Friday 31 March 2017

Welcome Strangers

The dogs make their mark on the new concrete. These paw
marks look 'proud' rather than indented but that is just
because the light is coming from behind me. 
It may well be the Irish DNA in the Lady of the House, but there's nothing Liz likes more than 'hosting'. Hospitality - all that palaver of welcoming guests, organising their visits, getting rooms ready, ship-shape and comfortable and then, of course, all the menu planning and extra food prep and cooking. Of course the visit itself with the chance to make new friends and improve old friendships, chat, socialise. It matters not whether the guests are friends or family, long-lost cousins or just dinner-guests. Just this week we have diversified that even further to include complete strangers. Maybe not strictly 'complete' - we could learn a bit about both on line prior to their arriving.

The Pieris out front puts out its bright
salmon pink first new leaves.
First this week, though a delightful and enjoyable visit from the Bro-in-Law, 'Sparks' (old friend of the blog) who came down on his 52nd birthday, the Tuesday, with his partner Kim. They came to enjoy a special meal cooked by Liz (our own chicken) and Sparks, Kim and I nailed a good few glasses of wine (though it was a 'school night' for Liz). We chatted late into the night, enjoyed a good night's sleep and shared a lovely goose-egg breakfast. But they are"just family" now, so great to have them, but no longer front page news. That slot falls to this week's OTHER guests, the "exciting" visit to which I alluded in the last post, a renowned artist and a Senator, no less!

Brian gets the Senator down on white card.
The artist is Brian John Spencer from (his words) affluent South Belfast. He's 29, enthusiastic and ambitious to make a name as an artist having decided on a serious change of direction having studied Law and French through Uni. He is very knowledge-able and keen on the interesting history and politics of the North and particularly (lately) the various solutions now being discussed to the issue of Brexit.

Brian puts some colour in Tom's cheeks.
He conceived a project to visit every county in the Island ("Ireland in 32") to stay with different people from all walks of life, do some 'art' and discuss politics, history and local stuff with any 'Great and Good' he could net on his way round. His main thing is political cartoon drawings but also 'Vanity Fair' style line and colour-wash drawings of people - wedding guests and so on. Of course he has a Facebook account (one for him and one for the project), Twitter and website(s) where you can look him up. I will include some links at the bottom of this post.

Brian John Spencer and Senator Frank Feighan enjoy Liz's
roast lamb and champ.
We first heard of this and Brian when Liz saw a Tweet (a Twitter post) listing all the county stops and their dates with a request for help finding him a night's accommodation in each one. That sounded like fun for us so we immediately snapped up the Roscommon one (originally 29th/30th March) and we were hosting our first ever professional artist! He'd be roughly half way through his mission by the time he got here - he finishes in Dublin on Easter Sunday.

Senator Frank Feighan poses for his
cartoon sketch by Brian
All good so far. Brian started his tour and we followed his progress over the first days on Twitter and Facebook but then it got even better and more unlikely. Our local Senator, Frank Feighan who we would not have known from Adam, is currently challenging the Senate with a suggestion that Ireland and Northern Ireland both join the "Commonwealth of Nations" as a trading block to stay in contact with the UK post Brexit. Brian was fascinated by this "Wild West / West-Brit" suggestion (his words again) which would be almost treasonable in various parts of the North, so he contacted Frank and invited him to come here for supper too. Now we were hosting our first artist and our first politician and we were all starting to feel a bit over-whelmed. In for a penny though, Liz decided to call in very knowledge-able and respected 'Village Elder', Tom C who is also Producer of the imminent village play. Then there were 3. There was then a little mix up on dates where 'we' had to swap with Co. Longford but it all went as planned on the new date 30/31 March, last night.

Left to right, Tom C, Frank Feighan, my self and Brian Spencer
I must confess to a bit of nervousness as we had no real idea what either guest would be like, whether they'd relax and enjoy our company, whether we'd be able to contribute to the discussions (well, that was me - Liz is so good on politics and history she'd easily hold her own and could go off and worry about the food and the hosting being acceptable to these 'VIP' types). Frank particularly, might have had 'issues' with we 'voters' as all we knew of him was that in a political mess-up 5 years ago, the general election was won in Roscommon by main party Fine Gael on a promise not to close the Roscommon hospital A+E unit. As soon as they were in the did a U-turn and closed it. There was outrage and almost rioting locally and Fine Gael are still living it down. Our man, a TD (=MP) at the time, was right in the thick of it, obliged to break his promise to the voters by voting WITH the party to close it, so he shipped 4 years of vilification in the local press, death threats, hate mail and not a prayer of getting re-elected as TD. 4 years later he is back in business having been appointed to the Senate by a grateful 'Premier' (An Taoiseach), Enda Kenny. I hope I have this correct - serious apologies all round and I will retract any 'Fake News' and edit this post if not.

Peach blossom starting in the tunnel.
Well, you will be delighted (as we were) that we had no need to worry. All present were lovely, personable, happy and relaxed, thoroughly enjoyed our place and our food, shared a few gentle drinks ( I even got some Shepherd Neame beer into these Irish types!). Liz had done a menu where every course had a little bit of this small holding in it - starter was trad nettle soup (our nettle tips), mains were roast lamb and then champ with our kale in it and 'pud' was a rhubarb Pavlova. Gorgeous. The talk and discussion was broad ranging and fascinating - FF turned out to have been a main mover in the old Anglo Irish agreement discussions way back, but then Chairman of the Good Friday Agreement discussions. He and Brian shared many friends and acquaintances. Brian has also got that 'Small holding in the future' in his dreams so he was delighted to come and stay on one and see how it all worked. A roaring success all round.

I'll leave it at that, I think, but just give you some links to bits and pieces mentioned

FF is on

BJS is on Facebook as "Brian John Spencer: writer and artist" and the Project is on as "Ireland in 32 Days" where you will soon be able to see and hear "our bits" (we did interviews as well as having ourselves drawn plus Brian is off today to capture some Roscommon landscapes, I think in Boyle before he goes off to find his host for tonight in Co. Meath)

On Twitter he is @BrianJohnSpencer here there is already some stuff up

His website is

Good Luck now

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