A few days ago, Mayo Rape Crisis Centre marked 25 years in existence with a simple ceremony at Lough Lannagh, where the first of 25 trees were planted to mark each year of operation. While the occasion was powerful, and sang of hope and light, the ceremony was also a reminder of just how complex the conversation around rape and sexual abuse is, and how it has continued to evolve in recent years. I left feeling I had gained additional new perspectives and learned new things, but most of all, I felt humbled, hearing from the powerhouses of women who took that initial step to set up the service in what was then a very different Ireland.
Category Archives: Living
Five things we learned from the elections
There’s nothing quite like a good election, and the last couple of weeks have given many of us food for thought and conversation. Is the Green Wave real? How do we encourage greater female participation in politics? Will the Big Two dominate forever in West of Ireland politics, or does anyone have an interest in taking them on? How do new candidates persuade people to vote for them and not incumbents? Is the loss of posters a good or bad thing? And are “they” really “all the same”? We could talk all day about it and it wouldn’t get any less fascinating, but here are a few things that jumped out at me throughout the election campaign and count.
Our World View – Through the Looking Glass
They say you should do at least one thing a week that scares you. I don’t know who ‘they’ are, but there is nothing like a good dose of paralysing nerves to make you feel alive, so when I was recently invited to open an art exhibition, it was not without some trepidation that I accepted the opportunity to be flung out of my comfort zone. Public speaking and media work has been a part of my working life for over a decade now, and while the fear of making an idiot of yourself in front of an audience never truly deserts you, I’ve reached a point where I’m relatively comfortable with and almost enjoy it. This however was something I’ve never done before, and it brought with it a sense of responsibility, given the special nature of the project.
The damage of diet culture
Happy new year, readers! It’s that time again, when the tinsel and Christmas jumpers have vanished from the shops, to be replaced by a range of items designed to make you hate your body. Lycra, dumbbells, kettlebells, diet pills, skinny tea, diet books and magazines, protein powders. To turn on the TV or open Facebook is to be bombarded by images of skinny, muscled humans advertising weight loss programmes. Just like the relentless fake-happy-clappy magic-of-Christmas advertising onslaught since October, there is no escape. And this writer is having none of it.
Give a little something this week
A few years back when I found myself – sorry, made myself – unemployed in Dublin at the height of the recession, I found myself with a lot of time to fill and very little money to spend. So to keep myself busy, I embarked on a journey of exploration of the city, where I visited places of cultural and historical interest and tried new things, none of which cost very much, and blogged about them in a series rather romantically titled “Dates with Dublin”. (I was single at the time, and I found that the experience of hanging out in museums with dead people was frequently surpassing some of my romantic encounters, but enough about that.)
Around that time, in keeping with the theme of “things I always meant to do but never really got around to”, I booked myself into the Irish Blood Transfusion Clinic to give my first donation.
Twitter, it’s time
Dear Anne-Marie, you have been on Twitter for
6 years, 8 months, 7 days
(since 30 May 2011)
So says “Twiage”, an app which tells you just how long its been since the last day you didn’t take part in an argument online.
I jest, but …
That duration is inaccurate in my case. I’ve actually been a Twitter user since early 2008, where it seemed like the next logical step after discussion forums. So that’s ten years in total a twitter user, with a brief hiatus in 2011. That’s a story for another post; but my second inception has felt like a lifetime in itself.
And today is my last day.
2017 – A Pace Odyssey
Greetings, readers of this blog. Real life has been so, so busy of late that blogging has really taken a back seat.
Funnily, when I moved back to the west, I somehow imagined that life would be much less busy; that I would have more downtime. I even harboured quaint notions of writing a book. However, that’s looking more like a pipe dream at present, and in fact the opposite has proven to be the case. Continue reading
Volunteers – the people who make the world go round
Working in the tourism and development sector over the past year has taught me a lot. It has taught me that when dealing with public bodies, everything moves agonisingly, achingly slowly. Patience is a virtue. It has taught me that diplomacy is the greatest untaught skill you’ll ever need, and it has taught me that in the West of Ireland, no-one ever reads emails. But most of all it has reminded me that frequently, good things happen because good people make them happen, and more often than not, in their own time and without payment.
10 more things I’ve learned since returning west
Last June, I made the decision to take myself out of the city and head back to the bright lights – no, sorry, the dark skies – of North Mayo. Any regrets, you ask? No, not a single one. But adjustment does takes time and it continues to be a learning curve.
I wrote last year, just six weeks after getting back – about seven things I’d learned since returning west, and here are some more life lessons I’ve learned about relocating back to the country in the past nine months.
Ballycastle’s Giro de Baile – a novice’s account of a first sportive
It was some trepidation that I loaded the bike into the boot of the car for the Giro de Baile on a rainy Sunday morning in August. Having never taken part in a cycling event before, and having done no serious training, I don’t mind admitting I was panicking a little at the prospect of what lay ahead. 60km along the exposed north west Atlantic coast in the wind and the rain? Sure, you’d have to be mad.
Having recently moved back to North Mayo, I was on the lookout for a new hobby. Cycling is something I’ve always enjoyed but never pursued regularly, apart from the odd commute or jaunt around Dublin or Mayo. Having been aware of the success of the inaugural Giro de Baile in 2014, and smitten by the stunning route, I’d been keeping an eye on their Facebook page, and had it pencilled it into the diary. As the day drew closer, the nerves multiplied, but there’s nothing like a challenge to make or break an intention, right? Having been chatting with the organisers on Twitter, they very gently cajoled me into giving it a shot. And when a group gets together and puts in a shedload of work to organise and promote an event to benefit and promote their community and locality, I do feel it’s important to support that effort where possible.
Arriving in Ballycastle, the festivities were in full swing, with a DJ pumping out motivational beats, an impressive inflatable start line and of course a healthy lashing of green and red flags. Football is at the heart of everything down here. Inside the Community Hall, there was a palpable air of anticipation as 320 cyclists, experienced and novice alike availed of the spread of food and refreshments provided, and prepared for launch.
With a cheer, we were off. Pikemen, reminiscent of the 1798 rebellion which forms a huge part of the county’s historical narrative cheered the procession of cyclists at the first corner. Motivational messages on the challenging (this is a euphemism) Flagbrooke Hill gave an extra push (“It’s only a hill, get over it”), though I will admit that it eventually got the better of me and I had to get off and walk. Which I have absolutely no regrets about doing, as it meant I could stop for a second and look back at what is probably the most magnificent view in North Mayo. (If you’re doing this event next year, remember to look around you as you go – on a challenging route, it’s easy to keep the head down, but it means you’re missing out.) A samba band greeted participants at the crest of the hill. Throughout, stewards and marshals were helpful and encouraging. The roads were quiet and felt safe. Even the oncoming traffic was friendly with plenty one-fingered salutes (not that kind, the country kind!) and beeps from motorists.
I’d tackled the event with a friend who is (thankfully!) of similar ability, and while at times, we found ourselves a little isolated on the route, we were never too far from a race marshal. After the third stop in Moygownagh, we realised we had only 14km to go, and we spent the last 10km telling each other how great we were. Then we turned the last corner into Ballycastle to be met with that last hill! It was probably the most challenging moment of the day and needless to say getting over the finish line was a memorable moment. Our time might not have broken any records (or if it did, it was of the Wooden Spoon variety), but we made it. For two first timers, we couldn’t ask for more than that.
Two things really struck me from the outset about this event.
Firstly, when starting out in anything new, encouragement is important. For novices, taking part in an event like this can be daunting. In the week leading up to the event, the Giro team posted updates on their social media account aimed at participants taking part in their first sportive, such as including practical advice about cycling. In addition, they were hugely reassuring to anyone who might have doubted their abilities to keep up with the pack (i.e. people like me!) If you can do 20k, they said, you can do 60k. There is no pressure to compete. The atmosphere carries you. Plus for every uphill climb there’s a downhill freewheel! Such information might seem trivial to the experienced cyclist but means a great deal to the novice.
Secondly, what stood out was the obvious determination of the wider community of Ballycastle to make this a success. There was a strong and cheerful volunteer presence along the route, plenty of opportunities to refuel and refresh, lots of cheering spectators, and veritable feast of food at the end. The Ballycastle community is a small but proud one, and cycling along the breathtaking route, even in the rain, it’s very clear to see why.
If any of you are considering doing the Giro next year, and are looking for a new route, I’d recommend checking this out. And if you’re a local wondering whether you’re up to the challenge, my unequivocal advice would be to go for it. The Giro website says: “The ride is not a race, it’s a chance to enjoy a challenge with like-minded people with spectacular views throughout the routes”. What they don’t say is just how well the event is organised and just what a great sense of achievement you get from taking part and crossing that finish line. It’s kickstarted my cycling hobby and I know I’m looking forward to next year’s event already where hopefully I can tackle the longer 130km route. And let’s hope the sun shines!
The next Giro de Baile cycle takes place on 31st July 2016, and all information on this North Mayo Sportive can be found at girodebaile.com. Proceeds from this year’s events were split between three local organisations: Cancer Care West, Kiddies Korner Playschool, Ballycastle and Moy River Rescue.
Pic credit; Giro de Baile on Facebook.
Seven things I’ve learned since returning West
At the end of May, after sixteen years living away from my Mayo hometown, in search of a different pace of life and a greater sense of community, I decided to make the move back West. I wrote about it here in The Mayo News at the time.
I’m now seven weeks back on home soil, and can safely say that I haven’t (yet) questioned the decision. I feel consistently more happier, more relaxed and at ease and I treasure being close to my family again, and reconnecting with friends; spending real, unhurried time with them. Because I am in equal measures a firm believer that life is short and there to be lived, and a deluded optimist, I decided not to seek full-time employment for now and have remained freelance in order to make the most of the west of Ireland summer. So far, that decision has ensured that I have spent lots of time outdoors on my own in the lashing rain.
But all in all, it’s been a surprisingly easy transition, though the adjustment process is ongoing. Here are just seven things I’ve learned since returning west.
You can get around quickly
Getting around in the West of Ireland takes no time at all. This has been one of the unanticipated delights of the return west. One of the reasons I moved was because commuting cross-city every day was (literally) driving me out of my mind. Living in a small town means that I no longer view traffic lights as a target, and even taking into account the curiously high proportion of very slow drivers, I don’t behave like a deranged fishwife behind the wheel any more. (Much.) I am constantly marvelling about just how little time it takes to get anywhere. In my new blissed out state of mind, I have even found myself coasting along at 50km an hour on occasion, much to the chagrin of visiting D-reg Audi drivers. I also still sometimes manage to be late.
Weather envy does you no good at all
Moving west always came with the caveat of ‘more rain’, and the best way of dealing with it is just to bring a brolly and get on with it. However, in bygone days we didn’t have to cope with being reminded of this all the time on social media by our smug easterly counterparts. There is little so maddening as reading about the rest of the country’s woes as they collectively sweat in a heatwave, having to watch them Instagramming their 99s/pasty legs in surfing shorts while meanwhile, you are donning full waterproofs just to sprint to the car. However jealousy gets you nowhere, and I have consoled myself with the fact that I am saving a small fortune on Factor 40 while maintaining a pale and youthful visage. In your faces, you sunburned suckers.
Freelancing is fun … but challenging
While there are the obvious advantages of being your own boss such as calling the shots and managing your own time, there is also the uncertainty of not knowing whether you’ll be able to pay the rent in two or three months’ time. But freelancing involves (a) deciding what exactly you’re freelancing in (am I writing, researching, copywriting, social media managing, PR-ing or doing a combination of some or all of these?), and (b) packaging and promoting it; this is something I haven’t managed to do very well just yet, mainly both because I haven’t needed to and I’m still figuring it out. Just today two projects I had in the diary for August fell through for various reasons, so while it does mean I can now go on my holidays without a looming deadline, it also makes the prospect of further holidays look a bit bleaker. But them’s the breaks – and there’s nothing like the prospect of an overdraft to inspire some enterprising creativity.
There is no excuse for boredom
Even if you’re on a budget, I’ve found that here, there are shedloads of things to see and do. Before moving, I was advised by well-meaning friends to think carefully about returning due to the lack of “things” going on. While there’s no Camden Street nightlife and pulled pork eateries are fewer, I’m still a bit baffled; I’ve barely spent an evening sitting in since I got back. It’s festival season down here (and summer of course), so there are lots of local jollies, but apart from pursuing actual hobbies like running, hillwalking and cycling (there are over 40 sporting clubs of various types in this area alone) there are plenty of volunteer-led projects into which to throw yourself. Unless you’re actually sitting in your house watching paint dry, I can’t understand how anyone can ever be bored. And there is always something new and fascinating to learn about your home town if you’re interested in looking. Failing that, you can always take up knitting.
There is a “local” mindset … and it can be a sensitive one
While there’s lots of evidence of a strong community spirit – something I missed for a long time, away from home – local involvement also comes with its own politics, sensitivities and dare I say it, egos. It’s been interesting to remember just how easily offended people can be if you don’t explicitly acknowledge their individual contributions, or if you question their established ways of doing things, and sometimes bearing this in mind from the outset can help to keep the waters smooth. Likewise, easing your way gently into a new group is the way to go – tenure can result in territorial tensions. Diplomacy – treading carefully but confidently – is a skill in itself. What can I say? I’m always learning.
Football is a religion
Yeah, we all knew that already. Now I just get to worship inside the church all the time. Watch out Sam, we’re comin’ to get you. Yes, this is our year.
It’s bloody gorgeous here.
Of course, I am completely, unashamedly biased, and this is not a learning, rather a reminder. I wake most mornings feeling lucky to live in such a gorgeous part of the world. I’m torn between wanting to tell the world about it and share its stunning secrets, and keep it all to ourselves. But sharing is caring, right? Even in the rain I think it’s beautiful (though I may be in a minority there) and a walk on a deserted beach in the wind and the rain oddly never fails to make me feel alive. And at this rate, we might even get another sunny day before September.
Service with a smile … it works both ways
With a month of country living under my belt after the move back west (God, it’s great to be home), the boxes are finally unpacked and I’m readjusting to the easier pace of life in the homeland. There’s plenty to love, but a constant source of joy is just how little time it takes to get from A to B. Because Dublin has approximately 94 sets of traffic lights per kilometre, sometimes the drive to pick up a litre of milk and a few spuds entails more braking than driving. Here, you just turn the key in the ignition and you’re there. Dorothy and her red slippers ain’t got nothing on life in Mayo.
It also strikes me daily how much friendlier people are. That’s part of our charm, but importantly, in a region depending so heavily on tourism, it’s also an essential business attribute. Hand in hand with that comes good customer service, which, it’s fair to say, is probably the norm. That’s why, when confronted with a bad experience, it jars all the more. But while the majority of encounters are positive, if truth be told, we could still sometimes do better.
As a customer, when you go to the shop to buy a litre of milk, or to buy a stamp in the post office, what are your expectations of that experience? Do you like to be greeted with a hello, some eye contact, a chat? Do you prefer to be handed your change, rather than it being slapped on the counter? Entering a clothes shop, do you expect a friendly greeting and an offer of help? On your weekly shop, do you prefer it when the cashier talks to you, not their colleagues? Most of all, is a smile important? Most of us would probably agree that these are the most basic tenets of customer service. Having someone go the extra mile thereafter is just the icing on the cake.
When the basics aren’t met, there is a knock-on effect. Chances are, if your experience in a shop is an unfriendly, unhelpful one, you’ll bring your money elsewhere next time. As a local, if you experience poor service in a restaurant or café, you’ll probably tell ten people about it. As a tourist, add TripAdvisor into the mix and tack on a few zeros. Poor service and lack of warmth in a business make for a poor tourist experience, and colour their entire impression of an area. Meanwhile, among locals it discourages loyalty. And whoever deals with customers is the face of that business, regardless of the name over the door. If that face is a scowling one, you’re onto a loser from the start. Little things, big implications.
There are, of course, two sides to every argument. Working in the service industry and dealing with the public can be no picnic, and years of retail management in a past life taught me that contrary to popular belief, the customer is most definitely not always right. On the contrary, they can be rude, confrontational and frequently downright mad. Working in fashion exposed me to all sorts, from the “I know my rights” brigade (they generally don’t) to those who think it appropriate to use your fitting rooms for their bodily functions (yes, even that one). Once, I went home with a black eye, the result of a shoe thrown at me by a gentleman I can only describe as being overexcited. So there is little doubt that facing the public on a daily basis can bring its challenges. If you’ve just been eaten alive by an irate customer, it can be hard to plaster on a smile to greet the next one.
But good service is essential for business to thrive and survive. Taking pride in your business will garner respect from your customers, and not just in the hospitality industry. Visiting tourists become part of our landscape for a while, using our supermarkets, our filling stations, our corner shops. Their experiences help to build their impressions of our county, as well as building our economy. And for those of us at home, service with a smile can brighten the day. But remember, it works both ways!
This was originally printed in The Mayo News on 15th July 2015.
Are you really entitled to your opinion?
This column was published in The Mayo News on Tuesday 3rd February 2014.
“It’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it.”
How often have you heard that conversation-killer trotted out during an argument? If you’re like me, hearing it will have the same effect as nails on a blackboard. It makes me wince, but then, I do love a good argument.
However, I have some news for you, opinionators. You’re more than entitled to your opinion – if you can defend it.
No longer confined to boring long-suffering friends or family in the pub or at the dinner table, modern communication channels ensure that the argumentative among us have soapboxes from which to orate all we like. (Whether anyone’s listening is another matter.) We’re accustomed to a variety of rants, whether about the government, sport, or the horror that is inadvertently biting into one of the coffee-flavoured Roses. No matter what our expertise, everyone has an opinion, and sure, we’re all entitled to them. But having them one thing. Considering the effects that stating them might have is another. That’s where we also have a responsibility.
Words are powerful. We should never underestimate them. We should also be aware of our audiences when using them. Sounding off about a local politician, for example on Facebook, sounds innocuous. After all, it’s your page, right? You’re entitled to your opinion, yes? But consider the effect your words might have on that politician’s family.
You don’t believe gay couples should be allowed to get married? That’s your opinion, of course. But can you explain why not? Because you think it will harm society? Have you evidence to support that? No? Well, my friend, perhaps you should examine your opinion in more detail. You might learn something about yourself.
An openness to having our opinions challenged is one of the cornerstones of a healthy democratic society. Unless you can provide an argument, saying “I’m entitled to my opinion” really implies “There’s no depth to my argument, and I can’t be bothered justifying it.” It’s self-entitlement to assume we can just say whatever we want, consequences be damned, regardless of whether or not we know what we’re talking about. It also suggests that we’re either too lazy or too closed-minded to contemplate the possibility that we might actually be wrong.
“I’m entitled to my opinion” is frequently used to justify attitudes that should have been abandoned long ago like racism, sexism and homophobia. Without censoring – which may just drive these dangerous beliefs underground – we should instead calmly challenge them with facts and evidence.
In the context of public debate, scrutiny of ‘opinion’ helps to prevent the blurring of the line between it and ‘evidence’. For example, if someone argues for banning fluoridation in our water, despite a lack of scientific evidence that it’s harmful, it is in the public interest to challenge this opinion and debunk myths. The same applies to social and health issues. The media has responsibilities in this regard to ensure that evidence presented in debates is robustly interrogated, and in turn to ensure that when opinion is challenged, when necessary, it’s challenged by people qualified to do so. And we need to be sure that equivalence is not being granted as a rule between experts and non-experts in public policy debates.
Having our opinions challenged can be uncomfortable. Often, our views are so tied up with our self-identify that having them challenged can feel like personal criticism. But wouldn’t the world be a very dull and indeed dangerous place if we agreed on everything? And surely our opinions should evolve as we grow as human beings in age and maturity? If flaws in our thinking are pointed out, in an ideal world we really should try not to get immediately offended or angry (or in my case, sulk), and instead embrace the opportunity to learn. To that end, including subjects like philosophy on the curriculum is worthwhile, in order to foster thoughtfulness and an eagerness to construct, interrogate and defend arguments from a young age. And of course, to help us be comfortable with being wrong once in a while.
Changing your mind is not weakness. Refusing to open it is.
But there’s one thing on which I’ll never entertain a challenge. Those blasted coffee-flavoured Roses have got to go.
New Year, New Me? Let’s be realistic …
My New Year intentions, as published in The Mayo News last Tuesday 6th January. (I won’t comment on how I’m progressing …)
Every New Year’s Eve I get out the notepad and pen and sit with furrowed brow to try and come up with some realistic New Year’s resolutions. Every New Year’s Eve, I also look back 12 months to see how I’ve fared previously. The latter exercise usually serves as an annual reminder of what a failure I am and demonstrates that the former is nothing more a waste of a good hour of my life.
So for 2015, in order to avoid this painful and disappointing process I have thrown off the shackles of convention, liberated myself from the inevitable cycle of self-flagellation and decided not to make any resolutions for the next 12 months. The year, therefore already looks like one lacking in any ambition whatsover. But on the bright side, the December 31st review already looks promising by default.
New Years’ resolutions are an interesting exercise, though. It’s good to start with a heart and mind full of virtuous intentions, but it can be demoralising when you flounder mere days into the process, and the more you struggle, the more tempting it can be to throw in the towel early on. That said, it’s still good to have things to aim for, right? With this in mind, I’ve decided to cheat and set myself some aspirations for the year ahead. Aspirations are softer and more forgiving than resolutions, being as they are, little more than good intentions. They are also, of course, an absolute cop-out. But if there’s one thing I’m determined to do this year, it’s to not set myself up for further failures. So without further ado, I have below outlined some of my 2015 aspirations, so they may inspire you too.
For 2015, I aspire to …
… Take time out. At least 30 minutes daily, to walk/run outdoors, without music, screens or conversation. Going outdoors is of course fraught with such terrors as rain, low-flying pigeons and potential alien abductions but I’m told taking such time out works wonders for your physical and mental health, so on balance this is probably worth a try.
… Reach out more to others. We all have good intentions, but having personally felt a bit low heading into the Christmas festivities, it made a big difference when someone reached out to me. In the daily grind it’s easy to forget that those around us might have their own struggles, and a kind word might make all the difference. (The exception being if you’re a Meath or a Chelsea supporter on the bad side of a result, in which case I shall unashamedly take joy in your misery.)
… Be a better-behaved driver. This will essentially mean refraining from behaving like a deranged fishwife when someone else is a being bad driver in my vicinity. This is mostly for my own selfish benefit, to ultimately avoid expensive coronary interventional procedures, but also, charitably, for the benefit of innocent passengers who may unwittingly find themselves privy to such outbursts. (This aspiration would of course be unnecessary if you people would just USE YOUR INDICATORS.)
… Try more new things. In 2014 I tried Spanish, kickboxing and writing a newspaper column, with varying degrees of success, but each taught me something new, and some resulted in unintentional hilarity for others, so everyone’s a winner. (On that note, do keep an eye out for my new Morris Dancing column, coming soon.)
… Be a Better Loser. This means not sinking into bitterness and despair (again) for the winter when Mayo don’t win the All-Ireland. I’m obviously writing this in a shameless effort to reverse-psychology the hell out of the 2015 season. Having had lots of practice, I can cope with being wrong, so feel free to throw this in my face on 20th September. I’ll be too busy doing the congo around Croker to care.
I’ll keep you posted on my modest endeavours, but jesting aside, dear readers, all that remains is to wish you and yours a happy and healthy 2015. Be safe and be kind to each other, and – just as importantly – to yourselves. Here’s hoping it’s a good one for us all.
Happy New Year – and thank you
Just a quick note to everyone who visited the blog during 2013.
As we launch into another year, I wanted to say a sincere thank you to those of you who stopped by, commented, shared, retweeted or liked the posts. It’s been a busy year on An Cailín Rua, with lots to talk about. I did have great intentions of writing a minimum of one post a month during the year, but fell a bit short in the latter part of the year – but that’s what new year’s resolutions are for, right?
As regular readers will know, it’s been a year of great change for me personally; having in 2012 made the decision to leave a steady job to face an uncertain future. 2013 saw me starting the year with no income and no idea where I’d end up. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, I know, but stepping away from security and out of the comfort zone felt like a bit of a risk.
I’m happy, however to report that the gamble paid off handsomely. And while the past year has been challenging at times, and laced with a level of uncertainty throughout, it has paid dividends in terms of new experiences and achievements, both personal and professional, and more time doing the things that I deem the most important, with the people I care about most. I’ve had the opportunity to work in a number of different and challenging roles with some fantastic people, both on a paid and voluntary basis, and feel challenged and motivated in a way I haven’t for a long time. I even managed to get some writing published, which was a high point for me personally.
While the journey is nowhere near over, and I still have some big decisions to make on a professional level, I feel lucky and privileged to find myself in a position where I have real and exciting choices.
To those of you who supported me in the early days, the wobbly days, the days of crippling self-doubt and the days I felt utterly lost, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your encouragement. Some of you are family, some of you friends, and some of you I’ve never even met, but at no stage during the journey did I feel alone, thanks to you. Thanks for reading the blog, and encouraging me to keep writing, for challenging my opinions, and educating me and helping me to develop my own thinking.
Wishing you all the very best for 2014, dear readers and I look forward to your company for the year ahead.
Dates with Dublin #3 – The Irish Blood Transfusion Clinic
It’s probably a bit of a stretch including this in the Dates With Dublin series, but in keeping with the current theme of “doing things I’ve always meant to do but never quite got around to”, last week in a fit of impulse I booked an appointment to donate blood. Over on The Twitter, the bould @FintanToolbox had tweeted about paying the nice folks in the clinic one of his regular visits, and as, reassuringly, he doesn’t appear to have suffered any visible ill-effects down the years, it served as a timely reminder to get the finger out. So into D’Olier Street I toddled today, and while this doesn’t particularly fall under the categories of exploration, or tourism, it’s something you can do all over Ireland. Bloody marvellous!
First up, a few blood-related facts.
- 3,000 blood donors are needed each week in Ireland
- Only 3% of the Irish population give blood
- 1 in 4 Irish people will need a blood transfusion at some point in their lives – be that as the result of an accident, illness, giving birth etc, In fact 1,000 people receive transfusions every week.
- One car accident victim may require up to 30 units of blood, a bleeding ulcer could require anything between 3-30 units of blood, and a coronary artery bypass may use between 1-5 units of blood. That’s a lot of blood.
- Get this: human blood travels 60,000 miles per day on its journey through the arteries, arterioles and capillaries and back through the venules and veins. How awesome is that?
Now the science bit is over, what’s the first-timer experience like?
The offices on D’Olier Street are bright, reassuringly clean, modern and lively. Everyone’s very friendly. There’s music playing in the background, so it doesn’t feel like a clinical environment. There is FREE CHOCOLATE. And FREE CRISPS. The positives were quickly racking up before I even got down to business.
When you arrive, you’re asked some questions, and given a questionnaire to fill out. You’re then given some information to read in your own time. (If you wish, you can have some free chocolate and crisps while you’re doing so.) As a first-timer, I was brought to the interview room to go through the questionnaire in a little more detail, and to be sure I understood everything. You’re told all about the process, and you’re asked whether you’ve eaten and consumed plenty of liquids, all of which help prevent potential fainting. Any questions? Just ask. It’s a thorough process, and it’s reassuring to see the attention to detail.
Then, there’s a fingertip test, to make sure that your haemoglobin levels are sufficiently high. Last night’s spinach gorge-fest did the job, obviously, so I was declared good to go. Iron-heavy fist-pump!
I was pretty damn nervous before being brought into the donation area. It’s been a while since I had any shots and I’m as yet untattooed, so needles and I are not close acquaintances (which is probably not a bad complaint to have), and I’m squeamish at the best of times. But like the brave little soldier I am, I sat down and pretended I was Kool and the Gang as the doc with the big needle approached. You’re given a little squeezy bone to hold, a tourniquet is applied and the inside of your elbow is cleaned. While you’re wondering what on earth possessed you to spend an afternoon being punctured like a roast chicken, the lovely warm staff deploy revolutionary diversionary tactics to distract you, such as talking to you, and asking you questions, and suddenly, before you know it, you’re plugged in. Then you just lie back and relax, and deploy the odd fist clench to keep things moving along. The blood bag is out of sight, so unless you want to have a look, you can’t see it. If you’re feeling brave, you can take a peek at the needle (it’s bigger than you think, but hurts not even slightly as much as you’d expect). I promise, you’ll feel like a hero, especially when you learn that the average body has 10-12 pints of blood, and you typically donate a pint at a time. That’s up to a tenth of your blood. Huzzah!
Within eight minutes, I was done and the needle was whipped out, I was patched up and escorted to a bed to keep pressure on the wound. I felt oddly fine. No dizziness, lightheadedness or hallucinations (I don’t think the latter is a recognised side-effect). Off I went to the canteen where you’re greeted with the most wonderful view of O’Connell Street and given MORE FREE CRISPS AND CHOCOLATE. Honestly, this is the best place ever. Though it’s not recommended that you do any strenuous exercise afterwards, I cycled home at a leisurely pace and at the time of writing, am none the worse for it.
So if like me, you’ve thinking of doing this, I’d highly recommend going for it. The thing that struck me throughout the experience, from once I went in the door to when I left, was that everyone was smiling. Even the people with needles in their arms. I think I even cracked a smile myself. I couldn’t speak highly enough the staff – they were so welcoming, reassuring and there’s a lovely atmosphere in the building. I was thanked more than once for taking the time to go in, which I really appreciated. (And there are free crisps. Did I mention that?) Once you’ve donated, you can do so again with 90 days, and I know I won’t hesitate to return in November.
For more info on blood donation, check out the Irish Blood Transfusion Service website, where they give you all the information you’ll need about the blood donation process.
You can follow the IBTS on Twitter and Facebook where they’ll let you know if supplies are running low. You can even check the current Irish blood supply.
But most of all, if you’ve been thinking of doing it – just go for it.
Dates with Dublin is getting more romantic by the moment, isn’t it? Til next time …
Six months on – a quick update
Regular readers of this blog will know that I encountered a(n early) mid-life crisis in September last year, when I decided to stop living to work, and start working to live. You can see the original and subsequent posts here.
So I jacked in my steady, pensionable job with good promotion prospects, cast myself adrift to carve a different life for myself. One with far less stress and far more happiness. Why? Because life is too damn short to be unhappy. Lots of my lovely followers over on the Tweet Machine have been enquired how life is now, so here’s a quick update.
Has it been easy? No. It’s been stressful, worrying, financially draining and I’ve wobbled. Has it been worth it? Yes. Did I do the right thing? Definitely.
So, after Christmas, I took some time out – nearly 11 weeks in total, as it turned out. I was just starting to panic – really panic, when I was lucky enough to secure two part-time roles in wildly different industries, but both interesting and rewarding in their own way. So in the intervening months I’ve gained some experience working “client-side”, as we agency staff used to call it (we also called it the Holy Grail) and I’ve also managed to gain some experience in the non-profit sector working with brilliant people in a brilliant charity, which has provided me with insight and an understanding of the sector I didn’t have before. I want to do more.
There are pros and cons. Cons being that I currently have short-term contracts, both coming to an end within weeks, which means it’s decision time and job-hunt time again. There’s no security, and I’m still flat broke. But – and this is a big but – on the plus side, for now I’m working, and I’m incredibly grateful. I know how lucky I am, and how lucky I was to be in a position to be able to do this in the first place. My personal life has also changed quite dramatically. I have free time now. I’m not constantly stressed or exhausted, I get to see friends, talk, write, travel, cook, watch TV, exercise, – all the things that make life worth living. I’ve had some writing published, and people seem to like it, which thrills me more than it’s cool to admit. I’m quite liking the nature of short-term work. It’s good and interesting to explore options.
Most of all, I’m happy. I wake up nearly every day looking forward to the day ahead. I feel lighter, more carefree. It’s remarkable how many people have commented on the fact that I look happy. (I really must have looked like a big bag of misery before.) I can’t describe how much I value this, having been through some darker times. It’s something I will never take for granted. I’m very lucky.
I didn’t think I was brave enough to throw the cards up in the air, but it’s worked out well. If you’re considering it, know that it can be done, and it may take time to work out, but it will.
So I look ahead, and the future’s not certain, but it looks bright, and exciting, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. The world’s still my oyster.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
Booze-free Lent comes to an end
I was asked to write this piece for Newstalk.ie on my experience of giving up alcohol for Lent.
The piece was published on the Newstalk site on Thursday 28th March 2013.
As an average thirtysomething woman, I’d classify my relationship with alcohol as relatively healthy.Like most, I enjoy partaking of a glass of wine or three of a Friday, or sinking a pint of the black stuff over a chat with friends. I may have suffered an occasional hangover, yes. The end of an odd night out may have been a little hazy. I might have missed a few Sunday mornings, buried in the Horrors under my pillow. But “big nights” nowadays are few and far between, and the idea of bypassing the booze for Lent wasn’t high on my agenda.
So what prompted the decision? I bit the bullet for a number of reasons (none of them religious).I was unemployed, having left my job to embark on the uncertainty of a career change. I’d beenfeeling the effects of an unhealthy holiday season. And crucially, I was stony broke. The stage was set.
Around the same time, I’d written a piece on my blog about attitudes to alcohol in Ireland called“The Elephant in the Room”, questioning why, with suicide levels so high, no-one really questions the effect our relationship with alcohol has on mental wellbeing. The piece was published on a national news site and the reaction on social media was astonishing. I was inundated with replies relating the pressure people felt to drink. Some reported concealing non-drinking, or avoiding social occasions altogether to avoid the hassle of justifying their choice. Non-drinkers disliked the messiness of drunken nights out, and being met with suspicion and mistrust. It appears that “peer pressure” is not solely the preserve of children or adolescents.
On the back of this, I saw the Lenten endeavour as a timely personal experiment. I’d never gone “ off the booze” for a deliberate, sustained period since I came of drinking age, and wanted to see how I’d cope with cold sobriety in social situations, and the reactions I would encounter. I also wanted to do my own bit to challenge attitudes.
I embarked with a sense of trepidation. I didn’t want to avoid social occasions, but neither did I relish the thought of feeling socially stunted without a drink or two. The first couple of weeks were difficult, and I often, rather worryingly, found myself craving a glass of wine, particularly at weekends. However, with the exception of the odd “Why are you doing this to yourself?”, and“Jesus, I could never do that – in March, are you mad?!”, friends were largely encouraging.
How did I cope? Ultimately – and this may appear obvious – I found company was key. I enjoyed some great nights with friends as the sole non-drinker, without it being an issue for either party. In contrast, I attended a wedding at which I knew barely anyone, and struggled. I felt my personality had fled, hand-in-hand with my alcohol crutch, leaving my confidence legless and my dancing even more uncoordinated than usual. I settled into sobriety, though and while I missed being able to have“just the one”, not drinking began to feel normal.
So, six weeks on, was it worthwhile? Yes, absolutely. Admittedly, it’s a relatively short period of time, but what they say is true – I feel healthier, happier and clearer of mind. The convenience of hopping into the car after a night out, and waking hangover-free were definite positives. I certainly didn’t miss the Monday beer blues. The time out has helped me to recalibrate my attitude towards alcohol, and I have a feeling I’m likely in future to indulge a little less, and enjoy it a little more.
Ultimately, however, I don’t see myself as a non-drinker, and rather than moving towards the divisiveness of non-drinkers having their own social spaces and activities, what I’d like is a happy medium where drinkers and non-drinkers can feel more comfortable socialising together. I’d also like to see social occasions focusing less on alcohol consumption, and I’d love to see less pressure placed on those drink moderately to consume more.
Would I do it again? Probably.
But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just looking forward to some chocolate this Easter.
Hello Sunday Morning … or good afternoon, sobriety
So, as a follow-on from my last post, a quick update on my alcohol abstinence resolution. I deliberately haven’t started another blog with Hello Sunday Morning as I find it difficult enough to update this one regularly. Three weeks in, how’s it going?
Well, it’s like this. It’s bloody HARD.
Firstly, I had no idea I was quite so fond of red wine. But for the last three weeks, I find it occupying more of my thoughts than is probably healthy. It doesn’t help that we are major fans of it here and the wine rack is consequently a constant reminder.. As I predicted, what I really miss the most is that lovely single glass of wine of an odd evening, but I suppose that’s just shown me how much it’s become a habit, unbeknownst to myself.
What’s come as more of a surprise however, having never abstained from alcohol for any meaningful period before, is the realisation of how much I have come to rely on it over the past 15-odd years as a social lubricant. On certain occasions, at least. Take the following example. I attended a wedding last week, at which I knew barely anyone. From start to finish, I tried hard to get stuck in and enjoy it, but wow, despite the happiness in the air, the beauty of the bride, the deliciousness of the food, it was a struggle. To the extent that it actually felt like an ordeal. The company was decent, but I felt like I’d become socially stunted overnight – like I’d lost my personality. I stood at the bar ordering soft drinks a few times, and on each occasion had to stop myself from ordering a (very strong) alcoholic beverage. There were other factors at play, admittedly, including feeling lethargic and unwell, but it was downright painful, and ultimately a bit pointless. I felt bad about myself and my apparent inability to relax without alcohol. It was undoubtedly the single biggest test I’m likely to face during this period, but it served a purpose as part of this “reflective” journey, so not entirely in vain.
On the other hand, I’ve spent a few evenings in the company of good friends lately, surrounded by food and alcohol. On one occasion, dinner with a group of girlfriends I wasn’t alone in abstaining, but others had the usual reasons like pregnancy and cars. That was grand – no hardship involved. The second, an evening gathering in a friend’s house where I was the only one abstaining. I expected that to be difficult, particularly as I arrived a little late to the party. On the contrary, I had one of the best evenings I’ve had in months. Laughed til there were tears in my eyes, didn’t feel in any way out of place and I even managed to stay out til 5am. No difficulty at all (apart from the lemonade-induced sugar high). It felt really refreshing to be part of a group who didn’t question me or force the issue when I wasn’t drinking. I didn’t feel in any way that my not partaking set me apart from the conversation and neither did I feel that my being sober made them feel ill at ease. (At least I hope not!)
The drawback to staying out til 5am on a Saturday night is that Sunday morning slips away from you. I woke up at 8.30am with the beginnings of a migraine I’d staved off the day before, so I put my head under the pillow and the day didn’t see me until noon had passed. Then there was GAA on d’telly. So I kinda failed at being wonderfully active and reclaiming my Sunday morning (armchair sports don’t count, apparently). Still, you can’t win ’em all.
So. Do I feel any better for not drinking? Em, honestly, no. Not in the slightest.
I’m a bit disappointed – I thought I’d feel happier, healthier, clearer of mind, but to be fair, I have to look hard at myself and admit that other aspects of my lifestyle at the moment are probably counter-productive. I’m still not working, so my routine has started to slip recently, my sleep pattern is all over the place, my motivation levels are low, and not having had an income since Christmas has imposed its own restrictions and pressures. This year so far has been full of emotional upheaval and uncertainty, but to my great excitement, I’m starting a new role this week with an organisation I’m thrilled to be working with. I’m looking forward to the challenge and to feeling a little less at sea once I bed in. Not to mention, feeling a bit more useful to society.
So, three weeks in, what have I learned? Well, I’ve discovered that I really like red wine, that you think about things like red wine a lot more when you know you can’t have them, and that being at ease in social situations probably depends a lot more on the people you’re with than the amount of alcohol you’re consuming. All in all, not exactly groundbreaking revelations, but part of a personal journey that so far I’m ultimately glad I’ve undertaken.
Also, having the willpower of an amnesiac squirrel on a regular basis, I’ve surprised myself by discovering some reserves of stubbornness, and I know I will see this through. In what is probably the more surprising of progress updates, I have also managed to stay away from crisps. (Even when no-one can see me.) And there is also the bonus of feeling infinitely superior to an undisclosed number of our elected political representatives, in that I managed to stay sober on Prom Night.
So here’s to the next month. I’d love to know how feel HSMers are getting on, or how anyone who’s been through this process before deals with those difficult social situations – so feel free to leave a comment below with some wise words. I’ll repay you in 2007 Marquis de Rascale (my housemate’s).
Til next time!
The Great Lenten Challenge, or How I Will Cope With Six Weeks Of No Alcohol
On the back of my last blog post, I’ve been doing some thinking.(A little thinking time is a dangerous thing, and I happen to have a lot of that on my hands recently).
I’ve been toying for a while with the idea of giving up alcohol. Not permanently, just for a spell. Not a big deal, I’m sure. Lots of people go ‘on the dry’ for January, or while they are training for an event, or while they’re pregnant. But while I’ve thought about it before, I’ve never managed to cut out alcohol completely, while carrying on with life and social engagements in the normal way. I think that’s the most difficult part – not shying away from social engagements on the basis of not drinking.
I met up for a chat last week with the lovely John Buckley of SpunOut, and among other things we talked about alcohol, and our attitudes towards it. John has given up alcohol for six months, and is blogging about it over here.
John also told me about the Irish launch of Hello Sunday Morning, which is being timed to coincide with the last episode of Des Bishop’s TV show, “Under the Influence”. HSM is an initiative originating in Australia, which involves giving up alcohol for a while, in order to reflect on your drinking behaviour, and see what impact it has on your life. You share your story, in order to contribute to a better drinking culture. In particular, it encourages you to reclaim Sunday mornings, which are often written off due to heavy Saturday nights. So for the month of March, I’ll be blogging about that either here or elsewhere.
I’m starting a little early though. I’m not sure sure what it is about Lent that encourages me to attempt something new every year (with varying degrees of success). But it seems to me to be a nice round period of time to try and do something new – not long enough to be excessively difficult and not short enough to be too little a challenge. So as well as the booze, I’ll be giving up crisps. Those of you who know me will know that this will not come easily….
With regards to my previous blog post, I know excessive alcohol consumption is not good for me. I know that when I drink to excess, I feel rubbish for about three days afterwards. My motivation disappears, I feel tired, I don’t want to leave my bed and the ‘beer blues’ hit me like a ton of bricks. Add to this days of self-beration and it all gets a bit much. I doubt this is unusual, either. So I for one and looking forward to eliminating those feelings for a while.
The difficult part will be the numerous social occasions that are cropping up in March. Be that football/rugby matches, St. Patrick’s Day, the couple of birthday celebrations, the hen night… the list goes on. So it’ll be a challenge. But hey, no point in doing something easy. I already know that more than anything I’ll miss that first glorious glass of red on a Friday night, or the creaminess of a single, leisurely pint of Guinness more than I’ll miss the big sessions. But they all count!
Anyone else with me? I’ll be posting occasional updates over on Twitter using the hashtag #boozefreelent – if you’re embarking on something similar do give me a shout.
In the meantime, I’ll be bidding a fond farewell to these and looking forward to a healthier happier me!
The career journey – an update
Many of you lovely people who either read this blog or follow me over on the Twitter Machine have been asking how my career change is progressing.
The answer is… slowly. Very, verrrry slowly.
I finished work on December 21st 2012. Contrary to what I’d hoped, my last few weeks weren’t quiet ones, and after a December of overtime I found myself working right up til 5pm on my last day. (I do hate leaving things unfinished.) As the time drew closer, I thought I should have found myself becoming more apprehensive. Rather, I noticed that with every day that passed, I felt a little happier. If I’d harboured any doubts, that told me all I needed to know.
My colleagues gave me a lovely send-off, and I’ll treasure the warm words I received on my last few days. I didn’t expect to feel emotional, but saying goodbye to so many talented, dedicated and genuine people – people with whom I’d spent long hours, sometimes late into the night writing, planning, presenting, debating, arguing, creating, developing and learning left me feeling a little wistful. I was also genuinely touched by some of the well wishes I received from my clients. And I didn’t even have to pay them! All filed in my head to combat days of self-doubt.
It was dark as I left, and I was one of the last. I sat into the car, started it and promptly burst into tears. Proper sobs and all. I wasn’t really sure why. However, bawling like a professional onion-peeler with conjunctivitis watching the Notebook isn’t exactly conducive to safe driving, and besides, I had a party to get to. So once the initial burst of .. call it what you want, sadness, relief, whatever, had subsided, it was time put my head down, avoid making red-eye contact with the security guard and get home and start the rest of my life.
My original intention, when I bit the bullet was to have a new job in the pipeline by the time I finished working. That didn’t happen, but to be fair, I hadn’t had much time or energy to put real effort into the application process. Neither is just before Christmas an ideal time to go job-hunting. And, it was really only when I finished and decamped west for Christmas that I realised how exhausted I’d been. The moment I slowed down, everything that had been chasing me for weeks caught up. The body’s way of saying “slow down”? There was very little partying and very large portioning over the Christmas period. Highly satisfactory, and ultimately I think the decision to take some extra time out was the right one. Sometimes it’s good when plans don’t work out.
So, fast-forward a month, and I’m officially unemployed for the first time.
The time out has been pretty wonderful, if I’m honest. It mightn’t have been strictly necessary, but it’s been a revelation to have time to think, to rest, to catch up with friends and family, to sleep, to travel, to volunteer, to research, to walk on the beach, to cook, to read, to write… there is always something to do. I am never, ever bored. (I don’t really understand the concept of boredom, I must admit. How can anyone be bored when there’s so much to do?!) I was wary of being unemployed. Lack of routine doesn’t suit me well, and it did cross my mind that I might find myself … slipping. To date, that hasn’t happened, though there have been a couple of dodgy days. But it’s good to know the signs, so I can address them quickly. I’ve tried to stick to a routine that involves getting up at a decent hour, going out for fresh air and exercise, talking to people, sleeping well and cooking well. (And job hunting, obviously.) Some days it’s easier than others – the January weather doesn’t help!
Budgeting is a must. Social engagements have had to be curtailed, and the cost of petrol has led to a new-found appreciation for walking and public transport. I’m constantly mindful of money now; which is probably not a bad habit to get into. But I never forget that I chose to put myself in this position, and I consider myself lucky to have been able to make that choice, especially when so many others haven’t.
There are also days of crippling self-doubt (like yesterday) where I berate myself for making this *stupid* decision and putting myself under this pressure and being a complete *idiot* for walking away from a secure position with decent prospects when no company with an *ounce* of sense would ever consider employing me because I have *nothing* to offer. Dramatic much? Mercifully those days are few and far between, and I find when those days occur it’s best to put aside the job hunt on and focus on other things.
Now, I’m starting to get cabin fever. I’m a little restless. I’ve found myself listening to Liveline a little more than I’d like. I’m ready to start something new. I’m naturally a worker, and am starting to miss the satisfaction that comes from having put in a good productive day. I think I ultimately want to work in the not-for-profit sector. But roles are thin on the ground in the January of a recession! And the more the days go on, the more I’m drawn to the notion of temp work. I’d like to try working in different environments and see which I can contribute most to, and which I feel most comfortable in. So I think that’s what I’m going to focus on for now.
So if any of you reading this feel I would be a good short-term asset to your business, please feel free to get in touch! More than happy to use my blog to pimp myself to the highest bidder. Hell, any bidder. 😉
Thanks for reading, and also for the kind words of encouragement you’ve given over in the “other” place. (You know who you are). I’m looking forward to a challenging 2013, but in the meantime it would be a crime to waste this view….
Never mind your festive season, your romantic notions of White Christmases, your open fires and your winter cheer.
In reality, it’s usually just rain. Or slush. And The Grey.
February, anyone? Is there a more miserable month of the year that must be endured? I think not.
No, you can keep that.
Give me glorious Autumn any day, with its crisp, bright golden mornings. Nature’s annual parade of pride when the trees puff out their chests and wear their technicolour coats with aplomb. Harvest smells abound. And the countryside looks so alive and beautiful, it could make your heart burst.
The worst thing about Autumn? It doesn’t last long enough. It’s a few fleeting weeks – a parade, a showtime. Then it’s gone – it’s just a russet-hued, blush-soaked memory of better times, a distant beacon in your mind when the Grey appears.
I wish it could be Autumn every day.
On shaky ground….
So. We’re a couple of weeks into the adventure, and guess what?
Oh yes. Predictably, I’m beginning to wobble.
The initial euphoria of making the big decision has evaporated, and while outwardly I’m still projecting an air of brash confidence, inwardly, frankly, I’m crapping myself.
Far from the bravado of a couple of weeks ago, and the determination and resolve I had to make this happen, over the course of a mere few days, it feels like every ounce of self-doubt I’ve ever had has congregated in a corner of my mind and is multiplying faster than the worst kind of bacteria you’ll see in any safefood ad. Those pesky little seeds of self-questioning are germinating faster than weeds in a greenhouse and I’m at a loss as to how to kill them off before they strangle me.
I’m questioning myself a bit. My abilities, my motivation, my confidence, my skills. Where I can best apply them to benefit myself and others. I’m panicking because I’ve been scouring the classifieds for new avenues, and – shock – there really aren’t that many jobs out there. (No shit, Sherlock.) Ridiculously, I’m scared that I’ll actually find a job and be a miserable failure at it. (That luxury is, of course, just a pipe dream at this stage.) I’m worried that come next year, I won’t be able to pay my rent. I’m afraid I’ll have to pack my bags and move home to my mammy, at the ripe old age of 32. And I imagine she’s twice as terrified at the thought.
All rational enough concerns, I suppose. Mostly.
I’m also struggling a little to maintain focus on my current job. Mainly because, following a really frantic period of juggling lots of interesting and stimulating projects, nothing new or challenging has come my way over the past while, and understandably, such opportunities will be thin on the ground between now and the time I leave. It all feels a little mundane. But I’ve made a commitment to my colleagues and my clients, and I intend to see that through to the best of my ability.
The stress is manifesting itself in funny ways. Odd dreams, tossing and turning at night. Absent-mindedness. I tried to put my seat belt on at my desk, this morning. (Mind you, that’s normal behaviour for a Monday morning.)
My friends have been wonderful, though. I’ve had plenty of encouragement, and offers of food and lodgings should I end up facing destitution. I’ve had physical and verbal hugs. I’ve even been offered a van to live in. So it’s not all bad. I’m very lucky.
In the grand scheme of things, chucking in a job – or potentially a career – isn’t such a big deal. Right?
It’ll work out. It has to. And I’ll keep telling myself that, until it does.
The road less travelled
Recently, I’ve been getting itchy feet.
(Not of the fungal infection kind.)
Change is in the air. I’m restless. I want something different.
The past two years have been … tumultuous. Largely good, but rough, at times. I’ve been shown evidence of the frailty of human existence up very close, no fewer than three times.
There was a different outcome on each occasion. Each time took its toll, in a very different way.
But I learned a lesson. It’s that life is so, very short. So very fragile.
It’s too short to spend it in a way that means you’re not happy.
I learned another lesson.
It’s that the most precious things in your life are people that surround you. Your family. Your friends – the family you choose for yourself. If you’re lucky enough, the one person you choose to share your journey with, for whatever portion of the way. Nothing, but nothing is more important than those people. Nothing.
After almost six months of constant working almost to the point of exhaustion, I took some time out.
I realised how little I’ve seen my family over that time. I noticed that my friends were busy making plans, and I wasn’t being included. I saw how I’d shut myself off from the world, buried in a laptop, or sitting late in the office. It dawned on me that I’d felt for a long period that the very idea of a relationship simply meant more demands on the time I didn’t have.
To be fair, I’d been working on some great projects. Met some incredibly talented and inspiring colleagues and clients. I’d been learning about things I’d never otherwise have, and uncovering insights that made me feel genuinely excited. But in a quest to gain experience in the sectors which I felt made my job worth doing, I was sacrificing the time that made my own life worth living.
Such is the nature of agency life, I’m told. Sometimes I drive myself too hard. It’s true. But in a quest to find projects in line with my own values, I ended up sacrificing them.
There’s only so long you can go on like that.
So I went away to the sun. As soon as I stopped, the cold that had been chasing me for weeks caught up with me. I coughed, I sneezed, I sweated and felt sorry for myself. When the fever lifted, I slept. Then for days I read. Glorious, glorious books! A joy I’d forgotten. I switched off my phone, ignored emails. I got up at dawn and watched the sun rise over the sea. I took time to breathe, and do nothing at all.
And I thought.
I thought – what is it you want to do with yourself? What do you see yourself doing in five years time? And I couldn’t answer. The only conclusive answer I came to was: Not This.
So I decided – I needed to do something. With no alternative on the horizon, I decided to force myself into a making a change. I decided it was time to leave my job.
I came home. I talked to my family. They stopped just short of telling me I was mad. (I appreciate that they didn’t.) I talked to my friends. They left me in no doubt that they thought I was making the right decision. Some made me feel like anything in the world was possible, and I hope I’ll be grateful to them over the coming months for helping me to believe it. Someone else told me that I “won’t starve”. I hope they’re right.
So, I find myself at the beginning of October, facing into an unknown future. I have just under twelve weeks left to work here, before facing unemployment. It’s daunting.
Scrap that. It’s more than daunting – it’s terrifying.
But … it’s also exhilerating.
I have a blank canvas. Whatever happens from here on in, it’s my decision. I can stay where I am. I can move county. I can move country if I wish. (But I don’t think I will. I like it here.)
I’m scared. Scared that I won’t make this work, and that I’ll have to go back to my employer, cap in hand, and beg them to stay. To be fair, they’ve been incredibly supportive. But to do so in my eyes would be to fail. I feel I have to make this work.
All I do know is that long-term, I want to work in an arena which I know in some small way, helps to make the world a slightly better place. I’m happy to work hard, as long as I know I’m making some small difference. There are things that I’m passionate about. There are things I’m good at. If I can’t find a postion straight away where I make a living working doing things I’m passionate about or good at – fine. I’ll have more time to devote to them outside of my paid employment. And eventually it will come. I want to be able to wake up in the morning and know that I am contributing something to the people around me, to my family and friends, and even to some extent, my country.
And I’ll make it happen. In time, somehow.
Wish me luck. I’ll need it.
My 10k adventure – and a thank you
Two months ago, I took a mad notion and decided I’d run 10km for charity.
Okay, I lie. I did no such thing. I decided I’d repeat the efforts of previous years, and sign up for the Women’s Mini-Marathon, do some token training – consisting of running 500m down the road and back while feeling faintly ridiculous – for the week preceding the big event. Then I’d turn up on the day, togged out like a pro. I’d jog a little and feel smugly fit and healthy before starting to wheeze, and would happily succumb to a(n albeit brisk) walking pace around the 2k mark. Then I’d finish triumphantly by jogging across the line at a respectable 1 hour 40 minutes and head to the pub to smugly celebrate my achievement.
This year was different, though.
I work for a large multinational corporation. I’ll openly admit that this is not necessarily the career path I’d have chosen as a young idealist, but it’s worked out well for me. While I work hard, and sometimes excessively long hours, I consider myself pretty lucky that I can work with some great clients who do fantastic work in the social arena. I’m glad that as part of my day job that I get to meet people who inspire me, and I’m grateful that I’m able to play a very small part in helping them achieve their aims more effectively and successfully.
One of the single biggest positives of my job is that as part of our corporate social responsibility programme, I with a small team of others have been able to work closely with the wonderful people at LauraLynn House, Ireland’s first – and only – Hospice for terminally ill children. Social responsibility programmes within big multinationals sometimes get a bad rap among cynics, who suggest they smell a little of tokenism and are simply part of an effort to generate positive PR, but I say, if I can contribute to a cause like LauraLynn House, even to a tiny extent, as part of my day job, then that’s good enough for me.
I’m sure by now that most of you have heard Jane and Brendan McKenna’s tragic story, but if not, you can read it here where you can also find out a little more about the work that the Children’s Sunshine Home and LauraLynn House do.
Three weeks ago, I was confronted with an image on the front of the Irish Independent that stopped me in my tracks. Tiny baby Leo McWade, aged 6 months old, gazing up at his dad with his beautiful big eyes, had been born with an inoperable heart defect. Told he would have very little time, his parents, Catherine and John had brought him home to care for him side by side with his twin sister Molly. I won’t deny that I cried when I read of his dad John’s feeling of panic when, on a particularly awful night, he phoned the hospital desperately looking for help and was told not to bring him in, that there was nothing they could do. I don’t have children, but I can only imagine the how horrifying that feeling of helplessness must have been.
John and Catherine subsequently moved into LauraLynn House with Leo and Molly, where Leo has received specialist care. The twins are now six months old. John, during his interview with the Irish Independent marvels at Leo’s resilience. “Now we have gotten to know this little boy. We can hold him and he looks up at me and he smiles”, he says. They can now tell Leo’s little sister that they did everything they could for him.
I hope John and Catherine don’t mind me telling their story here. But I don’t mind saying that nothing I have ever read has affected me so much. I hope Catherine and John get some more time with their little boy, and when the time comes, I hope sincerely that they’ll get the support they need at such a terrible time.
LauraLynn House is a wonderful facility. In their recently-opened new hospice building, they’ve thought of everything. It’s full of natural light. The bedrooms are decorated so as to make them feel as homely as possible. While every room houses essential medical equipment such as hoists, they are discreetly housed behind doors so as not to serve as a reminder that this is a medical environment. Large recliners beside beds enable tired parents to rest in comfort. Computer screens where staff can access medical records double as interactive screens for children to play games. There are guest rooms, with small kitchens where families can avail of privacy and retain some dignity at that most terrible of times. And in the most poignant of additions, there is a beautiful room called the Butterfly Suite, where children close to death are brought to die with their families around them. Importantly, LauraLynn House is not a sad place, nor is its sister organisation, the Children’s Sunshine Home. Though the facilities between provide care and respite for hundreds of children and parents, they are places of light and laughter.
LauraLynn House receives NO direct government funding. Not a cent. Apart from some funds diverted from the state contributions towards the Children’s Sunshine home, on whose grounds LauraLynn House sits, the hospice relies solely on the goodwill of fundraisers to pay its staff, and maintain its buildings and equipment. Running costs for the Hospice amount to over €2m annually. That’s a lot of money to raise.
When I read baby Leo’s story, I’d already started fundraising. I’d already raised quite a bit, having beaten my original target of €250, which I’d thought ambitious when I set it. But reading this made me more determined than ever. So I started to make a nuisance of myself, and it paid off. I’ve known from years of getting soaked outside churches while shaking buckets and selling raffle tickets at table quizzes, that we as a nation are an incredibly and unerringly generous people. I’ll always remember the old gentleman with no coat and a jumper that had seen better days who, outside a north Dublin church on a freezing cold, rainy night with a shy nod pressed a €50 note into my collection bucket. Once people are asked, they almost always respond with genuine enthusiasm for a good cause. But when times are that bit harder, and money is tight, I’d have understood if people were more reticent. I was prepared for that. But the opposite proved to be the case. In the end, I’ve managed to raise over €1,200 for LauraLynn House, and to say I’m delighted is an understatement.
One of the most amazing elements of my fundraising effort was the response I got from my efforts to promote the cause using social media. Anyone who knows me will know that I’m an avid fan of twitter. I’ve been using it for about three years, and during that time (once the initial rite-of-passage novelty of celeb-following wore off), I’ve gathered over 1500 followers, and enjoyed thousands of fascinating, bite-size conversations with people from all walks of life on lots of interesting topics. (And politics.) I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting some people who I can now safely say will be friends for life. But despite my already strong conviction that the people you meet on twitter are among the best you’ll ever find, nothing could have prepared me for the response I got there to my fundraising efforts. In total, nearly half amount came from people who follow me on twitter. Astoundingly, a third came from people I’ve never even met. Some even passed my fundraising page on to friends and colleagues who in turn, also contributed.
So when I togged out last Monday, I felt I owed it to those who donated to put in a bit of effort, over and above my usual laid-back ambling through the route. Work commitments meant training time was minimal, so I approached the day with some apprehension. (By minimal, I mean non-existent.) An old injury didn’t help, but along with a good (and annoyingly, infinitely fitter) friend of mine, I vowed I’d give it socks. (I even bought special socks for the occasion.) The first kilometre was a breeze. I was starting to wonder what the big deal about running was. By 2k, I was getting a wee bit sweaty. At 3k, I was starting to wheeze and feel a bit dizzy. By 5k, parts of me I didn’t know existed were starting to hurt, and I had to slow down for a bit. (By slow down, I mean stagger to the nearest water station and consider catching a bus.) Around the 7k mark I was definitely starting to hallucinate and reminiscent of the Lenten episode of Father Ted where everything appears to Ted to be a giant cigarette, I was having visions of tantalisingly cold pints of liquid. (Swithwicks.) The firemen cheering us on at Donnybrook at the 8km mark bolstered the spirits somewhat, despite being somewhat of a distraction. By 9k, every single part of me, including my eyeballs hurt (and didn’t stop hurting for four days). But I crossed the 10k mark having managed to run a good 90% of the route, and clocked a time of 1hr 18 minutes. Not exactly impressive, but bearing in mind that I absolutely detest running and avoid it at every opportunity, I was pretty damn chuffed with myself. I was so chuffed that I even contemplated running a victory lap around the Green.
So, this post is a thank you. To anyone who made a donation to the cause, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart. I’m humbled by your generosity towards what is a wonderful cause. LauraLynn House value every cent of the money you donated. But in addition to that, the past few weeks served to remind me that despite all the negativity and cynicism that pervades the news, the papers and our everyday discourse, there is still an intrinsic goodness in us, and a desire within us to help out others less fortunate than ourselves. And it’s for that reminder that I’m even more grateful.
You can read John McWade’s interview with the Irish Independent here.
Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot …? (A Little Light Reading)
This post was written as part of the Great Cake Experiment (A Writing Project for the Unmotivated.)
Lots of writers contribute to a common theme on a weekly basis. Do pop over for a look!
Well, should it?
Depends on what you mean by “acquaintance”, I suppose. Time has this habit of flying by, bringing with it small chunks of your memory. Someone should have told Time that these memories can be useful to hang onto, thank you very much. There are at least two types of acquaintance-forgetting scenarios I think we’ve all played a part in at some stage.
Firstly, you have the Forgotten Face situation. Ever bump someone you’d actually completely forgotten ever existed?
Picture this. They instantly recognise you. They’re delighted to see you. They even greet you by *name*. They remember what you studied in uni, and they ask after your dog. Also by name. You, on the other hand, are panicking. You’re mentally treading water. Although in the dim recesses of your mind you have a vague recollection of this person’s face, you have no memory whatsoever of where they feature in your past. Flailing, rewinding at the speed of light over your school, college and working life, desperately seeking clues in the conversation (although they’re giving nothing away), and conspicuously avoiding addressing them by their name – because you haven’t a notion what it is – it finally clicks and – oh, blessed relief! – you remember.
Simultaneously wondering what on earth it is they include in their diet that helps them to remember such a tenuous acquaintance in so much detail, and trying not to make it obvious that you have only this second remembered where it is you ever met them in the first place, you struggle through the last excruciating moments of the conversation until someone makes an excuse to leave. (Usually them, because you feel too guilty about forgetting their very existence to also lie to their face about being late for something.) You wave them off, exchanging lovely-to-see-you-agains and we-must-meet-for-coffees. You breathe a sigh of relief for getting away with it. You still haven’t a bull’s notion what their name is.
Then, you have the opposite of the situation outlined above. You are the Dog-Name-Rememberer, and yours is the Forgotten Face.
You run into them by chance, in the middle of a car park in some god-forsaken part of the midlands. (Yes, I may be recalling a incident from personal experience here. If you’re reading, I’m glad I made a stronger impression second time round.)You haven’t seen them since college days, and memories of days locked up in libraries and reading rooms frantically piecing together project work come flooding back. You had all the craic back then. You really bonded. Such a shame you lost touch, you were *such* good friends – isn’t it great to see each other? Two minutes in, your ego’s reeling from that punch of non-recognition. You know by the panic in their eyes and the whiff of desperation that they actually don’t know you from Adam. In fact, you have a sneaking suspicion that only this minute have they remembered you ever existed. Stunned – how could they possibly forget YOU?!
Immediately, you switch the conversation mode to ‘Vague’. They don’t remember you? Well, you’ll give them no clues, and watch them squirm. Ask after their mother. And – the killer punch – the dog. By name. You haven’t forgotten, oh no. Then, you see the relief wash over them, as they wipe the sweat from their brow and you know they’ve placed you. Or at least remembered where they last saw you, but you know they still haven’t a clue what your name is. Trying to salvage some dignity, you excuse yourself. You’ve somewhere important to be. You ARE important, despite what they clearly think. You call them by their name at least twice as you say your farewells, and swagger off with as much dignity as your wounded pride will allow.
Yep, even more awkward.
There’s a further scenario, where you run into someone you know you recognise, and you know they recognise you. You’ve been acquainted in the past, but neither of you have the foggiest notion how, or when, or where. But the low level of emotional investment there means the awkwardness remains minimal, and crucially, you both have the good sense to mumble a perfunctory greeting and Just Keep Walking.
There are certain other acquaintances I’ve made in the past that I’d bloody love to be able to forget, but that’s a ramble for another day. I’ve even had a couple of occasions to think that Clem and Joel, as inspired by Alexander Pope had the right idea, and that erasing memories of acquaintances past wouldn’t half be a bad plan, but grudgingly I always come around to the realisation that those memories are part of me, as much as my skin, hair and eyes are, and to lose them, and forget what I had and shared, would be to lose a part of me.
How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;
One small tip, though. No matter how forgetful you become, always remember the dog.
Two Thoughts on Conforming
“Once conform, once do what other people do because they do it, and a lethargy steals over all the finer nerves and faculties of the soul. She becomes all outer show and inward emptiness; dull, callous, and indifferent.”
~ Virginia Woolf
“Nonconformists travel as a rule in bunches. You rarely find a nonconformist who goes it alone. And woe to him inside a nonconformist clique who does not conform with nonconformity”
El Camino de Santiago
I promised quite a few people I would write a piece on my journey on the Camino when I came back. And I will.
But for now, I’ll leave you with a couple of photos as a taster and say emphatically that it was the best 250km I have ever walked. (Out of all the 250kms I’ve ever walked – I do it all the time.) It was a retreat for mind and soul – even if it did punish the rest of the body – and I couldn’t recommend taking this time out enough.
The beginning – leaving Astorga. A long road ahead, with scallops and yellow arrows as waymarks.
We were lucky enough to get to watch this sunrise from one of the highest points on the Camino – after a 5.30am start. 6am starts and 10pm curfews became the norm. Quite a departure for a night owl, but I loved it.
These kind of traffic jams, I can live with.
Letting sleeping dogs lie…
Love on the Camino…
(Mind you, if he’d written on the wall of my house like that, he’d be adding a few more blisters to his collection.)
Boy, were we glad to see this place.
The infamous Botafumeira. This giant incense burner was traditionally used to fumigate the Cathedral at the daily 12pm Mass. (Pilgrims are smelly). It’s now been redeployed in a new starring role as end-of-Mass entertainment (just when you think the fun parts are over) as it swings through the nave of the church, accompanied by super-dramatic organ music. Just Google it – I ain’t no fan of mass, but this was quite the spectacle.
The sun goes down in Santiago de Compostela, on a rather perfect day.
More to follow.
It’s the little things….
Today, we buried my cousin.
23 years old, and until Wednesday morning and the accident, full of life and humour. We’ll miss him more than I can write here.It’s been a rough few days, watching his family grieve. Grieving with them. What’s struck me however through the grief and the sadness and the exhaustion of the past three days is what a big impact the little gestures have.
Firstly, the amount of food that arrived to the house within hours. Trays and trays of sandwiches. Cake mountains. People wanting to do something… anything. Anything at all.
The younger group sitting up all night with him. To watch over him. The stories.
When they carried him out of the house for the last time, nearly thirty cousins, so rarely together, but at that moment together in raw grief, linked to each other for support formed an impromptu guard of honour to see him off. A protective semi-circle wrapping their arms around a broken family. Only wishing so badly we could do anything to take some pain away.
Thousands of people filed through the funeral home. When I say thousands, I mean we sat there for four and a half hours. Four and a half’s worth of people queuing up to offer their condolences. There were queues for miles. Today, those who sat in the front row have swollen, tender hands and wrists. (A tip. When offering condolences at a funeral, don’t squeeze too hard when shaking hands. Work on getting that balance between ‘wet fish’ and ‘vicegrips’ just right. It matters.)
The guard of honour of the local youth group, with which the family is so involved, from the end of the road to the church. They waited nearly two hours for him to arrive, then they walked beside the hearse with him to the church as the ball tolled. Hearing that bell toll…it’s such a lonely sound.
Today, strangers in the cars on the road pulled over as a mark of respect for the funeral. Those little things… Things that you’d never consider worth remarking on, took on a new significance. I never realised until now how touching it is to have a stranger ackowledge your grief. I know I’ll be doing that myself in future.. it may not help, it may make no difference. But it might.
It’s been a long three days. But there are far, far longer days ahead. Sleep well, Spud. We’ll miss you.
While the music lasts…
Like pretty much most people I know, my existence to date has been accompanied by a vast and varied soundtrack.
For each memory, a musical cue, for every tear, a tune. For every heartbursting moment of happiness, a matching chariots-of-fire-esque musical crescendo. Every song, every guitar riff or piano intro capable of transporting me back instantly to a defining – or utterly mundane – moment from my past. I imagine I’m not alone in this.
Recently, I met someone in a social capacity (ahem) who, over a couple of pints announced that he wasn’t “into music”. Astounded, I queried him further. Did he not like certain types of music? Did he not go to gigs? No, he said. He just didn’t like music. He’d never even bought a CD. Ever. In his lifetime. In 34 years. (Sport is his “thing”, apparently.) He switches off the radio when he hears music, because he doesn’t like the noise. He prefers to listen to debates, sports commentary, even the death notices! Anything but music. He’s never been to a gig, nor does he intend to. He couldn’t imagine anything worse, he said.
I was flabbergasted. I don’t mean to be judgemental. Everyone to their own, right? But I’ve met people who claim they’re not into music, but you generally will hear them at some stage humming along to some naff tune on the radio. Or you might meet people who don’t actively seek out music, or don’t have any particular preferences, or just “like the stuff that’s in the charts” (shudder), but this guy was a completely new and different animal. I’d never before met anyone who actively dislikes music, and I was shocked.
Now this guy seemed like a decent guy, and in other circumstances, I’m sure we would have gotten on well. We’d traded GAA stories around the table – a sure-fire way to get me to like you – and he was quite a wit. But the minute he dropped this bombshell, I instantly stopped trusting him. I just could not comprehend how any living, hearing human being could knowingly dislike music. I still can’t, and to my mind, they are simply not normal. I’m sorry, but that’s just how I feel.
Music is so engrained in everything we do that I wonder how anyone who doesn’t like it can endure life without losing their mind. I mentioned how it holds over me the power to instantly transport me back in time, to a moment where I was utterly consumed in grief, worry, or unadulterated happiness. It can alter my mood in a nanosecond. I hear this song on the radio (not often enough, I might add) and it makes me cry. This reminds me of my formative years when I was just starting to find my tentative way in the world – when hormones ruled and the headiness of newfound freedom had just opened up a world of possibilities. This reminds me of the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. And one day, I hope to again listen to this song without feeling the searing pain in my heart it triggers now. Like a puppet on a string, I am at the mercy of the notes, the air, the melody. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My new acquaintance will never experience the sheer beauty of smiling to himself as he hears “their song”, nor will he drive cross country with the window down, singing at the top of his lungs and terrifying the roadside sheep and/or passing cyclists. He’ll almost certainly never sing his children a lullaby. I feel dreadfully sad for him.
Music may leave us at its mercy, but while there is music, there is life, and heart and soul. While the music lasts, let us dance. Let us listen and sing and celebrate and squeeze the very life out of our existence before the needle lifts and the silence prevails.
Fond Friends Forever…. or a friend indeed
Another post written for the group writing competition, The Great Cake Experiment.
Do check it out – there are just two weeks left in this round.
Once, a long time ago, when Kylie loved Jason, I loved Kylie, Snickers bars were called Marathons and everyone’s biggest ambition was to own a Walkman, I made a friend. We sat beside each other in the back row of first class, feet in white ankle socks swinging a few inches above the ground, sharing confidences. I learned that her dog got sick in the kitchen last night, and her dad shouted at her mum. She learned that at the grand old age of eight, I still sucked my thumb to get to sleep. We were best friends. She had pigtails. I, with my boy’s cropped locks, was jealous and begged to plait her hair, like my dolls. We made each other cards daily – middle pages torn from copybooks, adorned with pink marker pen, tin foil flowers, crayoned hearts and declarations of everlasting devotion. Together, hand in hand, we skipped around the playground, hopscotched and built dens under tree branches, where no-one was permitted to enter. We would be friends for ever and ever.
A rather frail child, I was susceptible to asthma attacks and chest infections. One such bout ensured I was housebound for a week. At lunchtime, between bouts of painful coughing, I could hear the screams and laughter of my friends as they ran and skipped and chased in the playground, from my home just metres from school. The week felt like seven rolled into one. Eventually, I healed and was deemed fit to return to the classroom.
On entering the room, I was met with a state of disarray. Chairs facing the wrong way, teacher’s desk stood at the side of the room instead of the front and there were new pictures I didn’t recognise on the wall, and – oh! there she was! – my dearest friend, my soulmate, deep in conversation at a new desk with someone else. I tapped her on the shoulder, excitedly anticipating a rapturous welcome.
“Oh, you’re back”, she said. “Teacher moved the classroom around. You’re sitting over there. I sit here now. Beside my best friend.”
I froze. The world stood still. Hot tears stung my eyes. With a flourish of her pigtails, she swung away from me, and resumed her conversation. On the desk, I could see the telltale glint of a tin foil heart, a declaration of friendship forever, scripted lovingly pink marker pen.
A friend, indeed.
Two Thoughts on Truth
“Truth may be stretched, but cannot be broken, and always gets above falsehood, as does oil above water.”
~Miguel de Cervantes
“False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.”
Town and Country
As is usually the case, this post was written as part of The Great Cake Experiment. 15 other writers pit their wit and pens against each other, every week on a single topic. Why not have a read?
When I was 16, the gap in my mind between town and country was at its greatest. Living in the country, in what felt like hundreds of miles from “civilisation” (in reality, just 4.1) with the only means of available transport the passenger seat of an unwilling parent, or the rickety wheels of an ancient pushbike, “town” was the holy grail.
Having a bunch of townie friends didn’t help. My best friend and I, living within a mile of each other in “the sticks”, envied them the freedom having a base in Town bestowed on them. They could come and go as they pleased – they even had their OWN KEYS. Our parents didn’t see the need for such liberties. There was no sneaking out late at night for us, and lack of gainful employment meant a heavy dependence on those parental taxi trips (and consequently, necessitated good behaviour, for fear of such favours being withdrawn), with curfews imposed. They even collected us in town at ungodly hours after nights out. (Sometimes we were grateful.)
We did, however have the freedom to hop on those bikes, and cycle to our hearts content in the sun, hair messed in the wind, exploring the nooks and crannies of our country playground. In this, we felt we had a significant advantage over our town-based peers, even if they didn’t profess much jealousy. We country girls even formed our own gaelic football team. How we bonded – us against the townies. Mercifully, no official records exist of our first competitive scoreline, but it is seared on my mind forever. Our crushing defeats were soothed over pints of lemonade and Tayto, bringing giggling chaos to our one-room local and disturbing the tranquility of the regular clientele at the bar. Our team may have sucked, but our friendships endured.
Fast forward a couple of years, to university. Sharing a house with four townie schoolmates meant that country/town divisions were soon forgotten. Hailing from the same area bonded us in solidarity against the city folk (or the other country folk). The quiet peace of the countryside was scorned and forgotten, as partying became a priority, and city life pulsed in our veins. You could say, without being wide of the mark, that Galway city isn’t much more than a country town, but it was a change of pace, and we relished it. And so it went, for many a year.
Years later, I impulsively booked a flight, and departed to sunnier climes on a personal adventure. It was a trip that served to demonstrate to me how closely the Irish tend to stick together. Country, town, county and provincial divisions are forgotten, as Irish abroad unite simply in their shared nationality. It occurred to me that we as a nation rely heavily on solidarity. We feel a need to have something in common with our companions, to possess and generate shared memories and experiences, and all too often, this connection stems from our shared Irish roots and shared sense of humour. We adore the ‘6 degrees of separation’ phenomenon, and the fact that no matter where you roam, you will always meet an Irish person who knows another Irish person that you yourself know.
Sometimes, on my solo expedition, it puzzled me. All those miles away from home, but doing very little differently than they would back at base – albeit while adding freckles to the complexion. I felt my own experience was enriched by spending time in the company of other nationalities and I felt the groups of Irish hanging out in PJs and the like in Sydney every Saturday night, drunkenly singing Olé Olé as the nostalgia-laced dizzyhighlights of Italia ’90 were replayed on giant screens, missed out just a little. But each to their own.
Now, years later as I languish in corporate limbo in the capital, I find myself looking for an escape route. The city streets which once held so much intrigue, and pulsed with energy now tire me a little. Not physically, but mentally. My visits home, and my solitary walks by the wild Atlantic have become more frequent. I relish the relaxed pace, the peace of the wide open spaces, the warmth of knowing your neighbours and find I need to tear myself away when the weekends draw to a close. I’m not unhappy where I am, though. I’ve carved out a wonderful “Dublin family” for myself here, and I’ve realised that it consists mostly of “country” folk. The irony. I find, when I socialise, that I tend towards places that remind me of home, and where I know I’ll meet people I know and understand.
It always amuses me that even within such a small country, there are such social factions. There’s a distinct vibe within my little group, and it smells of the Atlantic. Without even meaning to, I’ve sought out that sense of solidarity myself. 15 years later, and it seems I’ve come full circle. You can take the girl out of the country, but…….
This post was written for Week 6 of the writing project The Great Cake* Experiment Topic was ‘Home’. Why not take a look?
Home is … still where your parents’ house is, because you haven’t yet managed to decide where you want your own bricks and mortar, and nowhere will ever be completely ‘home’ until you can arrive home with a chair you found in a skip without it being binned as soon as you let it out of your sight and you have complete authority over deciding what colour to paint the ceiling.
Home is … arriving after a long, exhausting drive late on a Friday night to the warmth of a wonderful welcome … the dog. Who couldn’t feel loved?
Home is … tea with every meal, and at least one cup in between.
Home is … regressing to a teenage state of mind, but suppressing the urge to scream at your parents “you don’t understand me!” whilst simultaneously slamming the nearest door.
Home is … long chats with your mum, late into the night… realising how much she does understand you, marvelling at her quiet wisdom and wishing you could be there more often.
Home is … a somewhere you can lock yourself into your room and hide beneath the covers and cry until you can’t possibly cry any more, and not worry about anyone seeing you and trying to make you feel better. Then, when you emerge, there will be tea.
Home is …. marvelling at the full sky of stars you only ever really see when lying wrapped in a duvet, lying on the trampoline in the back garden.
Home is … being woken by the birds in the soft, damp, grey morning.
Home is … wearing pyjamas until 6pm.
Home is… a short drive from the sea… the warm, wild and wonderful sea… miles of open space and angry waves… where cold rain stings your face and mats your curls, your lungs feel clean and you feel exhilarated and alive….
Home is … truly, unashamedly letting your own self all hang out. No game face necessary.
Home is … laced with memories… that tree down the road you had a “house” in…the imaginary friends of childhood… the school up the road where you learned to read and write and grow a thick skin… the seashell necklaces… the long cycles on summer afternoons to climb the stone stairs in the derelict castle by the river… the teenage confidences shyly shared… the pain of unrequited teenage love… the agony of requited love… the blossoming of minds and missions.
Home is … no doorbell necessary… an open house. Where you know your neighbours’ names, as well as their dogs’ names.
Home is … is blissful, dark silence in the night … sheer, ink-black peace.
Home is… the one-fingered salute from the driver of every car you meet on “your road”. Whether they know you or not. In this context, “one-fingered salute” does not refer to an obscene gesture, rather a friendly acknowledgement that you exist, and are sharing the same space, and deserve to be acknowledged.
Home is … in you always …
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