A Place to Call Home

Good day, my friends.  I trust all is going well with you?

Last time we talked we’d laid our weary heads in a hostel in Singapore, a corporate apartment on the Quays and the extravagant Intercontinental.  When we left there we had one more stop-off before shifting into our real house and it was our favourite so far.


And this is why.  It was an apartment with plenty of character, and a sauna, but it was the location that was to die for. It was on Schoolhouse Lane (where the red drip is) and as you can see from the busy-ness of the map, it was the centre of everything.

That right there is central Dublin.  Very central Dublin.  From the apartment on Schoolhouse Lane we could step out the front door and be there.

The first apartment had been comfy but very corporate – everything was new and white and uniform.  The Intercontinental had its finely-crafted grandeur.  The third place, though, was homey.  It was warm and cosy and had three bedrooms and two bathrooms and french doors leading to an outside area with potted flowers.  It had bright colours.  It was old and had absolutely no straight lines or square joinery.  The bathroom was a marvel of odd angles.  It was nice and liveable.




But the best part was that it was right in the middle of the most vibrant part of the city.  It was surrounded by museums in old stone buildings,  by cafés selling varieties of food that I’d never even imagined and by the endless hustle and bustle of my favourite inner-city location, Grafton Street.

The view from the patio. I think the round building is a restaurant.

The view from the patio. I think the round building is a restaurant.

The round building: not such a great view in close-up.

The round building: not such a great view in close-up.










Living there meant that we could find the day’s entertainment simply by stepping out the door.  We didn’t have to walk for miles or catch the tram or take all day, we could just wander outside and be in the midst of all the people doing interesting things.  There were two big parks with playgrounds just a minute or two’s walk away.  There are always street entertainers on Grafton Street and they have hourly slots so you can stroll up and catch a few acts then have lunch and stroll back down and take in a few more.  There’s a man who uses wet sand to make beautiful sculptures; the sleeping dog and the pig lying down with suckling piglets were favourites.  There’s someone who lays out a big tray of bubble mixture and lets all the kids take turns using wands with string between them to make bubbles bigger than they are, which float away and usually pop against some unsuspecting pedestrian’s face.  Great craic, I tell you.  There are musicians of all flavours and people dressed up as Star Wars characters.  There’s a man who can limbo under a knee-high stick.

img_1207 img_1208 img_1210

The best we saw was a guy who rode a tall unicycle and juggled knives and fiery things but, as always, it was the patter that went with it that really made the act.  We were all in hysterics the whole time.  He was hilarious.  At one point he needed a child from the audience and picked Noah who went into the middle of the circle of spectators and did as he was told and was in his element.  Noah’s not shy at all and he has this sweet-little-boy look that people find endearing and he was unintentionally very funny himself.  We liked the man so much that we were even moved to chuck some cash in his hat.  Much like the tornado-shower thing at the swimming pool in Singapore I found that having a good half-hour of helpless laughter was cathartic and I was very much the better for it.

grafton2 graftonstreet

In the evenings when Josh was home I would find reasons to pop out to the supermarket so that I could be in the street with all the people again.  It was dark and bracing – still winter – and exhilarating.  I couldn’t get enough.  It was never quiet, never still.  I loved it.


All good things have to come to an end however and the time came when our rental house was ready with its new curtains and carpet on the stairs that still smells like sheep.  (This is a good thing).  Our shipping container was a month away and rental furniture was being provided.  I had had no idea that this was a thing and frankly wasn’t too keen on sleeping on rental sheets and drying myself with rental towels.  Had I known what a rare and elusive creature a hot shower would be, of course, I could have at least saved myself the bother on that score.

But oh, it was beautiful.  The truck pulled up outside and three or four burly men emptied its contents into our house in a whirlwind of efficiency and well-choreographed bed-wielding.  Let me explain something about Irish beds: they come in a lot more pieces.  Almost every house has at least one bedroom, usually more, on the second storey (or third in some of the flasher Georgian piles) and they’re accessed by generally fairly narrow stairs with a bend or two in them.  Single beds would probably be okay but anything bigger and the base just won’t be getting up the stairs no matter which way you tip it.  So bed bases come in chunks which can easily be whipped up and down stairs by the burly men, probably even two or three at a time by the look of the muscles on them.  Not that I was looking.


There was a brief flurry of activity and upstairs-downstairs conversation in a language I couldn’t understand (it  might have been English of the rapid-fire Irish variety so impenetrable to me) (or it might not) and they drove off in their truck leaving us in a beautiful white Ikea oasis.

I knew they were bringing beds and bedding but it hadn’t occurred to me that part of their mandate would be to leave the beds not only made up but awash with throws and comforters and cushions and all styled like the cover photo on House and Garden.  When I looked at the vision of beauty before me and thought of the burly ones who looked like they’d be fully at home on a construction site having so carefully arranged the pillows in complementary colours I had a bit of a ROFL moment.  Luckily they’d gone by then.


And the beds were really big.

We had that furniture for a few weeks and I fell in love with the concept of being in a big house with minimal anything else.  We had everything we needed and nothing we didn’t.  Each bedroom had a bed, a bedside table, a lamp and five million pillows and cushions.  The lounge had two couches, a coffee table and a t.v., not that we could use it because Josh wasn’t there to make it go.  The kitchen had a gorgeous table with chairs and a set of pots, utensils, crockery and cutlery.  They gave us six of most things apart from mugs (four) and wine glasses (seven).  Go figure.  They also gave us towels, hand towels and face cloths.  And do you know, that’s all we needed.  The kitchen never got in a mess because there were so few dishes it was easy to whip through them in a moment.  There was lots of empty space.  All this uncluttered air in the cupboards.  I loved it.  I wished for our shipping container with its bunch of unnecessary old stuff to be delayed indefinitely.


My original vision of sleeping in manky grey sheets was way off the mark.  Most of what they gave us was brand new still with the tags on.  I fell in love with the duvet – it was like sleeping in a cloud – and had to restrain myself from wrapping it around myself on furniture-collection day and just refusing to hand it over.  I still wonder what they do with it afterwards.  If they buy it new each time (and we saw the invoice, paid by Amazon, thank goodness, and it was certainly enough to cover all new things) maybe they just chuck out the used stuff?  In which case I should have gone with my instincts and suggested to them that it would save a lot of effort all round if we just kept it.  Save them a trip to the dump, you know.  Surely they on-sell it or donate it or something.

Daniel blockades his room. So practical.

Daniel blockades his room. So practical.

I say it was minimal but there was one exception – pillows.  Each bed came with dozens.  So did the couches.  I had to move about fifty from my bed to get in on the first night.  It was lucky I didn’t have anything to put in the cupboards because nothing else would fit with all the cushions I stashed in there. They came in handy though.  It turns out that big empty rooms plus a million pillows plus a few empty cardboard boxes equals hours of entertainment.  It was great.

img_3123 img_3122








I mentioned that Josh wasn’t here to work the t.v.  No, for the convenience of all concerned he got on a plane the morning that the rest of us moved into our house and spent the next two weeks working in Seattle.  Between leaving New Zealand and moving into this house the rest of us had four temporary homes; he had seven.  By the time he arrived at the house for the first time he was even more glad to see the duvet of wondrousness and the rest of the home-making equipment than I had been.  And that’s saying something.



Despite my secret hope that it would get lost at sea our shipping container arrived in due course, I said goodbye to the white minimalist Ikea look and spent the next few weeks unpacking boxes (by which I mean mostly poking through the top, deciding I couldn’t be bothered and sticking them in the attic).





We had no furniture and it was lunch time. A bed picnic was the obvious answer.

In the midst of the turmoil Cassia is thrilled to find something familiar. She was given this quilt by her fairy godmother on her first birthday and it's stood by her through thick and thin.

In the midst of the turmoil Cassia is thrilled to find something familiar. She was given this quilt by her fairy godmother on her first birthday and it’s stood by her (or around her) through thick and thin.












And so, after laying our heads on many different pillows (particularly during the rental furniture phase, of course), we finally have a place to call home.

Posted in Irish life, travel | Leave a comment

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

I’m now up to mid-February in my catching you up on our doings.  Only seven months behind.  Go me.

So we were living in a corporate apartment in central Dublin and enjoying easy access to the Fresh market with their apple turnovers and their Strawberry Jones (a type of drink particularly favoured by the younger set).  We had a rental car provided as part of the relocation package and it was seeing very little use in the city so we decided to let it feel the wind in its hair by doing a trip to Powerscourt Estate in the Wicklow mountains.  I will say, in those early days, it was very handy having that little bit of local knowledge that Josh and I had acquired back in 2002.  We didn’t have kids then so had paid little or no attention to child-based activities, but I had worked as a mother-help in a family with three young girls and so had at least a basic working knowledge of playgrounds and such like.  I’d been to Powerscourt with them and fun was had by all so off we went.

The Powerscourt Estate includes the obligatory enormous country house, now home to a café, various lovely gifty-type shops, functions rooms and a toy museum.  Its main attraction, though, is the gardens.  It’s very big and very lovely with a great assortment of interesting bits and pieces.   It did everyone good to get into a large outdoors space where running and climbing and exploring were the order of the day.



This child features in about a million photos and has a normal expression in NONE OF THEM.


The Pepper-Pot Tower. A folly rather than a defensive feature I believe.

The Pepper-Pot Tower. A folly rather than a defensive feature I believe.


At the pet cemetery.

At the pet cemetery.







I believe that's a sun dial in between the two guys spitting.

I believe that’s a sun dial in between the two guys spitting.





































After a good look around and some exceptional soup at the cafe we had a look in the toy museum.  Apart from stone buildings, which aren’t all that interesting to kids, this was the first time that we were showing them things – familiar items, dolls and pedal cars and slippers – and saying, a child was playing with this a hundred years before Europeans started coming to New Zealand.  You know how you think an eighty-year-old war memorial is old?  No.  This is what old is.  This is what history is.  It’s looking at this doll’s house and imagining a little girl playing with it before your great-great-great-great grandmother was born.  For those of us who have grown up in a young country it’s hard to get your head around this type of time scale.  I know I haven’t managed it yet.  It’s also hard to describe conceptually to children because what can we compare it to?  If we were British we could tell them that the doll’s house was made when King William III died, and maybe it would mean something to them.  If we were American we could say, children who arrived on the Mayflower were playing with dolls like this.  But for New Zealand children, the history they’re taught is pretty much a huge blank between Kupe and the whalers and traders.  There are not a lot of markers in there, at least for Pākehā kids, to hang anything on.  We’re working on filling that thousand years in, even if it’s with somebody else’s history.

And some colouring-in to complete the day's activity.

And some colouring-in to complete the day’s activity.


The 300-year-old doll’s house.

















If you’re in the neighbourhood, I recommend a visit to Powerscourt.  They even have a plant shop and golf course if that’s your bag.

The time came when our booking at the apartment ran out but our house was not yet ready for us.  This, thank goodness, was not my problem.  A combination of relocation people – one in Prague named Lucia, one in Dublin named Sarah and one in America somewhere named something I’ve forgotten – were tasked with keeping a roof over our heads.  It took a long time to get anything done, what with everybody having to consult with everybody else about everything and all of us being in different time zones, but it was worth it to have others to do the heavy lifting (and paying).

There was some sort of important sports game on and all the corporate apartments in Dublin were full, Lucia told me, and she would book us in at a hotel instead.  Did we have any preference?  Couldn’t care less, I replied, although parking would be handy and oh, you know, a pool would be nice.  The kids had been going on about wanting to swim because we’d had an abbreviated summer in NZ and Cassia in particular was keen to practise her new-found floating ability.  But when I said that to Lucia I was joking.  I mean, seriously.  What would a hotel in Dublin be doing with a pool?  Sure and wasn’t it freezing?  It never entered my head that she would take me seriously.

Well, I clearly didn’t account for the fact that it’s her job to take me seriously.  So we ended up at a 5-star luxury pile called the Intercontinental.  Go on, check out the photo gallery.


Amy and I were the first to clap eyes on our new digs when we took a load of stuff there the night before the shift.  Said eyes practically fell out of their sockets and disappeared into the foot-thick carpet when we made it through the door after waving off the valet and having a brief tussle with the doorman as we all went to open the door at once.  We were definitely not dressed for the occasion.  I have never in my life been dressed to enter the lobby of the Intercontinental.


The lobby chandelier was the size of a small car.  There was a pianist in tails playing light jazz at a grand piano.  The furniture was antique.  The atmosphere was rarefied.  It smelled rich.  We lowered the tone of the place like you wouldn’t believe.

There’s a line in a J.D.Robb book which I particularly like.  The cop-with-a-past who’s married a gazillionaire asks his snobby butler where her piece-of-crap police car is and he replies, ‘The object you call a vehicle is currently embarrassing the front of the house.’  As we watched the valet and doorman unloading our cardboard boxes (we had seven large boxes air-freighted so we’d have clothes until the shipping container arrived) from our generic economy people-mover, while ladies in stoles and men in morning suits emerged from Beemers and Mercedes around us, that quote came to mind.  And stayed there until we checked out five days later.

Isaac the doorman. A lovely man and easy on the eye as well.

Isaac the doorman. A lovely man and easy on the eye as well.  Daniel is clutching the paper cup he’s just filled up with free almonds for the road, from the basket in the pool area.

The staff were unfailingly kind and helpful and not even a tiny bit snobby.  You’d think they hadn’t noticed that we weren’t their usual type of clientele.  And there was a pool.  And a spa.  And a gym.  And a beauty parlour.










She's a hard life, mate, but somebody's got to do it.

She’s a hard life, mate, but somebody’s got to do it.











The pool was my saviour (thank you, Lucia).  We had two rooms and they were luxurious and the beds were the size of our back forty at home and all that but spending a week or so in a hotel in winter with children is not the easiest.  If we’d been there for a holiday it would have been different, we would have spent all day every day out doing things, but we were trying to live as normal a life as possible and we didn’t necessarily feel like packing every day with outings.  Instead we spent every day hogging the pool.  We usually had it to ourselves, spa and all, and it was awesome.  Due to my extremely average photography skills I’ve managed to make it look kind of gloomy and dull but it wasn’t at all.  It had mood lighting, you see, and some sort of calming whale-music going on in the background and it smelled like a really upmarket day-spa.  They kept bringing out new supplies of fluffy white towels and dressing-gowns and slippers, and you could order food.  Not that I did but the option was there.  It shared a changing area with the beauty parlour and gym (actually I’m not sure that they intended wet people to drip their way into that particular area but they were too polite to tell us off) and you changed surrounded by velvet curtains and antique chairs and basins with l’Occitane toiletries.  There was a fridge with bottled water you could just take (I took Daniel for a work-out in the gym one evening and we discovered this) and a table with big bowls of fruit and nuts just in case you got hungry.



We even had a view.

We even had a view.

And then I discovered room service.  I’ve never had room service before but it was late afternoon and it was freezing and raining and dark and a reasonably long walk to any food places – no point even thinking about driving – and the menu just looked too good.




You probably already know this, class act that you are, but they don’t just walk in and plonk it on the (antique, mahogany, decoratively carved) table.  Oh no no no no.  They wheel in the trolley which does a full-on Transformers action and turns into a round table with not one but two table cloths and a warm storage space underneath and a secret compartment that the silverware and linen napkins come out of.  And the crystal glasses.  For the children’s water.

By the time we’d ordered tea, and then nachos for a snack, the room service delivery man had taken a liking to us.  A while later we were watching Toy Story (having rung for the maintenance man because the DVD player wouldn’t work then watched in humiliation as he fixed it by shifting a pile of DVDs from in front of the little dot on the player which receives the remote control signal) when the room service waiter turned up at the door with this big plate full of freshly-baked biscuits – several varieties – and sweets.  A good few of the biscuits were slightly odd shapes so they were probably the ones that hadn’t made it past quality control for the posh people in the restaurant downstairs but free freshly-baked biscuits, y’all!  We no complain!


Sometimes it pays to be the memorable ones.

The Intercontinental was the last word in luxury – I’m really wishing that I’d liberated more of the toiletries – but I was not comfortable there, not really.  I’m just not that person.  It’s not that I was dressed like – well – like a Kiwi, and that we were buying muesli at the supermarket and eating breakfast out of coffee mugs in our room because going to the restaurant three times a day wasn’t in the budget.  It’s that I couldn’t cope with the idea of someone, even the delectable Isaac, standing by the door all day and rushing to open it so that I could walk through.  Or that the valet should have to lug our cardboard boxes of crap three stories to our room.  Or that it’s okay – expected, in fact – that we leave all our pool-wet towels and bathrobes in a pile in the bath for someone else to deal with.  As the Irish say, ’tis far from all that that I was reared.


I said to Josh, this isn’t working for me.  I just can’t bring myself to feel that I’m sufficiently better than anyone else that they should have to be doing for me like that.  But it was their job, they wouldn’t stop.

Fake it ’til you make it, was his advice.  Act like you belong.  That’s what everybody else is doing.  Relax and enjoy it.

I tried, I really did.  I thanked Lucia for finding us a place with a pool and free l’Occitane.  Make the most of this, I told the kids, because as long as you’re living with us you won’t be seeing the likes of it again.  They did make the most of it – the biscuits, the spa, the lifts you could have parked a bus in -and they have very fond memories of the Intercontinental.

Then the next apartment was ready for us and we said goodbye to our buddy Isaac and the porter and the room service man and the maintenance man and the receptionists and I drove off, glad to have been able to give the kids the experience, for sure, but even more glad that my own Beverly Hillbillies moment had come to an end.




Posted in travel | Leave a comment