Sunday lunch at Good Things Café all the way to Alice

Ten years ago we had friends staying with us in the Cottage and some of us were celebrating our fortieth birthdays so we had at least two good long lunches at The Good Things Café.

Since then we have been back two or three times each year – normally for lunch with children and then a meal in the evening.

This year we had lunch there on Easter Sunday and we have just been back for another Sunday lunch.

It was a good day to go out for lunch; a squally wind bringing in thick wet rain that hadn’t stopped since we opened the curtains.

It was a day to spend another hour in bed reading, drinking cups of coffee and sitting around fires.

There were eleven of us eating for lunch and they had a table laid out for us by the door as we walked in. As we ate we could watch the weather outside, more wind and rain heavy enough to soak a person on the five-yard walk from the car park to the door of the café.

I had gazpacho to start, a bowl full of pale red cool soup the surface broken by a dash of olive oil – it tasted of garlic, tomatoes and the sun and was a stark contrast to the bluster and hell for leather of the weather outside. Others had the fish soup and it came to the table in two large white tureens, thick enough to stand a spoon in there were so many pieces of fish and other goodies from the sea swirling around in it.

Unfortunately there was only a limited amount of crab tart so I couldn’t have that, instead I went for an Egg Florentine with a thick slab of Gubbeen ham, layers of spinach, a poached egg and a silky slather of hollandaise sauce.

We were all stuffed but managed to find room for pudding and I had a small pot of St Emillion chocolate mousse, which is probably the same pudding I had on one of those lunches ten years ago.

It was just as good on Sunday as it would have been ten years ago.

As we drove back there was a break in the weather. It came at that part of the coast road where it turns back towards the sea and over a slight rise the whole of Dunmannus Bay is laid out open in front of you. The end of the Bay was filled with a great wall of grey cloud but over towards the hills of the Sheep’s Head the sun was trying to melt the clouds away and they were turned a bright white that then seemed to fill the air beneath them with luminous light that hung in the air in front of the grey cloud and the moutains.

Later that afternoon I watched the fleet returning from the mackerel competition. It had stopped raining around four o’clock so they had had a couple of hours fishing out of the wet. They still looked fairly bedraggled as they came in.

I had spoken about the competition the previous evening in the pub and was reassured that it was only a bit of fun. But they took it seriously enough to make sure that each box of fish was properly counted so there could be no doubt over who had one. The winning boat had caught more than 600 fish so that was a lot of counting to do under the eager eyes of the spectators and quick hands looking to dive in and secrete a couple of fish in a plastic bag to be taken home for tea.

Willem won the competition again and he filled the cup with whiskey and passed a sip on to every man on the team.

Down on the slip way a battery of grim faced men and women took to the mackerel with sharp knives, filleting them and throw the heads and bones to an eager and raucous audience of gulls. The gulls fought over the scraps tearing at the pieces of fish and each other. After twenty minutes the gulls quietened down as if they had filled themselves with the surplus of easy fish. An hour later they bobbed on the water too fat to fly ducking their heads under the surface to clean off their beaks.

Later we walked to The Tin Pub to see what music was on. Brian and Nicole were playing but around the bar there were a few familiar faces from last time we had seen good music in there. We got out pints and other drinks and settled down.

Brian and Nicole played a couple of sets but then they took a step back and over the rest of the evening the familiar faces moved behind the microphone to sing and play a song. Instruments were swapped and passed round; there was a penny whistle and an accordion as part of the mix.

At some point in the evening Hugh was able to establish that fifteen years previously he had seen one of the woman who was singing perform in Arundel’s Bar. On that occasioned she had sung a ribald version of the old Smokie Song ‘Alice’. She reprised it for the evening and the fifty or so people crammed into the bar singing along to the chorus ‘Alice, Alice? Who the feck is Alice?’

Then there was dancing and stamping of feet and more dancing until seemed there wasn’t anyone in the bar who wasn’t going to take their turn with a guitar and the microphone.

We staggered home at 2.30 in the morning the rain coming down like a gentle mist.

Driving through Schull


There were two men driving tractors who each took a bet as to who would take more time driving their vehicle through Schull.

The track was laid out from the welcome sign on the road along from the Mizen, down through the Main Street, where there was the most potential for congestion, and then on to the road out to Ballydehob and the sign that said ‘See you again.’

In a car on a good day the journey should take no more than a couple of minutes but the men reckoned that with a fair wind, bad weather and some foreign drivers they could spin the journey out to at least a good hour.

Their tractors were big vehicles; the width of a car and half again with wheels the height of a man and at least a foot thick. With an average car parked on either side of the Main Street there should be just enough room to squeeze one of them through the gap in the middle, but all that it took was a car too big or badly parked and the tractor would have to stop and wait for whoever might be driving the car to step out and move it.

They set down some rules. If the tractor was stationary for more than five minutes or there were at least four loud parps from different cars stuck behind it then the driver would be obliged to step down from his cab and investigate the shops to try and find the driver of the offending car.

So much the better if the driver should a parent who had taken time out to send children into one of the shops to be kept quiet with ice-cream. The gathering audience would be able observe as the errant father emerged from his shop having placating his brood to be presented with the sight of his car being the root cause of the horns and general unhappiness outside.

The ideal was to get in to a situation so that the tractor was coming down the hill with a hire car of some sort travelling the opposite way. The tractor driver would have to drive sufficiently slowly so as to lure the hire car and any cars following into the main drag of the Main Street to a point where there was no reversing for either the tractor or the hire car. At this point the driver of the tractor was entitled to disembark so as to able to provide useful but useless guidance to the hapless driver of the hire car.

If the driver of the hire car spoke no English then so much the better. If English was spoken then the tractor driver was allowed to thicken his accent. Either way he would ensure that the hire car was addressed as ‘this feckin’ car’ but with a smile so that no offense was intended.

If a queue of cars developed then the tractor driver would be able to walk along to each in it to set out the predicament. Once at the back of the queue and down to the last car he would start on his instructions to reverse up. He would wave the car backwards, taking it slow so that no damage was done, and either park the car up in a space on the street or manoeuvre it into one of the side roads where it could block further traffic to come.

There was a great deal to be had in the timing. Mid afternoon worked best as then there would be a tide of cars driving up from the harbour. They would be able to back down on the Pier Road and the addition of four or five cars down there could only add to the confusion on Main Street. If horns parped down there then they were free to go at it as they pleased. But added delay could be had with a diversion down there to explain something of the problem and to put the blame on ‘the feckin’ car that some feck can’t drive being stopped up the hill with nowhere to go.’

Points were to be had if the maximum distress and unhappiness could be reached outside of Hackett’s. There an audience would be sat with the benefit of a good lunch and a few pints well able to appreciate the slow grinding of gears and the dissipating of humour as cars were locked into stalemate for an hour or so in the heat of an afternoon.



Wearing a wet suit

There is nothing attractive about a wetsuit. They are tight, uncomfortable, ungainly things that squeeze at your body, pushing the stomach into places it does not want to go, cutting off the blood supply to arms, legs and head and for good measure constricting the throat so in order to breathe you have to hold your head up high and look straight ahead. But they do help keep you warm when the water cold.

So yesterday I squashed myself into one which did all of the above and then managed to rearrange my crotch so that it lay awkwardly across my lower stomach.

I looked like the gimp from Pulp Fiction and no doubt made a fine sight as I found myself bumping into our neighbour, who kindly introduced herself and then spent five minutes passing pleasantries as I stood legs forced akimbo trussed up and ready for the rack.

I then took out one of the kayaks and went fishing for mackerel. There is an additional frisson trying to catch fish so low in the water and in a boat that can easily capsize with one bad move. There is no room for anything so if you do catch fish the line and the hooks and the thrashing fish all have to be tucked into the six inch gap between the knees and you then have to try an untangle them and get the fish off the hooks, give them a tap on the back of the head and then throw them into the bucket.

It can be difficult enough with just one fish on the line. Yesterday my first haul of fish had four of them all pulling in different directions a fighting to get away. The mackerel had some brief revenge as the hooks caught in my fingers and legs as I tried to get through them.

I caught another six of the course of the next twenty minutes. Each time the line went back into the water it was more of a tangled mess until it was time to give up and paddle back to the Cottage.

As I paddled back I saw a kestrel over Owen’s Island. It hovered in the light presumably looking for some seagull chicks that might still be in the nest although it seems too late in the season for that.

I had three of the mackerel for lunch on the barbeque eating them less than an hour after they had come out of the water. They only took five minutes to cook and I had them just as they were. They were very fine.

The rest of them I filleted and skinned. I then chopped the pale stickly flesh with sweetened cucumber, capers, gherkins, lemon juice, olive oil and seasoning. I ate the mackerel tartare smeared on small pieces of toast with a dash of horseradish.

Later I made first use of the Pernod but that is another story.


The Mizen and Barley Cove

This morning the bay looks millpond calm in its centre and the orange fishermen buoys stand out in stark relief against the greys and blues of the mirror finish of the water. The smooth surface is then broken by the gentle drift of two white swans sending out a runnel of ripples behind them.


Across the bay Knocknamadree stands tall and triangular over the Mizen. We drove behind it yesterday to make the trip to the radio station at the tip of the penisula and then to Barley Cove.

On a clear day the Mizen was the last sight of Europe that the old big ships and their passengers would have before heading into the Atlantic proper and to the New World over the water. It is an empty desolate place leavened by the large car park and gaudy tourist experience with it café and trinkets for sale. Yesterday had started grey with the possibility of wet so there were plenty of cars that had made the trip out there for a day out away from too much rain.

Beyond the café there is a concrete path that takes you down by the side of the cliffs to a bridge that crosses a chasm of broken rocks and water and then on to the final spit of land that juts out into the sea on which the old radio station and light is positioned.

The bridge is new having been rebuilt about five years ago. I have a vague memory of the old iron bridge painted white over splintered rust. You would want to be sure of the bridge. The new one is made out of concrete but was small against the cliffs that were bent and wrought out of shape. There were gaps through the rocks through which it was possible to see Three Castle Head and beyond that the three white houses of Toreen at the end of the Sheep’s Head.

Near the café there was the propeller of a boat that had foundered on the rocks below almost an hundred years ago. The plaque next to it recorded how six lives had been lost but many others saved. The survivors had been able to cling on to the cliffs and they had been pulled up with a series of ropes and harnesses. Inside one of the huts there was a battered stretcher tied together with pieces of old rope similar to what they had used.

Beyond the radio station the path carries on down a set of steps to a small platform which has a red light on it. Standing there and looking out to America we could see gannets in the air and below them, only for a moment, black smudges in the water where dolphins were breaking the surface.

We then went on to Barley Cove. The only true slice of sandy beach within striking distance of the Cottage and even then it is a good 40 minutes in the car to get there. We were lucky and for two hours the grey cloud and rain was pushed back and the beach was filled with light and the sun.

With the sun out and the blue sky you could almost convince yourself that you were somewhere far hotter but it took only one foot dipped in the numbingly cold sea to bring you back to where you are.