An enforced absence of over three months came to an end on Thursday, when I decided I could hobble sufficiently to take the train and boat back to my other half's other city, which I've come to love so much so quickly too. Decided to travel that way, as I often do, since his experiences of sitting on a plane on a runway for over an hour on several occasions wouldn't suit my discomfort and, long though the London Euston - Holyhead - Dublin Ferryport journey is, I'd be able to move around at every point.
Though every single train leaving Euston was late, that part of the journey passed pleasantly, the first half of it spent happily reliving a surprisingly first-rate concert experience the previous evening, courtesy of recommendations from Sophia Rahman who accompanied me, for The Arts Desk. The later part, along the North Wales coast, always means looking out the window. The sea still seemed unquiet the day after Storm Agnes, and I saw single seals regularly along the way. Thus we made up time, but at the ferry port, the Irish Ferries worker told me the 2.15 boat wouldn't be leaving until at least 4.30.
I knew the joys of Holyhead were limited from my first visit with time to kill. And since the town is nearly wholly dead - forgive the feeble pun - I made my way to the cheerful and bright Cambodian cafe where I'd eaten so well the first time. Like nearly everything else, it wasn't open in the afternoon. This first glimpse of the High Street once you finish crossing the stylish bridge from the port is typical - unpromising shops mostly shuttered. This could all be so attractive, so lively - so why is it like a ghost town?
Even St Cybi's Church, built between the 13th and 16th centuries within the walls of an old Roman fort, wasn't open to visitors. A shame if the inside is as interesting as the outside, which has some curious old frieze scenes.
Walking round trying to find somewhere for a bite to eat, I met once again the lady who'd been collecting the rubbish on the train (I told her the three empty lager cans lined up opposite weren't mine, and we ended up talking about the convincing qualities of non-alcoholic beer. I told her how the alcohol-free Guinness was rated by an admirer of that beverage, and she told me how when she gave birth to her daughter 34 years ago, all the new mothers were given a Guinness each). 'Churches should never be closed, should they?' she sympathised. 'People need somewhere to sit and think even if they don't want to pray'.
Anyway, I had my sushi which I'd bought at Euston and ate in the port cafe, and we all embarked as planned, but the ferry didn't leave until 5.30. The lighthouse on South Stack Island was doing its business in the gloaming
and the sea midway was rough, so the only thing to do was to spread out on one of the couches in the James Joyce Bar of the Ulysses and have a nap. The waves as we approached Dublin Harbour had calmed. Our friend Seamus had driven to the terminal; J met me and since our chosen cafe stopped serving food at 9, we had excellent seafood at the local fish and chip shop, Beshoff's, offspring of the one founded during the Second World War by the last survivor of the battleship Potemkin.
The next day saw Dublin at its best, in clear autumn light and the usual wind, as I crossed the Grand Canal just round the corner to the flat - the works on the bridge's lock have been crowned in the style of the famous statue in Glasgow -
on the way to have lunch with J in the garden of MoLI (Museum of Literature Ireland), a favourite haunt. Sinéad O'Connor, whose untimely death caught us by surprise while I was in hospital (I gave my copy of Metro with a big commemoration to the nice Italian chap in the bed opposite), adorned the outside wall of The Candy Club, where she performed,
while nearby St Stephen's Green, along the south side of which I walked, was showing autumnal colours earlier than London.
There weren't many of us sitting outside at the back of MoLI on this breezy day, but it was as lovely as ever and the Killarney Strawberry Tree was looking gorgeous.
Joyce would have known it as a student when the place was UCD Newman House, and is pictured second from left beneath the other famous survivor, an ash tree, on graduation in 1902 (again, see MoLI's website).
After lunch, J returned to the European Commission office and I walked through the fair rose garden up the steps, still flourishing,
and through the gate into the Iveagh Gardens, the lawns looking so green between the rains,around to the Rustic Grotto and Cascade on the west side, which I hadn't realised were there.
I now realised I could do a Rundweg visiting my favourite second-hand emporium, The Last Bookshop, on the ever-fascinating Camden Street Lower via splendid Georgian Harcourt Street you hit on one exit from the Iveagh Gardens. Struck by several doorways and their resident grotesque heads towards the south end near where George Bernard Shaw used to live.
In The Last Bookshop I picked up a (cheap) first edition of a Molly Keane novel I hadn't read, Time After Time, and discovered The Cake Cafe in the yard out back. Very leisurely service, which was fine by me as I was in no rush, but when the nice girl saw I was noticing a lemonade going to another table, she said 'we're just waiting for another glass'. Just round the corner is the Bretzel Bakery in Lennox Street, est. 1870, where I picked up a brown sourdough loaf,
I don't think the notice on a building over the other side of the main road needs to be reassuring, at least not in the daytime, though perhaps it's a broader existentialist decree.
The area's now got quite a few chi-chi shops, but I like to think that my regular visits will be akin to visiting Bertaux, the Algerian Coffee Store and I Camisa in Old Compton Street. A bit further down where Camden Street becomes Richmond Street South, there's the most delicious smelling tea retailer I've ever encountered, Wall & Keogh. When I retraced my steps in the pouring rain today, to pick up from The Last Bookshop the copy of Fintan O'Toole's A History of Ireland in 100 Objects I'd noticed on Friday - and met Birtie, the characterful shop dog - I chose a rooibos, lemon and ginger tea which (indulge me in the little things) is marvellous.
On Friday, though, it was on to another bridge
and back home along the Grand Canal
where a young heron endured close inspection
before flapping over to the busy-road side of the canal and following my route in parallel.
So much more to explore, so many areas of Dublin I haven't even been to yet. It may be small scale in one sense, but there are a million things to discover.