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I had the most spectacular walk in Sligo last weekend and wanted to share a few pics. November is a very special time in the west, the quality of the light is quite exceptional and when the day is bright and cold the views are out of this world.

Lough Gill in Sligo is one of my favourite places to bring visitors. It has an unusual scale for an irish lake- it’s vast yet comprehensible and meets the forests and mountains in incredibly pleasing ways. At times of the year it strongly reminds me of a North American landscape, particularly in the autumn with the colours of the leaves and the winter sky in the evening.  Yeats wrote regularly about the lake, and it’s the home of his infamous Lake isle of Inishfree. It makes for a wonderful drive too, circling you from the Ballinode side of Sligo town right round to Carraroe, and is a perfect thing to do with a car on a less than beautiful day – with regular stop off opportunities at Parkes Castle, Dromahair, Slish Wood and Dooney Rock.

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I regularly stop at Dooney Rock with its glorious views over the span of the lake – its one of the few places where you can see how Knocknarea and Benbulben talk to each other across the Sligo landscape – but this weekend I had a friend with a baby in tow so even a light climb was out of the question with the buggy. We decided to try Slish Wood which has a super walking path all along the lake, perfect for a buggy.

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The light was insane – it was nearing sunset (about 4pm) and the lake has never looked so still. It was a perfect mirror for the sky as you can see in these photos. None of these have any post-production or photoshop trickery involved – they are just iPhone pics of how it was in reality.  If you want information on the Slish Wood walking trail visit the excellent new site SligoWalks.ie.

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Today is a damn great day, and I’m borrowing this beautiful pic from Donal Dineen to express it. The pic popped into my inbox today and happens to perfectly sum up my mood – internally I’m jumping for joy, with a whole bunch of open sky ahead of me. Today is the first day I officially don’t have to take medication for Leukaemia in two and half years. It’s been a long time coming, but it tastes all the better for it.

I’ve blogged about my diagnosis before – APML or Acute Promyelocytic Mylogenous Leukemia- which I was diagnosed with in August 2010.  In short – I was lucky, as Leukaemias go this one is rare, but very very treatable.  I had 6months of in hospital chemo and then 2 years of “maintenance” which is basically chemo-lite – a mix of chemo tablets and ATRA – the APML game changer.

Now, tonight, for the first time in over two years, I don’t have to reach out and take one of those tablets, and it’s an odd feeling.  It’s the best thing ever, of course, to know that it’s at my back,  but the temptation to add in the caveat “for now” is overwhelming.  It seems impossible to think it could be over, just like that.  I’m sure it’s not, I’m sure I’ll always hold the possibility of a return, but statistically and medically speaking I’m Leukemia free and highly likely to stay that way forever more.

It’s hard to get my head around – not least of all that I won’t have that nightly reminder, by way of one pill or another, that I’m sick/have been sick (the language can be confusing) and that the time between hospital appointments will stretch out some more so that I can begin to forget. I can’t quite imagine what that will feel like, but in some ways I don’t want to forget.

While I do want to start to reclaim my body, start to take ownership of it again, I don’t want to forget the experience. It’s going to sound odd but there are parts of it that I feel thankful for, thankful for the lessons it taught me about love and support and openness. That there was a whole host of people ready to catch me, in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. It’s utterly impossible to list them, but over the last 2 and a half years, and especially the first  6 months, but I have to say a huge thank you to them all. You all know who you are, the people who sent me things to distract and relax, sent me words and pictures to support and escape, sent me music and love and news and things to laugh about and think about…all those that helped me to stay connected, stay sane, stay hopeful. And since then, all those that check in, and mind me and love me and give me work and guidance and things to do, and helped me ease back in to my life, a life that is forever changed for the better.

There is nothing like an illness to stop you in your tracks. To teach you who you are, who your friends are and how extraordinary people are if you let them in – and actually, even if you don’t. I’ve said it before but if you’ll forgive me saying it again, my family and my friends are the best in the world and so overwhelmed me with their love and support that it’s hard to talk about. That they could be there for me yet normalise it all was the best cure. Not to mention every single nurse, doctor, attendant, caterer, cleaning person, porter, just everyone on Burkitt’s Ward in St. James’ Hospital who took extraordinary care of me, and the team, especially my consultant Patrick Hayden and my specialist nurse Lorraine, who continued to do so as an outpatient.

If I could do one thing to repay them all, it would be to ask everyone who reads this, everyone who can, to give blood. I literally lived off blood transfusions and platlet transfusions while I was at my worst, and it was those anonymous people hadn’t made the ultimate donation things would be very different for me I’m sure.

So, thank you all. It took a village but I couldn’t have done it alone. I just hope you’re all ready and waiting to help me rip it for the the next 2 and a half years- I think I may have earned it!

There’s something about September that always makes me feel like it’s the real “new year”. It’s the returning back to school vibe that has a sort of starting over feel to it, and the changing weather changes the sort of music I want to listen to too. As a result I’ve been buying up  bunch of new albums over the last week that I wanted to share – hope you enjoy.

1. First up is a beautiful mini album from Nils Frahm called Screws. 

He’s a spectacular pianist with a minimal sound that I adore. I hadn’t realised that he had recently broken his thumb, and can only imagine how devastating that must be for any musician, let alone a pianist. Like so many others though he seemed compelled to write through his recovery and has released a stunning mini album called Screws. His comments about what it meant to have to “stop” int he midst of a busy whirl really rang true for me, and it’s worth reading the story on his site here. He concludes with the following thoughts about these 9 little tunes:

 “they have helped me feel less annoyed about my accident and reminded me that any good is something i can only achieve, when i am making the most out of what i’ve got”

Best of all- the album is available free to download from the link above.

2. As it happens Nils Frahm also appears on Efterklang‘s new offering Piramida, which came out just last week. (He appears on Black Summer, Monument and to great effect on Dreams Today)

It’s a beautiful album that grew from a wonderful core concept  and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I’m a big fan of Efterklang’s joyful tunes and orchestral leanings and it’s giving me a badly needed lift at the moment. It’s picked up the obligatory negative Pitchfork review but I disagree with pretty much everything they’ve said. I love to see a clear concept or originating point for an album and I think the atmosphere of the very specific geographical location they inhabit for Piramida really comes through on the album. I saw them perform the album live just  a few days before its launch – they were brought over by the brilliant Mary Hickson from Cork Opera House in association with Absolut Fringe- and that’s really the way to experience it if you can catch them live at all. I think I counted a 20 strong orchestra with all manner of sounds and voices in the mix and for me the whole thing soared. You can pick Piramida up on itunes with a rather lovely digital booklet that has photographs from the arctic town that inspired it. You can delve into videos and stories from their trip on their site here>

3. And then, as they say, on to something completely different.  Possibly the best collaboration conceived of late – David Byrne and St. Vincent with Love this Giant. 

Whoever dreamt this collaboration up is a genius- their voices were meant to be heard together. While I admire them both hugely I find this album somehow is even greater than the sum of its parts. Together, they go to a new place, and the brass provides a compulsive swing to the record that I love. There’s a great little review on the NY Times if you want to know more about those brass players here>

4. and to end – an irish offering. I finally got to spend some time with Maria Doyle Kennedy‘s beautiful new album Sing this week.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Maria’s unique voice, way back since the Commitment days, and it’s no cliche that she’s found her voice on Sing. The songs are all terrific and her voice is outstanding throughout, but the addition of the swooping banjo is the winner for me. Stand out tracks are The Silence, Am I Choosing Right and The Most Beautiful People are Broken, and having heard the latter performed acoustically with Kieran Kennedy to staggering effect at an event I was involved in last week, I’d get booking tickets for Vicar Street next week pronto – she’s launching the album there on Sat next and it’s so worth hearing her live. No word as to whether any of the album’s male guests – Paul Brady, Damien Rice and John Prine – are joining here though.

If you miss the launch though it looks like she’ll be back in Ireland in November with dates in Limerick, Cork and a host of other places. See her site for more here>

The rest of my listening time has been going to Donal Dineen and his recent Body and Soul set – totally appeasing the need for some down and durty dance – listen to the set and see the track listing here>

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If you want to get a great online guide to what's on in Sligo then head over to Sligo Events or if Music is your bag head to Sligo Music

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