End of an Era in Dublin

For those of us who grew up in 1980s suburban Dublin, “Local landmark nostalgia” isn’t something experienced too often. Aside from the odd ancient shooting lodge, most suburban buildings aren’t much older than our parents and are far less dilapidated. Anything that does need tearing down was no great shakes in the first place and is unlikely to be missed.

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You could say that the Blake’s Restaurant buildings in Stillorgan fell into the latter category. The building that in its hey-day housed three restaurants, Blake’s, Pappagallo’s and Pings could never have been called beautiful. High on an elevated site, it was surrounded by an ugly, tarmacked car-park and did little to enhance the already dubious vista that was/is Stillorgan village. Indeed, its very elevation served to block the only half-decent view in the area, that of the old Stillorgan hill road with its thatched pub and quaint terrace of cottages. It’s planned demolition was never going to rally a protest crowd.

In a previous incarnation, the building was the home of the Swiss Chalet restaurant which served any meat you desired, as long as it was chicken. Even with the sense of an eight-year-old, it seemed like a ridiculous idea to me, although I guess the balance sheet at Nando’s Corp has since proven me wrong.

But back in my day (the day being the mid-eighties), the place was known as Blake’s.

Now, in the mid-eighties, we didn’t have the profusion of restaurants that we currently do. In the mid-eighties, dining out was a Big Deal. Being served boiled, disc-shaped carrots in crescent-shaped, nuclear-hot-or-lukewarm dishes by strangers was something to be revered, and reserved for special occasions. Like the Good Room. And Blake’s, where they sprinkled sawdust on the floor on purpose and every dessert came with a classy cocktail umbrella, was THE place to go if you lived in south county Dublin and had something to celebrate.

My favourite memory of the place is celebrating my confirmation there, because it coincided with my birthday. No one could knock me off my pedestal with that double-whammy of celebratory potential, and where else could you mark such an auspicious occasion but Blake’s, with chicken and chips and a Banana Boat? Stay classy, Stillorgan.

Banana Split

And Blake’s was the restaurant that just kept on giving, because when you got too old for eating (or was it drinking?) the Coke Floats, you could be paid to serve them. My two sisters and I all found gainful employment there. Working in the main restaurant, my sisters had the dubious honour of having to wear straw boaters as part of their decidedly bizarre uniform. It was never decided whether this headgear was utterly cringe-worthy or ironically cool. Either way, it was unhygienic.

I, on the other hand, chose to work in Pappagallo’s, or Blake’s Pizzeria as it was previously known. This smaller restaurant (sixty covers, I still remember) was tucked in behind the main restaurant, up a steep staircase, hidden from view. But inside, it was a cavernous beauty of slightly-sticky, waxed, tablecloths, terracotta tiles and candle wax-encrusted chianti bottles. The pizza chef, who was of indeterminate ethnicity but was definitely not Italian, tossed dough for the pleasure of those lucky enough to sit in the front (non-smoking!) section, and loved to burst our eardrums with his call of PIZZ-AWAY! even if us wait staff were standing right next to him, eh, waiting. There were other items on the menu (chicken cacciatore, anyone?) but everyone knew you only came to Pappagallo’s for the pizza. And it was good.

I loved that job. I took it very seriously. Customers might have heard me ask “smoking or non-smoking” as I ushered them in, but a waitress worth half her salt can tell a smoker a mille off. I was stalling, deciding whether you were going to be a good tipper and should therefore sit in my section, or a first date (nice people: a booth; not nice people: a wobbly table with chairs with the young families in the back), or welcome regulars (Tables 9 or 10), or unwelcome regulars (Tiny Table 1, worst in the house. You’re welcome).

Working in Pappagallo’s as a teenager taught me so much. How to deal with rudeness and arrogance, how to deal with understanding and kindness, how to make money, how to make a knickerbocker glory. How to get candle wax off any known substance, how to stabilise a wine-glass-laden wobbly table in under ten seconds with spirit level accuracy, how to mop a floor.

How to anticipate what people want before they realise they want it. How to be a team player.

I learned how to toss pizza dough, how to eat garlic (in my defence it was still quite exotic in the 1980’s) and how to prank newbies by sending them into Blake’s to ask the manager for a long stand. In which case they were left there. Standing. A Blake’s family in-joke.

Random, inanimate objects like those sticky, gingham tablecloths, and blunt pizza cutters, and long-handled ice-cream spoons and ceiling fans are all indelibly seared onto my happiest, formative memories.

And when I hung up my apron for the last time and got a real, adult job, I reverted to being a paying customer (good tipper, table 10). Later, when I was pregnant and had unexplainable cravings for Pappagallo’s mayonnaise, my long-suffering husband would drive all the way to Stillorgan for a take-out for his cranky wife.

The Pappagallo’s pizza ovens have been cold for over a decade now, the ceiling fans stilled, the chianti caskets quenched. For a time, Blake’s morphed into some awful beach-themed nightclub, the sawdust on the floor being replaced by sand. But now, this week, the sand and the pizza ovens and those terracotta tiles are finally no more. They’ve disappeared along with the rest of the building and its contents, torn down to make way for a shiny new development of student accommodation. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not like the suburbs are short of restaurants.

Pappagallos

But then it’s not just rubble those diggers are loading into endless skips on that elevated site. Mingled in with the rebar and dust are some of the happiest memories of a generation of young Dublin suburbanites. It’s hard to imagine our kids getting nostalgic and weepy over a Nando’s closure. Blake’s was more than a restaurant. It was a landmark. An institution.

It really is the end of an era.

Open Mic Success!

Last night I was lucky enough to be at Dalkey Creates’ Open Mic event in Finnegans’ pub, Dalkey (where Michelle Obama hangs out when she’s in Dublin, dontcha know).

It was a fantastic success, not least because of the diversity of work being read. We had local ladies reading their poetry, stand-up comedians, short stories and rap. This guy, Alex, even showed up and wowed the crowd with his stuff. (He’s in the TV show Vikings….get with it, people.)

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We had a Patrick Kavanagh Award winner, a local pharmacist, Maeve Binchy’s husband Gordon Sewell and a young writer who brought the old craft of story-telling back to life, and managed to quieten an entire rowdy pub as she did it. All writers, some experienced, some starting off, all listening to and enjoying each other’s work.

It was the perfect example of how an Open Mic event should be – complete with a few spot prizes thanks to local businesses and the wonderful host Al Finnegan.

This is why I write. This is why I want to be a part of this life. These people came to share their work with strangers, to entertain, to get a reaction to their writing and to react to another’s. It’s scary – I know – it’s difficult to leave your writing desk and put your work out there to be heard, to be judged.

But do it. Share your work. Share others’. This is what it’s all about. This is life.

http://www.dalkeycreates.com

Tweet Nothings…

Join me on Thursday the 6th October at 8pm GMT (3pm in New York) for a twitter chat about writing classes and workshops.

Do they work, or are they a waste of time and money for struggling writers?

The chat is being hosted by #writerswise and promises to be full of information and other writers’ thoughts on the subject.

So join in – follow me @shewithonee and use the hashtag #writerswise when you tweet!

i-like-writing

Dalkey Creates Writing Festival October 2016

I am super excited to be helping out at the 3rd annual Dalkey Creates writing festival this coming October!

There are workshops and classes planned for every level of writer, from beginners to those ready for publication, and all priced really reasonably. One exciting new event this year is a Meet-the-Editor event with Ciara Doorley of Hachette on Saturday 15th October – an incredible opportunity to meet a real editor in person, and ask the questions you’ve always wanted answered about submitting your writing work!

And no writer should miss out on the Open Mic event being held on Thursday evening, the 13th October in Finnegans pub. It’s free to register, and you will have the ears of the locals (some of whom are famous writers themselves) as you share 5 minutes of your own writing with them. The winner of the Dalkey Creates short story competition will also be announced that evening. With a prize of €1,000 up for grabs, I’m thinking the first round will be on them! LOL.

Some classes are already booked out, and as many of them are limited to 10 places, you have no time to waste in booking yours.

So get creative! Click here for easy online booking or for more info on how to reserve your place at one of the many exciting writing workshops.

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Hey, Author!

Hey, Author! is my new place to find out things about my favourite authors that other blogs just don’t ask. The nitty-gritty. The dirt. The skinny.

Not stuff about their forthcoming books, or their writing process, none of that high-brow shenanigans thank you – no – Hey, Author! is about getting to know the person behind the bestseller.

So let’s get to it.

The next author in my Hey, Author! roll call is Aimee Alexander from Dublin in Ireland, whose book The Accidental Life of Greg Millar is out today from Lake Union Publishing.

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So, Aimee Alexander! We like the look of your book. We might even buy it and read it. But first, there are some things we need to know. What is your:

Favourite night out in your hometown?

A walk on Dun Laoghaire pier or along the seafront in Sandycove followed by dinner at Fallon and Byrne, People’s Park.

Favourite skincare/haircare product?

Anything at all by Aveda – shampoo or skincare.

Favourite book of all time? (Just one!)

I can only do this by asking myself what book I’d love to have written: The Book Thief.

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Favourite clothes shop?

Anything tiny that has little choice but everything I want. I’ll go for Toil & Glitter, Glasthule for now. But it changes.

toil and Glitter

Favourite restaurant anywhere in the world?

Restaurant Jules Verne. The restaurant at the top of the Eiffel Tower. If any man proposed to me up there I’d accept – though I’m technically married! I’d have to disappoint him when we got back down to ground!

Favourite bar anywhere in the world?

The Champagne Bar in the Plazas Hotel, NYC – or maybe it’s their coasters I like! They have butterflies.

champagne

Favourite movie?

I’ve watched Forrest Gump over 14 times but I’m going for Untouchable. It’s French with subtitles but you stop noticing that almost immediately. I love it so much.

Extra Untouchable

Favourite band/musician?

It changes. I get obsessed with a band and over-listen, then have to move on to recover. I’m going for Coldplay because I don’t just love their music but the themes of their songs: stars, magic etc.

coldplay

 Favourite meal?

Anything I don’t have to cook myself. Literally. (The pic below has nothing whatsoever to do with this comment – Ed.)

chef

Favourite tipple?

Peroni.

 

Well, we hope you won’t order a Peroni the next time you are in the New York Plaza, Aimee! You look like a champagne girl to us!

So now you know all the important details about Aimee, but if you want to know more, you can find her on Twitter here @aimeealexbooks

Thanks for sharing Aimee, and best of luck with The Accidental Life of Greg Millar!

greg millar cover

Be sure to follow me here to read more Hey, Author! posts. Then you can go stalk your fav authors in swanky places like the Champagne Bar in the NYC Plaza.

You’re welcome.

Sheena x

Hey, Author!

Hey, Author! is my new place to find out things about my favourite authors that other blogs just don’t ask. The nitty-gritty. The dirt. The skinny.

Not stuff about their forthcoming books, or their writing process, none of that high-brow shenanigans thank you – no – Hey, Author! is about getting to know the person behind the bestseller.

So let’s get to it.

The next writer on my Hey, Author! list is the lovely Ava McCarthy from Dublin in Ireland, whose new thriller Dead Secret is out now. When Ava isn’t writing crime fiction, she’s busy doing whatever it is nuclear physicists do, so I’m going to take her beauty products tips very seriously.

Ava-McCarthy

So, Ava McCarthy! We like the look of your book. We might even buy it and read it. But first, there are some things we need to know. What is your:

Favourite night out in your hometown?

Drinks in a cosy Dublin pub, followed by a good dinner. Favourite restaurant of the moment is Toscana in Dame Street.

 

Favourite skincare/haircare product?

John Frieda Frizz Ease – stops the hair turning into a chrysanthemum on the walk from the pub to the restaurant.john_frieda-656x478.png

Favourite book of all time? (Just one!)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It started a world of story-telling for me and my children, and the shared memories are a huge part of their childhood.

Favourite clothes shop?

Oasis on Stephen’s Green. Miraculously, there’s always something that fits!

Favourite restaurant anywhere in the world?

My local pub, The Wishing Well in Blackrock, Dublin. Perfect for family outings: nice food, good value; always sport on the TV for husband and son, while myself and daughter talk books & film.

Favourite bar anywhere in the world?

The Horseshoe Bar in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Someone once handed me an engagement ring there… (Awwww…..! Ed.)

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Favourite movie?

The Bourne Identity. Great thriller, and Matt Damon can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned.

Favourite band/musician?

Adele. Very talented lady. Singers are one thing, but singer-songwriters are artists that create something special.

Favourite meal?

Scampi and chips. It’s been my official birthday meal ever since I was seven years old.

scampi

Favourite tipple?

That’s easy: a big warm glass of fruity Merlot. Oh, and leave the bottle…

wine

A lady after my own heart, Ava! And thanks for some great ideas for places to eat in Dublin!

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Ava’s new novel Dead Secret is out now, and if you enjoy that (which I know you will) don’t forget to check out her other books including her Harry Martinez series of thrillers.

You can follow Ava on twitter and on her website too.

Keep watching out for more Hey, Author! posts right here, very soon!