“There are places I’ll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain”
In My Life
Okay. Don’t panic. For my friends and dear readers abroad, that’s a little bit of Irish. I know one of my blogging colleagues will not only recognise it, but will understand it straightaway. For those who have missed the joys of learning this rather challenging, ancient language, let me help with the pronunciation. Roughly-speaking:
Ar rhymes with ‘air’.
Nós rhymes with ‘dose’.
Na rhymes with ‘pa’.
Gaoithe sounds like ‘gwee-ha’.
And it means ‘like the wind’.
And I thought it would make a nice title for this short post. Whilst it’s been a fairly uneventful few weeks in terms of training, there are some glimmers of progress. Indeed, quantity has fallen away a bit due to work and, well, just life, really. But I have managed a few gym sessions per week, and a few runs.
But before we get to that, I will take you on a little photo-journey. A few weeks back, with a period of settled weather over the country, I finally got around to giving S her last birthday present (which was supposed to be her first, but hey-ho; it was a crazy old week, as I recall). It was a surprise visit to a local farm where we did an hour of clay-pigeon shooting. I had a feeling S might be into, but I underestimated how much she really got into it. I’ve done it a couple of times before with the fire crew, and it’s enjoyable alright. But she took out those clays with glee. I should probably be a little concerned…
Afterwards, we headed on further west, through a small village called Prosperous and beyond. A few miles to the south is the rather charming Ballynafagh Lake. Despite it’s mostly natural feel, there are some clues that this was man-made. It was built by canal engineers in the 1780s to supply water to the nearby Grand Canal. The canal’s construction was already struggling to pass through the extensive bogs of the midlands, and to further add to the headache, it had reached its ‘summit level’ in the wilds of Kildare; the highest point of the canal. From here, the water would either flow east towards Dublin, or west towards the Shannon. And without a ready supply of water, any canal would soon run dry. Whilst the nearby Milltown Feeder still does a great job to this day, providing the most amazingly chilled aquifer-water from multitudinous springs, Ballynafagh Lake made use of the local water-soaked boglands. Here the canal-builders constructed a lake by shoring up the sides of the bog. The lake, I can only assume, naturally filled itself. At one end, a sluice house was built which allowed water to run into the Blackwood Feeder, which was a narrow canal or ‘cut’ that joined the main line a few miles away. The same cut also ran deep into the surrounding bog, and during The Emergency (a rather ‘Irish’ way of describing World War II), special horse-drawn timber barges were built to haul turf into the capital, which at the time was largely devoid of imported coal. (Read more here).
Not all parts of our canal heritage are treated equally. The sluice house has fallen into ruin, and the feeder is dry. And whilst the lake has shrunk in size considerably, there is good news for wildlife, as the whole lake and surroundings are now a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and protected by law. And it is, of course, buzzing with life, including, birds, insects and myriad aquatic beasties. And it’s rich with plant life too.
I returned a week or so later with my good camera, with the plan to get some dragonflies. I was up with the sun before five o’clock, and had the place to myself. It was glorious. Sunshine creeping through the trees; a light mist playing over the surface. Swifts swooped and skimmed. Indeed it was hard to avoid the temptation of just slipping in for a quiet dip. In the heel of the reel, the dragonflies had my number, and I didn’t get any decent shots, but I did find plenty of lovely things to capture, albeit digitally.
Up above (and you can scroll through these images for a better view) there is indeed one dragonfly which I was lucky enough to snap on our first visit: a Four-spotted Chaser. There is also a Lesser Butterfly Orchid, and I can’t recall finding a more lovely specimen in my time.
There is without doubt a certain magic that happens in the first hours of daylight. You will miss these moments if perhaps you are doing an early morning run or indeed working. Or in bed! To witness this particular spell-casting, you need to find a place like Ballynafagh and become ensconced. That’s not even the right word. Settled. Established. Sheltered. None of these words are the right words. Nestled might be about as good as the language can stretch to. Perhaps when words fail, you are getting close to the heart of it… in any case, you know what I am talking about, because each of us have had those moments for one reason or another where you find yourself outside when the natural world is waking up. Not the world of alarm clocks, but circadian rhythms. Not the world of traffic jams but the ebb and flow of a million creatures knitted together in a colossal Brownian motion. Impossibly complex and beautifully simple.
You are the very embodiment of Schrödinger’s Cat. You are, perhaps, the tree that falls in the forest when there is no one around to hear. Choose your conundrum. But if you are quiet enough, and can sit still with your thoughts long enough, nature will slowly shrug its shoulders and get back to business around you. And if you have chosen well, you will have a free ringside tickets to the best show on earth.
Of course, the dragonflies know all this nonsense, so they didn’t fall for any of that flannel. I saw two, briefly, and from a distance. In theory, as cold-blooded creatures, early morning is a good time to find them, warming up on a reed stem somewhere, or basking in the sun. (And to this article in The Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2012/may/31/photographing-dragonflies-easier-think – I say ‘screw you’.) But as I say, whatever script was sent to their agents… well, they just didn’t get around to reading it, I suppose. Nothing for it but to return some day with more flasks of tea and more patience. And more time. They evolved about 300 million years ago, so I suspect they will be around a little longer.
And speaking of natural immersive experiences (What? We were? ed.) S and I also rolled back the clock about thirty years last week. It was without doubt the warmest evening of the year so far. So often, a hot day with no cloud gives rise to quite a cool evening as the heat dissipates. Not this Sunday. We strolled up to the nearby reservoir, stripped off, and slipped into the silky smooth waters of the Liffey. S brought along some music. If you had create the deluxe skinny-dipping experience, then this was it. Now I know these aren’t the cleanest waters around, nor are the surroundings as they used to be three decades ago. Back then you accessed the lake through a thicket of trees and undergrowth to find yourself in a little private bay. Today, there is a water treatment plant at your back, and the trees are mostly gone, and all those little cunningly concealed inlets have been buried under tonnes of heavy stone. And to top it off, the busy M4 motorway passes low over the water a hundred yards upstream. Indeed, if you know your Beatles back catalogue, then this is the very epitome of ‘In My Life‘. But when the stars align, and the shadows hide the worst of the modern world, it’s a damn fine place to swim of an evening.
And in keeping with events that celebrate the fine weather, I built a BBQ over the weekend, and gave it its first trial run. It’s the sort of thing you can do when you are the son of a builder and can turn your hand to these things, and also root around in your garden, and your Dad’s garden next door, and find enough bricks to make one.
It’s pretty rudimentary, nor will it win any awards for brickwork, but there is a nice piece of marble to the left, for chopping onions and other food prep, and a shelf of the same material on top, for all your condiments.
So we dragged the table and chairs outside on to the patio, fired up the beast and got cooking. First trial run would suggest that it does its primary job well, and that’s the main thing. All we need now is some more sunshine and a few friends to share the experience.
It seems to be have been a week for orchids. They are popping up everywhere. Along my canal run, there is one stretch that is rich with Common Spotted-orchids. And of course, Ballynafagh provided plenty more, and then a friend rang to say a Bee Orchid had appeared in their garden. Bee Orchids are quite rare so this was a joy to see. I have only ever found one before in my travels. This survived their mower by about six inches. The Banded Demoiselle damselfly is from the local park. Not a rarity at all, but lovely nonetheless.
The gifts were for Father’s Day from my lovely family. Jim; you need one of these pizza cutters! The travel mug in the shape of a camera lens is genius. It looks so real; one of my Instagram friends commented on how good a lens it is so I had to point out that it wasn’t actually for taking pictures, but refreshment.
And so, back to the start. Ar nós na gaoithe. Like the wind. It could refer to our greyhounds who do indeed run fast when they are not asleep on the bed. The fastest dog breed on the planet. And the laziest. But then, I think Cheetahs spend most of their time lolling about under a tree.
Like the wind, the world is ever-changing. Perhaps not as quickly as the wind, but all the same, blink, and that field you played in as a kid is now a housing estate. The night club where S and I first met is now a Lidl shop. (Given our age profile, that’s okay, though, because the need to shop is generally greater than the need to bop…)
And like the wind, I had a good run this week, clocking up 11k in 52:48, which is 4:48 min/km pace on average. I am trying to up my tempo for most of my runs. I have been rather set in my ways for many years now, largely down to following training plans for sub-4 hour marathons. This demands a steady 5:42 min/km pace (or 9:09 minute miles if you are an Imperialist). And I metaphorically stuck myself into that rut, so it will be fun (and hard work) to see if I can break out of that mindset. The plan is to have one more crack at a decent marathon time at the end of October.
And greetings to OMIL (https://theomil.wordpress.com/author/theomil/) who lives in the UK and will soon have to dispense with kilometres altogether, and indeed miles, as their country plunges back into the Dark Ages. In the very near future, your runs will be measured in roods, perches, cubits and chains. Or some-such thing. I hope there’s a handy app for converting the distances!
So wherever you are, dear readers, run (or indeed cycle) like the wind. Ar nós na gaoithe!
Slán go fóill, mo chairde.