Sleepless in the Bay Areas

I found it hard to sleep on the West Coast last week, awake most mornings at around 3 a.m and awake right through the day from then. I guess it was driven by a mixture of excitement, out-of-kilter body clock and maybe the fear of God on account of being holed up in a suspect hotel in a not-so-delightful spot in the Bay Area. (True story – on my first night I slept with my hiking knife on my bedside locker and the chair against the door.)

Though with so much to see and do throughout the day though, tiredness wasn’t an issue. So by the end of the week, I assumed that the combination of the long flight back and catching up on the mound of stuff built up on the to-do list would have me nicely tired and ready for beauty sleep. No. Such. Luck.

Since getting home, I’ve been hitting the hay at the usual time, but am finding myself wide away each night. Wide abloodywake. On the plus side, I’ve spent the interminable hours wisely. There are now no stray or historic numbers in my phone directory – they’ve all been delete, delete, deleted. Ditto, excess photos. I’ve even had the time to colour co-ordinate my apps. It’s pathetic isn’t it?

But fear not, I’ve been nourishing myself in other ways. I had pasta 3:30 a.m on Wednesday and buttery toast at 4a.m last night (because post-midnight carbs don’t count of course). I blame watching Bradley Cooper play the role of a chef in the middle of the night for leaving me ravenous. A grave error of judgment that sent me flying to the kitchen for nibbles before returning to the leaba dying to dream of dear Bradders (but far too alert to doze off).

So now in the Dublin Bay area, I can confess, that my body is wired to the moon, but I am getting so much value for money out of the 24 hour clock. Provisions procured, I’ve just downloaded more Bradley Cooper flix for tonight. Hopefully a girl can dream…pexels-photo-267684.jpeg

The Lord of Gdansk

Mid June 2012 and Gdansk awoke to the battle cries of thirty thousand green uniformed soldiers. The Polish city had been infiltrated by the Irish Football Army who would go to battle with the mighty Spanish that night. I witnessed the beautiful old town turn green in a matter of seconds.

Like an algae, they spread rapidly along the banks of the Motlawa – fans wrapped in flags and face paint. Men in morph-suits paraded in their tight lycra body stockings, no contour left to the imagination. A rainbow of green, white and orange illuminated every nook and cranny of the beautiful old city.

I stood, shoulder to shoulder with my regiment of fellow countrymen, wearing a Celtic jersey and a tricoloured beret. Hiding between my arse cheeks, was an emerald green thong – my lucky thong. Though a bit tight and slightly chaffing, it had a proven track record so I was poised for an Irish victory.

It didn’t take long for munitions to be procured and the cobbled streets were soon covered with trays of beer. Beer so cheap it was almost free – everyone shared, even the Cavan men. Then of course, it was time to sing. The steps of the town hall became the main stage and a fat skinhead in an Italia ‘90 jersey assumed the role of conductor.

I will never forget his final song, a wonderful rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas. ‘On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, One Paul McGrath, Two Paul McGraths, Three Paul McGraths, Four Paul McGraths and an Oooh Ah Paul McGrath’. As he lead the empassioned voices though the verse of the fifth day, I broke down and cried.

Despite resembling Gazza, he was legendary. Managing tempo, choreographing dance, he even managed to get a harmony going from the assembly of thousands. And so he was christened The Lord of Gdansk, right there in the Square, for his contribution to the cause.

The dirt cheap, gassy, impossible to pronounce Polish plonk, with a crazy picture of a wild beast on the can, had blown the head right off me. The first battle of the day – girl in Gdansk has her head blown off in a duel with the local beer.

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I left my card in San Fransisco

Every person I spoke to in advance of coming to San Fran gave me a version along the lines of “it’s one of the best cities in the world”. I’ve just spent eight days here and tried my best to find truth in what they said, but in spite of my best efforts, I came up short.

It’s not that I haven’t travelled before and it’s not that I’m a US virgin. Nor is it that I expected Neverland. Visiting a city is like a relationship, it requires give and take, and definitely an open mind. I tried to understand the place, I scratched and scratched at the surface, but after seeing the despair and human detritus on the streets on the first journey downtown from the airport, I found it hard to shake that memory. Homelessness driven by mental illness, displaced war veterans and drug addiction is the cancer waiting at every corner and in every darkened doorway and under every highway bridge, that scars the place. Of course, I’ve seen a version of it in Chicago, Vegas, NYC, Rome and Dublin, yet somehow, the volume here was on a different level, or maybe I was more sensitive to it for some reason. Getting older maybe. Being increasingly conscious of ever-being the solo female traveller perhaps. Je ne sais pas.

My highlight, apart from the San Francisco Writers Conference, was making a fifteen hour round trip to Yosemite National Park. Yosemite was epic in every way. It’s like a park on steroids in which glaciers threw huge boulders across the valley floor and tore the faces from mountains leaving massive stone cliffs that stretch all the way to the Gods and arouse every rock climber who sets his eyes on them. Giant Sequoias reach up and continue on for infinity, their leaves possibly winding up as the surface of heaven’s lawns. A thousand waterfalls cascade from the mountains and unless you’re made of stone yourself, the place will overwhelm you. You may cry, you’ll definitely say wow a few times but Mise Éireann here’ll admit that I did look at a few waterfalls and say “it’s nice but it’s not quite Powerscourt” (thankfully under my breath). I even got to tick one off my bucket list when I made my wish at Bridalveil Falls on the eve of Valentine’s.

Lo and behold, on Valentine’s Day it was on the cards to be coming true – thankfully, I had my own escape from Al Catrazzo (his name was Alberto Casazza but you’ll give me that one I’m sure?). Not that I have anything against pint sized Californian Italians. They’re perfectly normal looking on a barstool (after a few beers with the jetlag and the 15 hours Richard Attenboroughing your time away in Yosemite), it’s just they’re the opposite of sequoia proportions when they stand up. Anyway, Tom Thumb disappeared into a mouse-hole and my wish is still out there in the ether.

I went here and there in San Fran, down Pier 39 and Embarcadero, stayed in Chinatown, which was colourful and took a spin down crooked Lombard St, which if you’ve ever driven the road from Kingscourt to Baileboro, really isn’t that crooked by comparison. I enjoyed spening a crazy evening down in North Beach with a heap of wonderful folk I met in (jaysus, morto over admitting this) an Irish bar of all places. I was looking for an Italian restaurant but the lure of somewhere called Bar Nua was too much to deny. Tar éis cúpla deoch it felt very much like a sean bhar, with old friends that I felt I’d known forever. Muintir na Gaillimhe, I blame you for my hangover but thank you for the absolute mightiest of craic.

The SF Writers Conference was held in Nob Hill, the Killiney or Montenotti of the City. Great exercise for someone with a rear end the size of mine, though sadly it hasn’t diminished any since I’ve been here. The conference was full of wonderful people, most of whom where locals, some of whom flew in from LA, San Diego, Texas and Michigan. I flew the tricolor and a fab writer from London carried the Union Jack. We mixed extensively, in spite of the innate tendency in most writers to be quite introverted. It was damn hard work, meeting new people at every session, roughly every 45 minutes, then rotating again at lunchtime and on and on. It was tough but worth it. There are so many wonderful writers out there with a wonderful attitude toward the craft and towards each other.

I learned so much, loved meeting warm and kind-hearted locals, gave a poetry reading, listened to some amazing poets on the night, and bought ten books. So combined with the fifteen I brought over, less the eight I gave away, gives me … a sore shoulder, but I have an eleven hour journey to get through now, so I’ll enjoy a couple of them mile-high. I acquired and donated a rake of business cards, and look forward to keeping in touch with the great people I met.

In the cab to the airport (shared cab), I met a wonderful lady from L.A, who was full of chat and the joys of life after spending the long weekend alone in San Fran – her first time here. She liked it (and spent some of her time considering whether there will be further chapters in her relationship with her Irish boyfriend), but was interested to hear my thoughts on the city (and the lad). Naturally, I paid respect where respect is due, the locals are absolutely great people, but I couldn’t help but admit that those sad shadows crawling about the streets, is a recurring image of the week and one that I can’t really reconcile with. She said that L.A is pretty much the same, so perhaps I’m just being too judgmental in my assessment of the place. Regarding her buachaill, I gave him the thumbs up. “Stick with it” the advice of the Irish jury, “I think you could be in for a happy ending”. She said she would and we swapped numbers. I’ll keep in touch to see when I need to buy the hat.

San Fran to me is Glasgow on stronger drugs. Hills, deprived souls and mad yokes at every turn, but with beautiful, colourful, friendly locals to boot. To everyone who said it was “the best city imaginable”, I may never consult you for travel advice again, but thanks.

Next stop Dublin.pexels-photo-196667.jpegIMG_2209

San Francisco Writers Conference 2018, closing remarks

It’s lunchtime on the final day and as there’s no group lunch organised, I’m splashing out on some expensive nosh in the uber swish Fairmont Hotel across the road (from the equally lá-di-dah Mark Hopkins Hotel in which the conference is being held.) Pinot grigio and a chicken quinoa salad – in case you’re wondering. The giant bags of crisps washed down by ginormous cans of bud light that qualified as dinner for the past two nights have had to be consciously replaced by salad in response to calls from my swelling body. (And right on queue, said salad arrives and pronounces that it will not affect weight-line or waistline in a month of Sundays. The spoonful of quinoa hiding under the spoon-and-a-half-ful of spinach beside a breast of charred to within an inch of its life sicín is neither fattening, nor appetizing nor worth writing home about – ’nuff said.)

My mind’s buzzing to the tune of the conference, and it’s unsurprising given that it’s been four days of full-on schedules that saw us start at 07:30 (ish) and run through to 21:00 or 22:00 some evenings. The learnings have been immense, the content relevant and rich, the subject matter varied. Speaking to fellow candidates, we are all in the same boat, heads either fried or hopping from the levels of information we’re being blasted with. We will all work through the shrapnel of notes, key points, pyramids of business cards and poignant conversations as we detach from this and move through the next week or so.

And so as new friendships and networks are forged, and new novels and memoirs are about to be written and published, I raise my glass to the wonderful people I’ve met on this writing journey who have made being a part of the writing community so pleasurable. And to all those who came to and complimented me on my poetry reading the other evening, I’d buy you all a glass if you were here. Your kind words made me a very proud Irish woman. Sláinte!pexels-photo-208745.jpeg

Goodbye Cavan, Hello Connectivity

The honeysuckle hedgerows did it for me all summer as I strolled the hilly lanes and backroads walking the pounds off me, enjoying the relaxed pace of Dún a Rí. I’ve been back home since mid-June and enjoyed every day of it. The glorious forest park has been the site of much soul-searching, calorie burning, chilling out and all round restoration. I can’t recall how many wishes I’ve made at the Wishing Well, but so far, some have come true and I’m feeling optimistic about the rest.

Having ten pubs within five minutes walk (nine of which you’d happily drink in, one that I wouldn’t set foot in unless I was reincarnated and came back as a Navan narco) is a plus and the social scene here is probably better than that in Tallaght (I’m genuinely serious). People are friendly and warm and have that unique Cavan wit that has you creased with laughter for an evening. It’s there in any bar you go into – Kingscourt locals perched beside pints dolling out some of the most classic humour you’ll ever hear.

But for all this, and maybe it’s an Irish thing – though you have all you need but still you find something to complain about. My phone signal is non-existent, and as for wifi, my house refuses to let as much as one line appear on the wifi symbol. You’d get more connection in a bunker in Kabul. Which is good, if you’re trying to avoid people, but how many people can you avoid by phone or email for three and a half months? If you are avoiding people that long, maybe you’d be better off in that no-go pub down the town.

So I’ve decided to move back up to the smoke, leaving Autumn to strip the place of it’s cover and get her in the mood for winter. I can no longer afford to trek down to Cabra Castle with my laptop in tow, to hijack their wifi, nice and all as their lunches are – my diet is showing no signs of progress. Maybe I’ve just had my fill of Cavan for now. Until next time, when maybe just maybe, I’ll find that connection.

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The Beautiful Game

Morning ritual on All Ireland Final morning is always the same – you wake up decently hungover from your “I’ll just have one or two watching Up For The match” antics. Thankfully, it soon gives way to the comfort of smelling your mother’s fry wafting up the stairs to lure you out of the leaba.

It’s hard to beat the buzz of milling a few pieces of white pudding, with Luke Kelly and the Dubliners belting out and knowing you’re only a couple of hours from making the pilgrimage to Croker again. Of course, there are those that’d be quick to point out that for a Tallaght-bean, the journey to Croke Park is far from a journey and that “those poor unfortunate souls who reside outside the pale – they’re the boys who knows the real meaning of taking the journey to GAA HQ – sure ye Dubs have it all your own  way”. Well to those people, I say feck off. Any self-respecting gael knows that whether you travel by pushbike or horseback, by Uber or Luas, the September journey to Croker is the most scared of the year, and anyone lucky enough to make it, is truly blessed.  And all this before I’d even touched my rashers!

Slap some Bagatelle on after my shower and slip into a nice blue and navy number (jersey, dress, hijab – it doesn’t matter, all you care about is that you are a true blue today), kiss the mother goodbye, sprinkle holy water on my forehead and off I go praying for three in a row.

Catch the next bus and join the legion of fans high on hopes and excitement and via Crumlin make our way along the Camino del Croker. “They will win today, they have to win today”. Palms are sweating now and there’s no sitting still.

March up O’Connell St and past the many Mayo men gathered outside the Gresham waving Kelloggs box signs in the hope that the miracle of Knock will gift them an apparition of a ticket before half three.

Fall into step with the couple of hundred excited patrons circling around beside Gill’s pub and almost have to climb a lamppost to find my ticket-man. Finally find him and the ticket crosses my palm. Endorphins sky rocket and I give the quiet Kildare man an almighty hug for his efforts. “Good luck to the Dubs”, he shouts back as he wanders down Jones’s Road. There’s no way he means it, but he’s courteous as ever. There are only two non-Dubs in the entire country rooting for the Boys in Blue today and they are both sitting in Murtagh’s in Kingscourt. Apart from the two lads, the rest of the country is hoping for Sam to go West.

The Dub’s will do it, please God they’ll do it. The panic has set in. Last year’s battles still raw in my mind.

So on into the Hogan and up to the top tier. A cold beer is in order – to settle the nerves, or so you’d hope. Maybe the second might do a job on the nerves. No such thing, so it’s off to your seat to have a read of the programme. Decent view, a Dublin calilín sits either side of me and beside them Mayo folk, behind me a row of Dubs – a good mix. We’re all bricking it.

It starts, it doesn’t look good, it’s dicey as bedamned. Poor McCaffrey! Is this the Dublin team that beat Tyrone so convincingly? Jaysus wept. Bricking it has graduated to having a minor heart attack. No messing, the legs are shaking, I’m rattling in the seat. This is torture. Please God, please help them.

Second half looks a bit better, Gavin’s changes are taking seed. Still though, it’s far too close to even think of breathing normally. It’s heartache, heartbreak, joy, elation, terror, fear, hope, prayer and pure anxiety all at once. The legs are shaking so much that one of the girls beside me checks if I’m ok. “I’m fine,” I say, and then ask her if her fingers are ok. She has bitten off some nails and one or two fingers are bleeding. “I’m fine,” she replies. “Please God,” we whisper quietly, not intentionally together but I heard her and she surely heard me and I know that there’s strength in numbers so maybe God might pay us a bit more attention.

How much extra time? Dear Lamb of Divine! Interminable. McQuillan keeps it going. I think I’m going to die. In fact, my heart is knocking loud. Then… that free! Christ, let him get it.  I can’t look! But though gapped fingers, I do and I see Rock stand solid, cool as you like and send her right where she needs to go.

I think I knew then, that that was it, though the ref still played on and for a few seconds, time stood still. When time was finally called, the shaking stopped, the tears flowed, Mayo hands were shook with the genuine respect for a county that had played their hearts out. There was a stunned silence in Croker. A peculiar quiet fell over fans who felt like they’d just played the game. Our beautiful game.

For better, for worse

So here I am dot comming the arse out of it. I’ve decided to rid myself of previous affairs with other blogs and DIY web pages and have committed to loyalty and fidelity here. Thanks for joining me. In return, I do solemnly swear to never, ever, ever, post one of those Godforsaken photos of a neat desk, replete with glittery stationery and a go-jump-off-a-cliff pile of ‘staged’ titles neatly piled. Absolute dealbreaker!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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