What’s your name and what do you do?
I’m Andrew and, wanting the world to see Northern Ireland for the friendly, creative, cosmopolitan, beautiful, engaging place that nature & the Northern Irish people have made it, and also wanting to show that it’s possible to run a self-sustaining business that customers love while also having zero impact at all on the land that we walk on and while respecting and giving back to the communities that we operate within, I launched a new NI-focussed hiking holiday business called The Inside Trek just a few days before lockdown. A spectacular bit of timing, I must admit!
But, while clearly I’m not hiking anywhere at the minute and holidays still seem a long way away, I’ve been using the enforced time at home to get certain things in place that should make The Inside Trek even better going forward. Stuff like becoming a ‘Pending B Corporation’ and an Accredited Employer with the ‘Living Wage Foundation’, and signing up to ‘1% For The Planet’ and ‘Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency’. If you own or run a business, do check all those out if you’re not already aware of them. There really should be way more businesses from Northern Ireland in each of those initiatives.
Who lives in your home?
Aside from starlings that have flown down my chimney three times since lockdown (turns out birds really don’t get social distancing!), there’s just me here. While that does mean there’s no-one else here to get on any COVID-frayed nerves I might have, you don’t half become aware of the lack of any human contact when you’re locked in by yourself. I’m struggling to imagine what that first post-lockdown hug will feel like (you’d better be ready, mum!). It also seems that being on my own during lockdown results in me giving big long answers to questions!
How would you describe your home?
From the outside, my home is a barn conversion, with a big glass box & a zinc roof put on top of an old stone barn. But it’s the inside perspective that’s become much more relevant recently and I’d describe that as “grounded with a strong sense of place”. From the rural views out that glass box, to the fact that virtually all the items in my home were made on the island of Ireland (a project Maven led for me), to the fact that I only moved back to Northern Ireland from London just before Xmas, I have constant reminders of how creative and vibrant our wee homeland is, and how lucky I am to be able to call such a lovely part of the world home.
What have you enjoyed about your home during the lockdown?
I’ve really loved appreciating the little things about my home that I might not have noticed so much during the bustle of a ‘normal’ day – from the passage of light across the day, to the variations in weather than this country specialises in, to the speed with which nature changes and develops at this time of year. I’m even in serious danger of becoming a proper birdwatcher, given how often I’m picking up the binoculars and ‘The RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds’ (starlings can go ‘do one’, though)!
Is there a DIY job you've got round to that you're proud of?
I’ve compiled an increasing list of DIY jobs that I’ve spotted over my time locked inside. Does that count? Because I haven’t had even the slightest inclination to do any of them! I think I’m hiding behind the excuse that, if I mess them up & injure myself, there’s no-one else to raise the alarm, while the last thing our hospitals need is this eejit showing up with a DIY-inflicted wound. But really it’s because I can think of tons of other things I’d rather do (hello, new Airfix kit of the Titanic)
If you could change anything about your home, what would it be?
I really wish I had a bigger freezer, as, unhelpfully when I’m on my own, I seem to be incapable of cooking less than four portions! I also wish I had solar electricity, alongside the solar water heating that I’ve already got, as I’ve spent a lot of lockdown thinking about how I can cut down both my usage of plastics and my carbon footprint. Although no doubt I’d get it installed and then this cracking weather would disappear immediately.
What’s the most recent thing you’ve bought for your home?
The technically correct answer is a food processor, but I refuse to count something that I bought in a supermarket. So I’ll say this amazing carving knife with a bog oak handle, handmade by Rory Connor from Ballylickey in County Cork (and sourced with the help of Maven, of course). I love the fact that the wood is being given another life 1,000 years down the line, I really value the creativity, love and sweat that Rory will have put into it, and there really is something special about a super sharp, beautiful knife.
What’s been your go-to meal in the last few weeks?
I have definitely been loving cooking up more and more recipes these last few weeks. I’ve had some real faves from the cookbook ‘Stewed’ by Alan Rosenthal for a while. But I’m now steadily working my way through all 80 of this one-pot wonders and they’ve all been lush (if I say so myself). If you can find a copy, buy it (ideally, independently).
But the meal I’m most in love with and would make at any opportunity is a home-made Guinness bacon & cheese burger, with a picante burger sauce and skinny fries. With a whiskey cheese dipping sauce THAT YOU DIP THE BURGER IN AS YOU EAT! (Yes, you read that right.) That cheese dipping sauce is a game changer. Don’t even think about the calories – just do it!
Is there anything you’ve started to do during lockdown that you’d like to continue as ‘normality’ resumes?
During lockdown, I have become addicted to/dependent on the radio on the one hand, and live albums on the other. Both have a living human connection to them that other music doesn’t and, being by myself, I’ve found that surprisingly important and sustaining. My favourite jams? Craig Charles has been an absolute legend in the weekday late afternoon slot on BBC 6 Music, while I have playing Foy Vance’s “Live at Bangor Abbey” louder and more often than I probably should be.