Thursday, August 31, 2006

The geese that laid the golden eggs...

I spent the afternoon talking cryptanalysis with my lovely neighbours. The husband was a codebreaker during WWII. His job was to break the really hard codes - stuff that makes the Enigma machine look like a Fisher Price toy. The Enigma machine had three wheels; the machine whose code he was trying to break (the SZ40) had twelve. On a good day, he'd have decoded the message before Hitler read it over his morning coffee.

Under the Official Secrets Act he couldn't tell anyone what he was doing. His brother was fighting out in the field, and all he told his family was that he was 'pushing paper'. Churchill called the women and men who worked as codebreakers at Bletchley Park 'my geese who laid the golden eggs and never cackled'.

A fascinating afternoon!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Shadow play

As coincidence would have it, in 1846 Madeira suffered a a potato blight. Potato was the island's main food crop, and famine ensued with devastating consequences.

As in Ireland, many felt that their only hope for survival was to get off the island. The then-British colony of Guyana was seen as a haven: since the abolition of slavery in 1807 there was great demand for cheap manual labour. Thousands left Madeira under a 'bounty' system: the British government paid the plantation owners for each immigrant transported to the colony, and the immigrants worked as indentured 'servants' out on the sugar plantations, earning their freedom after 2-4 years.

In 1846, 6000 people took the boat to Guyana, with another 4000 following over the next two years. Immigrant death tolls due to climate and yellow fever were sky-high.

Sounds familiar. In some areas, our learning curve is pretty horizontal.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A room of one's own

I started scanning in old childhood pictures - the idea is to put together an archive for the family before the photos degenerate too much. Although the photo software I have is pretty good, it's powerless against the wallpaper patterns of the 1970s.

Anyway, pictured is my wigwam, where I spent much of my childhood. This is probably the spot where the concept of 'Orlaith Land' first formed...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Just the one, thanks

Part of my going-away present from Devon Music Service was a piece of Dartington Crystal; I'm finally getting around to the test-drive.

It's a wine glass that's supposed to hold an entire bottle of wine.

And it really does!

There goes the evening...

'Cos when they met, it was murder...

My mom emailed to say she hopes the German Porn Man goes swimming and forgets to stop.

She is one lady you do not want to get on the wrong side of.

Imagine when they meet - it'll be like the Hart to Harts. Or worse.

Friday, August 25, 2006


I'm catching up on emails and a few people reminded me that I never explained about the German Porn Guy. So here we go:

He's in his seventies, and has been living here for decades. The first time I met him I was in the communal garden chatting with the landlord & landlady. He pulled up in his car and immediately shoved a newspaper in my face, opened to a page 3 girl. Odd.

We were introduced after that. He started ranting about some tenant who he felt was too noisy, and the landlady quickly ushered me away from him. Apparently he's always violently complaining; he shouts at people for using 'his' garden, and some tenants have moved out because they've found him so difficult. He also subscribes to every major porn mag going, and sits in his garage 'reading' them. And THEN he offers his second-hand porn to her husband. Right neighbourly!

I know it takes all kinds. He was out in the garden this morning poring carefully over flowers in the sunshine, and he seemed happy. Or at least, not furious.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Star light, star bright

Gorgeous day here. It's good to feel that I'm getting stuff done, whether it's making granola or drafting a short story (and I did both today!).

There were minor issues with the granola: I couldn't get the gas oven to work (I fear gas) so it was grilled to perfection instead. Tasted good to me at least! The short story was trouble-free :)

Night here comes quickly: you have about twenty minutes from dusk to pitch dark. The night lights on the terrace are lit, and the first stars are twinkling.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Yeah but no but yeah but no

So, I explain that I want to apply for a residency permit, and am told:
  • We don't do that anymore for EU citizens.
  • We do them for EU citizens, but the system is down.
  • You can come back in September, or go to your municipal office.
  • When I ask for the name of the municipal office, she hesitates before writing it out. It turns out I may not be able to go there: the local office used to accept applications, but now there's supposed to be a meeting between them and Head Office, and she's not sure. The meeting date hasn't been set.
When I ask about deadlines or the process in general, she's remarkably laid back, and tells me there's nothing to worry about (cue: nervous laughter).

Needless to say the afternoon involved beer in the sunshine.

And in other news: happy birthday to my big brother, who is having a fine time in West Cork today. Have a great evening Sean!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The next big thing

So tomorrow I go to apply for my residency permit. Rumours are that the department is a haven for all things bureaucratic - not an environment where I tend to shine! Set aside the fact that under EU law I have the right to live here, as Madeira seems to pick and choose which EU regulations it decides to enforce (don't get me started on child car seats...).

I'm getting the paperwork ready today: passport, banky things, a credible story as to how I intend to support myself... Apparently I need a medical certificate to say that I don't have 'psychic disturbances' or manifest 'stages of psychic agitation'. Good luck to the doctor who has to sign off on that :)

In other news, we broke 1k hits yesterday: this blog has had 1057 hits since the first week in July (when I put in a counter). Thanks to all who have given support & feedback - I really appreciate it. Now everybody get back to work!

Monday, August 21, 2006

A beautiful sunny day

My sister left oodles of beauty testers for me, and I am currently a smorgasbord of Dermalogica, Kerastase and l'Occitane products. Man I smell good!!

I'm trying to get some paperwork and ordinary things sorted out, but frankly the view is just distracting.

It's a hard life.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Day After

The wigwam is dismantled, paddling pool deflated, toys put away until another time. Orchid bulbs that the kidlets carefully planted upside down have been restored. The art is back within reach, candles lit once more. I've put away the Van the Man CD that we danced to yesterday, which exhausted everyone for naptime.
"And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter and the sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed."

I wonder how much all of us - adults and children - will have changed the next time we meet.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Guest Blog - Mike

Mike here, Orlaith's brother-in-law, losing my blogvirginity ... positively casting it away in wanton fashion. We're really enjoying our Madeiran odyssey (exaggeration? No, everything's an odyssey when you have year-old twins - just spent 100 minutes trying to persuade Molly to have her morning nap). Orlaith is the perfect host (ess? discuss obsolescence of gender specificity in such terms ... another time), she has helped us out so much and made this holiday feasible. Madeira is very impressive, I can really understand why Orlaith would decide to move here ......

Then 4 days passed, lost in TwinTime, which is quite like a Black Hole ... the physics is a bit complex, I'll spare you.

It's now approaching sundown on our last evening in Madeira (for this trip), and it's a little sad. We had a little party this afternoon, thanks Orls, and soon we'll be heading back to the hotel and trying to get everyone a few hours sleep before we arise at 4.30 a.m. to be picked up for our flight. Before I became a father, I would have considered 4.30 as a ludicrously early hour to rise. Now, the thought that occurs is: "Wouldn't it be great if we all slept through to 4.30? Lie-in!"

We've had a great time in Madeira, done some wonderful things - I think we'll look back on this trip as a remarkable (and slightly insane) achievement.

Until the next time ....

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Don't Cry For Me...

This evening was a 'sisters' evening, for Tara and myself to go out for a bevvie or three. We ended up in the swanky Miramar hotel, which has not one but two cocktail bars, as it turns out. It also has lounge music. And if anything is inclined to reduce us to fits of giggles, it's a portuguese lounge singer blasting out torch songs from 'Evita'.

Tara tried to take photos of Torch Lady's shoes for the blog, but the pianist thought that she was checking him out, and it kind of went wrong from there.

Well we weren't barred, and that's the main thing :)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The High Point

This is Pico do Arieiro, the highest point on Madeira. My oh my but the air is thin up there - I felt like a very unfit ninety-year-old.

As I looked down on blankets of cotton-wool cloud, higher banks of cloud rolled over the mountain top, obliterating the paths. All you can do is stay very still and wait for it to pass.

It's the same view that you get from a plane, except you're standing on the ground. Standing, and maybe wheezing a bit.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

At the peak

This morning we set out for a tour of the East of the island, including its highest peak (something like 1800 m). Unfortunately I left my camera over in the Savoy this evening, so no pictures of the trip until later this week.

Instead, let me say that my sister is unable to get trashed on the island. Today we split two bottles of red wine and numerous beers (including some poolside, which normally do the trick), and she still wasn't sozzled.

I should mention that in Dublin one glass of shiraz has her giggling like a schoolgirl. She's adorable...

Monday, August 14, 2006

Monday Monday...

Today we went to see a bunch of museums, none of which were open on Mondays. We did manage to get into the Santa Clara Nunnery, where people seemed to think that Jack was a latter-day Baby Jesus and Molly was some kind of prophet. People came over to us throughout the tour and marvelled over the children in Portuguese and French. In fact, the tour guide kept Molly with her for most of our visit. The great part was that everyone helped us to carry kids and buggies up and down the sixteenth-century monastic house.

It's a fabulous place, with painted ceilings, a beautiful Black Madonna, and plenty of original 16th-17th century tiles. Like everything else on the island, the history involves marauding pirates (are there any other kind?).

Apart from the pirates, it's amazing that the house and its artefacts have managed to survive: in 1974 Madeira was the poorest part of the European Union. They're underway with restoration work at the moment - in a few years it'll be fascinating to see the art and architecture restored and get a better sense of 'life in the day...'

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Aunty's Work

I did some babysitting today. Jack was a little angel: he looked cute for a while then went to bed promptly.

Molly decided to hang out for a while.

I figure she's gonna be fun when she's a bit older!

Up up and away!

Yesterday we went to Monte Gardens. While you can get there by bus, it's more fun by cable car.

The gardens are one of the gems of the island, and have a spectacular view over Funchal. There's a gorgeous japanese section with loads of koi, orchids, cycads, little cobbled grottos, lake with swans, the tallest vase in the world (Guinness said so), and Madeira wine to taste along the way.

Now, the gardens are set into the mountain, and so feature a whole bunch of uphill paths. If you're one year old and being pushed around, you tend to find this exhilarating! For the adults it's a little more strenuous...

A great day!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Guest blogger

hi there

tara here... actually here in Madeira. We're having a wonderful holiday. The place is fantastic ... and Orlaith's apartment is gorgeous, really bright, spacious and with a breath-taking view of the sea.

The holiday is going very well - the kids are very happy. Getting used to eating alot of different foods, and saying hello to alot of new people. The Savoy Hotel is lovely, but with access to the Savoy Resort (new plush hotel), you kind of feel like a second class citizen. They even took our towels away on Tuesday because they were the wrong colour! I nearly killed the pool guy.

So, one slight issue with the island is the, ahem, inclines. I guess i figured that given the island is, oh I dont know, an island, that there has got to be a significant area of the developed part of the island that is SEA LEVEL. And when I say level, I mean not enormous bleedin' mountains from one restaurant to another.

What's really galling is that the locals hop and skip along overtaking you as you sweat buckets, and they are the octogenarians! It is fairly humbling to say the least.

But we are loving it ... and its great to see Orlaith and her new life.

Go West!

Having caught up on some sleep, we spent yesterday touring the left half of the island, from the highest sea cliff in Yurp through lush green interiors to the breathtaking north coast.

When the island was first discovered the forests were so dense that the portuguese spent seven years burning out spaces to build on. The only remaining original forest is now a national park on the north coast - it's filled with laurel trees, and has a fabulous enchanted forest atmosphere. It's the kind of place you'd expect to catch glimpses of dryads, or see Aslan strolling through one of the picnic areas. Well, I'd expect to anyway...

The weather changed as quickly as the geography: at one point it felt really overcast until we drove up through the clouds and came to a sun-flooded plateau above. That bit was like something out of Tarzan :)

It's fair to say the visitors are having a good time!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


My sister is here for two weeks with her husband and their one-year-old twins. They're luxuriating in the swanky Savoy Hotel. We've spent the last few days on basic orientation, so we're just getting into the swing of things.

The kids didn't sleep much last night, and everyone was tired today. Molly pulled it together and was adorable pretty much throughout the day.

Jack, on the other hand, did this a lot:

And then at the dimming of the day, he smiled his cherubic dazzling smile, and all losses were restored. Ya gotta love 'em!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Back on the air!

Everything is unpacked. Feels like home! It would be a bonus if I never needed to flatpack another cardboard box in my life.

Thanks to the faaaamily, I have a beautiful spanky new laptop and digital camera. All is well with the world!

Blogger is a bit twitchy tonight and won't upload photos, so they'll be coming soon. And now to rest...

Friday, August 04, 2006


After unpacking for what feels like the last ten years, I finally got to my snorkelling gear yesterday morning. Then I promptly abandoned unpacking.

The nearest bathing place is right on the edge of the protected sea reservation, so you can snorkel right over. I´m sure someone has gone to the trouble of giving each fish long latin names, but for me the local sea life includes: ´cool black fish with electric blue stripes´, ´citrus-inis´, ´big salmoney-types´, ´the teeny tiny glitter brigade´, ´grey sea-koi´, and ´Old Patches Mahony, the gold and purple fellah who hangs out by the old anchor line´.

It was great. The dolphins weren´t in, so that´ll be an adventure for another day.

I´m nearly finished unpacking. Then comes the task of allocating a place for everything and everything in itsnooozzzzzzzzzzzze

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Popcorn for Breakfast :)

Oh happy day!!

So yesterday afternoon three guys brought two massive wooden crates containing 60 boxes of my gear. Their first move was to ask me if I had a hammer. Er yes, inside one of the crates... lack of foresight alert.

Anyhoo, so I ask the nice neighbours (not the German porn man - that´s another blog entry). They produce one philips head screwdriver and a pair of pliers. Now, these crates are heavy-duty international shipping crates. We´re not talking about some spindly lemon boxes.

Still, the guys spend 40 minutes trying to chip away. Meanwhile the nice neighbours have asked another neighbour: she is eager to help, goes to her brother (who has a shop around the corner), and comes back brandishing
...a plunger.

Some slight hitch in communication there.

Finally one of the three comes back with a crowbar - Captain Clever! - and they get to work. All the boxes are numbered and I need to check them off: so nice neighbour #1 stands outside, reads the box and tells the hauler the number in English, hauler comes in to the building chanting the number, which gives me time to find it on my list and decide where it should go. Nice neighbour #2 is inside with me, as the haulers abandon English easily enough and she´s better at her Portuguese numbers than I am. I feel everyone learned a lot.

Unpacked for hours, then curled up on my sofa and fell asleep.

By the way, I heard back from Muppet Movers: they were shocked to hear that my stuff hadn´t arrived. They´re going to look into it and get back to me.