Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Adventure Rooms Dublin

Shady Christian is back in town. ‘Grey’ has broken all records, selling millions in its first week alone. EL James missed the Derby last weekend, but she did come to the Curragh to present a trophy to the winner of an all grey horse race in 2012. Maybe next year the Curragh will entice her over again and I can ask the woman how on earth she came up with the idea. The ropes, the cable ties, the whole bondage thing; she looks so sensible too. Still, even I learnt last week that handcuffs can lead to some surprisingly good fun. 

It wasn’t my idea to visit Dublin, I had no clue where we were going; my husband arranged the whole thing as a surprise. It was a mystery trip, one that he had been planning for a while. On the way to our secret destination we passed noodle bars and sex shops on Capel Street. With the four kids in tow that last one wasn’t easy. Whilst the teenagers giggled, I distracted the younger two by pointing to the sky, pretending that I had just seen Spiderman and not a scantily clad woman beside a row of sex toys in the window.

We followed our leader to Little Britain Street. “We are HERE!” my husband said. I looked at the red door, the frosted windows and read the sign above, ‘The Adventure Rooms’ “Is this a joke?” I hissed, my mind was going into overdrive, “What about the kids?” Both teenagers reached for their phones and started to take photos. Whatever it was behind that door was about to be photographed and any minute now, would go live on Snap Chat.

I knocked on the door. Thankfully, Christian Grey didn’t answer; instead, a tall man named Keith greeted us and handed me a piece of paper, “Sign here”. We signed a waiver, handed over our phones and followed Keith into a very dark room. “Only 30% of people make it out of here. Good luck”. With that, he handcuffed each one of us to a wire fence and with a “You have one hour to escape,” left us to it. I watched the door close behind him and wondered what every other mother of four was doing at that moment in Ireland.

Regular readers will know that I am the first one to try out something new. Only last week I was in a canoe, the week before I was in the Japanese Gardens listening to the Mikado. But anything involving danger sends me into a mild panic. The game had begun and our leader started to shout instructions. “LOOK FOR CLUES! LOOK FOR CLUES!” My handcuffed eldest teenager stood beside me and rolled her eyes. “How long do we have to stay here?” she groaned. “55 minutes and 45 seconds” I replied looking up at a digital clock on the wall that had begun the countdown.

Being handcuffed to a fence was a first; it’s what protesters do. The rebel in me enjoyed it for the first few minutes. “I can’t get it off” the ten year old tugged and pulled at his wrists. “We have to get the KEY,” our leader shouted. In the dim light, clues were all around. All we had to do was calmly and logically work out what they all meant. Without my glasses, I was the weakest link. But with five other family members, all with 20/20 vision, we slowly started to find things and the fun began.

The Adventure Rooms is part of a new wave of entertainment taking the world by storm. It is a live escape game for up to six people, the object being to get out in less than sixty minutes. Fans of the show Crystal Maze will understand immediately. All around, in the sparsely furnished rooms, there are hints and puzzles. The fun is in finding and solving them. “Let’s GO” our leader and Crystal Maze enthusiast shouted. He’s been on cloud nine since he discovered that the show is making a return to our TV screens next year.

It took half an hour to find the clues and make our ‘escape’. I had been of no help whatsoever. Thoughts had drifted off to a noodle bar on Capel Street that we passed on the way in and a picture of a bowl of Chicken Chow Mein in the window. “THERE’S ANOTHER ROOM!” our leader yelled ahead of us. The next room was different, darker and with a blackboard on the wall. “LOOK FOR CLUES! LOOK FOR CLUES!” This time I was shouting, hunger was getting to me.

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, my dysfunctional family did something remarkable. We started to work together. The ten year old spotted something that no one else did. He then did something with it that nobody else could do. The teenagers kicked into action when they found a torch. I stood back and watched as they all began screaming instructions to each other, running from one end of the room to the next. Then it happened. I saw something that everyone else had missed.

There might be a need for a spoiler alert here. I’ll try and describe it without ruining the day for anyone who might be thinking of going (and go you should). What I can say without getting into trouble is that if you have ever had smelly household problems, this tool sorts it out. In the Adventure Rooms last week, the same tool helped us escape.  It was have my only contribution in the 54 minutes but it proved an important piece of the jigsaw.

With a surprising amount of teamwork we did it. We were in the 30% to make it out of the Adventure Rooms. We were elated. Being in a locked room with the whole family was the highlight of my year so far. I might even try it at home.

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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Bluebells and Buskers 2015

I love a good wood. The green, enchanting natural beauty that makes you feel alive, whatever the weather. In a few days time, one particular wood will also make you laugh, smile and feel warm inside. Killinthomas Woods, near Rathangan is the place to be on Sunday. If you don’t know it, go through the town and it is on the right at the roundabout. There may even be a signpost.

It is a place where I go with a friend to walk the dogs, burn a few calories and put the world to rights with my old pal Collette. If the trees could talk, we’d probably be arrested. We’re not the only ones who love the place. They hold special memories for the current Mayor of Kildare, Fiona O’Loughlin.

Having spent her childhood in Rathangan, she is deeply rooted in the area, as was her father Jimmy. “Dad was born and reared in Cappanargid as was his father before him. Whilst he loved travelling and adventuring he loved Rathangan”. Jimmy’s father Joe was on the very first Kildare County Council in 1898 and was a magistrate in the poor law union.

With the most beautiful woodland in the county right on his doorstep, Killinthomas was a place that he went to regularly.  “He walked there daily, enjoying the chats with all he met. When the bluebells were up, it was his favourite time of the year”. The flowers are almost up and the wild garlic carpets the floor. That time is now.

When her father passed away two years ago, he left a big hole. “Jimmy was a huge personality in the lives of so many,” she shared over coffee. “He was proud of Kildare and so neighbourhood focused. He raised money to turn a local church into a community centre”. He also was a creative man and wrote, ‘Straws On The Wind’, a play about the effect of industrialization on a small town.

When he died, his family wanted to do something positive to celebrate their father’s life. Taking the three things that he cared about, community, nature and culture, they created ‘Bluebells And Buskers’ two years ago. It’s a great afternoon, set against the backdrop of the woods and a moving tribute to a much-loved man.

Mayor Fiona is no newcomer to organising events. She has been involved with festivals before. Bealtaine and Junefest in Newbridge, and in her hometown of Rathangan, Lughnasa. But it was her brother Brian, the driving force behind the day, who came up with the name for the event. ‘Bluebells’ for the flowers that carpet the woodland floor and ‘buskers’ for the variety of artists and performers who are dotted around the walkways.

“When we started it two years ago we expected 200 to come and almost a thousand turned up. It was a magical day for all of us”. This Sunday, walk along the pathways and you’ll discover performers: singers, poets, musicians sitting beneath a tree or around a corner and what better way to spend an hour or two. Leo, Pat and Claire will also be manning a BBQ, and Fiona’s Mother Mary and friends will be supplying tea and cakes.

On Sunday evening, the community centre will be opening at 8pm with music from local band “Bun os Cionn”.  “Everybody’s welcome and admission is free. It’s a very special day, and an emotional one. It’s one that Dad would have really enjoyed,” she told me. Back in the 1970`s Jimmy spearheaded the task of building the centre for the town and fundraised for it. One of his last wishes was to help refurbish it. To date Bluebells and Buskers has raised a whopping €10,000.

This year, the proceeds will go towards the kitchen. “It’s almost complete, it is a fantastic asset to our town,” said Fiona. The icing on the cake will come later in the year when in November, to mark what would have been her father’s 80th birthday, the Rath Players will perform ‘Straws On The Wind’ in the newly refurbished centre. “He cared about it so much”. I doubt that there will be a dry eye in the house.

Sadly last summer Rathangan suffered another loss when another Jimmy O`Loughlin from Kilmoney passed away. Fiona explained, “He was a cousin, friend and neighbour and as a community we are bereft of the two Jimmy’s”. As a tribute, this year the event is in memory of both men.

Performers at Bluebells and Buskers have ranged from local school children to country and western singer Whizz O Rourke. The audience has enjoyed an eclectic mix of operatic performances from Philip Scott and rock and roll from Pud Barrett. There has been classical guitar from Conor O’Mahoney and a little poetry thrown in too. Frankie Lane will be a new artiste next week. But he’s not the only new kid on the block.

Yes, prepare to be amazed because I’m going to be performing. Singing, dancing, juggling or maybe swinging from a tree, I’ll not disclose. I have ruled out my children’s suggestions of fire eating and sword swallowing, along with tight rope walking and belly dancing. I was going to do something dangerous on roller-skates, maybe even knife throwing, but health and safety stepped in. I might need an assistant. I’m looking forward to taking part and hope that the audience will be patient with me.

Dust off the diary, sharpen the pencil and mark in this Sunday, 3rd May at 2pm. Head for the beautiful Killinthomas Woods. Bluebells and Buskers is a wonderful excuse to bring the whole family down to get outside and experience a little bit of magic.

Fiona O’Loughlin put it well, “It is a little bit of everything that is good about where we live and who we share it with. It’s an opportunity to be in a beautiful place, be entertained by local people, enjoy fresh air and one another”.

See you there.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Blue Suede Shoes in Dublin

This morning, the ten year old played Edelweiss on his out of tune violin for an hour, all the time wearing a gum shield. The eldest teenager lay vomiting in bed, whilst the other one banged her head against the fridge in protest at the lack of sandwich fillings. “Why can’t this fridge should look like the one in Subway?” she groaned. The only child not moaning, sick or playing somber music had burnt the toast.

This was half past eight in the morning and the first tea of the day had not even been made. I sat on a chair with a dog on each knee, my eyes closed and breathing deeply because sometimes when you feel that you are about to go into overload, that’s the best thing to do. I’ve seen the Buddhist monks do it and you never see a stressed Buddhist. The phone went.

“I need you to take me to hospital”. It was Phil in a panic. “Why?” “I’ve got to see an expert about something urgent, are you around?” I looked up at the chaos in the kitchen. I told Phil to be ready at 9.15 and promised to get him to the clinic by 10.30. I filled the kettle, hit the switch and got in the shower and out again in record speed with my own personal violinist accompanying me in the background. 

With no time to drink tea, I reached into the press for ‘the gift’. A concerned friend brought it back from the States. She worries because when I go out in the car I take a mug of tea with me. Just a normal everyday ceramic mug because I don’t like the plastic travel kind. She’s always telling me that it’s dangerous and I might burn myself. I respond by telling her that in twenty years I’ve never spilt a drop.

She came round last summer with what looked like a handle-less green plastic bucket with a white lid on it. “It’s an American travel cup!” she said with glee, showing me how to put in place and twist on and off the chunky lid. I held it in both hands because my hands are small and it was impossible to hold with one alone. I thanked her, secretly believing that never, in a million years, would I need to drink two litres of tea. I put it away thinking that one day it might make a nice plant pot.

Today, with a longish journey ahead of me, I reached in the press for ‘the gift’ it would be ideal. I read the label, KEEPS COFFEE HOT FOR FOUR HOURS. American’s don’t really ‘do’ tea but I do and filled it to the top with Barry’s Gold Blend. I’d have enough of the milky stuff for the journey there and back. I made a note to myself to genuinely thank my concerned friend, grateful that I’d been too disorganized to plant bulbs in it.

The kids got into the car. I followed slowly behind with my arms around the green American travel mug. The lid was twisted safely on. Still, that amount of hot liquid commanded respect. “Where are you going to put it?” asked the violinist. The problem with America is that everything is so BIG. Big bagels, big skyscrapers, big coffee travel mugs and big cars with big travel mug holders in them. It was almost as big as a wheel on my Citroen C4.

“I’ll hold it!” The violinist took it and cross-eyed, stared at it without blinking once all the way to school. Once they had all got out, I put the beast on the front seat and strapped it in with a seatbelt and headed to Phil’s house. “WHAT THE ****” is that?” Phil said as he opened the door. “Barry’s Gold”. “I don’t drink ******** tea”. “It’s not for you. It’s for me”. “What’s with the shoes?” I asked him looking down at his feet.

“New shoes. Penny’s in Newbridge, €8. Brought them for the appointment”. If I am going to see the gynecologist I’ll buy new knickers. Phil was going to see an eye specialist and bought blue suede shoes. He also wore blue socks and matching blue trousers. I unfastened the bucket, he got in and I balanced it between our seats and drove off up the N7.

“Your car is filthy.” Phil is always direct. I love him for that. “You should supply hand gel and one of those white zip through body suits for your passengers” he went on. “I’m going write to RTE and get a film crew to make a TV show about the state of it”.  We got to the Red Cow when it dawned on me that neither of us knew exactly where the specialist clinic was.

“Where now?” I asked, breathing deeply like the Buddhists but this time with eyes open. “I don’t know!” Phil replied, tapping at his phone furiously. “I thought you might have Sat Nav,” he snapped. “I do but I can’t find it”, “WELL IT’S A SURPRISE YOU CAN EVEN FIND THE ****** IGNITION WITH THE MESS IN THIS CAR”. He was now very agitated. This was a serious clinic appointment. I pulled over, putting my foot down and braking a little too heavily.

With a thud, the American travel cup dropped forward, the lid fell off and two litres of tea went over Phil’s blue suede shoes. Like sponges they soaked up most of the warm liquid. What they didn’t soak up, his socks did. If you had the window open this morning you might have heard his screams. He walked into the clinic, half an hour late leaving milky wet footprints behind him.

“I’m getting a ******* taxi next time” he told me when he got back in the passenger seat. “The hairs on your legs grow faster than you drive and I’ve probably picked up a disease from this car”. I’ve just washed out the American travel mug. The hyacinths will looks gorgeous in it next month.

Monday, 23 February 2015

50 Shades of Grey Movie Review

The latest Facebook craze is to tell the world seven random things about yourself. Mine include the fact that I can juggle; that I dislike being called ‘Babe’ and how I may be the only woman with a pulse who has not read 50 Shades of Grey. So when I got a ticket for the first night in Newbridge, I couldn’t wait to go and see what the fuss was all about.

I was given the book as a gift but never got past the first couple of chapters, unlike the rest of the county. For months the car park at school was a silent place as the mums squeezed in a few chapters before the end of school. Car windows were literally steamed up.

Superstore B&Q sent out a letter to all stores last week preparing their staff for the rush in demand for certain DIY essentials that they anticipate the movie will make popular. I asked Moore’s Builders Providers in Newbridge if their management had done they same. “No” the guy behind the counter told me flatly.  But he added that you can buy a masking tape, cable ties and rope trio for less than €15.

EL James wrote the book on a mobile device as she commuted to work. The book, which was universally disliked by reviewers, went on to sell over 100 million copies worldwide. Many women hold 50 Shades Of Grey responsible for putting the sexy back into their relationships. “I’m on FIRE” one friend told me after she’d finished it.

I headed along to the Odeon with Lorna. She read all three books and was madly excited about the whole thing. So was half of Newbridge. It was Valentine’s Day and while my romance was at home, his head over a bowl of hot water treating man flu, I found myself sitting next to a man in his sixties man who was eating popcorn with his left hand and clinging onto his wife’s hand for dear life with the right. He was in the minority; the audience was predominantly female.

The film opens with a wardrobe. Inside, row upon row of clean white shirts, perfectly ironed and beside them, a line of bespoke suits. That automatically sent Lorna’s pulse racing. She is OCD about laundry. Next a shot of a man getting dressed doing up the buttons on the beautifully ironed shirt. This was Christian Grey, a fine looking twenty seven year old billionaire with a helicopter and a thing for grey ties. Jamie Dornan plays him with a lazy eye and slightly odd voice.

Next we meet Anastasia Steele, the young artistic graduate, who is mad about literature. She is so cool that she hangs her bike on the wall of her flat and drives a VW Beetle. They meet when she interviews him for the student newspaper, so far so good. Actress Dakota Johnson, is one brave woman to take on the role.

Twenty minutes in and the tittering started around me. “Is it meant to be a comedy?” I innocently whispered to Lorna. Everyone but me knew what was coming up. Christian arrives in Clayton’s hardware shop, where Anastasia works. He requests masking tape. “Are you redecorating?” she asks. The audience burst into fits of laughter, they knew the story. He flirts, she flirts back and so it begins.

He sends her antique books in the post and she falls for the handsome, mysterious businessman. Fast forward and she arrives in his swanky apartment where Christian leads her to his “playroom”. In his controlling manner, he tells her to “Try and keep an open mind”. With a turn of the handle, his secret is revealed, a dungeon like room with red walls. Hanging from metal rails we see whips, ropes, wrist cuffs and gags. It wasn’t shocking, far from it. It was all very familiar.

There is not a tack room in the county that doesn’t look a little bit like it. Obviously there was no hay, horses or sweeping brushes lying around, and red is not the colour most horsey people go for in their stables but most of Grey’s S&M paraphernalia can be bought locally with ease. Sadistic Grey would love Kildare. He’d spend a fortune in TRI.

Next, without her knowledge, Christian sells Anastasia’s battered VW Beetle. He takes her in his helicopter, in his glider, then for a ride in several of his fast cars. There’s plenty of shots of the sky and the two of them doing loop the loops. Back on terra firma, he buys her a shiny red car of her own and then asks if she will sign a contract.

If she agrees to sign, she will act as submissive to the smartly dressed dominant Christian Grey. The catch is that she will have to willingly take the role of his submissive and agree to be flogged, humiliated and be physically restrained by bondage. For doing so, she gets her own bedroom in his apartment with glitzy wallpaper and a plush headboard. Does she sign and become his slave or leave? I won’t spoil it for the other three people in the county who have not read the book.

Is there much sex in it? Loads. In two hours they had done it over a piano, on a chair, in the bath, tied up hanging from the ceiling, on a bed AND on a bench. That’s not to mention all the slapping, spanking, feathers and ice cubes. This is not a film for the romantic. “There’s much more sex in the book,” Lorna said, sounding a little disappointed half way through. “MORE SEX?” I replied with disbelief. Had she been asleep?

Two hours flew by and by the end of the film I discovered that Christian Grey and I have a few things in common. We’re not very good at romance, we both like flying in gliders and have the very same taste in light fittings. We also have a well-equipped playroom. The difference is that mine is filled with kids kid’s toys – for the time being.