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In a vaccinated New York, we look forward to the day we can travel to Ireland

Voice Of EU



Mark O’Toole is a UCD graduate from Bray, Co Wicklow, where his family used to own the Harbour Bar. He has lived and worked in New York City for almost 25 years. He is currently making a documentary about life in the city under Covid-19 and his experiences during there during the pandemic. He is a writer and producer based in New York

The sunlight is intense today, with discernable beams filling any gaps afforded by the towering trees of Central Park. Nature is in full bloom; daffodils bright yellow against the green grass, the cherry blossom trees a resplendent pink, adding a splash of colour against the blue sky. Ducks waddle to and fro before eventually taking to the pond. Voices are audible. Children are playing and laughing. Joggers trundle past. A crystal blue sky serves as the canopy for the scene. Life in NYC is back.

Mark O’Toole and his wife Anosha celebrate their son Aidan’s sixth birthday with their daughter Alanna
Mark O’Toole and his wife Anosha celebrate their son Aidan’s sixth birthday with their daughter Alanna

All of this is in stark contrast to a year ago. I documented that grim scene for Irish Times Abroad. New York’s huddled masses yearning to breathe safe were either locked away indoors or had simply packed up and left the Big Apple for less affected areas. And the statistics were on their side. NYC faced mounting death tolls. On some days close to 1,000 deaths were added to the tally; one of them a family member.

Early on little was known about how the virus was transmitted. So, out of an abundance of caution or irrational fear, deliveries were wiped down with disinfectant, with whatever Lysol disinfectant wipes that could be found. We worried about food shortages, toilet paper became the coin of the realm, homeschooling became the new normal. And we wondered if our government was lying to us. A crisis within a crisis.

We still wear masks and practise social distancing. New Yorkers are not yet ready to refill Yankee Stadium. So there’s no euphoria, but there is cautious optimism

Then, on the way to the apocalypse, a funny thing happened. Around the end of June last year, some green shoots were spotted. Shops, hairdressers and restaurants started to open outdoors. My birthday this February was celebrated outside during a snow storm. Heat lamps worked in conjunction with alcohol to either warm my freezing toes or simply forget about them.

NYC has recently allowed 75 per cent in-person dining. Cinemas are open. Museums are open. There are no travel restrictions. I’m able to get my daily 10-mile run in without obstruction. A full re-opening is expected July 1st – fittingly, just in time for Independence day.

But these freedoms were hard to come by. Some 50,000 people died from Covid in New York state. So there is no going back to the old ways. We still wear masks and practise social distancing. New Yorkers are not yet ready to refill Citi Field or Yankee Stadium. So there’s no euphoria, but there is cautious optimism. Ireland may be a low ebb right now. Over a year into this pandemic, we are all fatigued. But help is on the way. Vaccines are being rolled out.

Mark O’Toole celebrating his birthday outside in February 2021 during a snowstorm
Mark O’Toole celebrating his birthday outside in February 2021 during a snowstorm

What a difference a year makes. The new Biden administration has started the process of restoring faith in good government and the American “can do” spirit. The entire response has been a testament to American ingenuity, enabling development and delivery of all new vaccines in under a year. Everyone in New York who is at least 12 years old and up is eligible for a shot. I’ve just had my second shot of the Moderna vaccine.

But the best laid plans of mice and men almost went awry. The day I was scheduled to get my first shot, my family attended a close friend’s St Patrick’s Day back garden brunch. It was two couples and their kids. It was a beautiful warm day and we spent it mostly outdoors, except for bathroom trips and food runs. Later that day, as we were getting our coveted shots, we were notified that our friend’s maskless nanny had tested positive for Covid. We were all overcome with a paranoid fear for ourselves, the kids, our friends and that other couple. How could this happen? We started to think back on the day – what did we touch? How many times were we inside? How close were we to that nanny? Our friend? Each other? The irony of being exposed to Covid right at the finish line was not lost on me. And entirely my fault. The lure of Irish sausages could have been my undoing. For the next 10 days were we in isolation. I was pissed at my stupidity.

New York City does not feel like the mausoleum it was last year. Sure, tourist counts are still way down, but it does feel like village life is returning within the confines of the great city

A PCR test cleared us all of Covid. With swabs stuffed up their noses, my children thought it was a nose tickle party because it came with lollipops after. My friend, who hosted the brunch, was not so lucky. He tested positive. But as the luck of the Irish would have it, he did not develop anything more than feeling tired. No serious illness, no hospital visit. He was fortunate.

But it was an alarming reminder that this virus, along with its more infectious variants, is still out there, undiscerning and present until we reach some level of herd immunity. While that light is shining bright at the end of the tunnel, it was a prescient reminder that until I’m fully vaccinated, I’m still at risk for myself and others.

It’s disheartening to see Ireland in the same position New York was 12 months ago. I feel for my mother, essentially isolated from her family. My now three-year-old daughter has no memory of meeting her Nanna. The last time was when she was one and a half years-old. Facetime is not a substitute for human connection.

Even if I wanted to, I can’t go to Ireland now, no exceptions even for fully vaccinated people like myself, because of the new quarantine policies. All designed to make us stay away. Even despite these restrictions, with infection rates still spreading, never have the actions of so few impacted so many. Now with vaccine availability in NYC, we are looking forward to the day we can all reunite and come to Ireland.

Meanwhile, 3,000 miles away, New York City does not feel like the mausoleum it was last year. Sure, tourist counts are still way down, but it does feel like village life is returning within the confines of the great city. The hard-core locals remain. Sightseeing tours have made a cautious return, this time on a more private and intimate basis. Spring is in the air. There’s a bounce in my step.

If I keep my head down for a few more weeks, maybe I’ll get that summer holiday after all and my kids will get a chance to meet their grandmother again. And maybe you will too. Keep hope alive.

Mark O’Toole’s blog is now part of the New York Historical Society museum’s collection. His digital diary is the first the society has run.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email with a little information about you and what you do

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Godwin submits plans for Dorset mixed-use development (GB)

Voice Of EU



Godwin Developments has submitted a planning application for Woodbury Park, a brand-new commercial development located at a prominent 4.85-acre site in Bere Regis, Dorset. Proposals include four purpose-built drive thru and drive to roadside retail units, with renowned restaurant brands PopeyesStarbucks and McDonald’s already lined up to take space, which has been designed to their specifications.


The scheme will also feature a 12,000ft² block of up to eight units, with associated parking and turning facilities. The units will be two storeys high, with the flexibility to combine into larger floorplates, if required by potential tenants. The block will be built speculatively and will target BREEAM Very Good, including features such as air source heat pumps, low energy lighting and highly efficient building fabric, to name a few.


Situated off the Townsend Roundabout at the northern entry point of Bere Regis, the site benefits from a high passing traffic flow of over 27,000 daily vehicles. It occupies a key location at the intersection of the A31 and A35 alongside the main arterial route connecting Poole and Bournemouth to Dorchester.


The Woodbury Park scheme will further Godwin’s commitment to local regeneration and job creation by enabling up to 250 new employment opportunities. Roles are anticipated to be primarily in retail, distribution and logistics, as well as services, manufacturing, technology and the creative industries. Local people will also benefit from the inclusion of several EV charging points, the first in the area.


Claudine Tracey, Development Manager at Godwin Developments, said: “The site’s high traffic flow, lack of similar offering close by, and proximity to existing Shell garage and trade park make Woodbury Park a sought-after location for a range of occupiers – including coffee and quick service restaurant brands. We are also delighted to be delivering the UK’s first Popeyes drive thru as the company expands its footprint in this country. In addition, our development will deliver a variety of local employment opportunities for Bere Regis through the provision of flexible industrial and logistics space suitable for new and existing businesses. The scheme at Bere Regis showcases Godwin’s unique capability to successfully combine industrial and roadside retail to maximise a site’s potential through complementary uses.”


Stuart Pratt, Director at Godwin Developments, commented: “The recent boom in takeaway food consumption and hyper-local convenience shopping is bringing ever more exciting brands to the roadside retail sector. At the same time, demand for industrial and logistics space is continuing to grow with units of varied sizes – including trade parks – experiencing a substantial lack of supply. For these reasons interest from investors into both sectors has been very strong in the past year; and we expect the trend to continue throughout 2022 on the back of strong consumer fundamentals.”

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Barings and HBD secure planning for London logistics scheme (GB)

Voice Of EU



Barings and HBD have secured detailed planning for a strategic logistics scheme in Rainham, London, transforming a 20-acre brownfield site. The new development, Momentum London, is being delivered by Barings and HBD in a joint venture partnership. It will create 381,814ft² of new logistics and industrial space across four units ranging from 41,000 -171,000ft².


The scheme will target Net Zero Carbon, BREEAM “Excellent” and an EPC “A+” rating. This is being achieved by dynamic design, careful consideration of materials, zero use of fossil fuels, maximizing photovoltaic solar panels, battery storage and intelligent building systems. The units will be 100% EV ready, including passive fleet charging to the yards.


The logistics park will be set in landscaped environment with picnic and public areas, as well as direct access onto the Thames Cycle Path, so that it brings further social benefits to the area. Positioned on the River Thames, with potential for jetty access, Momentum will offer an easy stepping stone into Central London and out via the A13, just minutes away.


Darren Hutchinson, Head of UK Real Estate Transactions and Managing Director at Barings, said: Momentum London will be a strategically located logistics scheme with strong environmental and social credentials, beneficial both to future occupiers and the communities around it. Logistics is one of Barings’ preferred investment sectors and Momentum London exemplifies the kind of developments we’re seeking, with a keen interest in exploring joint ventures like this one with HBD.”


Simon Quine, Senior Development Surveyor at HBD, said: “Industrial and logistics space remains in very limited supply across London, particularly larger distribution units. Momentum will plug that gap within the M25 and provide modern, sustainable logistics and distribution space to serve London and the wider South East market. Landscaping and wellness have been thoroughly considered, with careful design considerations and enhancements to the Thames Foot and Cycle path, which we hope will help occupiers to attract and retain staff.”

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Mirrored furniture trend can create the illusion of space in your home

Voice Of EU



Mirrored furniture provokes strong emotions. Some see it as the epitome of bad taste, flashy and bling. Others know that mirrors have magic powers.

A mirrored table or cabinet makes a room or a hallway appear more swish and spacious. It’s a trick that bars and restaurants employ to ensure their establishments appear roomier and more inviting — and they can add lustre to your home, too.

Choosing a piece of mirrored furniture also sends out a sign that you are aware of one of the year’s trends — the return of Art Deco, the influential style that emerged in the 1920s. 

Reflections: A mirrored bedside table. The power of the mirror to create an impression has been recognised for centuries

Reflections: A mirrored bedside table. The power of the mirror to create an impression has been recognised for centuries

It blended forms that celebrated modern machinery with decorative elements drawn from Greco-Roman culture and nature. 

The mirror was a favourite material, used on the surfaces of furniture and walls to supply a shimmering silver and gold effect.

Probably the most famous piece of Art Deco architecture is New York’s Chrysler Building. Completed in 1930, its sunburst-patterned stainless steel spire remains one of the key elements of the Manhattan skyline.

Art Deco console tables, drinks trolleys and other items from the era of the building’s construction sell for thousands on auction sites such as 1stdibs underlining the growing appeal of this aesthetic. 

Jamie Watkins, the co-founder of fabric and wallpaper company Divine Savages, explains Art Deco’s allure for a new audience.

‘Art Deco, with its bold geometrical patterns was such an iconic period for design: it’s synonymous with glamour and luxury.’

The resurgent popularity of Art Deco is also based on its practicality: a mirrored piece works with almost any interior, adding interest and depth.

The power of the mirror to create a wow impression has been recognised for centuries. 

Examples of this technique include the round mirror on the wall behind the bride and groom in Jan van Eyck’s 1434 Arnolfini Portrait in the National Gallery. It sends out the message that the couple are discerning — and wealthy.

Cheers: B&M's £25 oval drinks trolley with two mirrored shelves

Cheers: B&M’s £25 oval drinks trolley with two mirrored shelves

The hall of mirrors in the palace of Versailles was designed to be a place of beauty, but also to display the financial resources of Louis XIV, the Sun King. Mirrors were a luxury item until an inexpensive manufacturing process was invented in the 1830s.

In 2022, it is possible to pick up mirrored pieces for under £100. B&M has a £25 oval drinks trolley with two mirrored shelves that would lend an air of Thirties elegance to any gathering. The £94.99 Ellison serving cart (a U.S. term for drinks trolley) from Wayfair has a similar vibe.

If you believe that the right mirrored trolley would save you money on trips to bars, the larger £144.95 gold oval mirrored trolley from Melody Maison could be the thing.

A mirrored cocktail cabinet will dazzle guests. The £1,200 Primrose & Plum champagne and gold cabinet has a Jazz-Age feel.

The £299 Venetian sideboard from Furniture Market, meanwhile, is a more modestly priced way to conjure up the party spirit of the Roaring Twenties.

The show flats of apartment blocks are often equipped with mirrored cocktail cabinets containing bottles of spirits and crystal glasses. This makes buyers dream of dinner parties, with a prelude of aperitifs, but also serves to make the apartment appear even roomier.

A console table in the hall also creates an illusion of space which can be amplified by the addition of a lamp. HomesDirect365 has a range in the style of almost every era including Art Deco, Regency, the 1960s and the 1970s. Prices start at £233.

The bedroom is often the most cramped room in either a house or flat which is why this can be the best place to experiment with mirrored furniture. 

The desire to preserve family harmony is another reason. The other members of your household may prefer the kitchen and living room to be slick and understated, seeing anything mirrored as excessive.

In the bedroom, however, you can indulge your decor fantasies. Habitat has the one-drawer Hepburn bedside table for £76.

Next offers the antique effect Fleur bedside table which costs £225 for the one-drawer version and £275 for the two-drawer version. 

The Fleur is also available as a six-drawer chest for £599 or a £1,150 double wardrobe if you seek to waft around your bedroom channelling your inner 1930s Hollywood screen siren. 

Dunelm’s Venetian mirrored dressing table also offers a chance to live out your dream of silver screen stardom (£449).

If mirrored furniture has brought out your party animal, kindling a passion for Art Deco in every guise, Divine Savages offers Deco Martini wallpaper whose design is based on the geometric forms, with a hidden Martini glass within the print (£150 per roll).

Some of your guests may not be too busy checking out their reflections on the doors of the mirrored cabinet to notice this subtle and witty detail in the wallpaper.

Savings of the week! water jugs… Up to 52% off 

The Sandvig hammered-glass jug from is half-price at £22

The Sandvig hammered-glass jug from is half-price at £22

Sitting outside on a sunny afternoon is already delightful. But it is even more enjoyable if you are sipping on a cool drink or an iced coffee from a generously sized jug, or maybe even a Pimm’s. The arrival of the July sales means bargains abound.

If you prioritise practicality, Ocado’s textured lustre plastic picnic jug has 33 per cent off at £8.

The price of the pleasingly geometric plastic smoky-grey Prism jug from Wayfair is 16 per cent off at £10.10. 

If you would like to feel as if you are in the south of France, John Lewis has the plain glass Arles wicker-wrapped jug. It is reduced from £25 to £12, down 52 per cent.

Wanting something more elegant that you can also use for flowers? The Sandvig hammered-glass jug from is also half-price at £22.

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