Tuesday, November 27, 2012

In the House of Colour

I've just returned from a long weekend in Dublin. It's a strange place to go for a weekend retreat away from it all considering that I just left Ireland six months ago on the grounds that I don't want to stay in 'that hole of a place' anymore.
But Dublin was being its usual seductive self. The sky was blue, the streets were getting ready for Christmas and there was that buzz about the place that you just don't get anywhere else. When you've been away for a while you begin to see things with different eyes. And when you've been living in Germany for a while, you begin to value things like chit chat and common courtesy. You don't mind that the guy in the O2 shop who's title, I swear,  is 'account guru', does not have a clue on how you can reactivate your old account and scribbles down some vague phone number of a place to call, no, you only care that he was nice about his incompetence, and you leave the shop feeling good about yourself.
And you are more tolerant because it's Dublin and Ireland is supposed to be a bit higgeldy piggeldy anyway.
So I did the shops, buying a heap of things that I can get over here or online, but still having the feeling that I couldn't, and managed to end up like I always do in Dublin, sitting in a dingy little cafe with my shopping from Pennys spilling out of damp paper bags that were slowly disintegrating. One fish and chips later and I dragged myself along the quays heading out to see my friends.
But then I saw it - the sign: 'House of Colour'. Jeez. Would this be one of these Head Shops that they got closed down a few years ago? Turns out it was a hair dresser, and on the spur of the moment I decided to see if I could get an appointment. I needed to get the roots done, and if I was going to invest two hours telling my most intimate personal details to a total stranger, the dingy house of colour seemed like the perfect nirvana. And it's a cultural thing. Look, let's face it, if I go to a german hairdresser I'm going to get a german haircut, and the hairdressers will be honest and say things like 'your hair is not ze best' or 'i tzink that style vud not suit your age'.
But this was the house of colour and yes, they could take me. I just needed about 3 or 4 minutes in total to tell the girl at reception that I'd moved to Germany six months ago, that I had 3 teenagers, that I was divorced, what the set up was with the ex and all about our new apartment. She told me about her one daughter, the ex, the schools and why she would or would not think of leaving Ireland. You see this is why you need to go to hairdressers. They are all secret therapists.
My next therapy session was with the girl who put the colour in my hair. She was a young girl expecting a baby and I got to hear about the whole family from grandparents to siblings, let's call it happy therapy because I got to peep in at somebody else's life situation, and to do so was uplifting. Recently a woman I know in Germany was expecting and the only talk was around brochures on what the best wheels are for prams, and the colour coding of the baby room. But my hair therapist was all about people. I could almost pictures banners up in the house with 'Welcome' up for the baby.
So this is it, I thought, the house of colour, the house of real people who make you feel a warm fuzzy glow about life. Well, the fact that this place served rose wine for free probably contributed to the warm fuzzy glow, but still.
Then another girl washed my hair. She was going on about the amount of washes and rinses and conditioners and all that blurb that she was giving to my hair. I kinda switch off at that kind of thing, because no matter how kind anyone is to my hair, it always comes out looking the same: short, thin and a bit grey. But this girl was not only a hair washer, she asked me if I'd like a head massage. Would I what? This girl was Indian goddess with the head massage and gave me some little cold eye masky yoke for my eyes. I felt like an aging prima donna in the afternoon. I imagined that this was how royalty spend their afternoons. With about ten years of stress rolled off me it was back to the chair.
This was the cutting session.
"Would you like another glass of rose?" The receptionist wanted to know.
"Hmm, maybe a tea, I might get a bit tipsy with another glass." (See, I'm already becoming German).
But then the cutting therapist took over. This session was about learning that in order to relax, you must allow others take over.
"Ah no, she'll have a glass of rose for god's sake." (Never argue with a woman with a scissors in her hand).
I succumbed, hoping that this lady could cut hair as confidently as she could make decisions for weary aul wans getting their hair chopped.
She asked me if I was going out tonight, and I told her just visiting friends.
"Ah, but you'll go out after that, right?"
"Em, I don't know." I was very much looking forward to the night in, which to me was still a night out.
"Ah, you will, you have to."
"Ok, I will." This was the kind of lady who you don't mess with. If she decided that we were going to get up from the roaring fire and leave our 1995 Barolo wine in order to head off to the pub, well then we were going to do just that.
"What about yourself?"
"Nah, I'm not going out tonight, just going to the cinema with a friend."
Well like, hello, is that not going out? She explained to me that it wasn't going 'out out', and whatever 'out out' was for this beautiful dominant lady whose hair was Cleopatra meets Granuaile, I would have definitely left the fire and the wine to be part of her 'out out' night.
I rolled out of the place about a bottle of wine later. My hair was like it always is - short, boring and kind of greyish, but I was richer for the experience. The whole thing was cheaper than a session with a shrink, and I already had some great tips and ideas on how to change my life for the better.
One of them was rose wine, and as for the flex styler and rugged fix, can you only apply that stuff to your hair?
I'd grown up with tales from the house of the rising sun being the ruin of many a young man, but now I  had experienced the house of colour, and as I walked up the quays, the all too familiar grey clouds that had come out just held off the rain for a short while and started to wink at me...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Definition of Insanity

I used to deliver training with a colleague who liked to kick off the session asking if anybody knew what the definition of insanity was. There would be the odd grunt, but the standard next sentence would be that she would tell them. 'It's doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.'
Then there would be a few more grunts and the odd time somebody might pipe up that they had heard this before, yes, and that it is a quote from Einstein. 
I've been reading a wonderful biography on Einstein recently, and he definitely did not say that. No, there are a lot of misconceptions about poor old Einstein, and he did say and do a lot of genial things, but  the closest I can get to finding this particular piece of misinformation by anybody of note at all, is Rita Mae Brown, and if you think about it, it definitely has a bit more of a Rita Mae ring to it than Einstein. 

So after a while of hearing this quote once a week, I began to wonder if I might be insane. Being overweight is definitely related to my insanity - I try the same diets again and again and expect different results. I have spent years believing in the good in people, over and over again I have given people the benefit of the doubt. Damn, I should have just stopped being nice after I was stabbed in the back the once. But no, I have always believed that if you treat people with unconditional positive regard, it would be worth it in the end. Turns out I'm insane.
But the thing is this, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is not the definition of insanity at all. It's just a catchy sentence from a chick lit novelist. What insanity really is, is the inability to determine right from wrong. It is defined in Law.com as:
Insanity.n. mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.

Now it still might turn out that I'm insane, but not insane as in being persistent with things and not letting disappointments or bad results stop me from believing in the good in the world. You see, just because I've done tons of diets and never lost weight, does not mean that it would be insane to do another diet. Well, I suppose that's debatable...
I guess we all know what my colleague meant though. That if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. And even though that in itself is not strictly true, I do agree that one has to be aware of patterns of behaviour that can be destructive, and ones that work of course. But even if you do have quirky repetitive habits that do not bring the results you desire, it does not mean that you are insane. Stupid maybe, or quaint. It's what makes you your lovely self.

I assumed after two hours waiting that you had stood me up. Silly me.

Then of course there is the corny 'To assume makes an ass out of you and me.' Get it? An Ass (A,S,S,) out of U & ME. OH guffaw guffaw, how clever...
Thing is though, we need to navigate the world with assumptions. Assumptions are our findings, or conclusions, as such. I mean, how else can we ever put two and two together without making some sort of assumption. And again, yes, I know, some assumptions are not based properly on facts and we don't dive deep enough, and we see the world as we are, not as it is, but still, do you and I become little Connemara dwarf donkeys because I came to a conclusion that was not, strictly speaking, correct? The answer is, yes, indeed we do. Because to assume makes an ass out of u and me. And don't forget this one - if you point a finger at somebody, you are pointing three fingers at yourself.  I wonder was that Einstein, or Jesus maybe?

I would say that I navigate the world based on assumptions, but that doesn't mean it's the right thing. I would strongly advise never to take my advice about anything. After all,  it's coming straight  out of the asses mouth, and to top it, I am insane, right?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Strange Affair

My mother had an affair with a married man. An affair! A married man! It sounds like the stuff of movies was happening in catholic Auburn Road way back in 1980. But things are only ever as sensational as you want them to be, and the arrival of this man to our house on foot of my father's untimely death, was, well, something happy in the house for a change.
His name was Tom for the first 17 years, but when I named my own son Tom ( yes, a child named after somebody's illicit lover), rather than the usual 'Tom junior' being donned to my child, mother's Tom became known as 'big Tom', and that stuck.

Big Tom. I can only say what they all say about illicit love affairs: 'It's not like you think'. But really, I swear, it wasn't like that. You see, Big Tom and my mother were an item before either of them ever got married. They went out. She was never the mother to get close to her children and talk facts, so all I know is that he took her to Bray Head and she needed the toilet but was too polite to say. There were other things that I had to read between the lines. I think that she was worried he wasn't good looking enough for her, and despite the fact that he had his own business, he wasn't an academic. And if that might seem incidental to you or I, to an academic snob it was detrimental.
Poor (Big) Tom. I believe that while she was dating him she met and ran away with another dude. He was the dude who became my father, so ironically, without this twist in the affair there would be no blog about it!
And then, and these are things that I picked up as a teenager when she was half twisted and I was still a teetotaler, well then, my mother eloped to the UK with the dude who became my father and married him, and on the way to their honeymoon, apparently at a bus stop, (Big) Tom turns up looking for the mother. But the deed was done and the rest was history. He went back home and got married himself. Apparently unhappily and childless. That's what I was told anyways.

There are only a million and something people in Dublin and they all know each other, talk about each other and bump into each other on a regular basis. So about a year after my mother was widowed it was no surprise that the two ran into each other seeing somebody off to the ferry, or walking the pier or in a pub or something. And then (Big) Tom was in our living room and I was being a 15 year old and my mother was about to throttle me and he was being lovely to me, but not in a creepy way. He was actually the first adult, I recall, who seemed to find me cool.
The rest is history. This is a (fucking hypocritical hateful) catholic country. The mother never really let him into the family, he was a badly kept secret. She was afraid of it. But to me, he was a grown up who genuinely listened and took me seriously He never tried to impress, he was modest, he lent me books that I never gave back. He was the only person I knew in Dublin, apart from myself, who actually read Plato.  He took us out to dinner. My first ever dinner in a restaurant - Chicken Maryland, or something in a basket with chips. It was the most exotic thing I'd ever eaten. All of a sudden I was in the real world!
When my mother, my teachers, my siblings, all came the heavy on me, his comment was merely  ' I think we have a blue socks here'. I had to find out what that meant. And then I was gobsmacked that somebody could actually see me. SEE me! Somebody actually thought about what made me tick. Somebody cared.
He was shy. But  for a man who was predominantly a listener, when you got him on his own, he could tell stories to beat the band. He had a natural sense for something that I myself later needed to learn and appreciate: Unconditional Positive Regard for all of Mankind. He really did. He loved people
Every Father's Day hurt. I knew that I'd had a father, one who probably loved me, but not one who had really impressed me. I wanted to send Big Tom a Father's Day card, because he was my idea of what I thought a father might be. But I couldn't. And I understood the math, but still...
Years later, big Tom came to Galway. It was a golf outing. At that stage a retired golf outing, but we met up and we sat outside a wine bar in Quay Street. Just two glasses, but looking back, one of the most halcyon days of my Galway time. One of those rare moments in life when two people can express how damn much they regard one another, knowing that there will never be words for it. Just staring out in front of you at the world go by, and knowing you are going by with it.
You see, because the mother never let him properly in, because there was the (semi estranged) wife lingering in the background, because, because, because... it was hard to ever formalize Big Tom's place in my life. But did I need to?
I only know this: the man was inspirational in my life, and it is based on somebody taking an interest in me rather than judging me. Maybe because he was that bit on the outside it made it easier. I always find that the blood relatives can be overly eager to judge.
Big Tom spent his last months in one of those supposedly upmarket, yet pathetic nursing homes.
We went to see him before we left for Germany. Despite the dementia, he was incredibly lucid that day.  We chatted about all of the good old days and he told me about the ins and outs of the nursing home. I told him he should keep a diary. He said he was thinking of it. I told him he should write a book, he agreed with me. He said he might. We said we would meet up again for the mother's 80th in four months time.
I knew, I just knew, when I hugged him, that this was going to be it. I knew that it was goodbye, and I knew that neither of us would ever say that.
About six weeks later I was sitting on the terrace of a hotel in Luxembourg. My mother called me to say that big Tom had passed away. I said that I was sorry to hear it.
My new colleagues from my new high flying job asked me if all was ok.
I told them that yeah, all was great, just that a friend of my mother had passed away. Her partner, kinda.
'Was he old', they asked?
'Yeah, 80 something.'
'Ah, good long life.'
I ordered another beer and talked about leadership development.
When you're involved in an affair you do your crying in private.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Karlsruhe Poetry Slam

You do strange things when you move country. You start eating different food and talking another language. You drive on the wrong side of the road and if it is Germany you have moved to, before long, you start wearing sensible shoes and thinking that it's perfectly normal to hang out naked with strangers in a sauna.
So I shouldn't have been surprised when I found myself coming out of my retirement as a poetry slammer and performing in very bad german to incredibly large audiences who show up to see a bunch of the oddest people in the universe spout about anything at all for seven minutes. In Ireland it's three minutes, but that would be an Irish three minutes so it works out around the same.

But it's not just the time that's different, it's all a bit German over here. Last night I was invited to participate in a slam that took place in the castle at Karlsruhe. I mean, hello, the actual big huge castle, in a proper posh room with big chandeliers and about 200 people in the audience. A proper audience, with seats and tickets, it was even sold out. Not a room upstairs in a pub with a handful of people who have wandered in off the street because of the rain. And ah yes, rain. It was raining last night so I presumed that nobody would actually turn up. But they did. It was planned, they had tickets, they showed up.
I told them not to smile
It was like being a real performer. The 9 slammers were in a back room behind the stage. It was a room that also turned into a bar at the break time and it was full of drink, so the first real culture shock was being in this room with 8 other slammers and none of them ripping into the gargle. And they were young dudes, like all at least young enough to be my children - which made me want to say things to them like 'have you not got a belt, those pants are hanging down your arse' or 'your hair is a disaster. I know you think it's cool, but it's just not working for you, and I know, because I'm your mother.'
But I didn't. I silently reminded myself that I was not their mother, I was their co-slammer, and probably if anyone in that back room with the free drink that nobody wanted (they were laying into the chocolate and pretzels though) needed an overhaul, it was my good self.

The Slam itself was judged on the loudness of the clapping from the audience, so although they only used it to pick who went into round two and who was the overall winner, I would make a rough estimate that I came about last. Last is good. Last means you are an eccentric nutter. Second or third place is the worst you can get, it means that you almost made it but just didn't have the edge. So lets, for arguments sake, say I came last. Very last. Straggling in last way behind anyone else.
Afterwards was a bit like being famous though. A few people came up to me asking when I'd be performing again. I felt important. I thought the answer 'I don't know' probably sounded better than 'I guess never.' Afterward I thought it might have looked better had I said 'I need to check dates with my manager.' The biggest culture shock of all though, was when I got paid at the end of the show. Getting paid for slam is a rare occurance. Slammers are not really suited to having money. Let's face it, if I had money, I'd replace the need for recognition from small rooms of people with the need to go around the place in a flashy car. I could go shopping and I could have a therapist.  But there it was, with my name on it: Mags Treanor 15 Euro. I had performed for about 7 minutes which works out at 2 euro per minute which is 120 euro per hour. A handsome hourly rate of money for a wandering minstrel you must agree.
Then all of a sudden the room was empty and I had that anti climax feeling that you get after you have gone through the mad nervous adrenalin rush of fear, followed by the buzz of performing and getting a reaction out of the audience. Now they were all gone home. But I had 15 euro, and there was  a pub up the road, and my friend Ollie who was only too willing to go there with me.

In the end you're on your own

Yes, you do strange things when you move to a new country, but cycling home drunk at 3am, I couldn't help thinking that really, the world is the same everywhere. At least my world.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Four Armed Police Officers & A Missing iPhone

We told her not to have the phone hanging out of her pocket like that, but 'I told you so' is just not the right thing to say to a 13 year old girl in the middle of the castle grounds on a busy Sunday afternoon when she discovers that there might have been a bit of wisdom in what adults say.
And it wasn't a great week for the phone to get stolen, having both sons have their bikes stolen in the space of a week. We came here to get away from all that stuff, but apparently crime also exists outside of Ireland too.
It's just how it's handled that's different. When the young fella had his iPhone stolen in Galway, we went to the cops and showed them where Google Maps could locate it, to a street that I didn't fancy going looking for it on my own, but they told us that the police don't do Google Maps, and anyways, the squad car was out in Connemara somewhere dealing with a domestic stabbing incident.
So when Google Maps showed me that the iPhone was slowly on the move in some residential area about 10k out the road, I only went to the police station as a formality and a gesture to the daughter that I would at least try to recover her phone, because there was no way I'd be buying her a new one.
There were tears. There was disappointment. There was a post mortem. But then all of a sudden there was a police car with two armed policemen asking us to sit in the back, wear our seat belts and please let them have my phone to follow the location where the 'find my iphone' app told us the phone was.
My heart started pounding. Here we were as part of a police operation in a country where the most exciting thing you might normally do on a Sunday is go for a nice piece of Black Forest Gateau in a local Confisserie. But now, we were heading towards a real forest to attempt recovering the phone. The police were armed and had bullet proof vests. But what about us? I could see it all roll out in front of me. There would be a group of Russian bandits hiding out in the forest with the iphone, and once we approached there'd be a shoot out. I'd jump in front of my daughter and save her life, but I would die in the shoot out and she would end up orphaned and with a withered arm or something as a result of a gun injury.
Or worse, we'd be stabbed. Again, I'd end up as victim of the stabbing in order to protect the daughter, and although initially I would bravely walk away with a knife in my heart, I would later die in hospital. My daughter would be left stabbed. I would be forgotten about within a week.
But it was a bit different. We pulled in at the area to be met by another police car. So now there were four armed police officers and two cop cars on the trail of the iphone. I had handed over my own phone at this stage, which had the mapping info. We drove along forest trails and then into this nice residential area where they were able to pin down the phone to. It could only have been one of three houses, so they split up, called to each house simultaneously and at that moment pressed the function that makes the phone make a loud noise.
I could only see the door of one of the houses, being afraid to leave the back seat of the cop car. An elderly couple came out, looking quite bewildered at the gathering of cops in the area. Seems the other houses were similar. We left.
One thing that really struck me was that if I was scared of getting murdered looking for an iphone, I wondered what kind of risk these guys really put themselves into every day. All of a sudden I liked the police, they weren't just nasty people who came to dampen parties or deliver speeding fines. I had been in rotten mood earlier in the day, and the phone going AWOL had been the cherry on the cake. I had been feeling invisible and inadequate, always left to every damn thing on my own. But now, there was somebody actually helping me - four people, all armed!
The view from the back seat of a cop car
We drove into another estate, then another drive along the forest, and then they decided to give up. I felt a bit guilty, but hey, I was alive - no bullet wounds, no scars. So that was it. The phone was gone.
We had exhausted all channels - texted it a million times, called it a trillion times, traced it with four armed cops and sent a gizillion messages out to the universe to get it back. I couldn't help calling it over and over again, and then, all of a sudden I get an answer!
'Hellooo, ya, I found your phone, it eez in safe hands, ya, I vill brink it you tomorrow.'
So of course, armed cop in the passenger seat takes the phone from me and talks to yer man who has 'found' the phone. Tells him we will drive to his house and pick it up.
So the cops start to chat about collecting the phone from this dude. They say they're going to see what their first impression is of the guy. But I don't need first impressions. It's black and white: guy either steals or finds phone,  thinks it's his lucky day,then realises that it's traceable, sees cops scouting around and then answers the phone. Pathetic. And now I'm even happier that the cops are part of all this. Oh and... and and and... we are in a 'plain cops' car, and the blue light thingy is on the floor and I know that once we get closer to the phone thief they are going to ask me to hand across the blue light and I'm going to be just soooo super important...
When we get to the phone thief's house, my heart is in my mouth, feet, lower back and pulsing thru my neck, at this stage I cannot even speak. Suddenly I am Charlie's Angels, Wonderwoman, I am Joan of Arc, Tamar of Georgia. I am Septima Zenobia leading my army on horseback, defeating the Roman legions back to Asia Minor, just that I'm doing it in a middle class terraced housing estate in the outskirts of Karlsruhe. I am the samurai who has let my sword rust whilst my army follow with truncheons and pistols.

Herr Nettmann Von der Ehrlichkeit  (Mr Nice & Honest) is there with the phone, his bicycle and his girlfriend. He's like, twenty something and explains that he found the phone in the park and read the messages we sent to it but couldn't respond as he was cycling back home on his bike, but had sent my daughter a message on facebook to let her know he had it and would take it to her school tomorrow, as she had requested in one of the text messages she had sent to anyone who found it.
I say thanks in one of those squeaky voices that you get when you're mortally ashamed of yourself and your body has seized up from the neck down. I want to explain why we have arrived to pick up the phone in a squad car with two armed cops, and that actually there was a second car out looking for him too but that they are gone home now, but I decide that this will only make things even worse. There's an awkward silence. We leave.
We are dropped home by the police. We all have our phones. We are alive. Under the circumstances I would almost prefer a scar. Just a small scar, a modest seven stitches above the eye as a result of fighting for justice and retrieving the iphone from the bandits in the forest. I want to see concerned faces but assure people that no, honestly, I'm fine. It was nothing. It was for my daughter. But this is the story of my life. A happy ending was never a best seller.

Next Sunday we plan to go to a nice Confisserie and have some Black Forest Gateau...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

German Party Rules

An Irish friend of mine was telling me recently that she had to call the cops because of her neighbour's loud party next door. Well not really, it wasn't so much the noise as the fact that they were out on the street at this stage, mashing broken glass, fists and hurleys into one another. Eventually the cops came, but it took a while as there was probably only one car covering every fight in the west of Ireland.
In Germany, of course, things are a little different. So when my 17 year old angel had a barbecue the other night that ended up with over 20 teenagers making noise on a balcony, the police were immediately banging the door down by midnight. Of course I was the one who got the letter from the rental agency telling me that I had been there, that I was too loud and blah blah, and not to do anything like this again.
But that's what happens when you're Irish in another country. People just assume that you are a reckless partying alcoholic.
For those who don't know me or my origins though, I'm beginning to look like a German. I've reverted to practical flat soled shoes, no make up and a rain coat, and I travel by means of bicycle with a basket on it.
German Party Animals Drinking Beer

So even though it wasn't me who got sick out of the hall window on the fourth floor and despite not even knowing enough people to throw even a dinner party, I have now ruined my otherwise flat soled reputation and have to go around the place wearing my glasses and trying to look glum.
But it's not all bad. Good things happen despite bureaucracy. For example, Karlsruhe runs a car sharing system. You join it and then whenever you need a car, be it big or small, you can pick one up for tuppence, and for hours days or weeks, depending upon your need. Now I think that's pretty cool, so I headed over to their office having looked it up online. Being German, the deal is that you have to go there in person and bring your completed application form along with a valid passport, and being a good expat, that's just what I did. Only problem was that because I'm not German they need some other documents, so it'll just have to wait until I have another weekday morning off work, seeing as German retailers et al only open when everyone is at work.
See - I'm starting to give out, which means I must be settling in. And bizarre scenes, such as naked sunbathers, waiting staff hurling abuse at customers and men wearing white socks, shorts and sandals, are all just starting to seem normal. I have even stopped shrugging my shoulders when I hear about people going to bed at 9.30pm.
Which reminds me, it's after 11pm now, and the bakery only opens until 11am on a Sunday, just that time when people are beginning to get out of bed. So I better turn in for the night, early rush for those pretzls in the morning...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Diversity - sunflowers and travel vaginas

It's been a long four weeks, and it feels even longer waiting for the wifi to get installed along with being terrified to write anything bloggish using my new work laptop. I've started working for a new company who I do not represent whilst writing this blog. So the last few weeks have been mostly on the road in Luxembourg - a place that looks like Sims city with an old town attached, and this week I'm somewhere in the middle of Germany, in a small place famous for a culture festival that's always booked out and for people recuperating from psychological illnesses. I love it here. The weekends are back at the new place where I still don't have a kitchen or a wardrobe and won't have for a while as I just spent the furniture money on a new bike.
Germany never ceases to surprise me though. So I pull in on the motorway and visit the bathroom. Being Irish, I was on the lookout for a dirty toilet behind the petrol station with the smell of hangover vomit and wet toilet paper strewn on the floor, one that you need a massive key to get into, but one that also has had the door kicked in a few times because patrons have not returned that giant key.
The travel vagina - no traveller should be without one
But this was future toilet. There was a little machine that you had to throw a few coins into and then you find yourself in a cross between toilet Nirvana, and the funfailr hall of mirrors, only this place is all neon and the recorded voice of a very pleasant lady says something to the effect of 'welcome to this toilet, enjoy your visit.' It's a bit wierd hearing the goddess of  toilet send her recorded message to you when you are performing your ablusions, but hey, I'm adapting to a new culture. I make sure to wipe properly just in case the recorded voice starts giving me instructions.  I take a look around as I leave and see the usual vending machines, only these vending machines are not selling tampons and disposable toothbrushes. There's a mini vibrator on offer for two Euro, some kind of penis ring and then the most fascinating of the lot - a travel vagina! Of course, I do realise at this stage that I've wandered into the gents by mistake, but still, a travel vagina? What the hell is it, and what the hell do you do with it? I decide I'm definitely not donating my organs in this country.
All the same, vending machines are a good way of avoiding German customer service. I was up early Saturday to buy that bike. I'd spotted one on offer in the bike shops sale brochure and knew exactly what I wanted. The guy in the shop seemed a tad perturbed that a customer had disturbed him, and told me that sorry, they were out of that one and to try one of their other branches. 'OK, so' I replied 'but where is the other shop, and could you give them a buzz to make sure they have it in stock?' Poor bike shop salesman was over challenged. No, he couldn't phone them, they should just have some, and how the hell was he to direct someone to the other shop?  There was a lot of eye rolling and grunting. I picked out a different bike that cost 200 euro more than the original one. 'How about this one?' He didn't care, he just told me to take it down the road for a test run. 'What? Do you not know I'm Irish?' However, I returned just to annoy him and bought the bike, but not only did I spend 700 quid just like that, I spent another 100 quid on a fancy German Fraulein looking basket that you can clip on and off and skip around the supermarket with.
He gets all my stuff together and I mention that he just needs to affix the clip thingy for the basket, but he throws a minor wobbler and says ' I can't do things like that on a Saturday, I need to be here for my customers!' 'But, em,' I ever so politely argued, 'I am a customer, and the shop is empty.' Half an hour later I apologised my way out of the shop, but at least I had the bike.
Ah well, at least the shops open on Saturdays. German shops all close on Sundays. I can only guess that the reason is because Sunday is the best day for people to catch up on shopping, so they close just to annoy everyone. It also meant that I had to go out on the bike on Sunday, when I could have had an excuse not to if Ikea and the Garden Centre had been open.
An open shop on a Sunday. YaY!
Off I cycled out to this town nearby. The thing that I don't understand is that in a country so densley populated as Germany, how come every time you go through a town it seems deserted? The place was empty apart from a guy washing his car, which I wasn't too sure one should be doing on a Sunday. Nevertheless, I managed to go shopping in the end: I had stopped to admire a lovely field of sunflowers, and amazingly, there's this sign saying 'sunflowers 50c each', and there below it is this metal money box with a lock. Gobsmacked, I bought a sunflower. I couldn't have let the day pass without shopping for something, and it just feels so odd being trusted.
Further on, I either saw a fata morgana ( I was a bit dehydrated) in the form of a brass band playing tunes in a field, or possibly I really did see that,  but by this stage life was just too bizarre to explore further. I got back to Karlsruhe and sat in a nice respectable bar where all the cool people go.

I swear I paid for the flower
So this is what diversity is about I thought; here, in the land of fast cars and fabulous technology, shops don't open, people trust you, men wear ugly bermudas and sandals with white tennis socks and somewhere, there's a sad German dude sitting in a lonely hotel room, accompanied by his travel vagina...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The German Experience

It's been a turbulent month, at the end of which I am now squeezed into a mini aparthotel with the three teenagers and a suitcase, whilst all of my worldly possessions including my make up and comfortable shoes are, according to someone from the freight company 'delayed, and apologies for the delay.'
So I'm experiencing Germany as a red faced fat lady with sore feet wearing dirty jeans in a heat wave.
Add to that that fact that remembering to drive on the wrong side of the road when there are already four lanes on the right side, can cause profuse perspiration, despite the fact that the nice man in the Sat Nav never calls me an imbecile when I miss the turn and curse. So yeah, you've got the picture, I've very quickly become German myself.
Yesterday I went to the tax office to get some documents and have my tax bracket clarified. Apparently I now have 1.5 children. The nice polite civil servant explained that as the children have two parents, the tax benefit is split in two, so it equates to having 1.5 kids. I asked would it not make more sense to just say I get ex amount deducted for three children given my circumstances, but it turns out that it does make sense,  just not the way I understand it. So off I went with my one and a half kids, or off I ran more like it, as the time was up on my parking ticket and I started to fret. This is Germany after all, and going over the time at a parking space is a serious crime. What would the ticket look like? Would it be one of those nasty stickers right across the windscreen? Would work take the rental car back off me for being reckless? Oh come on, I thought to myself, I'm only ten minutes over the time and this is just mental stuff, it's not really like this here. But then I approached the parking area and couldn't see the car. Damn, they'd towed it away. Ah, no, next row, there it was, and yeah, there he was too, in his important uniform - the parking ticket man issuing me a ticket.
Parking Attendant, Traffic Warden, Getting Parking Ticket, Parking Ticket Fine Mandate - Picture, Stock Photo, Stock Photograph
Down with this sort of thing!
I began to run and wave my arms at him (to picture this, remember above description of what I now look like). The only thing I knew was to talk to him as if he were a Galway parking inspector: the rigmarole, and the please let me off and all that. He listened politely and gave me the ticket.
'But do you not give ten minutes grace or anything?' I asked
'We do' he told me, 'but it's 13 minutes now.'
'Ah, well then, that makes sense.'
But then I got the ticket - a fiver!  I had just spent all that time in mad Irish lady mode to try and get off paying a fiver. I was so happy at the cheap fine that I even smiled at the man before muttering 'auf wiedersehen pest' under my breath.
Of course I wasn't overjoyed getting fined in my first week in Germany, but in Ireland I always had this rant on how the punishment doesn't fit the crime. 80 euro for parking half an hour too long at the Claddagh, hellloooo...

So in between that event and a trip to the four letter word furniture store  I**A, I ran into a chemist to grab some painkillers for my thumping head.
'Hi, give us a box of fast acting paracetemol there love', I said in my best German.
'A headache, is it?'
'What's it to you?' (Is what I said in my mind, because living with teenagers you pick up that sort of slang).
'Yes', is what I said in reality. So off he goes and comes back with some free samples of magnesium and some other vitamin stuff and a glass of water for the tablets. I'm well impressed. I decide I like Germany so far.
We measure our new apartment and realise that nothing will fit in it. The headache bounces back. It's time to make dinner but the Pizzeria across the road has a sign up that reads 'All pizza, pasta and salad dishes, 5 euro.' I go over and look for the small print, there's none. We pile in. I text a friend to share the good news but get a text back telling me the place up the road does main courses for 3.50 and 4 euro.
I wonder (out loud) why someone in Ireland isn't clever enough to do this, and my son reminds me of the high rents and the wage agreements.
On the way home I see a man carrying his dog in a basket. A nutter on a bicycle is shouting blasphemies and a sign at the tram stop tells people that the next tram will be along in 3 minutes.
I think I'm going to like this place

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why I Voted YES

After going from yes to no to maybe and back a few times I voted “Yes” in the Fiscal Compact referendum today. You see, it’s like everything, nothing is ever pure and there will always be a part of it that you do or don’t like with particular gusto, but at some stage you have to weigh the options and then decide, because not voting also influences the result and there is nothing worse than people whining about the state of the country if they don’t vote at all So being a Yes voter doesn’t mean I agree with everything in there, it just means I think it’s the better choice. And as I don’t see myself as a preacher woman, I decided to write this blog after I voted, and not as treaty thumping canvasser.

So what do I not like? Nearly everything. I suppose a lot of people have their issues with article 3. That’s the one that says there are deficit rules for all countries who go with the treaty. It means that Ireland can only have a structural deficit of max 3% of the GDP. Given that last year our deficit was 11% it seems obvious that we won’t be able to manage to get it down to the 3% which will mean breaking the rules and then being liable to pay fines, which are explained in article 8. Thing is though, the rules would be introduced gradually, and I feel more comfortable being part of those rules than part of the system that brought us to where we are now. Also, many countries will struggle with these rules, and there are exceptions available for some circumstances, so who knows where it will all end. Possibly in tears, but aren’t we on our knees as it is?

But do we need the fiscal clause at all? Does the EU need to create and enforce rules like this? Surely if we agree with the whole idea of the deficit structure we can just make our own rules around it, the same rules even, but just for ourselves. Surely we could change and amend it if we felt like it, instead of having big bad Europeans trying to control our lovely little self sufficient independent island that has no need to interact with the rest of the world? Besides, what about all the ‘austerity’ talk? Does it mean that we have to live within our means forever and ever? Does that mean more and more cuts and no spending even during good times? Well not really. We may be on our knees, but we won’t be on them forever. And that is where I wonder about our long term perspective when it comes to the treaty. Does it mean our future economic policies will be choked by what we agree to now?

On top of that the terms of the treaty are not good for the lefties. Now despite being left handed and outspoken, I wouldn’t be a huge leftie myself, but keeping tabs on the future spend of a government is the polar opposite of Keynesian economics. So is this a power grab by the conservative Europeans governments in order to put down left wing politics? Surely it would mean that if a future elected government is left-wing those wings will already be clipped when it comes to creating new economic policies? And even if ultimately, I see the treaty being altered in the future, you have to assume that it is what it is, and that the vote you cast is looking at both short and long term. A bit like signing up for a mortgage I guess.

So what are the other options? Reject, default, leave the Euro, devalue, and move from there. Painful choices, but they have their points too. We like to see Iceland as our model student in doing something like this. Only thing is though, Iceland was not part of the Euro. Because we chose to join the euro our economy is tied in to other ones in a way that Iceland isn’t. More importantly, we need to remember that we have gone beyond the Icelandic solution anyway, due to the bank guarantee, and like it or not, it’s something we cannot just ditch at this stage.

But let’s just say we were to take the Icelandic route anyway, we might be looking at functioning better in the longer term, but what the hell do we do in the meantime? What would happen when there is no money in the ATM? No social welfare payments? No police, school teachers or hospital services? And even scarier and more irresponsible is that it may not even work for us. Treating our economic crisis as if it were a simple graze on the knee is a nice thought, but one that is about as connected to reality as thinking that the Fiscal Compact will also be the answer to the maiden’s prayer.

So why am I voting yes?

This is all about being practical and real above having an idealistic notion of how things should be in a perfect world. How we got to where we are has to be put aside for a moment, in favour of looking at reality, and fact is, that the harm it could cause for hospitals, all of the public services, peoples lives, etc… would be too horrendous. And although I’m leaving the country in a few weeks to go live in Germany (I’ll tell them to go easy on us), I still couldn’t do that given that I care about the people who I’m leaving behind. So despite my moral issues with all of this, I cannot, hand on heart agree to Ireland taking on the risk of financial uncertainty in the form it could come if we don’t vote yes. And I hate all of this, because I feel I’m being bullied to a degree, but it’s where we are, we need to be real. Without a shadow of a doubt, we are going to need a bailout a bit further up the road, and for that, we need the ESM, which we cannot access without saying ‘Yes’ to the treaty. So even if the treaty itself seems filled with pitfalls, we are going to need access to the ECM.

So, there you go, voting yes does not mean I am all gung ho about the fiscal treaty; I won’t even be excited about what way the voting goes. Just don’t see any other way around it, given that we have come so far, and when you are trapped on a ravine stuck between a rock and a hard place, do you tell the helicopter hovering overhead, that yes, you’ll pay back whatever it costs for the rest of your life if they come save you, or do you tell them to stop bullying you with their terms and conditions and that you’ll try to save yourself on your own as you don’t like the way they operate. And then what? Would you try to save yourself through the power of prayer and positive thinking? I think I’d chose the bully…

Monday, May 28, 2012

Galway NIght Life

Tuesday isn't a night that I'd usually venture further than the fridge, but last week was an exception. I found myself with a young woman and a bottle out on the tiles. Thing is though, the young woman was my daughter, the bottle was water and the tiles were the green 1950's floor of the A&E department at university hospital Galway. For some reason, the word Beirut started going around my head once we entered. That, and the smell of stale alcohol mixed with hand sanitiser. There's a queue to sign in and I'm already ranking people in order of who should or should not be here. The young mother's with toddlers who they think might have bruised their hand or arm or something ridiculously minor should be sent home, along with the people who seem to be serial visitors of this place, greeting the security man on the door by his first name. But I decide that once they see my feverish daughter they will tell us to bypass the queue and take a look at her straight away. Due to some sort of misunderstanding though, we are sent to take a seat along with the other dozens of miserable looking people cramming the place.
The triage nurse calls us in after a bit and does the usual blood pressure stuff. She doesn't wear a name tag and I guess that this is for her own protection. There are massive signs everywhere warning you not to give out to the staff, which suggests that it may be a common occurance. I wonder what terrible things the staff do to provoke the public into such behaviour, or is it just that hospitals attract the aggressive types?
Above. A&E Galway last Tuesday night. We've come a long way...
'When did she last take paracetemol?' The Gaiety school of acting could not train a person to speak with such monotonous nonchalance. If her voice were the heart monitor it would have been a flat line.
 'About an hour ago', I reply.
'Did you bring any more with you?'
'No, you can only take them every four hours.'
'She'll need to take some then in three hours.'
'So you mean we'll be waiting longer than that to see a doctor?'
'Oh God, yeah.' (She actually uses intonation for this one).
I am afraid to point out that this is ridiculous, given that I only need someone to take a look down her throat, but I am afraid that having an opinion may result in a longer wait, or even being escorted off the premises by the very important looking security man.
We are sent back outside to wait for the 3 hours or more until a doctor eventually will have time to tell me whether she should discontinue the antibiotics, is it meningitis, is it quinsy, or could it be glandular fever?
It's 8pm and the waiting room is chokablock. There are a number of over protective mothers with children who do not look sick, and although I am one of them myself, I still think we should be seen first because my daughter is on fire and has already fainted today. Well maybe the baby whose cough sounds more like a rabid dog should be seen first, but we should definitely be seen second. A stream of people from the travelling community are going up and down the corridor. Their loved one must have been admitted, and they are all there to offer support. I feel a twinge of envy at their close knit family and the effort they are making to be supportive. I know if it were me who'd been admitted my family and friends would just not have the time to come see me, especially at this time of the evening when it clashes with Coronation Street. A youngish woman in pyjama bottoms and a winter coat arrives in and sits beside me. She is carrying a pot which she proceeds to get sick into. I can't help seeing it, it's green bilous dangerous looking stuff. It's disgusting. I want to move beside someone with something uncomplicated like an ulcerated leg, but my daughter wants to give the woman her water. I have an aha moment where I realise that myself and the daughter are both quite different in nature.
Then there's the 'there's always someone worst than you' moment when an elderly lady is discharged from the golden gates of inner casualty. She stumbles as far as the waiting area. Black eye, arm in plaster, bandaged gash on head. She flops into one of the seats and even my hardened self begins to feel the tears well up. Her injuries would take down a boxer, but she is already old and feeble. I decide that it's ok to wait the three hours if there are people like her being seen to.
But then the ambulance men wheel in a drunk on a stretcher. I recognise the guy as one of the local hobos. There's blood pouring from his head and I tell myself that one must be politically correct and remember that a head injury is a head injury, even if self inflicted with tax payers money on dole day. This will probably cost us another hour in the queue.
A woman who seems to be one of the serial visitors here, because what else would you be doing on a Tuesday night, decides to play the good samaritan and hands me a magazine. It is one of those sensational sob story rags, and I'm not sure why it is needed in a room like this. I browse through it in order to feign appreciation. There are stories about children being murdered, children dying of rare diseases and children being neglected by junkie parents.
The people from the traveller community are growing in numbers and leaving in tears. An older woman comes in accompanied by some younger ones. She stops on her way in and sits on one of the chairs in casualty, hands in her face, she is crying, and it is a rare moment where a light shines into somebody elses pain. It goes through me as if it were my own. Somebody must be very ill, a loved one. Maybe there is someone fighting for their life tonight, so I decide not to bang on the golden doors of the inner circle to complain about the wait.
The triage nurse, let's just call her 'old misery pants' seeing as we don't know her name, comes out and calls someone's name. One of the young guys from the traveller community spontaneously shouts out
'he died'! I can't help laughing out loud so we both get daggers looks from old misery pants whilst the guy whose name she called out comes limping towards her.
'Ah sorry love, I'm only messing.' The traveller dude sounds like he's used to saying sorry. I like the thought that this place is so bizarrely dysfunctional and warzone-like, that you really could have a corpse slouched on one of the chairs, and who the hell would notice?
My daughter's health is rapidly deteriorating and it's now midnight. Old misery pants calls us back in to administer paracetemol and to tell us that despite being there for four hours already that we will have a further four hour wait as we are number 12 on the list. The ex husband has been on the phone earlier in the evening to tell me that in Germany we would have gone to a ENT emergency room and waited max an hour to be seen.
'So you're telling me that she won't be looked at until 4am?'
'That's right, unless an emergency comes in, then it'll be longer.'
I work out in my non-medical head that it would be better to give up at this stage and go home. We can see a doctor at 9am, which is only a few hours more than the wait but which will mean sleeping in the meantime.
I tell the nice lady at reception, the one sitting under the giant sign that says: 'abusive behaviour and use of bad language to staff will not be tolerated' that we are actually going to head off now and thank you very much anyway, but we have decided not to watch the sun coming up over Galway tonight. Not with a sick child.
We go home and sleep what's left of the night. The sun comes up over Galway anyway, and next morning the doctor diagnoses glandular fever. A traveller boy who my daughter knows tells her via facebook that it was his grandfather who was in the hospital. He passed away that night. I can't help thinking of the older lady now, maybe his wife, or sister.
I'm exhausted from the whole experience. I sure won't miss nights like this when I leave Ireland, and hopefully I won't need nights like this to remind me that when you use a community service, you meet the community too.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What I Won't Miss About Ireland

I believe that there's no such thing as emigration - it's dead. Years ago, moving country was such a final and desperate thing for people to do. First of all it meant breaking your ties with people and a landscape, and secondly, it meant embracing a massive culture disconnect, and for you young ones reading this, I don't mean having to go without your Tayto Crisps or dating someone who's never heard of the Saw Doctors. No, it was all about survival and renewel and it was total change. Even when I lived in Germany in the 80's and 90's, there was no live stream TV, or online Irish Times or Facebook or all the other things that make the world more generic and accessible.
Still though, my imminent move to Germany has been the cause of a few restless nights and one major panic attack. There are things you can't bring with you, like the Saturday morning walk on the Prom at Salthill, the light that makes the little stone walls on the N17 look black in the mornings and  pale grey on the way home. Neachtain's pub (the whole world is full of Irish pubs, but in Neachtain's the memorabilia is actually real and not a clatter of mass produced tacky and twee signs). And there's the madness of Ireland. It's a place where you can not only have four seasons in one day, but you can encounter four or five decades of mindsets in a single afternoon. 
When I lived in Germany before I used to blame Germany for things that weren't of my liking, and although it's true that one can generalise at times, I've learned in the meantime that no matter where you live you will always find people who are like you. Because ultimately, I agree with Stephen Covey that 'we see the world as we are, and not as it is.'
But there are things I won't miss about Ireland.

1. Tractors on the N17. For some reason tractor drivers don't seem to realise that the hard shoulder is a place where they can pull in and let normalers pass. Of course the tractor drivers themselves might tell you that they can't pull in as it may upset the collie dog that they have on board. Worse though, is when these tractor drivers get off the main road that they shouldn't be on in the first place and take out their cars which are filled with tractor diesel and then blow black smoke into your windscreen all the way up the N17.

2. The health care system. 'Irish health care' is actually an oxymoron. As a cost saving measure, RTE camera crews sometimes record video footage of the A&E room when broadcasting on the latest atrocities in Beirut. There is very little difference between the two. If you child or any of your loved ones are sick, avoid hospitals at all costs.They are places where you will either get a nasty virus, the wrong treatment or beaten up by someone who claims to have been ahead of you in the queue. 

3. The Garda Siochana. This is the Irish translation for 'the Muppet Show'. They practise law and order by 'giving out' and going around chasing criminals on bicycles.

4. Irish Politics. Irish politics is a bit like royalty. You have to be born into it. The only problem though is that it's like having a feuding gang of rival royals all fighting over who did what but all doing the same things to make the same recurring mess. The only thing worse than these chosen families of politicians is the general public who year after year give them license to continue making the mess so that they can blame them for the mess they are in themselves.

5. Hearing people say 'there's no recession on there' wherever there is a hint of somebody doing well, being happy, having success or spending money on something other than a loaf of yesterdays bread at half price in Aldi. It's as if we are not allowed to move outside the confines of recession gloom and doom.

6. Confusing Autonomy with Nationalism. There seems to be this assumption that we cream what we can from Europe, but that deep down we are not part of Europe at all, we are independent of any influence from the team we are part of and how dare they get involved in our country. It's a bit like my teenage kids going on about how they would prefer to be living without me and that I have no right to have any opinion on what they do or think, but what's for dinner and can you lend me a fiver?

Now there are a few more niggly ones but I will leave it at that for now. I promise that one of the next blogs will be on what I will miss about Ireland and why I'm heartbroken to be off. I'm sure I've missed a few, so do feel free to add my omissions in the comment section...

Sunday, May 13, 2012


One of the things I'm going to do when I stop procrastinating and start being to the human race what superfoods are to hamburgers, is to write a dictionary where you can look up words and instead of getting the meaning of the word, you are given an explanation of what the word doesn't mean. I'll start with the word 'sorry', and explain to people that it doesn't mean 'excuse me can I get past you there', if you want to get past someone in a full pub. It also does not mean 'I didn't hear you, can you repeat that please'. I will also need to explain that you can't use the word unless you feel remorse or regret about what you are saying, so if you are one of the bouncers in Massimo's pub for example, saying 'Sorry love, you're too drunk to come in' you are using the word out of context. Unless, of course, the bouncer is truly sorry that he is unable to allow the inebriated lady access to the imbibing house. As I was personally involved in this encounter I believe that no, the bouncer was in no way remorseful of not letting me enter the premises.

Of course there are other words which are bigger offenders, but I'm not in the mood for giving out about the misuse of the word 'like'. You see, it'll be a short enough dictionary, as it won't contain every word, just the ones that annoy me, because after all, I am the centre of the universe.
Apart from my book I'll be working on other things. I'll be opening an online school teaching courses via webinar and I'll be finished the 17 day diet - it should be 15 but I had to go back to 'Go' and start all over again following an evening of having heterosexuals try to brainwash me into joining their congregation, being refused entry to a pub, sitting on a bench talking to someone I hardly know at about 4am when I knew that I'd have to be up with the larks rather than up before them. But the chips - I do regret that big bag of chips. But I'm sorry like, they were forced on me, so I have to start all over again. Sorry.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Everything and Nothing

If you ever delve into  'The Lives of the Great Poets', you will find a thread that is unrelated to all writing. Most poets, and writers come to that, seem to go through splurges of wealth and affluence followed by dire poverty and lives lived in run down garrets. I remember reading about one guy who got a stipend which was to last him for a year. He went out and had a crimson waistcoat hand tailored, bought a pocket watch and then lived like a pauper eating stale bread crusts and drinking water for the rest of the year. Oh how right he was!
You see I've gone through various stages of wealth and poverty over the years, and I find it interesting. Growing up in middle class south county Dublin was a bit like living in a bubble. I assumed that there was a certain level of affluence that would always be a given. Just like we assume that having electricity or running water is a given, even though all of these things are always hanging on the edge of a cliff.
In my early twenties I had already set up my own business and over the years I found that money came easy to me. So easy that I was always to ready to let it go too.
Then, at some stage, I had this epiphany. I decided that I had enough money now to live off and I'd go back to college and then become a wroiter loike. It was a great idea and there were a few very bohemian years that I will never want to have missed. But then the money ran out and it was all just a tad less romantic than how it had started out.
But here's the thing, here's how to live a life of constant abundance - no matter how much or how little you have, if you splurge a large amount of it on something luxurious that brings you joy, well then, you will always be rich.
I was trying to explain that to a friend of mine recently. We were going to dinner, my treat. He was all like  lets go somewhere cheap, I don't want to put you to any expense, and I was all like, let's go to the best restaurant in town and live it up for the night. Me being the dominant and bossy type we ended up making a democratic decision to go to the good place. Because you see, what's an extra 50 or 100 quid if you always remember your lovely night out? And let's face it, even a tenner is too expensive if you're paying for something that involves a compromise.
So I've noticed a pattern. I tend to spend most of my monthly salary in week one. Then I spend the next two and a half weeks penny pinching. The last half week of the month is spent going through the pockets of all my clothes and routing down the back of the sofa for loose change.  But you see, on the hunger days, you can still think of the good wine. And if you only had abundance, you'd be an awful ungrateful and miserable git.
Maybe that's why I can't bring myself to set up an excel spreadsheet with a budget plan, and maybe deep down I don't like to hold on to money for too long. Go on, give me a lecture on how reckless I am and how I need to change my ways. Remind me of how I complain when the cashflow aint flowing.

Truth be told, I hate all of those 'get rich' plans on how to accumulate money. They do talk some sense, but ultimately they only ever work if you have no sense of community and if you don't like the good life.
I've never been able to click with stingy people. I always think they're working out how much they can save, but I never know what they're saving it for, because when they have it saved they'll be too stingy to spend it.
So there you go, the last April blog. It's the end of the month. Did you get paid? Ever thought of donating to me on this blog? I promise to spend it on good wine.
And that reminds me actually. I hate when people don't give money to beggars on the grounds of 'he'll only spend it on drink.' I mean hello, we spend our money on drink too. What should a homeless man spend his money on? The ESB bill? Candlesticks? A lawnmower?
As Robert Frost reminds us 'There's no money in poetry, but then again, there's no poetry in money.'

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Seeing the World

I happened to be wandering upstate Galway at about 8am this morning, and don't jump to conclusions, I hadn't been kicked out of some fiery goddess's bed for wearing her out, no, I had been dropping some random teen of mine to the bus. So I ended up strolling through the Galway market early enough that most stalls were just being set up, and it had that buzz about it that I love so much more than when it's in full swing. Planks and poles being carted along on makeshift trollies made of old prams, stall holders fighting over inches of precious space and the smell of second-hand, home-grown and incense merging, to create that smell that you only get at the Galway Market.
There's a guy eating oysters as fast as Mike, the Oyster & Egg man, can slice them open. I decide that it's not every day of the week you get the opportunity to have fresh native oysters for breakfast, so I ask Mike if I can have just the one, and as he hands it to me I realise I have no money on me. Mike says to get him next time but in the end I manage to route out a few coins and we're quits. Behind him, Gillie, vendor of all little things that make you feel good about life - over the years I've acquired a rainbow coloured teapot, some funny fridge magnets, worry dolls - a little set of Mexican matchstick figures in boleros. You tell them your worries, put them under your pillow and next morning your worries are gone. When my worry dolls didn't work after I told them about my love and financial worries three nights running to no effect, I returned them, and Gillie gave me my money back. I've also bought masses of photo frames, kilos of incense, eco friendly washing nuggets and soya candles.
I greet Gillie who's standing with Daniel, the do-nut man, a skinny Noo Yowk dude who transports his do-nut business week in, week out by bicycle and a strange looking homemade trailer.
Then there's Mick, who sells the crepes. Mick, who feeds all the Galway hobos for free with his fresh organic ingredients. Mick, who just seems to know by the look in your face that your broke and throws in an extra or makes up a price that he thinks might suit you better today. Mick, who used to be Mick and Susanna, and who I used to have on my check list of people who I'll give an envelope with a few grand in it when I win the lotto and start publishing my best sellers. Last year Susanna lost the fight. If you could fight cancer with a lip on you and a sean-nos voice that would make a tinker cry, she'd still be around. But you can't. So I'll just have to remember Susanna getting kicked out of the pub but insisting on climbing back in the window to sing just one more song.
I chat briefly with Gillie about what a godawful place Galway is, and while I do, the egg man and the do-nut man, who she'll probably have an argument with within ten minutes, are putting up her stall. I wonder if they're doing it because they know how ill Gillie has been but how you can't just stop trading, there's no safety net. But I decide that they're the kind of guys who do nice things anyway.
You see, this is the stuff the market is made of: people, real people, making Galway be Galway. The traders have it harder than any other kind of retailers, they are the kind of people who the banks didn't help even when they were throwing money at people, and yet, the customers tend to believe that they should get everything for tuppence because it's not high street robbery land.
So I go into Griffin's for a coffee and a danish (yes, I know that I won't miraculously lose weight that way) and there's a group of people beside me to include a loud English girl going on and on about what sort of essential oil is best to kill the mozzies in Sri Lanka. I can't help eavesdropping, and it becomes clear that she's shortly due to leave for Africa where she's going to work in an orphanage. "I'm looking forward to the animals out there" she says, but the humdinger was yet to come "and Tribes, Africa is great for Tribes." I wondered what she might think Ireland is 'great for'. Drunks? Rain? Rip-offs?

After my breakfast I stroll back down the market. It's in full swing now. Americans are taking photos of the Hare Krishna man and buying nothing. At the very end I see a camera crew. They're taking the usual carrotscape and romantic 'day at the market' swing on things. I bump into a friend who is just back from Australia and Thailand, she's not finished travelling yet, she's due to go to Seattle in another month. She's giving me a pain, and I glance around, noticing that the old farmer couple are here today, the ones who just set up the one small table and sell eggs, along with whatever amount of apple tarts she managed to make this week. The flower seller is annoying the passing traffic. He's too far out on the road.
As I walk back to the car I realise that I haven't travelled the world at all, but at least I see it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Time Does

I give a session at work on Time Management. It used to be a day, now it's an hour, but I could give it in 5 minutes or less just by saying this: You can't manage time, you can only manage yourself, and time goes by at different speeds - Kairos & Chronos. The End.
Chronos is the expression for time passing in a, yes, chronological way: second for second, hour for hour and all that jazz. Kairos is the concept of how time flies, or doesn't depending on how absorbed you are in something, or in a hurry, or waiting for pay day.
There's one thing I never go through though, and that's the passing of time as in when you get older, or the seasons of things, or happy times and sad times, because after all, it is our feelings that carry us through time and not any other mechanics.
Yesterday my Mother phoned me. She has the start of dementia. On a bad day she thinks I'm her sister, and how come I never told her where I live. She tells me about the people who hide in the attic and come out at night. But the good days I find harder to hear about. Yesterday she called me and knew who I was, but she told me that she was dying: dying of loneliness. She told me that she drove the car around aimlessly for a while and then skulked around the aisles at the supermarket, just to be around people.
This year she lost two of her best friends while her life partner is in hospital and has alzheimers. I've never been close to my mother, there's a lot of history in our family, and sometimes the rubble of all of our wars over the years feels like it lives in the bottom of my heart. Again though, these things all have a sell by date. Time can do minor spells. But still, I couldn't help feeling sorry for her. She was always surrounded by people, and even if we were never close, I'm told I'm the cut of her, similarly throwing random parties, knowing lots of people, embracing life.
Lonely Place...
So I realised I'm on the same path really. Now that I'm single again I feel like a ghost in the living room. No wonder I've been on a crusade of finding exciting liaisons with gorgeous women. Who wants to be on their own? Only thing is though, unlike the Ma, I'm the kind of person who can get even lonelier when with people. The more I connect the more I disconnect, and I'm always fascinated at how lonely I feel when I really am an extrovert. Thing is though, I believe most extroverts are so desperately shy that they need to keep talking and grabbing attention and acting the clown because it means that people don't get to meet them at all. I'd be surprised if anyone ever really had the measure of me, but I'd say a lot of people think they might, judging on the aul' play acting.
So, on another loneliness and misunderstanding note, I had a run in with the ex this evening. This is the first time I've been in an acrimonious separation. I'm just not the burning bridges kinda gal. I like to at least make amends and get closure, but  it seems to come easy to her, she won the all Ireland acrimonious separation competition two years running now, but my problem is that I let it get to me and ended up dumping furniture outside her house. I won't go into detail other than to say that it is incredible the extremes that you can go to when someone you once loved turns out to be a scheming bitch and hurts you so much that you'd consider leaving the country to get away from the pain.
But hang on, wasn't this blog meant to be a funny, hilarious spin on life? Damn, well I suppose the good thing about having a bit of PMT (which has obviously brought on my melancholy disposition) is that I'm not menopausal, and let's face it, it's better to be heartbroken than bored, or sick, or up in court. Oh wait, no, it isn't. I guess I'll just have to live by the wisdom of the fridge magnet: It's better to have loved and to have lost than to live with the psycho for the rest of your life.
I'd like to say time will tell, but you see, I can't manage time,  I can only manage myself...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sleeping With Strangers

If you ever make an appointment to meet somebody at noon in Leipzig and you're travelling from Galway, prepare for adventure. Well I guess only in my case, but thanks to the good old German railway having a 3 minute delay, all of my connections were gone, and given that everyone in Germany goes to bed at about 8pm, it was the last train that I'd missed. But hey, I'm a well seasoned traveller, and having  been half way around the world with a rucksack I knew I'd come up with something creative. So I wandered across the road to a nearby hotel and decided to check in and get going again next morning. A swarm of Asian gentleman and a perplex receptionist with one of those nasal sounding voices informed me that the Frankfurt fair was on and that not only were the rooms all booked out but that they cost €400 tonight. She gave me a further look as if to confirm that €400 was probably three times my life savings, and although the math wasn't too far off, I decided that I'd have to bite the bullet and find some grubby place to hand a fortune over to in order to eventually get to my appointment looking halfway human.
So then I get a brainwave. Of course - the night train. I only have to hang out in the station for about 4 hours and not only will I get to my destination, I will be taken there in my bed, aka a nice little couchette.
I go into the booking office and reserve a couchette, only to realise that I've left my laser card on the kitchen table back in Galway. I'm not that impressed with myself at the best of times, but bringing on a situation where I am now a homeless bag lady in Frankfurt station is not exactly impressive. I have about enough left to pay for the couchette, a soggy salami roll and a bottle of the cheap water, leaving me with a surplus of €13 which will have to get me to my location upon arrival and somehow pay the ticket to Berlin for 50 odd quid or so. But I decide to worry about that later, first I need to get to Leipzig, and let's face it, this is turning into quite some adventure, after all, I spent all of my teenage years wishing that I could be transported from my bedroom to school by means of someone taking me there in my bed. So wasn't this the nearest I'd ever get?
Couchette Land
It was exciting sitting there on the platform watching the goods trains go by. Well ok, the first dozen or so were interesting, but then the wind chill factor dropped and I was close to approaching one of the hobos and asking if I could share a blanket and would they maybe have the lend of a fiver? But the train pulled up and off I headed to carriage number 265, bed 131. It was a bottom bunk and there was a bloke in the bunk beside me. I wasn't quite sure how you greet a stranger who you are going to spend the night sharing a bedroom of sorts with, so I just mumbled something like 'sorry, I'm just going to turn on my torch for a sec' ( I wasn't going to explain that it was actually the light from my kindle and that I don't normally travel with torches when not expecting to share a couchette with a stranger), to which he replied 'no problem, are you going all the way?'
 'Excuse me?'
 'All the way to Prague?' Oh god, now there was a thought, but now that I've become a respectable woman with an appointment in Leipzig, I can confidently tell the stranger that no, I'm not going all the way. I'm definitely not changing plans on a whim now that it's my kids who will kill me when I get home and not my mammy.
We pull out of the station and I'm loving it. The shunting sounds, the screeching and just the excitement of thinking that I could go to bed in Frankfurt and wake up in Leipzig. I settle into my couchette which sounds so much like cosy and couch and all comfy things. In fact it is not much more than a plank with a fresh shroud, a blanket and a pillow. And these things are designed more for the anorexic than the rubenesque. I turn off my kindle light and take off my jeans. I wonder if he's the perv type trying to have a peek, or is he just your normal practical German who sees this adventure as nothing more than a practical way of getting from A to B. A short grunty snort gives me the answer. He is asleep and he is the quiet wheezy snoring type.  I like it, in a strange way I feel very at home. I'm delighted. I didn't want to be 'the one' who snores, and I lie there in the dark, happy to be thrown together with a travel companion who I tell myself will protect me if pirates try to take over this night train from Zurich to Prague. (I will admit here that the following night was also spent with a stranger upon my return to Dublin in more intimate circumstances and I was guilty of being the snoring partner, but I'm not giving anymore information on that one...)
Leipzig Train Station
Despite the long journey, I feel fresh and ready for the world when I get to Leipzig station at 6.30am. The station itself is about the same size as Galway and stretches over three floors. This was once the largest railway station in Germany and still has the most train tracks of any German station. I buy a latte with an extra shot of expresso, so I'm down to 11 quid at this stage. Then, upon lifting my cup and getting a whiff of my underarm, I realised that there was a piece missing in the jigsaw: I needed a shower.  Damn, could I really get away with going to a public toilet and scrubbing my underams with one of those teeny bars of soap? And what about my hair? Could I put it under the tap? You see, these are the things that we bag ladies have to deal with. In the end I spent half of all my money in the world on a shower facility at the station. At least afterwards I looked like a nice respectable lady with a holdall and plastic bag. I could walk around the station and nobody would know that I was a penniless vagrant.
It was almost noon. The stranger I shared the couchette with would be in Prague by now. A friend who I texted reminded me that I have a German bank account, and despite having no details of my account I did manage to get a few bob out of them. I was saved. I bought a glass of real orange juice in a posh cafe. My plan B of hitchhiking to my appointment was replaced by a taxi. I arrived on time.
'Good afternoon Frau Treanor, did you have a pleasant journey?' 'Very pleasant thank you', I replied.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How to be Undateable

You know what it's like when you see a trailer for a movie or a series - 2 minutes where they show all of the interesting bits condensed, and you want to watch it right that minute but then a sentence comes across the screen saying 'coming next Wednesday' or more likely 'coming when you won't be home'. And whatever is on now is always crap and you're only watching it because you think something good is coming on after it, but it isn't, because you got the day or the week or the year wrong.
So when I saw the trailer for the 'Undateables' on Channel 4 there the other week, I just assumed that it would be another one of those documentaries that look great but are really bad and that I'd miss anyway.
But then, ah then, something happened. I was reading a review in the Irish Times that had something to say about this documentary, 'The Undateables'. So there were some interesting points made. One of them being that the title was damn cruel. Yes, I guess you can't label someone as undateable, even if I'm not sure where you would take someone to court under the nine grounds of discrimination if they called you that.
So anyways, it talks about how the people on the show are all people with either a physical or mental disability of some kind or another, and, well it made it sound like I'd made the wrong decision to have that one night stand with the much younger than me girl from Tallin the night it was on, because it sounded more fun than she was. So I began to think about dating; my inability to accept that a serious, possibly not so gorgeous but practical 40 something year old might make me ultimately more happy than a homesick blonde from Tallin, unless, of course, it's just for the one night...
So I sent Carmencita ( yes, it's her real name, I swear) a text message to say I couldn't meet her tonight and that I'm so sorry but I'm washing my hair tonight (my one hair), and then I got one of the random teens I live with to pull up the 'Undateables' on the Channel 4 website. Watch it after you read this, because you need to hear my comments first considering I'm an expert in bad relationships but still have that bit of pulling power that we all need a bit of.

You see, it's easy. They could have picked me for the show, come on, after all I'm a mouthy middle aged fat lesbian with bad teeth, thinning hair, a load of teens hanging out of me and I live way out west in the outback of Ireland. I mean hello, I should be in the Tollhouse, so how come I still seem to have that bit of pulling power when most of the weirdos in the documentary were way more dateable than I am?

Well it's because of this. Everyone in the documentary talked about what they were looking for. One girl, who was disabled and on a wheelchair, went on a date with a guy on a wheelchair. She turned him down for a second date, commenting something like 'I don't want to date someone with a disability'. Well like, helloooo... , did she ever ask herself why someone should be with her or want to date her? Personally the disability wouldn't bother me, but the girl had no personality, much worse. Then there was a guy with Aspergers who met a lovely woman who was keen to meet him again but he too was all about how he didn't really fancy her. ( And in this case it was probably because she wasn't a clone of his mother.) But all of them - and granted, I only saw the first show, there are more to come, and also there was a guy with tourettes who was an exception, but the others, they were all about what they want from a partner... I want to meet someone who... he/she should be..... I'd like.... these are my terms and condiditons... I mean, like, where's the love of people? Where's the 'I want to embrace a challenge' or the 'This is what I offer'.

So here's the trick. Forget about what you want to meet and ask yourself what you have to offer. When you meet some horrendous ghoul remember that they might be thinking the very same thing about you, and they may be right. Make it your mission to look for their qualities. Ask yourself what you can do to make them feel happy, make them laugh, find out what they like, turn them on and see the whole thing as a challenge.
At the same time though, you have to make them see that even if you are old and fat or whatever your physical or mental trait of unattractiveness may be, that you make up for it in other things (like in my case, I'm great in the sack, so I go straight for the jugular). But come on, even a drop dead photo model blonde who isn't called Carmencita, will be undateable if it's all about 'I'm specifically looking for this that or the other...' because if you are looking for the perfect partner, forget it.
So there you go. Give love a chance. And remember that I'm single right now, and open to offers. But ok, it would help, of course, if you are a drop dead gorgeous heiress of 20 something who loves housework, disappointments and older women...