rocks and rapids. What I found was just the meeting of the waters! A bit disappointing but still very pretty.

One of our ladies accidentally threw her glasses in the river. 'Nina will get them! She's young enough to climb down and wade in!' I was relieved to hear that I was too quick for anyone to get a photo of me with my trousers up round my thighs! Honestly! The things I have to do!

 We then went to Avoca. The little town where Ballykissangel was filmed. We saw the famous pub and the church but there was no parking for me so we went on to the woollen mill for a quick spot of shopping. 

We arrived back at the hotel at 3pm so that everyone could have a rest before sprucing up for the big night tonight.

There is no getting out of this one! The hotel is very busy and there have been 2 other coaches turn up for it. We have met a man here who is a professor at Trinity College. He has been telling us all, if we want to see some proper dancing to watch out for him tonight because he's really good and he's going to win the trophy. I can't understand how he must be able to keep his balance whilst dancing when he has such an oversized head! But Birmingham is hopeful that we will bring home the trophy. We'll see. But it should all be good fun anyway.

Well it's been a fantastic night. Unfortunately we're not bringing the trophy home but we did get 3rd place. The guy with the big head got nowhere! Those sods were supplying me with too much drink again and I now have enough wine to last me a month! I have learnt how to dance an old time waltz and really enjoyed the whole evening. Now time for bed because I'm going to gaol tomorrow!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Arklow Tour - Day 3

Before I start telling you about today's antics I think I need to introduce a few people on the coach and our hosts for the week. So we'll start with the group leaders, Queenie and Noel. We also have Sister Sabina MBE (oooooh!) who over several decades has been raising funds to feed the homeless as well as working in soup kitchens etc herself. This has been acknowledged and she was awarded an MBE. Then there is Bridie, quite a character, always dancing and enjoying herself. After that, all the women on the coach are called either Mary or Molly! All the men are called Paddy or Seamus except for Jimmy who has taken a shine to me! Then there are our hosts.Councillor   Pat (who was known as Paddy before becoming a Councillor!) who Queenie knows from previous fund raising events she has done and playing host in Birmingham to a youth marching band from Arklow. And finally, Paddy who formed and ran the Arklow youth marching band.

Today we're off to Dublin. There has been a visit arranged to the Dail, Leinster House, which is the equivalent to our Westminster. Councillor Pat  rode up front for the journey into Dublin because he had a special place to park the coach and the group would have to walk from there. So he navigated me in to some on street parking bays which were full and we were on the wrong side of the road. So much for special parking! So I dropped off the group and went to park up while Councillor Pat lead the way for the group to get in the special entrance! Apparently, he got lost! What should have been a 2 min walk turned into a 20 min walk and was far to much for most. So I tell you what, Paddy, next time just leave it to me and i'll park right outside the front door! So after nearly killing off half the group they finally arrived. I think most of them found it pretty dull. This group likes anything involving music and drinking and not much else!

So after a 2 hour visit they were picked up outside the door for a short drive across to the Guinness Brewery. Now that's more like it! Councillor Pat had impressed the group by getting them all in for half price, including a free pint. Well excuse me Councillor, that's my kick back you're giving away! How rude! No one was particularly interested in the Brewery tour and most headed straight for the Gravity Bar with panoramic views across Dublin, to claim their free pint. I spoke to Paddy about about the best way out of the city and he said 'don't worry, I'll get you out'. So we left with Paddy riding up front saying 'get me to the main road and I'll show you the way'. So we got to the main road and Paddy didn't have a clue! Good job I'd looked at the map!

We got to the hotel just in time for dinner. After dinner, Paddy offered to take me and three others out in the car to see something weird! He'd taken Queenie and Noel the night before. Apparently, there is a steep hill where you drive down, stop at the bottom, switch off engine, in neutral, handbrake off, and the car rolls UP the hill! Yeah right! Don't believe it! I had come to the conclusion that it must be some kind of optical illusion and you were actually rolling back on a slight incline. So we set off. We started going down the hill, the car was put into neutral to free wheel down the hill, which was quite steep, but instead of speeding up we were slowing down. We got to the bottom. Paddy switched off the engine, I held the keys, neutral, handbrake off, and the car started to roll backwards. The further we went the faster we went and it seemed we were going uphill unaided. We went back down the hill, I kicked Paddy out and took the drivers seat myself and the same thing happened. This just can't be! It defies all rules of gravity! I know it did happen but I just can't get my head round it. And just for your information, I've not had a drink!

From there we went to the graveyard in Arklow where there was a headstone which Paddy wanted us to see. It said, 'in memory of Andrew Hattley. Died 31 feb 1938'. WHAT? This place is weird! My reasoning behind this was that the religion of Andrew Hattley was something similar to pagan and worked from the pre Gregorian calendar where the 31 feb did exist? Who knows? As for the car on the hill, someone has suggested it is something to do with the earth's magnetic fields. This area is heavily mined for iron ore which would increase any magnetism and because a car is largely metal, it is pulled to the strongest magnetic point, which in this case, is up a hill!

We returned to the hotel for another night of music and dancing and an early night for me! Very strange day. But this is Ireland after all! And I wouldn't have it any other way :-)

Monday, 24 June 2013

Arklow Tour - Day 2

Well things didn't quite go to plan last night! We had early dinner at 6pm. Too early if you ask me, makes for a very long evening, especially when most of the group are in the bar until 3 or 4am! After dinner I went for a walk along the beach, waiting with my camera for last nights 'super moon' to appear. After experimenting with different settings I am quite pleased with some of the results. Those will be uploaded next week. It was about 10.30 when I got back to the hotel and the Guinness was flowing and the music was well underway. And yes, my group were warbling along once again. The really funny thing is, they all consider themselves to be singers. Drowning cats have sounded better!

I went to my room and had a lie down. Just for 10mins. When I woke up at 1am, the music was still going and I could hear there were still a lot of people in the bar. But I went to bed.

At breakfast this morning, Queenie (group leader), gave me a good telling off for not having a drink with them last night, saying I'm a very naughty girl! All the group are pensioners and they put me to shame. They stay up drinking into the early hours every night and then turn up for breakfast at 8 o'clock looking as bright as a button! Anyway, I've been forced to promise to have a drink with them this evening. I have to keep an eye on them though because they will have drinks lined up in front of me all night if I'm not careful and I'm driving tomorrow! This group just don't understand the drink drive laws and think that everyone would drive better under the influence!

So today I have the day off. I've cleaned the coach ready for our councillor guest who is coming with us tomorrow. Now I have the rest of the day to myself. Most of the group have gone off to the shopping centre down the road, but that doesn't really interest me, so I will go off exploring somewhere, although I think I will probably end up on the beach again unless I can find a river walk. That's all for now, hope you all have a good day. :-)

Well I'm now back at the hotel after walking as far as the coast path went and further! About 4 miles. I started along the promenade which runs the length of Arklow Bay.

It seems that this is where everyone in town comes to walk their dog judging by the amount of muck everywhere and the place stinks of it so I was looking forward to reaching the end of the promenade to find the beach and the coastal path.

This was more like it. Away from people, on my own, listening to the sea. But when I got down down on the beach, I found that this must be a regular spot for fly tippers. All sorts of things dropped off the cliff onto the beach from shopping trolleys to gas cookers to old furniture. It also became apparent that this was the regular haunt of the local drop outs. Empty cans and broken bottles littered the whole length of the beach and it was smelly. So after a bit of rock climbing I continued along the coastal path. It became a bit hair raising at times, getting really narrow with a sheer drop down to the beach. Not good with my jelly knees! I came to a place where a small stream ran down from the fields and over the edge of the cliff. The path was all overgrown and I couldn't see exactly where the water was running and it was all boggy either side, but someone had placed an old piece of railway sleeper and a piece of ply board across the boggy bit. It looked really dodgy and my jelly knees persuaded me, now is the time to turn back!

I wouldn't describe the coast line here as being spectacular, but on a nice day like today it is pleasant. Having said that, I'm sure it would be spectacular in a storm. It's just a shame that it has been spoilt by the minority.

I've not been into the town of Arklow itself yet, I've not seen or heard anything to tempt me. County Wicklow describes itself as being the 'garden of Ireland'. I was looking forward to coming to see this part of Ireland, but to be honest, so far I'm disappointed. :-(

I think I just about have time now for a cheeky Irish coffee before getting ready for dinner. ;-)
After dinner we had entertainment. A man singing while he played the keyboard and occasionally he gave the trumpet a blast! He wasn't the best but it was a fun evening. I'm now off to bed. Just a quick question. Why is it when you're dancing with the older generation you start to dance like them? Shuffling feet and moving your arms like you're milking a cow? Or is it just me??? Goodnight. x

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Arklow Tour - June 2013

Well I'm on the road again! I didn't wake up in the best of moods this morning after being woken by a text message at 2am, a phone call from a mysterious number at 3am and then the alarm clock at 4am. But I dragged myself out of bed and after a strong coffee and a shower, I was ready for the day ahead.

I picked up from the Irish centre in Digbeth. A group I brought over to Clonmany, County Donegal, last year for a music festival. So when I pulled up this morning there were a lot of familiar faces all pleased to see me. When we were loading the coach there was a bit of a commotion going on in the coach. When I went to look, I found a lad, mid twenties, obviously on his way home from a good night out, had climbed onto the coach and was telling everyone that when you are three sheets to the wind, this is the best time to spread 'the word of God', and started quoting the bible! Of course it was down to muggins here to 'remove' him! I was a bit worried but he went relatively easily. So there was our first bit of excitement and it wasn't even 6 o'clock!

We set off for Holyhead to meet our ferry to Dun Lougherie. It was fairly quiet on board for maybe twenty mins before I was handed a CD to play, while they all were warbling and wailing along with it! I suffered that for about an hour and then they played Bingo before another hour of warbling! I was glad to get on the ferry for some peace!

We were on the fast ferry which I was a bit dubious about. I've travelled on it just once before and was as sick as a dog. But this time I was prepared with my sick bands! I enjoyed cooked breakfast before falling asleep in my chair. No doubt with my mouth open catching flies!

We only had an hour drive from the ferry to our hotel in Arklow, County Wicklow. I can see the sea from my room, the sun is shining and apart from the funeral going on when we arrived and having nowhere to park, all is very nice. I have a day off tomorrow so I will have a kip now before dinner so I may last long enough to have a drink and a catch up tonight, while the live music is playing in the bar. ;-)

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Lille Tour -Day 4

So today we head home. We leave Lille and make a visit to Boulogne-Sur-Mer for a couple of hours. Plenty of time for lunch and a walk around the ramparts. The town must have known we were coming because they'd put the flags out!

So after walk around town I headed back for a kip on the back seat. French men were regularly driving in and parking next to the coach and having a wee against the city wall. I started getting out of the coach with my camera and just stood, every time a man came and parked next to me! Needless to say, they drove off!

We paid a quick visit to pidou and the new PJs chocolate shop before catching the ferry back to Dover. An easy journey home. When we got back to the drop off point I was given a case of champagne ( doing well for champagne this year!) and told that they had already been in touch with the office to request me for their trip to Ireland next year.

This was a group I've had a lot of fun with and I have enjoyed a relaxed weekend with them so I am pleased they have asked me to be their regular driver for their trips :-)

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Lille Tour - Day 3

After a very exciting party last night with everyone disappearing off to bed at about 1030, I had a lie in this morning. :-)

So far, today has been very uneventful. We left the hotel at 1130 this morning to come to Brugge. After dropping off,I went to fuel and to find a supermarket to stock up on the wine and beer supplies! I found plenty of supermarkets, but all were shut with it being Sunday. So parked up and pottered about the coach doing boring stuff. We're here long enough to have our evening meal so I will go for a wonder into town with my camera. But so far has been a very average working day.

So now I'm back in the hotel after a very pleasant day. I did go for a walk into town and took millions of pictures of this very photogenic place. Only downside was there were always people in my way!

I wandered around and decided I would try to find an Italian restaurant which I had used before and found to be very nice. I remembered it being just off the market square next door to an Irish pub called the Druids cellar, where I had taken a group of students 2 years previous, who were all musicians and between them did a gig there. As I was approaching the restaurant I bumped into some of our group who said that our group leader was in the Irish pub and would be pleased to see me. So I went in to find him chatting up the barmaid with his wife sat next to him shaking her head!
I mentioned I was going to the Italian for dinner and they asked if they could join me. 8 of us in total. We had a very pleasant meal before I had to return to the coach and get back to the pick up point, where I found our group leader harassing a poor Belgian local, telling him they could be twins! Our group leader looks like Santa and this Belgian man also had a bald head, white beard, and unfortunately for him, they were both wearing pale chinos with a red sweater. Initially, the man didn't understand what was going on but soon twigged and took it all in good humour, agreeing to have their photo taken!

We got back to the hotel and I was invited to another 'party'! So I went to join them. 

Although nothing 'exciting' has happened today, it has been good. Everyone has enjoyed themselves and I'm having a pretty easy time. I don't think it would matter where I took this group, they would make the most of it and enjoy themselves, probably in a local pub! All is good :-)

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Lille Tour - Day 2

I slept so heavily last night but not for nearly long enough. I would have quite happily stayed in bed until lunchtime! But that wasn't to be. I was completely zombified at breakfast at 8am but after 2 extremely strong cups of coffee I was back to my usual spritely self!

Our first port of call for today was to a potato farm in a little village, Heringhem, near St. Omer. The owners of the farm, who the group leaders have become friends with over the years, are the cousins of the owner of a champagne house just outside of Reims. So after checking out all their farm machinery we were all invited in for champagne tasting.
I was offered a glass of water! Then the 'nibbles' came out, which consisted of those horrible French Wotsits crisps things which have no flavour and taste of paper! After the group having a glass each the volume had doubled. The bubbles must have gone to their head. Some of them had 2 or 3 glasses each and were really make the most of the freebies! Then came the time to buy. I'm glad I only have half a coach of passengers on because I never would have been able to carry back twice as much as they have bought without being overweight!

From there we moved on to the next little village, which I forget the name, where we were booked in for lunch at St. Sebastien's restaurant. I was treated to lunch which was an enormous improvement on the 'nibbles' we'd had earlier. We were greeted with a glass of Kia, I was offered water! We then were served our starter of smoked salmon (I hate fish!) accompanied by a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (more water!) For main course we had beef bourgingnon served with a red table wine ( this time I was offered coke!) which was very nice, followed by a cheese plate, then French Pear Tart (yuk!) and espresso to finish.

Once lunch was over, which took over 3 hrs, we got back on our coach and set off for Ypres. The group by now, after drinking since 11am, were very rowdy! Lots of singing on the coach. Songs like, I am the music man, and, A la wetter! After 5 mins I'd had enough so I turned up the heating and they all fell asleep! 

We arrived in Ypres about 1630hrs where the group had free time to enjoy this gorgeous weather in this lovely town before attending the ceremony of the Last Post at the Menin Gate this evening. There were a lot of people there this evening. 9 coaches turned up for it. There were many people who laid a wreath. One of the ladies from our group dressed in her British Legion uniform and had the official flag from the Stratford upon Avon branch of the British Legion.
She was one of three this evening carrying a flag, (I think they call a standard, sorry showing my ignorance).
The ceremony was incredibly moving and it's the first time I've been able to attend the Last Post. I have always found this sort of thing tugs on my heart strings.

So now it's the end of a nice relaxed day which everyone seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed. And now I'm going to enjoy a glass of wine or two seeing as I have a free morning tomorrow! I have just been invited to the 'party' being held in the organisers room! So I shall go and be sociable and drink their wine! Happy days!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Lille Tour - Day 1

Well I'm back in France again and the first day has been slightly stressful at times to say the least!

I'm away for a long weekend with a group of mostly retired, if not, OAP farmers from Warwickshire. They are a nice crowd and I hit it off with them straight away, talking about how to keep a muck heap! We left Stratford this morning, 20 mins late due to one of the old lady's oversleeping! So we merrily set off for Dover down the M40 to be greeted by flashing gantry signs warning of long delays on the M25. Just what I need when I'm running for a ferry and am already slightly pushed for time. So we stopped at services to check information boards and for a 'brief' comfort stop. "15 mins only please, we are chasing this ferry!" So 1/2hr later we leave the services! I had made the decision to go the opposite way round the M25, it was the only chance I had of arriving in Dover on time. We still got held up and finally checked in just 10mins before sailing but we luckily still got on. We drove up the ramp, the back doors closed behind us and we were sailing before the hand break went on. Phew! Now I can relax and enjoy this weekend until its time to run for the ferry home. :-) She says......!

Back on the coach and we're in Calais heading for Vimy Ridge, the Canadian War Memorial, just outside of Arras.
We stopped at the visitor centre and the organiser, Jim, told the group to be back on board in 1 1/2hrs and let them loose. 10 mins later he came and asked me if I could drive them to the memorial after an hour, because the walk would be too much for most and that he would track them all down to tell them the new plan. Surprise, surprise, he couldn't find them all! So after an hour I drove a handful to the memorial and Jim stayed put to look out for people he hadn't been able to find. At this point I had visions of driving round in circles at the time we were due to leave, looking for all my people, who would be running around the memorial park like headless chickens, in a panic that the coach had left without them! But I found them all at the memorial, went back for Jim and left for our hotel in the centre of Lille.

When we arrived at the hotel, I went in and collected the keys and asked them to confirm the time of our dinner to be 1930hrs. The reply I got was not at all what I expected to hear and was certainly one I could have done without. 'You're not booked in with us for dinner. Breakfast only'! Did I hear that right??? So out came all the paperwork and the hotel were insisting that our dinner, for three nights, had been cancelled. It was right that nights 2 & 3, the dinner wasn't required. But somewhere along the line, lost in translation or just someone's major cock up, our dinner had been cancelled. AAAAARGH! So long story short, we have all been fed. But it is yet unknown who is to fit the bill!

So after a good meal accompanied by plenty of French wine, everyone is happy, has a full tummy, and is tired and gone to bed. Surely that is the worst of what is to come? Famous last words! Goodnight x