My Heroes

People like these are my heroes.
Meet Tom Rylance, age 76…


…and his rival Jim McKellar aged 77

James McKellar

James McKellar

I caught up with these guys last week on a sports channel showing highlights of this year`s Windsor Triathlon.

There were two distances in this triathlon: Sprint with its 750 swim, 20 k bike ride and 5km run and Olympic with its 1.5 km swim, 40 km bike ride and 10 km run. Both gentlemen competed in the Olympic event. Of course.

Down the Thames

Down the Thames

Isn`t triathlon just lovely to watch on TV? And Windsor Tri looked great. Shoals of swimmers took to the River Thames. Soon it was a heaving mass of angled arms and thrashing legs. For the most part, the TV crew followed the elite athletes.

Transition Area One

Transition Area One

As they came from the water and worked their way through transition one area, it was thrilling to see them make the necessary adjustments as efficiently as possible. Caps and goggles off, helmet on, bike unclipped and soon, they`re running barefoot with their bikes to the Stage two start, before wedging their feet into their runners which have already been hooked on to the bike`s pedals.

And then they`re off…


Emma Pallant, to the right of this pic, went on to win the Women`s Tri


The elite look sleek in their tri gear. All lean and tanned,  they glide along with apparent ease.

But it`s the real people I am looking out for. The less sleek, the more breathless, the slow ones dragging up the rear. People like me. People I won`t even show pics of here as I was too embarrassed to reveal my own finish line pic just a few months ago. Glasshouses and stones and all that.

The TV crew doesn`t disappoint, though. It even interviews a couple of them, all smiling and joking but hoping too to score their own personal victories on the day.

And then we see some real winners: Tom and Jim.

The camera crew catches up with them in the running section of the tri. The Windsor running section is tough as it involves looping around the same section three times and that included a hill. We catch up with Jim on one of those hills and he stops for a brief chat before giving the camera crew the thumbs up and a huge grin. He is a delightful guy and plainly enjoying himself.

I love when I see guys like Jim and Tom still taking part in these mass sporting events. I am frequently overtaken by many men like them, after all! It`s a huge thumbs up for the health benefits of exercise. And for learning, and exercise being for life.

In a world that encourages a highly competitive environment in sport and in lauding the handful who can push the boundaries in what the human body can achieve, the rest of the human race are consigned to being armchair sports participants. And the armchair is literally killing them.

Jim and Tom took to the podium together at the end of their epic tri. Tom had beaten Jim into second place. But, with all the interest shown in the running and triathlons in the past few years, I`ll bet there will be more  competition in these categories in years to come.

And where were the women? Where indeed. It something I have noticed when out running. The older men are there and probably have had a lifetime of sport and exercise behind them. The older women are very rare birds indeed. That`s changing slowly though it would suit me very well to have just one or two people competing in my age category in years to come!

I am looking forward to taking my place on the podium one day. I don`t even need to win, sure, third out of three would be grand. But I`d love to keep fit enough and well enough to participate in races.

And in this, I am inspired by my heroes who keep on keeping on.




You can read Emily McLouglin`s blog post on her Windsor Triathlon here

And James McKellar can be found here.



Musings from the saddle

Pasture and tillage

On yesterday`s cycle, I meandered through sixteen miles of glorious Irish countryside. And I didn`t meet a sinner.

Up and down, over hill and dale, past fields of ripening maize, barley and wheat, and pasture with grazing cattle and sheep, on and on I went.

Sure, there were a couple of people taking advantage of the late evening sunshine, as they sat and sipped beer outside a village hostelry. But, beyond that, there was nobody out walking, running or cycling the roads. Nothing unusual about that in modern Ireland.



At one point, I wheeled down a boreen, the sort that has a stripe of grass permanently embedded in the middle. In its entire two miles, it contained one inhabited house. But, scattered behind it`s overgrown hedges, I caught glimpses of tumbledown stone cottages, old sheds and lean-tos. There were maybe six or seven scattered along the lane, all at an angle, this way and that, to the boreen.

It was a glimpse of the past, of another era, when neighbours were essential to the task of farming the land. To when the survival of one depended on the co-operation of others. To when no man could be an island if he wanted to survive. And to where the ability to connect with others was essential if he wanted to thrive.

Granny`s bedroom

A former bedroom in the ruined cottage

The 30s

They reminded me of Dad`s homeplace, that little cottage set in a magical oasis of green field and bogland, of Shannon waters, and moody skies. I visited there last year, on a summer evening`s such as yesterday`s. Dad`s homeplace too, is now a tumbledown cottage. The thatched roof has long since caved in at the middle. But two bedrooms, with tiny windows and sheeted roofs hold secrets of nine siblings and their parents, and of their ancestral families.

Stand now, where the kitchen table once stood. Face out through the doorway and let  your eye take you past the flourishing nettles to Ireland in 1935. There is a constant stream of movement. Hens and geese, scatter as the family busy themselves about the work of the day and neighbours come and go as they share the necessary tasks and tools to get the day`s work done.

Children are long home from school now and are busy with whatever tasks their parents have set them. The cows have to be milked, a lost sheep has to be recovered and my Dad, aged eleven, is loading up the cart with turf in readiness for the next day`s market.

Chimneybreast and hearth in Granny`s cottage

Chimneybreast and hearth in Granny`s cottage

Turn to your right now and look at the hearth. Two hundred years after the cottage was first built, it is still clearly visible, the chimney being the strongest part of the build and the hearth being the social hub of the little cottage and indeed, beyond.

Tonight a group of neighbours will gather there, just as they do most nights. Smells of turf smoke and tobacco will mingle with strong tea and home made soda bread, as they settle themselves by the fire for a chat.

Fianna Fáil, the local hurling team and the Catholic faith, all demanded a lifetime of loyalty back then, and it is within the framework of those certainties that everything would be discussed. The day`s newspaper will bring news of a discontent on mainland Europe while a neighbour will bring news of the latest hurling scores from the one radio in the locality.

There will be news too of other neighbours, of their work and their needs. What corn needed cutting, perhaps, where a meitheal might be needed to take the potato harvest in, or what expectant mother  would soon be in need of Granny`s self taught midwifery skills.

Voices will softened to whispers as secrets are shared, or will rise again in laughter at some going`s on along some other boreen.  As the turf fire is banked up with damp sods, the neighbours will return down the boreen and  back to their homes and the web of shared work, secrets and laughter will be spun out along the townland for another day.

That was how the whole fabric of rural Ireland stayed glued together for hundreds of years. The arrival of newspapers and the radio, only strengthening those bonds.

Now eighty eight, Dad recalls those days with great fondness:

“Sure the road was never quiet. There would always be a crowd on it, what  with horses and carts bicycles or some on foot. And maybe the odd car too.”

But it only took a handful of decades to dismantle it all.

The 70s

I grew up in rural Ireland too, but already, by the 1970s it was a different world from the one of Dad`s youth. By then the whole network of social interaction was considerably weakened. Cars,televisions, the move from an agricultural to a more industrial based economy, even the abandonment of the well for domestic running water, contributed to that disconnect. It was perfectly possible to sit at home for days on end  not meet a sinner, nor have any need to venture forth.

This one`s specially for my sister!

This one`s specially for my sister!


Condemned to staring at Donny Osmond on our bedroom walls, and dreaming of having landline connection might actually improve one`s social life, we were the disconnected ones. We were  the ones who benefitted from Ireland`s move towards a broader economy but could while away our leisure time licking our wounds and delving in the murky waters of existentialism.  Life can swiftly lose its meaning when all one`s physical needs are easily met and where connecting with others is more by choice than necessity.

As I cycled down the boreen yesterday, I wondered about the effects of that loss on my generation. Never having experienced it, how can I judge how great that loss was? But I am inclined to think, that set adrift in our own individual little worlds, we have become more depressed and lonely and less inclined to think of the general good, but more of our immediate self interests. And that the loss of connectivity means the loss of that healing balm that soothes the lonely spirit.

The 2010s

But while I meander about the countryside, the next generation are busily getting on with changing the world. Back at the Chook House, the Three Teens are working hard, without of course, realising it. One is flitting between TV and iPad, another learning new guitar moves from youtube, while the third is tweeting, while his ipod cranks out what he calls music. Changes in degree of connectedness and learning are as swift as the changing cloudscape in an Irish sky. There are now a myriad of new ways in which to connect with other. And yet, those ways in themselves are just a modern day version of sitting around the turf fire, having a chat.

Instead of organizing meitheals around the turf fire, Facebook events lets them invite people to their next gathering. Random meetings along the boreen, are replaced by tweeted comments. Musings on the state of the nation,are now blogged about to a wider audience than any Irish cottage could ever dream of holding.

So high on the saddle of my bike, I am pedalling alone, but I happy in my own skin. I am well practised in being less connected with the outside world than my Dad was and than my children can ever be. As Teen Two pointed out “Mum, I`ve been on the internet for most of my life”. Connectedness is a given and he has grown up feeling inextricably connected via the world wide web.

Dad, on the other hand, is perhaps, worst off.  He must surely feel the ache of sadness as he knows only a fireside of whispers and laughter and chatter.  But the hearth is an empty black hole in a tumbledown cottage now and Dad`s web of connection is down to a silver thread or two.

So you`re on your own today. Your laptop or iPad`s cranked open on your WordPress Reader as you catch up on other people`s worlds. You can learn so much about everything, especially if you read with thought and care. You can comment or indeed, launch into a whole conversation, with random, often faceless strangers. And are free to ramble on uninterrupted, on whatever topic takes your fancy. You can chime in too and offer your own opinion on whatever you want. You might even be liked: liked in the modern day sense of the world, and, if you impress the wordpress community, you might even be really, really liked.

The ping of an email, a comment or a tweet, might even lift your spirits: you are feeling connected. No, it`s not the same as a face to face meeting, or the challenge of welcoming a stranger into one`s home. Those connections too need a place in our lives if we are to stand true and real for what is needed for us all to thrive.

And our children too, still need to get out there and mix in the real world. But with all of those tools for connectivity, their future seems to me to be an exciting place.


Dewdrops on a web

Indeed internet access makes it an exciting world right now, for like glistening dewdrops on a spider`s web, we can connect if we choose to and take all the benefits of that.

And I can wheel around the countryside and not meet sinner or I can linger at home and meet the world.

Isn`t it grand?


Butterfly Buns

Butterfly Buns 3

“Mum, that’s just so 2007″

Or so Teengirl  informed me on seeing my choice of clothing the other day. White capri pants? So what`s wrong with them? Everything, as the disgust in her voice inferred..

Actually, I`d say the offending capris probably a decade old. Though I thought it best not to inform my trendy daughter.

Anyway, I like a bit of history.

Which is why I made butterfly buns yesterday.

They remind me of my mother. She loved to bake-garibaldi squares, Genoese fancies and apple fritters when she was feeling a bit more adventurous. Or when her regular Friday night people were due to call, she`d make a peach flan and butterfly buns to accompany the dainty, crustfree cucumber sandwiches.

Well, I was all out of tinned peaches yesterday, and nobody Chez Chook was dainty enough to merit the cucumber sandwiches. Added to that, I`d discovered a really cool pack of Dr Oetker metallic baking cases.

Dr Oetker Baking Cases

They were screaming ” Butterfly buns!” So, decision made.

Of course, Rachel had the recipe. She calls them Fairy Cakes. But I`m sticking with Butterfly Buns

  • 125 g Butter(softened)
  • 125g Caster Sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 2 eggs
  • 150 g plain flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder

The filling is made from buttercream icing or crème Chantilly. I opted for the latter, since it`s an easy-peasy make, and I`d never done it before. If you`ve gotta get out of your comfort zone once in a while,crème Chantilly is a good way to go.

Preheat oven to 190 C/375 F Gas 5.  Line the 12 hole bun tray with the pastry cases.

Rachel gives two options on putting all the ingredients together.

The Harder One:You can use the electric mixer to whip the butter til creamy, then add the sugar and vanilla til the mix is light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time beating continuously, then sift the flour and baming powder into the mix.

The Easy One: You could though, if pressed for time, put the whole lot into the mixing bowl whisk the lot with the electric mixer. Don`t overbeat it all though.

Divide the mix among the paper cases, using two teaspoons. Cook for 8-12 minutes until springy to the touch.

Easy, right?

And the next bit is fun.

Cut the top of each bun and then halve the top to make two butterfly wings. Rachel puts jam on the top of each bun then-strawberry or raspberry. As that`s a sure-fire way to turn my chooks off butterfly buns for life, I skipped the jam and put the crème Chantilly in at that point. Insert the butterfly wings at an angle, then add the hundreds and thousands for a real 70s touch.

There was a clear gender divide when it came to appreciating these cakes. The boys found them a tad too pretty for them. But they ate them anyway. Girl Teen loved them. I expect they fall into the current cupcake revolution for her and not 70s nostalgia territory.

I didn`t partake myself as crème Chantilly was a step too far after my cholesterol warnings. But next time my pals come for tea, I`ll whip them up, with peach flan and cucumber sandwiches. We`ll wear tank tops and flares and long collared blouses. And listen to Kate Bush screaming “Wuthering Heights” the Eagles  in “Hotel California” and Leonard Cohen in his “Chelsea Hotel”.

And we`ll say “Hey, isn`t this just so 70s”