After the long hours of the last two days, we've had a quieter time today - late breakfast with Tasha, Lulu and Matt, getting some ironing done, looking over childhood photos of David (and Lulu) to be embarrassingly or cutely displayed at the party on Saturday.
I wanted to append a couple of thoughts…. Why it is that so much of the place looks French, for instance. One reason is the scattering of tiny little 'model' farms which are very like the ones you see all over France, with a small farmhouse set back from the road, flanked by two sturdy buildings which stretch forward on either side, creating a neat courtyard. This seems to reach back to Napoleonic or even Roman design - the same practical arrangement created and recreated wherever you go. We see very small versions of this layout all along, many if not most abandoned or in poor repair.
Another thought. Why is that while we are experiencing being in one particular place, with its own characteristics and details, we are constantly driven to compare it with some other place? "This reminds me of - France/Northumberland/England…" We do it with people too. Doesn't he look like x? No, I thought he looks like y.
We had a brief misting of almost-rain this morning, but set off determined not to do too much driving. Tasha suggested we go to see a ruined abbey - at Athasell and by golly we found it (tourist roadsigns are excellent). The old abbey was colossal, stupendous. Makes Tintern look cramped. We climbed over a neat stone stile, across a liitle field and then over a gorgeous old 4-arch bridge now spanning a muddy gully but once (presumably) a real river. The bridge had no walls. Then through various portals, courtyards and ruins, with violent changes of door arch, height, wall-thickness, level and design all evident in the stonework, and all higgledy-piggledy. What a story these stones could tell. Parts of the structure rear up - 3, 4, 5 storeys tall. There are blocked up arches, new supports, vaults, even a pair of silent medieval larger-than-life statues in prayer emerging from a wall, and some modern graves in old the nave, the chancel, the centre of the cloister. I have never heard of this place, and it is astonishing. There are no interpretation boards. What was the business of the abbey - we couldn't see signs of (say) a water-mill. Whatever they did they must have been very rich at various times because of the great range and spread of buildings.
Then we headed to Tipperary itself. The tiny lanes are very quiet and wiggly, but at this time of year they are the natural pathways of huge tractors loaded with massive bits of gear folded in, so they look like some kind of massive insect in a stage of transformation. These creatures are frequently driven by very young men.
To the south lies the range of the Gaity Mountains which looked fabulous - velvety-purple, swooping down in a gentle curve to the Aherlow river - itself a branch of the River Suir whose name offers endless possibilities for bad jokes.
Tipp seemed to us a less merry place than Nenagh but very business-like and we found lunch (genuine Irish cooking) in a place which seemed ridiculously French in décor. Only when we left did we realise it was called the Shamrog Bistro. The service was initially dour, the food was hearty and nostalgic as regards the cabbage (chopped fine and cooked to a brownish pulp), but the lamb's liver was tender and delicious, the beef casserole sweet (all our beef is Irish), and the chips and creamed potatoes were sweet and memorable. Two of our number chose pudding: apple crumble with custard for one, and jelly and ice-cream for the other. Nostalgia? School dinners.
Shopping (I am ashamed to say) was back in one of Lord Tesco's accouterments). Lulu couldn't face it. We'd be feeding a large part of clan Mussett at our house so we chose a menu of mushroom stroganoff and what not…. All accomplished v easily.
Texts still flying back and forth about arrivals, arrangements.
Home - to unpack, walk about, meet up with new arrivals. We changed the booking for the second s/c house to be a 3-bed one, so the Hills with their three kids could come over - Tasha showing them in after they'd called on us to say hallo.
The afternoon was warm enough, and light. It was a blessing not to be driving around… Andrew started making the supper, I was steam-pressing my outfit. Gradually people gathered - by seven o'clock we had the wine-boxes open and the party began. Everyone was looking through David's childhood - the masses of pictures I brought with us from the days of prints… Here he is new-born, here in the arms of my mother, then his other granny and his aunt Gillie, then being pushed in a pram, feeding the ducks, here in his daddy's arms looking alarmed at the sound of a steam-train at Tenterden, here half-naked having fallen into the duckpond at Worth Matravers, here crashed out on the back seat of the car, here eating ice-cream, here on a horse for the first time, here looking divinely glamorous in France, here in school uniform for his first day at the Chaucer… Everyone is delighted with the photos. It's all so long ago. The photos bring a whole different world back to life, just for a moment or two.
Gillie and James brought Granny Rye to the hotel so Andrew and Lulu whizzed down there with her cases to install her in her room, and came back saying she was pleased to have her toast and pate in her room and crash out.
We sang Dubliners songs over supper, ate and drank liberally, and then split up for the evening - the young heading to another music evening in a pub/farmhouse, while some of us oldies stayed around the hotel at their Irish night. A roomful of even older people, sedately and expertly dancing to ceilidh music - they knew all the steps, needed no caller. It was brightly lit, charming, friendly, another trip back in time. Gillie and James took to the floor, glowing with love and happiness. My brother in his white suit took photos and flashed his smile at everyone. Eventually I left them to it and came home and went to sleep in about 4 seconds.