A New Beginning?

Yes yes, I’ve been quiet. Yadda yadda yadda as my buddy Sprocket would say.

I’m here now, aren’t I?

A brief summary since last summer :

My mother (Granny) came to stay for an indefinite period of time.  She’s no bother… looks after the balcony flowers and keeps us on the straight and narrow when it comes to tidying the house.  She’s gone back to Ireland for a break but will rejoin us soon, I hope.

Granny’s sister, my feisty, independent, argumentative Aunty Kathleen, died at the start of November, leaving the extended family with a lot of work to do clearing out her house.  It’s almost there… we expect to have it up for sale before the end of the month.

I had cortisone injections in my back which have helped me enormously (four herniated discs, in case you missed that. The result of a lifetime of disrespecting my spine. Who’s sorry now?).

I started working on the farm again, on a more or less permanent basis.  I’m job-sharing with a young lady who also has back issues – neck and shoulder in her case.  We do 3-4 hours per day, 3-4 days a week, feeding, bedding and providing whatever nursing type care is needed.  It suits us both.  I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to do it, but I love just spending time with the horses. And ponies. And donkeys.  And it pays my livery bill.

Looking after these guys is NOT a pain in the ass!

I haven’t ridden since I did the Mountain Trail clinic last July (eh yeah, sorry, I just realised I never blogged about it.  Maybe I’ll get to it later. It was fun.).  I’m afraid riding will set my back off. Right now, I can do everything I want, relatively pain-free.  I’d like to keep it that way.  It’s not that I’m afraid of falling off… I’m afraid that the movement required from my lower back to ‘go with’ the movement of a horse is going to be too much for me to cope with.

Sunset Years? Surely not yet…

I haven’t done any groundwork with my horses, either.  I don’t know why, I just have no mind for it.  So the Boyz are semi-retired.

I’ve been painting and drawing like a mad thing.  Loving it.  I’m ready to take commissions… here are my two most recent pieces as a sample.  I’ll do a full on advertisement post next!

The New Beginning referred to in the title of the post?  We’re buying a second house here in Reillanne to run as a holiday rental – Villa Amande.  Check out our Facebook page!  We have a steady trickle of bookings so far for Summer 2019.  We’re on HomeAway and SimplyOwners but if you’re tempted by the thought of an idyllic rural location with a private pool, contact us directly.  We promise to give you the best deal you’ll get!

We have a butt-load of maintenance work to catch up with on the two houses, and are recruiting people who’d like to come and stay with us in exchange for work.  Mostly painting, some light gardening – and we must be finished by mid-April.  If you or anyone you know would be interested, email me on tailsfromprovence@gmail.com.  I’m recruiting via Facebook and Workaway as well, but I’d rather find people with whom I have some sort of connection, however tenuous.  Our first volunteer arrives on Saturday – she’s a friend’s sister, I’m looking forward to meeting her.

And that’s it.  I’ll keep the horsey twist going, but Tailsfromprovence seems to be morphing into an Art and Holiday Home blog.

A bientôt.


Other things I’ve been doing this summer…

…besides touring Ireland, that is

When I was a kid, I drew and drew and drew.  Mostly horses, of course.  I got quite good at drawing them – my preferred medium was graphite pencils, usually a 4B and a 6B.  I experimented with oil paints and produced some passable landscapes, I played with watercolours but never really got beyond a sort of “colouring between the lines” feel with them.  Similarly with pastels and those oil-based crayons that were given to every youngster who showed artistic tendencies back in the 70s – I drew the outlines and then coloured inside my drawings.  Now, looking at what I produced back then, I can see that anything I did in colour was flat and two dimensional, although my pencil sketches were pretty good for a teenager with minimal training.  (I did Art all the way through secondary school, but the teacher used to leave me to my own devices and concentrated on my classmates who needed more guidance.  A compliment, I guess, but I wish I’d learned then what I’ve learned this summer!)

The best painting from my teen years, in pride of place on Granny’s wall! Oil on hardboard, after a John Hinde photo

I steered myself away from the Arts.  I was blessed with a versatile brain – reasonably scientific, usually logical, and good with respect to creativity and linguistics.  This meant that my rational 17 year-old self chose a field which had good earning prospects – the then brand-new field of Computer Science.  My creative side was shelved, for a long, long time.

In my late twenties, I tried to get back into drawing by attending night classes, and failed miserably.  With two young children and a business to run, there was no time or energy left for creativity.  I stopped trying for more than twenty years, and my sketch books, oil paints and pencils languished in a wardrobe in our house, until the Eldest Daughter went off to Art College and I happily passed them on, thinking that if I hadn’t touched them in twenty years, I was unlikely to ever start again.

Ten years later, here we are in Provence, and my creative side has been slowly re-emerging. I’ve been writing.  I’ve relearned the piano and I’ve been listening to lots of music.  But although I tried sketching a few of the inmates at the Farm a couple of years ago, I just didn’t get into it.  What a shame, given that we live in such a beautiful place and are surrounded by so many incredibly gifted artists!


A brief attempt at sketching in 2013

And then in May, the LSH suggested he give me six art lessons for my birthday with a lady in the village, Valérie.  I’m two lessons into my second batch of six lessons and I’ve learned so much!  The concept of building up depth with layers and layers of colour – and using fixative between layers of pastels to enable this layering (I always thought fixative was something you blasted on at the very end!).  To keep going until it’s RIGHT – I’d show Valérie something that to my mind was finished, and she’d invariably point something out!  Bring out the foreground more to create depth… add more touches in the background… build up the shadows and highlights by using touches of different colours…

But the biggest lesson of all has been TAKE MY TIME.  Because now I have time… I’m no longer running around after a family and a business, so I can sit down and spend hours at a stretch on a drawing, take a break and come back to it again and again.

I’ve been sharing the results on my personal FB page, to the amazement of many friends, who had no idea there was this side to me, and to a lot of very positive and encouraging feedback.  So much so that I sold my very first piece of Art this week, and immediately got a higher offer!  But a deal is a deal, and I’m really thrilled that my very first sale is going to a very dear friend.

So (drumroll, please…) here are some of the works I’ve done this summer, starting at the beginning and working up to the present day.

Pastels :

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Sketches, graphite or charcoal/pastel pencil :

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I think you’ll have to agree that my technique is improving as time passes!

I feel I’ve come to grips with pastels, in fact I now prefer using pastels to using a graphite pencil. There’s a big change in attitude!  Now I feel I’m ready to tackle other media… I’m not sure what Valérie has in mind for me, but I’m certain it will be interesting.

Watch this space, or follow me on Instagram, where I tend to post my works as I go along.

The Farewell Tour

Those who follow me on Instagram (@magreenlee FYI!), and those who are friends with me on Facebook, will have seen the daily photos of our recent tour of Ireland.  A few people asked me why we were calling it a “Farewell Tour” – well, it sounds good! But more relevantly, we feel we won’t be back again for more than a few days at a time, visiting family and friends.  This trip was about US TOURING OUR COUNTRY OF BIRTH and we didn’t make time to fit in visiting along the way, apart from one or two pre-planned things which more or less fell in line with our touring plans.

IMG_6261When I posted the last day’s photos on Instagram I mentioned that I would do a recap on the blog.  What we loved, what we hated, what we will go back for.  So here it is…

The plan was to follow the Wild Atlantic Way, a sign-posted route which follows the coastline from Cork in the south all the way up to Donegal in the north, marked and marketed by the Irish Tourism Board in recent years.  In fact, the roads have always been there, so it has always been possible to do this route.  Just no-one ever thought of actually promoting it as a tour.  Kudos to whoever came up with that idea!

We decided to more or less skip West Cork, feeling that we know that part of the world pretty well.  We dined in Kinsale, the official Southern Gateway of the WAW, on the eve of our departure, and set off for the Beara Peninsula the following morning.


The cable car

We LOVED Beara.  We will probably return for a walking tour some day.  We spent a day on Dursey Island, 6km long and 1.4km wide, and walked almost the whole length of it and back.  If you visit Ireland, DO IT.  Get into the scary wooden cable car, cross the raging rip tide, and land on the island.  Maybe even spend a couple of days there, soaking up the peace and quiet; watching the gannets and other sea-birds; even seeing dolphins in the distance.  Yes, we saw dolphins.  Brilliant.  Then you get to do the cable car ride in reverse! Totally worth it.

The only BUT about the Beara : We stayed in Castletownbere, a large fishing village on the southern side of the peninsula.  BUT it was the start of the second week in September, and already it felt like a ghost town. Our Airbnb host was unengaging, unhelpful and uninterested, although the house was clean and the breakfast was ok.  I got the impression that he was completely jaded after a long and busy season, perhaps, but you’d think he’d have been prepared to suggest somewhere to eat, or local places of interest to visit the following day.  I don’t like naming and shaming small businesses, so I’m not going to name the B&B, but if you plan on visiting the area, choose your lodgings carefully.

After the Beara, we had booked two nights in Parknasilla, a posh hotel near Sneem in Co Kerry.  €350 a night… this was our big, spoiling-ourselves splurge.  The hotel is lovely, the staff were delightful, the extensive grounds with their little islands, walkways and bridges were great.


Taken on one of our walks through the Parknasilla grounds

I’m sure you can feel the BUT coming…

Our €700 accommodation bill included one evening meal in the hotel restaurant.  It was barely ok.  I had monkfish, which was fine, but the accompanying vegetables were inedible – either under-cooked or over-salted.  At breakfast the following morning, I went to make toast with gluten free bread, which was set out in plastic packets, two slices per pack.  It was mouldy… I lost my appetite.

But the biggest BUT for us was the number of small children in the bar and sitting area, throughout the day and into the evening.  We ate in the bar on our second night, and there were seven – yes SEVEN – babies aged two and under, toddling around and making noise (as babies do).  I don’t know about you, but I prefer my posh hotels to have less of a playgroup ambiance going on.

So if you’re planning on a couple of nights luxury living in an Irish hotel, here’s a thing to check.  Does the hotel have self-catering accommodation on-site?  If it’s a yes, move on. They tend to be rented by young families who (very kindly) try to keep their energetic and possibly non-somnolent youngsters away from public sleeping areas.  But then of course they will avail of the hotel facilities… they’re entitled to, after all!  My advice is to look for a hotel that has a no-children policy.  They do exist.

After Parknasilla, we went to Co Clare, where we drove from Loop Head to Doolin, where we stayed in a small B&B.  That’s a nice drive.  Worth doing.

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At the Bridges of Ross, on the Clare coast

BUT Doolin, sadly, did not live up to our expectations. What I remember as a tiny village with a lively reputation for traditional music has become The Irish Holiday Village on an industrial scale.  Several enormous B&B’s dominate the landscape, along with the ubiquitous Irish tourist shops and three gigantic pubs.  Our landlady was very pleasant but was not prepared to commit herself when we asked for a recommendation for food and music.  Not a good sign…

We went to the closest pub, Fitz’s, a short walk away.  The food was good, if typical, bar food, the staff were very pleasant.  The music, alas, was a huge disappointment.  Perhaps we are spoiled with the quality of our local artistes in Reillanne, but the two groups who played on the night we were there left a lot to be desired.  No oomph, no zest, no life in their performances.  We left early.

The following morning, we headed to Dublin, for some Family Fun Time.  As we drove away from Doolin, we passed another two enormous and completely out-of-context new hotels.  I know Ireland needs to develop its tourism industry, but surely it can be done tastefully?

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Excuse me while I barf…

After Dublin, we went on to the North and the Giant’s Causeway.  Yes.  Do it.  And the Carrickarede rope bridge.IMG_6565Been there, done that, the Sister bought me the t-shirt!

From the Giant’s Causeway, the plan was to rejoin the WAW and continue from the North down southwards as far as Galway.  The first county on the route was Donegal.  I’ve never spent any time in Donegal before, apart from a brief trip to Sliabh Liag as a teenager.  Many people speak of the wild beauty of Donegal.  Well if you’re looking for wild beauty in Donegal, you won’t find it along the WAW.  All you will see is mile after mile of bungalow blight. It was so bad, I couldn’t bear to photograph it, so you will have to take my word for it.

To find the wild beauty, you need a great Airbnb host like ours, who will direct you away from the beaten path and into the back end of nowhere.  Where you might be lucky and see golden eagles circling overhead.  Like us 😀


The back of Glenveagh National Park

So Rudy in Kincasslagh saved Donegal for us… but also, Sliabh Liag, one of Europe’s tallest sea cliffs is very VERY impressive.  Best to park in the car park and walk up the steep, steep road.  It somehow makes the cliffs more impressive.  For those who can’t walk, there is a small parking area at the top.  Bear that in mind!

After a second night in Kincasslagh, we drove on to Achill Island.  A friend described it as “Like Ireland, in miniature.”  I’d go one further and say it’s like Ireland, thirty years ago, in miniature.  The sun was splitting the stones as we arrived, the sea sparkled all around us, a steep mountain rose up to our right, with sheep grazing the long acre as we drove along, barely a white bungalow in sight… had we found heaven?


A beach on Achill Island

We arrived at our guest house, the Bervie, to be greeted as if we were old friends by the owner, Liz.  Our clean and cosy room overlooked the beach, which was maybe thirty metres away.  We ate like kings in the Bervie restaurant.  Unlike any other place we’d been, the atmosphere is so intimate that guests rapidly become friends and we talked nonsense into the evenings with other visitors… Heaven indeed.


The Bervie Guesthouse, on a misty day

We deferred our plans to visit Connemara and Galway and booked an extra two nights in the Bervie.  And even that was not enough… we’ll be back!