Just over a week ago Michael got a letter from Warburtons congratulating him on his ten years service with the company For that ten years he now gets £100 to spend on Extra Dough (the money variety, not the sort you make bread out of!) and he can choose whether to have it added to his wage, spend it on the website or take the equivalent in vouchers. The letter was followed earlier this week by a card personally signed by Brett Warburton, executive director and co-owner of the company.
Now just to avoid any possible confusion, Michael is actually his middle name and he’s always been called that by me, family and close friends, but for some reason at work everyone calls him by his first name, Sean, and that’s who the letter and card were addressed to.
The Warburtons bakery isn’t far from home and I remember if we ever passed nearby when Michael was quite young he always said that the aroma of baking bread smelt more like toast, so it was always a joke between us through the years that Warburton’s were making toast again. Right from being so young he always said he wanted to work there and when he left school at 16 it was the first place he applied at for a job but unfortunately he didn’t get taken on at the time.
Fast forward through several years and other jobs and he eventually went to work at Warburtons through an agency ; he was with the agency for just over four years before being taken on as an official Warburtons employee and since then has worked his way up to a job which carries a fair amount of responsibility. His shifts are long – usually 12 hours – but the work is varied, he enjoys what he does and he gets a decent amount of days off and holidays. Neither of us knew, all those years ago when he was very young, that he would eventually achieve his goal and work for the largest bakery brand in the UK – as his mum I’m proud of him. And yes, it does still smell like they are making toast!
My final morning in Roscrea saw me getting the 9am coach to the airport ; my flight wasn’t until 1.50pm but I would have been cutting it a bit fine if I got the next coach at 11am, especially if it was late, so I was better being on the safe side. Michael wasn’t coming home until two days later but he came up to the bus stop with me to see me off and for once the coach was bang on time. With a slight delay going through Dublin city centre I arrived at the airport at 11.20 with a good couple of hours to kill, and once I was through the security check (with no problems) I spent some time looking round the shops before getting a sandwich and a drink and whiling away some more time in a quiet corner.
As I’d been walking through the airport building I’d noticed a run of large back-lit pictures on the walls, advertising Skoda cars – the pictures were based on several Irish myths and legends and though each one prominently featured a car I thought they were lovely enough to take a photo of. Luckily that section of the airport wasn’t too busy just then so I got my shots without anyone getting in the way.
Although the plane from Manchester a few days previously had been packed the one going back wasn’t ; I’d pre-booked the same window seat but with no-one sitting in the two seats next to me I could have spread myself out if I’d wanted to. There was no-one in the two rows of seats behind me or across the aisle and only one person in front of me – that’s the first time I’ve known a flight to or from Manchester not to be full.
As we got over to the English side of the water I tried to make out where we were but though the day was cloudy and I didn’t recognise anywhere I still took a few photos. It’s only since I’ve been back home and done a lot of studying of the map book and Google Maps that I’ve realised exactly where we were – passing a part of North Wales which I’m very familiar with.
It was 2.40pm when the plane landed at Manchester and by the time I’d got through the airport and walked all the way to the station I’d just missed a train and had to wait half an hour for the next one. Although it wasn’t ideal it was only a minor irritation and I could live with it, but what I didn’t know then was how many things would go wrong in less than 24 hours. But regardless of any disasters to come I’d still had a really nice time in Ireland – and my day in Dublin had inspired me to want to go back to see more in the not-too-distant future.
A grey and very windy morning on Thursday November 29th saw me leaving home at 8.30am for a mini break in Ireland during which I would attend the second anniversary mass for Michael’s dad and uncle Jimmy ; Michael was also travelling over that day but while I was going on the mid-day flight his wasn’t until 3.15pm. Leaving the van with Sparky the mechanic so he could do a minor job on it while I was away I got a taxi to the station and was just in time to get the 9.20 train to the airport ; I had loads of time to kill once I got there but I’d rather be early than on the last minute.
With only a very small case on wheels and a small backpack I had no luggage to check in so I just went straight to the security check area, and that’s when I had a very odd experience. I made sure I’d put my phone, all my money and anything else in my backpack so I had nothing on my person at all ; the backpack, case and my jacket all went through the scanner with no problem but as I walked through the body scanner a young woman pulled me to one side, asked me to sit on a chair and take my trainers off. These were then sent through another scanner, which was fine, but then she asked me to hold my right leg out and she patted it down from my knee downwards – how very bizarre! As far as I know my right leg is exactly the same as my left so why she would want to check one and not the other seemed very strange to me – I don’t know what she thought she would find but I was given the all-clear and was then free to collect all my belongings and make my way to the boarding gate.
By the time the plane had arrived at the gate it was absolutely pouring down, and with the high wind as well I fully expected to hear a ‘delayed’ or ‘cancelled’ message but everything went ahead as normal and take-off was just a few minutes after mid-day. Above the rain clouds it was gloriously sunny and looking out at the cotton wool clouds beneath the plane it was hard to believe that somewhere underneath all that lot it was probably still pouring down. It wasn’t quite as sunny on the approach to Dublin airport and it was still very windy so I expected a bit of a bumpy landing, but whoever the pilot was he was certainly good at his job as the landing was so smooth it was hard to know when the plane actually touched the tarmac.
With no luggage to wait for I was soon out of the main part of the airport ; I had an hour to wait for the coach to Roscrea so I got myself a sandwich, a drink and a magazine and spent some time in a reasonably quiet corner before making my way out to the airport bus station. The route from the airport to the city centre goes through a tunnel nearly three miles long and when the coach emerged at the city end the sun was shining properly ; travelling along the south side of the River Liffey I couldn’t resist getting a shot through the coach window of the Custom House across the other side then I settled down for the rest of the journey to Roscrea.
It was almost dark by the time I got to Nellie’s ; the door was unlocked so I just walked straight in (which is what everyone else does) and this time I felt more comfortable about doing so. Trixie got all excited to see me and spent several minutes doing zoomies round the room and throwing her tug rope about so I made a big fuss of her while Nellie made a coffee. By that time Michael had landed safely at the airport and was waiting for his 5.15 coach ; it wouldn’t get into Roscrea until 8.15 so once I’d had a meal with Nellie, washed up the pots and put them away I walked round to the bus stop to meet him when he arrived – and that’s when I met with the strangest of coincidences.
There was a young woman waiting for the coach and I’d been standing there for a few minutes when she mentioned that someone across the road was trying to attract my attention – it turned out to be Nellie who was on her way out somewhere and she just wanted to let me know that she had left the door unlocked for me. When I got back to the bus stop the young woman asked me how I knew Nellie and when I said she’s my son’s aunt a look of incredulity spread over her face as she realised who my son is – and it turned out that she was Tina, one of Michael’s friends who he’s mentioned often in conversation with me but who I’ve never met.
It was lovely to meet Tina but we didn’t have time to chat as the coach arrived, and when Michael got off he was just as surprised to see her. With a quick hug she was on the coach and gone and Michael and I walked back to Nellie’s where we spent the rest of the evening watching tv before turning in for a relatively early night. Just as I’d expected I was bed sharing again with Nellie but this time I didn’t feel too bad about it, and anyway by the time I went to bed I felt too tired to care!
Back at the beginning of August Ryanair were advertising on tv a big ‘flight sale’ with thousands of seats for only £9.99. That sounded like a good deal so having already planned to go over to Ireland at the end of this month I decided on my dates and got on the Ryanair website to book my flights. The flight from Manchester to Dublin was indeed only £9.99 but there was nothing so cheap on the day I wanted to come back so the return flight cost £31.60.
Now as from January this year Ryanair’s revised baggage policy only allows just one small bag per person on the plane where previously it’s been two, so for the privilege of taking a second bag on board and using an overhead locker you now have to purchase ‘priority boarding’, otherwise the second bag goes in the hold. For the sake of a few days I only take a small backpack and a small wheeled pull-along case so as I don’t want all the faff of checking a bag in before departure then waiting for it to come round on the carousel at the other end I purchased the priority boarding at £6 each way. Then there was the cost of reserving my seats – £3 each way – so the total for both flights came to £59.59 ; I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t get both flights for the advertised £9.99 but compared to other airlines the cost was still cheap enough.
Up to yesterday Michael hasn’t known what his shift pattern for the next few weeks at work would be so I couldn’t book his flights until last night ; with his days off plus a couple of days holiday he’ll be going over on the same day as me but coming back two days after me. As our little sojourn is only four weeks away I expected the flights for him would cost as much as, or even more than, mine, so I was quite surprised last night to find that they were only £9.99 each way, and that’s without any deals or special offers. Adding on the price of reserved seats the total cost to him is just £25.98 – admittedly he hasn’t added on the cost of priority boarding but he doesn’t need it as he’ll only be taking a backpack, but even if he did have that extra cost the total price would still be over £21 cheaper than my flights.
So on those prices I think maybe for any future trips to Ireland I’ll ignore any of Ryanair’s ‘deals’ or ‘special offers’ and just book a couple of weeks or so in advance. Of course there’s a chance that any future flights on the days and times I want them may not be as low as £9.99 but it’ll be worth a try – and last night’s experience just goes to show that sometimes special offers and deals don’t work out as good as you think they will.
Last weekend Michael and I went out for tea as we often do on Sundays – I picked him up from work just after 5pm and we went to a pub/restaurant and carvery twenty minutes drive from home, a place we’d never been to before but which was recommended by someone who works where I clean in the evenings. When we got there we found that the large car park was very full and I remarked to Michael that it seemed to be a very popular place – and we found out exactly how popular it was when we got in there. The place was absolutely heaving and we were told it would be a 45 minute wait for a table – we were okay with that, we could sit and have a drink while we were waiting but as we went to the bar we realised that there was nowhere to sit once we’d got one. Every single table was set or reserved for dining and those who were just drinking were all standing – and the queue for the carvery was so long it would probably have taken another 45 minutes to get our meals once we’d got a table, so we decided to give up and go somewhere else.
One place we’d been to several times was a twenty minute drive back in the vague direction of home so as it had been a while since our last visit we decided to go there – and I should have known something was wrong when we got there and found only four cars in the car park. The place was very quiet although there were some people dining, so we found a table (we had lots to choose from) and decided what we would have – a mixed grill for Michael and for me, something I wouldn’t normally eat, an all-day breakfast. So Michael went to order but was back a minute later to say that the guy behind the bar had told him the grill had been turned off so we needed to choose an alternative – okay, we could live with that (just) so Michael opted for the half roast chicken, I decided on the fish, chips and mushy peas, and Michael went back to order. Ten minutes later, while we were sitting having our drinks, the guy from behind the bar came and told us that the kitchen was now closed for a major clean and we couldn’t have a cooked meal at all but they may be able to do us some sandwiches so would we like to look at the menu? At which point I told him not to insult my intelligence as we’d already looked at the menu (twice!) so as we couldn’t have what we’d ordered we were leaving – and even then it took another ten minutes to sort out a refund for the meals we couldn’t have.
By that time I was so hungry I could have eaten the hind legs off a donkey so I suggested going to the one place where we could be sure of getting a good meal – our regular haunt, the Black Dog at Belmont – but as we were on the way there we passed a place Michael had been to in previous times so we ended up there instead. We had no trouble getting a table or ordering the meals we’d chosen, and the service was excellent, but in comparison to the Black Dog the portion sizes were smaller and the prices were much dearer – it was good but no better than the Black Dog, and at nearly £40 for two main meals and two drinks I don’t think we’ll be going there again.
The one place we definitely won’t be going to again – at least not for a long long time – is the one where we couldn’t get a meal at all. Discussing the situation later we both said that just after 6pm on a Sunday was a strange time to close the kitchen for a major clean so I wondered if maybe they were getting ready for a hygiene inspection. It used to be a really good place to eat – dog friendly too – and was well known locally for its excellent fish-and-chip meals, but the online reviews over the last few months aren’t good. Many of them say the food is awful and the place in general is dirty and falling apart – it seems that it changed hands about twelve months ago and the new owners (some pub chain I’ve never heard of) don’t seem to be investing in the place or their staff – a shame really as it was a nice place once. So with not being able to sit down anywhere at the first place and not getting a meal at the second, followed by a more expensive meal at the third, I’d be quite happy to stick to the Black Dog every time from now on.
You send a text to the wrong person and you have a son with a daft sense of humour.
I usually start work at my morning job at 7.15 but for the last few weeks three of the guys have been going in at 6am to do some extra work, so I’ve been going in early too when I can as the earlier I start the earlier I can finish and get back home for breakfast. So just after midday today I sent Mick, one of the guys, a text – “Is anyone in early tomorrow?” I didn’t get a reply straight away so assumed he was busy and put it out of my mind, then three hours later, out of the blue, I got a text from Michael – “Yeah, there’s about a hundred of us” Of course I didn’t connect Michael’s text to me with the earlier one I’d sent to Mick so I wondered what on earth he was on about as it didn’t make any sense.
Another three hours later I’d managed to finish my evening job early for once so was in time to pick Michael up when he came out of his own work just after 6pm – and as he got in the van his first words were “What was that daft text you sent me earlier on?” So then it dawned on me – I’d sent my text to him instead of to Mick at work. No wonder Mick hadn’t replied! Of course when Michael got the text he wondered what I was playing at as he knew that I knew he would be starting work at 6am tomorrow – so for a bit of fun he’d sent a silly text back to me. While we were still in his works car park I re-sent the text to the person I should have sent it to in the first place and just a few minutes ago I got a reply.
We’ve both had a good laugh about the confusion – in fact I’m giggling now as I write this – but it’s now got me thinking. The bosses at both my evening jobs are called Michael so it’s a good job I didn’t mistakenly send the text to either of them or one of them would be thinking his cleaner has finally lost the plot!
Last Sunday Michael and I went out for a meal at the Black Dog pub/restaurant in Belmont village just over three miles from home – it’s somewhere we go to regularly and though there are places to eat a bit closer to home we like that one as we are guaranteed to get a good meal at a reasonable price. After a quick study of the menu Michael opted for braised beef with melting onions and I chose the chicken and ham pie, which is home made and came with mash, vegetables and gravy – I’ve had that a few times before and it’s always been very nice, however….
Our meals were served in the few minutes it took me to go to the loo and when I sat back at the table it struck me that the crimped edge of the pie crust looked more well done than usual, though it was only when I cut into the pie – or tried to – that I realised it wasn’t just well done, it was positively burnt, and not just the top edge either. The side was also overdone and both that and the top were so hard that I couldn’t cut into them – flipping the pie upside down the bottom was okay so I cut into that, dug out all the filling and ate the meal, clearing the plate except for the burnt parts of the pie crust. Of course when the waitress came to clear the plates away she asked if everything was okay so I said I’d had better and pointed out the burnt pie crust – she immediately apologised and said she would have a word with the kitchen staff.
It was while Michael was at the bar getting us another drink that the waitress came back and put some money on the table, saying it was a refund for my meal and that she was sorry I was disappointed with it. Now I could have understood being given a refund if I’d sent the meal back as inedible after only a couple of mouthfuls, but apart from the burnt pie crust I’d eaten the lot. Presumably it had been left in the oven a bit too long and it was just a one-off mistake so I was happy just knowing that she would point it out to whoever was in the kitchen – I certainly didn’t ask for, or expect, a full refund. Needless to say, when Michael came back from the bar he was just as surprised as I was.
As we were on our way out later on I saw the waitress standing near the bar so I went over to thank her for the refund and she was really nice, apologising again for the meal not being up to normal standards. Now of all the times Michael and I have eaten there that’s the first time anything has been wrong with the food – it wasn’t exactly a major disaster anyway and it certainly wouldn’t put us off eating there again, so I think the waitress, and the establishment, deserve a big ‘Well done’ for dealing with things so promptly and efficiently.