Friday, June 29, 2007

The Curious Incident of the Things that went Bump in the Night

I'm a day late recounting this minor tale, but to be honest I forgot all about it until I was walking in the back gate to the apartment block this evening and I saw the bloody smears. As we know, I'd been out on the piss a little more than is decent of late so on Wednesday night I crashed and burned (inevitable, really). I headed to bed at about 9.30, finished my book (Anne Enright's The Gathering, one of the finest I've read in a while) and promptly fell fast asleep. I'm a heavy sleeper, didn't hear my housemates come home later, didn't hear the missed call I picked up the following morning. I was, however, rudely awoken at 5am by a panicked shout, the sound of the back gate smashing on its rusty hinges and what sounded like 3 drunken epileptic raccoons ricocheting off the cars and bins in the basement. I'm on the first floor with a window open over the car park, so I was well placed to hear it. The interesting part was when the gate clanged again, and there was the sound of more frantic scurrying. Then one of 'em started roaring in an awful Cork whine "They've called the Guards! Fuck, man, they've called the Guards! What're we going to do? Eh? They've called the Guards!" (repeat ad nauseum for ten minutes or so). Eventually either the racket died down or I fell back asleep, I'm not sure which (I have the enviable ability of being able to fall asleep any time, any where). I'd forgotten all about it until, as I said, I was walking in the back gate to the apartment block this evening and I saw the bloody smears all over the bars of the gate, around the lock. Some more then on the door into the apartment block, and on the wall in the lift corridor.

I'd love to know what they were up to.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Bloggers are Revolting

Today's post was meant to be a philosophical musing on the nature of love, but I'm not in the mood. Or rather I am, but Cupid's being a bit of a shite at the moment so if I dwell on things I'll only end up in cat humour, and that's no good to anyone. There are more than enough blogs out there already with a glass-half-empty slant on things, and I pride myself on confining my vitriol to my tales of inconsiderate pedestrians.

(As an aside, I was cycling down the canal yesterday when I got to that bit where the cycle lane's been barricaded off and you have to play with the traffic. A challenge for an uncoordinated novice like myself, made all the more difficult by two very stupid ladies strolling along the road, apparently oblivious to vehicular traffic and terrified bicyclists. As I bore down on the first of them, a look of terror in my eyes and a Fiat Cunto at my heels, I shook my head in that I'm-more-disappointed-than-anything-else manner that is usually reserved for mothers whose children have just crayoned the walls. Immediately stupid lady no. 1 squawked "There's nowhere else for us to walk!". My retort was muffled by the traffic, the 50 yards it took me to think of it and the complete failure of my lungs to cope with the exercise. "How about the footpath?" Poor, I grant you, but I like to think she got the message.)

But yeah, back to being one of the few tentative optimists in the Irish blogosphere (I hate that word, blogosphere. So wanky...). Well, perhaps I'm not an optimist exactly, but I'm at least happier with my lot (and the general status quo) than a lot of the other head-the-balls out there who favour us with their insights into life and all the rest of it on a regular basis. I hate to think of them angrily crouched over their desks, hammering the shite out of the keyboard with spittle flying from their lips as they rail furiously against the world and all its injustices. Makes me want to give them a hug, and maybe buy them a pint.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Redeeming Myself

I managed to persuade a prince to take his fingers out of his ears for long enough for me to demand a kiss last night. He's gone back to his hiding place behind the couch, but I'll try to lure him out with some biscuits.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Like a Monkey with a Minature Cymbal

I'm checking in again today with a hangover. I'm beginning to think this blog should be sponsored by Lucozade Sport and Nurofen. And yes, it's Tuesday, I went boozing on a Monday, I'm suitably ashamed of myself, yada yada. It's been a surprisingly productive day on the work front so I'm not going to beat myself up over it.

And I had a great night. It was myself and three friends from school, that I don't see often enough but whose ability to pick up wherever we left off, no matter how long it's been, never ceases to amaze me. It's a wonderful quality, and I really appreciate these easy and happy relationships.

I did feel a little like a fish out of water at times though. It's rare that I'm out in the company of women. They scare me, truth be told, and a girls' night out for me would be a nightmare. I've never seen myself as a girly girl but abhor the idea of myself as some kind of tomboy, so it leaves me a bit stuck. I don't wear fake tan or have nice hair (I suppose I might -if I brushed it- but it's awful curly, you see) but I do wear pretty skirts and paint my toenails, so I'm not a complete lost cause. But groups of women intimidate me. We're disgustingly competitive, us females, and I worry that I just can't compete. The conversation inevitably boils down to men, and at the moment (who am I kidding? for fucking ages now) I find myself tragically and bafflingly single. Plenty of my friends are in the same boat, but I have this tendancy to overdramatise my own singledom and assume that their men are just around the corner, whereas my Prince Charming is hiding behind the couch stuffing his fingers into his ears, thinking of a happy place.

I wouldn't blame him. I suffered what we'll politely call a romantic setback some time ago, and I haven't really been acting like ideal girlfriend material since. I'll grow out of it. In the meantime though, my tales of drama, disaster and debauchery have made for good conversation when in the company of my female friends. I may not be able to compete with the shiny hair and the size 10 jeans, but I can tell a good story. It's great to sit and talk shite to people who have a genuine interest in what you're at and how life's going for you, and to make them laugh while you're at it.

I'm worried that I've taken self-effacement to a new level though and I find myself a little deflated sometimes, wondering if I'm turning into some kind of performing idiot. The trouble I get myself into is usually as a result of my own short short span of attention, but I'd want to watch out that it's not stemming from some unconscious desire to amuse everyone else. A comedienne I ain't, and it'll do me no good to behave like one.

So i'll go get a haircut. Wear some heels. Spend more time with these strong, clever and funny women and try to learn from my past mistakes. I'll tempt that fucker out from behind the couch yet.

Monday, June 25, 2007

And I wasn't even wearing my dungarees

As one might guess from yesterday's post, it was a bit of a wasted weekend. After my do-gooder antics the week before, I spent most of last week alternating between earnest conversations about Belarus with family and friends and trying to amuse myself and not get panicky and depressed when left to my own devices. Part of it I'm sure was due to the antibiotics, the general DTs and the tick borne encephalitis that I didn't have, and part of it due to the culture shock I'd had and the natural time it will take to readjust.

I needed a break. I'm just not that good a person, and there's only so long I can keep up the pretence. So on Saturday I decided to indulge in one of my more wasteful pursuits, a spot of retail therapy. The last thing I need is more clothes and shoes (I have a bit of a flip flop fetish) but I merrily bought rings around myself for the morning, convincing myself that the cocktail party I was going to that night (see previous post) and the wedding I'm off to in Italy next week would be very posh affairs, and that lovely new clothes will hide a multitude of sins. Laden with bags and cranky with hunger, I called it quits at about 3pm, hailed a taxi (if you're going to be self-indulgent, why not go the whole hog?) and grandly stated my destination. Almost immediately we hit catastrophic traffic, so I decided to while away the time by talking shite to the driver. I'm about as imaginative as your average taxi driver when it comes to casual conversation, so when he opened with the weather, I countered with the traffic. "But" says he, "are you not marching today, love? I thought all of you types would be out, no?" "Marching?" "Yeah love, you know, pride, an all tha..."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday

No good can come of drinking cocktails mixed in the kitchen basin.

Friday, June 22, 2007

More on Belarus

I mentioned my visit to Vasilevka in my previous post as being one of the most affecting experiences I've had in my short and feckless life. I'll try to explain.

Vasilevka
Primarily a home for geriatric patients, we were visiting Vasilevka to spend time with a group of young people who moved there from another institution about a year ago. Like the kids in Rechitsa, the residents there have various levels of ability. Some have physical difficulties, some mental ones, others emotional ones, and some have simply been institutionalised all their lives and know nothing else. Of all the places we visited and the people we met, I found Vasilevka by far the most difficult to cope with emotionally. These are people my own age, with similar interests, who will never have the life that I do. Their radiant personalities made their company both a joy and a challenge. I danced, sang, had my fortune told*, ate, drank, smoked, laughed, hugged, and promised to come visit again. I fully intend to. Nowhere else in the world would the arrival of 40 odd sweaty cyclists be heralded with the traditional breaking of bread followed by a rave to "Ich bin ein Gummi Bear" at 4pm in the 35 degree heat.

*I'm going to have a long and happy life, and get married, but not have any children. Something catastrophic will befall me at the age of 46 (she couldn't stress enough how devestating it will be) but I'll live through it. That's alright then, isn't it?

Anyway, on with the story.

Home for Abandoned Babies No.1, Gomel
The name says it all, really, doesn't it? We spent a morning there, visiting the children (all aged between 1-4) and handing out the small toys we'd bought in the local supermarket on our way. The institution, though chronically underfunded, is exemplary. There are more staff than kids, and the love and attention given to the children is apparent from the moment you arrive. One of the carers explained to us how each child has a storybook kept for them, a scrapbook of their lives. Who they are, where they came from, their favourite toys, first words, best friends, all the things a parent would normally remember for their kid. Life has dealt these kids a shitty hand, but these small efforts to give them a sense of place, of history, of individuality and of how they are loved are amazingly thoughtful, and human. I think all of us who visited them will be profoundly affected by the experience, but in an overwhelmingly positive way. We got to see the good that people have in them, and the capacity for positive change that's in all of us, even when we don't feel strong ourselves.

Straight after our visit to the small babies in Gomel we headed off on a trip of a very different nature, into one of the exclusion zones that are dotted around Belarus. These places exist as a result of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the lands there are saturated with poisonous radioactive particles and it's forbidden by law to live there. Most of the towns and villages have been levelled to discourage squatters, but we went to visit a small community who continue to live and work the land there. There are maybe a dozen people, all that are left of a village of 4000. Such was their sense of place and belonging that they couldn't settle elsewhere, and decided to take the risk to their health and stay put. What struck me when I was invited into their homes was how universal loneliness, especially loneliness in old age, can be. I have met people just like them in rural Ireland, with the same regrets, concerns and material needs. We were privileged in that these people were happy to speak very frankly to us about their experiences, and anxious to have us understand how their lives are. On asking one lady (76) if she felt lonely living as she does, her reply was heartbreaking. "When I am in my home, or my garden, tending to my animals, looking after my vegetables, then I am home. It has always been the same. I am happy. But when I go outside, it is all fields. Nobody for miles. This makes me sad. I cry every day, every time I see this."

Circus Act


Only an idiot would think it a good idea to try to cycle to work in clogs. Obviously no good was going to come of it.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Tick Borne Encephalitis Update

Dr. Joyce says it's probably an allergic reaction to something.

Itchy & Scratchy

I'm paying dearly for this humanitarian adventure. Off to the doc again today as I've developed a nasty rash... I'm fearing the worst. I suppose it could be delayed heat rash. Or just stress. I've managed to convince myself that it's tick borne encephalitis though.

So I'm sitting here in work waiting for the doc's surgery to open at 12.30, dopey on antihistamines and sticky with ointment, worrying myself blotchy. Pray for me...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

(Very) Faint Praise

"I don't know how anyone can do those blog yokes - I'd be bored shitless typing it after about 5 minutes and would end up telling people to fuck off and go outside"

So, Belarus, eh?

I believe I may have mentioned (eleventy billion times) how unprepared I was for last week's humanitarian adventure, having been roped in just 2 weeks beforehand. Man, did I underestimate the impact it would have on me. Okay, I knew (as did everyone else who knows me) that the cycle would likely kill me. As it happened, the mosquitoes got there first, so I was spared the indignity of falling off my bike and instead suffered the indignity of 3 days on a bus with my legs in the air (which is not nearly as kinky as it sounds) and dropping my pants in the back of an ambulance (which, again, is not as fun as I'd like to imagine). Those days on the bus were hard. 35 degrees outside, travelling along at 4mph behind the cyclists, smiling at the jibes from my fellow travellers about how this was a handy excuse not to cycle and trying not to hate them as much as I hated the mosquitoes. I had some low moments, and were it not for the company of a fellow banjaxed budgie and our two medics I think I would have been on the next flight home.

But the cycling (or not) was only for 3 days, and for me was never the real point of the trip. Having spent two rowdy nights in Minsk at the start of the trip, we left the small village of Babruysk and headed for our first destination, a sanatorium in Svetlagorsk. The institution on whose grounds we pitched for the night acts as a sort of summer camp for local children, something that is apparently very much a Belarussian tradition. Sort of like my brother and I being packed off kicking and screaming to Stewart's Hospital for 3 weeks every summer, I suppose. Tightly controlled fun is the name of the game! Still, this was a gentle introduction to the mindset and culture behind the places we would see during the rest of our trip.

I hadn't appreciated how different the Belarussian culture would be to Irish culture. Belarus is effectively a dictatorship, and that much is apparent the moment you step off the plane in Minsk. We'd been forwarned that the militia are not to be fucked with, and one look at them was enough to reinforce that. I met a group of musicians on the last night of the trip (a Beatles tribute band from Amsterdam... you'd wonder) who told me of a scene they'd witnessed at the festival they'd played at the day before. A group of young lads were set upon and batoned by the militia and when the band asked why, it was explained to them that the kids had been waving the old Belarussian flag, rather than the new one approved by President Alexander Lukashenko. Jeez. I know the Gardaí come in for some flak here, but you'd generally have to be properly acting the cunt to get a kicking for it. Anyway, we learned quickly and coped with the politics the same way the locals do; keep a low profile, and don't piss people off.

From Svetlagorsk we travelled on to Rechitsa, where we had a charming welcome from the resident kids. The director of the institution in Rechitsa is the local hero, Ivan Ivanovitch, a military man who runs a tight ship but must have a huge heart. We didn't get to spend long with the kids there as we'd be interrupting their routine but the ones we met were gorgeous, and made everyone feel that their suffering (be it bike or bus related) had been worthwhile. The kids put on a concert for us that night, shouting tunelessly to the rancid strains of a piano accordion, and I don't think there was anyone there who had ever clapped harder at a gig. To see kids so happy to engage and so eager to befriend us, despite their sad circumstances and limited prospects, was truly a lesson in humble optimism.

At this stage of the trip, everyone was feeling the emotional strain as well as the physical, and it showed. We dealt with it each night in the way that large groups of relative strangers with limited options tend to do (vodka was readily available at about €3 a bottle). Not exemplary behaviour, I grant you, but as a social lubricant and a short-term coping mechanism we owe a lot to the boozing we did on the trip.

Fuck it, sure I didn't have an 80k cycle ahead of me the following morning. What did I care?

Our final port of call before heading back to Minsk was a place called Vasilevka, near Gomel in the south of Belarus. The institution we visited there played host to us for 3 days, and will play on my mind for the rest of my life. But more anon. It was a long week, and I need a stiff drink.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Fuzzy Head and a Sore Arse (My Triumphant Return)

ceann cipíní orm ar maidin. My Belarussian tales of joy and wonder will be recounted in time, but this morning (afternoon?) I'm too shaky to make sense. The trip was amazing though, and at the risk of sounding like a soppy socks-an-sandals-wearing do-gooder, I have to say that I feel very privileged to have been a part of it.

I didn't do any cycling though. (The sore arse was as a result of some nice lady doctor and a syringe full of antihistimine)

And I managed to learn only two words of Russian over the course of the week, a poor result indeed for someone who considers herself to be a cunning linguist. Tellingly, they were "thanks" (spasiba!) and "cheers" (sounds like "nostarovia" but I've no clue how to spell it).

I learned that I can drink straight vodka if I put my mind to it, and that I have quite a goo on me for champagne.

I discovered that I am a more patient and more compassionate person than I thought, and that if I take anything with me from my trip, it should be that.

I'm off to the doctor now for antibiotics, tetanus boosters and a hug.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Pretending to be young, hip and creative (and suffering the consequences)

Inspired by One for the Road's smashing description of the delight that is the NCAD Degree Show (see here) I was persuaded to leave the comforts of the flat yesterday evening to go join the crowds on Thomas St. Being disorganised and fairly lazy, I managed to miss the show itself (I was sidetracked by the arrival of two visitors, two bottles of wine and Indecent Proposal on the telly. I reckon I was 14 when first -and last- I saw it and I wonder now what my parents were thinking. That bit where Woody's going down on Demi in the kitchen, jeez...) Aaaaanyway, I arrived late but in flying form to meet my creative compadres in McGruders on James' St. A more fitting venue for the after show party they couldn't have found. No fancy decor to detract from the outfits, in fact, no decor at all. Or decorum. Or bar staff.

Deciding to shun the beer garden in favour of the cultural experience that is James' St. on a Friday evening, we loitered outside the front door for a cigarette. Realising what an ordeal it would be to get served at the bar, we tripped the 100 yards or so to Booze-To-Go on Thomas St. (what a shop!) and picked up a few rounds for ourselves. We then spent a happy few hours getting bladdered on the street, while the actual students paid for beer and pouted indoors. The local kids came out and put on some street theatre (the high point was when one of the little girls hammered seven shades of shite out of some poor young lad with her majorette's baton), and the Garda Mounted Unit did a ride-by at about 1.30am, but decided to let us off with a mild caution ("Here, move in there before you get run over by an ambilince. And leave the horse alone..."). Unfortunately there were no after party after parties to go to (or if there were, they decided not to invite us) so we ended up wading through the murky hell that is Dame St. at 3.30am in search of food and home.

This morning's hangover was inevitable, but made all the worse when I realised that I was due in to work by 11am (despite it being Saturday). Of all the things to have to face on a grouchy Saturday morning; a bike ride, 2 Kerry clowns and 50 sugared-up kids. I wanted to hide under a table. Thankfully, despite my complete lack of effort or enthusiasm the event was a roaring success. Na deartháireacha Fanzini abú!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A plague of pedestrians

What's the protocol when some dozy bitch walks out in front of you as you're pedalling in a leisurely fashion along the canal, trying not to look like you're about to keel over? My bike (ew, that still sounds wrong) hasn't got a bell. Do I shout "ding ding!"? "Beep beep" would just seem inappropriate. I can't shake my fist, I'm still new enough to this cycling lark to go arse over tit. Shouting some abuse might be an option if I learned to pedal a little faster, but at the moment I think I'd end up trying to make my getaway on foot, after throwing the bike at them.

Mornings never used to be this stressful. It was all ducks and eyeing up boys on my amiable stroll into work. Not sweat and bruises on my shins.

In other news, George Michael has cancelled our date tonight. So much for the clean knickers I put on this morning.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Capable of coherent conversation

Apparently I'm not. It's been commented on on a few occasions recently though, with one cheeky shite today going so far as to ask if I was drunk. See, sometimes I forget that my partners in conversation (for argument's sake, let's call them my 'audience') can't hear the connections I'm making in my head, and don't necessarily follow my trains of thought as easily as I do myself. Choo choo. It's something I could work on, I suppose.

Or they could just get with the fucking programme.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

My new hobby

Last week with the bank holiday weekend looming, the self appointed chair of our social committee (it's a committee of one, but she's vocal, and persuasive) decided that some non-alcoholic group activity would be in order. Noble ambitions, she has. So we found ourselves driving through the drizzle yesterday morning to Enniscorthy for our first experience of Quad Attack.

We arrived in a mucky farmyard, and made for the reception (a muck encrusted shed off to one side of what was apparently a building site). The place was full of plukey faced young lads, braying at one another and checking their goolies every 10 seconds to see if they've grown. We handed over wads of cash to the two chainsmoking 14 year old girls manning the counter and then donned some wet and muck splattered overalls and mismatched welly boots. Two of our party were running late, so one of the girls offered to bring us over to "the Shed". Off we trudged, expecting some kind of health and safety lecture. But no! "The Shed" was in fact the Crazy Corral, a kind of giant play-pen for impatient adults, to keep em out of the rain and the reception area while they wait to go out on the quad bikes. So we had to strip off all the shitey wet gear again, and have some fun.

And we were going to have some fun, if our hostess had anything to do with it. "Buckin' Bronco first" she said, between Johnny Blue wheezes. The 4 of us humiliated ourselves for a round or two, first by being unable to get up on the fucking thing, and then by being laughably unable to stay on once someone hoisted our arses up. At one stage, 2 of us wandered off to have a go on the bouncy castle, but we were quickly corralled back and told "yeere not finished on the Bronco yet..." Fuck. It was mortifying. My brother had the winning time of 9 seconds, and I think that's just because he got his leg caught as he was falling off.

On then to the bungee burst, which in fairness was hilarious. Though I would say that, because I won. I never win at anything, so it appears I may have found my calling. We had a wrestle then in the sumo suits, which smelled as if some sweaty bastard had died in them and just been gradually absorbed by the flab. Part of the challenge is to get back to your feet once you've been flattened by the other fatso, and the stench inside the suit is enough to give you the superhuman strength to heft your arse off the floor, for fear you'll vomit on yourself inside it.

Anyway, the 14 year old decided we were responsible enough to be left unsupervised on the bouncy castle, so off she fucked for another cigarette while we had a brief lie down to recover from all the fun before hitting the quads. Wet scabby gear back on, and off we tottled out to the field where the quads were lined up and a few of the plukey faced lads were riding around like lunatics (occasionally one handedly while they checked that they still had penises). Turns out they were to be our "instructors". "Instruction amounted to a gruffly pointed "brake, accelerator" and we were on our way. I'd never ridden a quad before, but it was how I'd imagine a four wheel drive motorbike with stabilisers would be to ride. I had a ball. Over the next 45 minutes we got more and more confident, pulled skids going around corners, ploughed through foot-deep puddles, raced one another on the flat and loved every minute of it. Well, we all did bar one... Some poor girlfriend who was roped in and seemed less than enthusiastic had been trailing along from the get-go hit a spot of bother when we got to the crazy off-roady bit at the end. She ended up flipping the bike and having it land on her, Ozzy style. The goolies were over straight away, pulled the bike off her, righted it and checked that she was still alive. Then they had a fag while they waited for one of the 14 year old girls to arrive on scene. She knelt by the poor spazz on the ground and had a fag, while they waited for some other guy in a jeep (one of their dads?) to come to the rescue. Cue much relieved smoking, and then we were off on our mucky way again.

No idea how badly hurt the girlfriend was, I hope she was alright. The episode wouldn't inspire confidence, I grant you, but we were all in agreement leaving there. Next time we've a Saturday and 40 clams to spare, we're off again...

Chatting to my nana about my plans for the weekend, I mentioned the quadding. Expecting a lecture on health and safety, I was surprised when she nodded approvingly. "It's great sure that you're getting some cycling practice in before Belarus!"

Friday, June 01, 2007

Bright eyed and bushy tailed

I love the day after a hangover. It feels like the world's been put to rights again, anything's possible and fun's inevitable. I was in the horrors yesterday. Had a meeting with my soon-to-be-fellow cyclists on Wednesday afternoon, then bonded over a pint. And then another. And then some wine, and so on and so forth til it was time to go home because the tattooed lady behind the bar told me so. As I tripped the light fantastic all the way back to the flat I thought, "hey, these people, they're nice. This cycling lark could be fun!" When I woke at 5am with a hangover so scaldy I thought I was having a stroke, I wasn't so convinced.

I had a disastrous day in work, bumbling retardedly through the day. Things worsened at 5pm though when I decided to meet my mam, as arranged, for a spot of shopping. We're off to a wedding in Italy soon and need to look presentable for it. And not only for the ceremony, but for the entire 4 days. Horror. There's only so long I can feign respectability for, and 4 days far exceeds any of my previous attempts. Anyway, never go shopping with a hangover. Or with your mam. I got home at 9pm, with a horrible dress and a lump in my throat so glad was I to see the couch.