Liebster Award

Right so, I’ve been pretty awful considering the lovely Brian over at Ginger Blog Man challenged me to a Liebster Award well over a year and a half ago.

This involves the following:

  • Each person must post 11 things about themselves
  • Answer 11 questions the person giving the award has set for you
  • Create 11 questions for the people you will be giving the award to (Warning: I may take the piss)
  • Choose 11 people to give the award to and send them a link to your post. Go to their page and tell them
  • No tag backs

11 things about me… Eh. Hmm.
1. I once met Don Conroy at the National Ploughing Championships (or one of those things) and he helped me draw a barn owl. Don Conroy remains a personal hero of mine. To this day I have never drawn a better picture of a barn owl. Or anything else. I was 9ish.
2. I once ran away from home (ok, maybe not just once). I got as far as the patch of grass at the end of our road and decided I wouldn’t have enough sandwiches to make it on my own. I can’t remember what age I was. Pretty small, I think.
3. I wrote a book (could technically be classified as a short story…) when I was in primary school about my best friend moving away. She did, and I haven’t written on the subject since for fear of my ability to influence the future.
4. I used to play the trombone. I have stopped miming that in loud, crowded rooms. Awkward.
5. I do not believe in a god, Christian or otherwise.
6. I do believe in people.
7. As a child, I refused treatment from my mother for a cut on the sole of my foot caused by standing on an upright rusty nail. She is a highly qualified and highly competent nurse. I am highly qualified idiot. She forced me to wash it in the end.
8. I like lists
9. I talk to the TV
10. My eyes change colour depending on the light and my mood. Today they are predominantly green.
11. I am terrible at board games but also insufferably competitive when I play them. This is not a pleasant combination.

Sooooooooo, here are the questions Brian has set me, with the requisite answers:

  1. What is your preferred method of birth control? (for example own face, coke douche?): 
    Eeehhh, thanks for this one, B. My preferred method of birth control, at the moment, is celibacy. There you have it.
  2. If you could have any super power what would it be and why? It’s an oft-asked question but one I always find difficult to answer. Hmmm… I think I’d have to go with flight. Saves time, saves money, would save me from death if I fell off a high building.
  3. What is your favourite music album of all time? My favourite music album of all time? I really love No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom. Gonna have to go with that one, amongst many, many others. It reminds me of my twin brother. We both love that album.
  4. Do redheads have souls? Based on Question 1, no.
  5. If you were on death-row (I’m sorry about this) what would you order as your last meal? What have you heard?! Filet mignon, baby potatoes with onions sautéed in Irish salted butter with carmelised carrots with pepper sauce. This would be topped off by a chocolate pudding with melty chocolate gooey goodness on the inside. Boring but soooooo satisfying…
  6. PC or Mac? Abacus. So retro. 
  7. Who is the most influential person in your life and why?  For a question such as this, I automatically say my mother (her and my dad are pretty kick-ass)
  8. What is your favourite cartoon as an adult? I love the triumvirate of characters from The Land Before Time: Little Foot, Ducky and Petrie. I loved them in 1989, I love them still. Yep, yep, yep! 
  9. Do you have any regrets? Nope.
  10. Would you like to own a monkey butler (assuming no animal rights were violated, leave me be PETA)? … Yes.
  11. How do you feel right now? I’m on my way to Barcelona, so pretty feckin happy!

I’ll have to do my own now, I presume, and send them out to eleven bloggers. I feel like I’m back in university! We used to get these email chains all the time. I’m not even sure I know eleven bloggers… I’ll figure it out. After I get back from the 26C Catalonian heat :-D

Just Wrong

I got on the S9 on Wednesday at Stadelhofen to go to Eoin’s. He was cooking dinner. I was going directly from a photography exhibition that I had gone to after work. It had been a long day and I wasn’t feeling particularly attractive, but a bit tired and wilted.

I sat on the upper deck, as usual. A man got on and sat down across from me at HB. I was reading something on my phone and I didn’t pay him much attention. He was probably in his early 40s, wearing a grey t-shirt and jeans. I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye and instinctively glanced over. His hand was on his jeans and I could see a pretty distinctive shape beneath. I looked away quickly, thinking he could have been, I don’t know, readjusting maybe. I looked back at my phone and noticed another movement. When I looked up again, he was staring directly at my face and his hand was moving over and back across the bulge. No mistaking it this time. It was as of he wanted me to know what he was doing. I stood up immediately, muttered “Well fuck this”, and moved to a different seat at the back. He got off at Hardbrücke (no pun intended). I met Claire off the train and she also felt sick at the thought of it, so at least I didn’t feel like I was overreacting.

I made a joke out of it when I got to Eoin’s. Both he and Brian restored my faith with their reaction of complete disgust.

It couldn’t have been more than three minutes between HB and Hardbrücke but that man managed to make me feel really…disgusting, as if I had somehow done something wrong, and I can’t pinpoint why.

When I’ve mentioned the incident to other female friends, many of them have similar stories in Zürich. One friend was running in Enge one evening and saw a man whose hand she thought was in his pocket. She noticed, as she got closer, that it wasn’t the pocket it was in and there were some distinctive movements happening at the same time. She said he stared at her as she ran past and she heard him make noises. This was on a busy street at 18:00 with children around. Another was walking home through a quiet park one evening and was confronted by a man who blocked her path and started masturbating in front of her. She turned and ran.

It’s hard to explain how this makes us feel, and I know guys who think we’re overwrought or overly sensitive about it, but it really feels like being violated. It’s as if these men have reduced us to something less than human, that doesn’t warrant engagement, that’s just there to serve some weird sexual thrill fulfilment. And no, it is in no way flattering, it’s horrible.

I’m very aware that this is not the behaviour of a well-adjusted person but I’m at a loss to know what to do if it happens again. And it will happen again. I know in Ireland it would constitute a sexual offence but I have no idea about Switzerland. And would it just be a waste of time anyway? Would the police even bother with it? So then are we just suppose to put up with it?

I genuinely don’t know and I still feel pretty gross.

Growing Up

Growing up, my career ambitions fluctuated between three different things: drummer in a rock band, large animal vet, and scientist. I can’t remember which came first. I think it was drummer.

My drumming idol was Animal from the Muppets. You can’t deny it, he has flair. Tomorrow’s World (a simultaneously fascinating and boring TV show) formed the basis of my lab-coat obsession, satiated somewhat when I got one for Home Economics. I wanted to be a vet because I did, and still do, love animals.

Drumming was almost literally knocked out of me when I was in my primary school brass band. Dara O’Sullivan, the drummer, sat beside the trombone section and my head was always conveniently placed under the cymbal. I can still feel the gradual and slightly deafening build up to We Are Sailing ringing in my ears.

As I got older, my interest in science waned as my accident-prone tendencies in the school’s Biology labs waxed. Two broken beakers, one exploding ceramic dish and an unfortunate incident involving a Bunsen burner and the ceiling later, and my scientific career was effectively over. So too were all science experiments for my class at school. Sorry, cailíní.

This is a terrible thing to admit, but, when I was doing my Leaving Cert., points for Veterinary were something like 550 points. An Arts degree, on the other hand, had been hovering around the 320 points mark for a few years. 550 points would have meant straight As in my chosen subjects. These included two modern European languages, Biology (erm, that was never going to be an A) and History. An Arts degree meant coasting along and making sure I passed Maths (not a given, by any stretch. I only ever passed two Maths exams. I’m just lucky they were the State exams).

So where am I now? I’m in Switzerland working in procurement, which I thoroughly enjoy. Would four year old, drumming-obsessed Róisín recognise herself? What about the girl who wanted to use microscopes and Petri dishes? Or the animal lover? Sometimes it’s difficult to reconcile myself to the child I was. I know she’s me and I am her but it’s almost like looking at a movie and vaguely recognising the main character.

I suppose it’s just a case of growing up and maturing… But I don’t want to grow up, not fully. I want to make stupid jokes, jump in puddles, giggle when people fart, laugh when I fall over (if I didn’t, I’d spend a lot of time in tears, let me tell you) and watch cartoons. I miss Saturday mornings in the sitting room with my twin brother, making forts out of the couch cushions and our blankets, eating Cocopops and watching Transformers, ThunderCats or Batman (actually, I’m home for a week in November. This needs to happen).

I like paying my own bills, having my own place and being responsible for myself and my actions (even when they blow up in my face) but I always want to be that little girl who had red wellies and a blue bike, who loved The Little Mermaid and Irish fairy stories and who never thought twice about rolling around in the mud. My wellies are black, my Little Mermaid obsession continues and I’ve definitely rolled in some mud at least once in the past 12 months so maybe she’s not so far removed after all.

And I definitely still laugh at farts.

Decisions

I am writing this on my way back from Milan, on a journey through the mountains to the south. Train lines gash the valley floors and the silhouettes of the mountains loom close. The colours are muted in the October fog, but their beauty is somehow softened and heightened at the same time. Cloud vapours hang between recesses on the mountain faces and serve to highlight their scale. The train leans to the left and seems to hang in the air before righting itself back to cling closer to the trees on the Western side of the valley.

It seems less and less likely that I will go home. Political mess and economic faltering have made it if not impossible then deeply unattractive. I’ve changed. I’m not sure I can go back now. Of course I miss everyone. It hurts, when I think about it, but I have to make a decision now. Do I live life as if I’m taking a sabbatical or do I live it so that I can commit to it where I am?

It’s such a beautiful country, Switzerland. People here are so diverse, open, and challenging. There’s very little I can say against it, except that it isn’t home. But maybe I can make it home.

Maybe.

Furious George

I used to have a cat. His name was Furious George. I miss that cat. I mean, he was called Furious George for a reason, but he was mostly a cool cat. Mostly.

He would greet me every evening by shooting out of a bush outside our building and running up the steps ahead of me. This had little to do with his love for me and more to do with the Whiskas inside. Sometimes, in the evenings, he would get this crazy look in his eyes that meant Nick or Mike, my flatmates, would have to run to open the front door and I would have to grab this squirming, raging ball of fur and claws and get him out before he started climbing the curtains. Again.

There was one time, I remember, when my flatmates and I were all in the living room watching The Simpsons. George was sitting on my lap, paws curled under him, purring softly. Mike commented on how peaceful he looked and I said something naive like “He’s so well-behaved today.” Then bleurgh! He vomited in my lap and trotted off into the kitchen.

Another time, I woke up in the middle of the night to the realisation that the cat was sitting beside my pillow staring straight up at the wall behind my head. His gaze was unwavering and unnerving. I was becoming pretty uneasy so I turned on the light and looked up to see a massive spider on the wall above my head. Just as I was realising the enormity of the creature, George pounced and – as was so often the case – missed, sending it down behind my pillow and leaving me a sleep-deprived wreck.

Then there were the many times the neighbours called in to say he was under their daughter’s bed and wouldn’t come out. She was scared of cats, so naturally he gravitated towards her. Anytime they were getting things from the car they would leave the front door open and boom! New pet cat.

He had an uncanny way of knowing when he wasn’t wanted and making sure he was clear and present at those times. I broke up with my ex after four years of a relationship and one year of a weird nothingness. At the age of 23, I was single for the first time since I’d left secondary school. I had never been with anyone else. It took me months to get used to the idea and then one night… I did. I met someone when I was out with friends. I brought him back to the apartment. I had never done anything like it and it was not something I had ever imagined doing. I was sick with nerves. But never fear, George to the rescue!

We stood in the kitchen, drinking some water and chatting. In popped FG, looking for some attention. The guy, Liam, remarked on what a nice cat he was, etc. etc. We went upstairs and at some point I left my room to get water. Now, it should also be noted that my bedroom door didn’t close properly and FG was a huge fan of sleeping in my bed. I, on the other hand, liked to sleep in a cat-free zone. Because of this, I used to shove a laundry hamper up against my door at night, and George would charge at the door head-on to try to open it. I may have forgotten to explain this crucial bedtime step to Liam.

As I was on my way back to the room, I heard a bang and saw the door fly open. When I got there, poor Liam was backed into a corner of the bed, covers pulled up to his neck, and good old Furious George was sitting at the very end of the bed, staring him out of it.

I never saw Liam again.

But then there was the other Furious George… When Dave and I broke up, I went through a lot of highs and lows. The break-up was a very mutual decision. It was probably the most mature conversation we had ever had, actually, which is a shame. Nevertheless, when it happened, it was like going through a bereavement. This was a guy who I had grown up with, essentially. He knew me better than my closest friends. He was my closest friend. So when he was suddenly gone, it felt like someone had died. There were times when I was happy and content and ready to move on, and there were times when I wasn’t and it felt like the world was collapsing on me. I would lie on my bed and let the tears stream down my face, unchecked. It was at these times that Furious George would slip into my room and hop up onto the bed. He would lie down on my chest, curl his paws in under himself and press his little nose up against mine and just stay there, in a static Eskimo kiss, for hours.

But then I took him on a train journey to Limerick for Christmas. He did his utmost to inflict physical pain on me as retribution for making him leave the comfort of Ballsbridge (he was a very privileged cat). I had his travel cage on the table in front of me. Every chance he got, his little paws would come flying out and the curved barbs of his claws would reach vengefully for my face. Little bastard.

He was hit by a car when I moved to London and I was completely heartbroken. He was a city cat and the wilds of Castleconnell and the lack of The Safe Cross Code knowledge were his untimely undoing. He was a great, if slightly unhinged, feline.

I miss cuddling a warm ball of fluff in the evenings. I would love to get a cat in Zurich but I live on the fourth floor of an apartment building and I have no outdoor space. It wouldn’t be fair. But I also don’t think I’ll ever find a cat as mental and as brilliant as FG.

Furious George, you beautiful, fluffy psychopath.

Furious George

Africaaaaaaa!

I love lazy Sunday lunches with friends that start with a catch-up and end in planning a trip. It’ll be a year before the idea becomes a reality but it’s certainly something to look forward to!

Claire and I have both been to different countries in Africa before but nowhere like Namibia. It’s the second most sparsely populated country on the planet after Mongolia and has average rainfalls of 4mm in September. I won’t even check the average rainfall for Limerick in September. And I have a feeling it will be the direct opposite of Ghana, both geographically and culturally.

The African continent has held a fascination for me since I was a child. I would listen to my father tell stories about his grandparents meeting and marrying in South Africa. Then there was the one about the crocodile that ate a distant great-uncle during the Boer War… Well, it was a good bedtime story, at least!

One of my family’s mottoes is “Imagines majorum as virtutem accendunt”: the images of our ancestors’ lives inspire us to ever increasing valour and virtue. Alright, the “virtue” part of this lady might be out the window – woops - but I can at least aspire to the rest! And so, in the image of my ancestors, I follow a family route to the southern velds of Africa that started 117 years ago, continued with me last year and my parents this month. I took my first step on it when I traveled alone to West Africa at the age of 28. This time I’ll be 30 and in great company.

It’s been an eventful twelve months. New frontiers, new jobs, new people, lots of ups, quite a few downs, and I wouldn’t change a minute of it. But I want to do more, to see more and to learn more. I want to understand the world outside of my narrow, privileged experience of it.

Another family motto is that of my great-grandfather, W.H. O’Connor, etched on his headstone in North Kerry: “Noli irritare leonem”.

I’ll try not to piss any off.

Africaaaaaaa!

Leopard on the Sossusvlei, Namibia from http://gettravelling.co.za/travel/namibia/

Post from the Past: Part 2

I’m coming across so many scribblings since I started clearing things out. I found a notebook from my first year in London. One of the entries is a letter to my niece, who was a month old at the time. She’s almost five now. I was supposed to add more every year. The original idea was to give her the letter for her 18th birthday. This could still work! 

Another entry was the start of a short story I was beginning to write, back when I still did things like that… I’m sure there are a few more lying around. Considering how far I got with this one, my hopes for them are not high.

I think not even being able to finish a short story should tell you all you need to know about me, actually.

Here we go… 

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Dancing over the waves I see them, borne on the wash of a passing boat. Weak autumn sunshine filters through milky feathers, splintering in the cool grey water below. I’ve often wondered what keeps their heads bowed with such condescending grace. The heavy beat of wings disturbs the surface, shattering the glassy sheen of water stretching from shore to shore. Here and there a salmon leaps, a lone fisherman casts his line and a silent couple sits at the water’s edge. It is all quiet here, but far from peaceful.

She sits, knees pulled up to her chest, legs wrapped in her arms, blankly staring out across the river. His hand rests millimetres from her leg, longing to – but not daring to – touch. His face carries guilt, oppression, Her face is a canvas from which little can be drawn. 

The fisherman casts his line, the bait plopping softly on the water. He feels a tug and lets out the line, teasing his catch before reeling it in. Feeling blindly for his net, his hand brushes against nettles. He barely notices but the sting has left its angry marks. The salmon leaps from the net and gasps silently, writhing helplessly on the grass. Slowly, slowly, sobbing, dying. The fisherman makes his assessment, finds the catch too young and too small, not worth it. He slips the fish through his fingers, back into the shallows by the falls. 

On the bank, the two sit. He leans forward and brushes a stray lock of hair from her face. She blinks and looks at him but does not see him. 

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I think we can safely assume that I was very melodramatic when I was in my early twenties. It’s definitely not an autobiographical one. The setting, at least, I recognise as home, down by the River Shannon at the World’s End. Maybe I’d been back for a visit and witnessed a similar scene. More likely is that I had just had salmon for dinner.

One thing I am sure of: I still hate swans. 

Posts from the Past: Part 1

During my time in Ghana, I kept a bit of a diary. Unfortunately, that diary was kept on a laptop that was subsequently stolen. It only contained a few diary entries and the first season of Orange is the New Black so it wasn’t a tragedy. However, the delicious irony of it only having a TV series about prison inmates was not lost on me nor, I hope, on the thief. 

Anyway, a lot of those memories are now lost or hazy but I did write on scraps of paper, too, and I came across those this evening while I was clearing out some files. The first one I found was written while I was in Pokuase and had just started to read Black Spring, by Henry Miller. I read a lot, generally, but in Ghana I read prolifically. This was mostly due to sunset at 18:00 and no prospect of doing anything else due to lack of… well, everything. I must have read two or three books a week while I was there. Some were great, some were utter shite. 

The context for this rant is that I’d just had a bad run-in (almost physical altercation) with a male teacher at school, men were shouting at me on the street to marry them, and I was in a general “What a bunch of shitheads the males of the species are” kind of mood. I don’t think all men are a bunch of shitheads. Male authors, on the other hand… 

I even gave it a title. Jesus, I was angry.

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On Irritating Boy-Men Authors

It occurs to me, sometimes, when reading one of the greats from the last century (especially one of those jumped-up adolescent men from the East Coast of the U.S.) how utterly self-centered men are. It’s always a treatise on what a dickhead they are (clearly something to be proud of) and what kind of scar or mark they want to inflict on us all after they’ve passed. Can’t they just be satisfied that they didn’t destroy the fucking world while they were alive? Did they have to make an industry out of petulant self-importance?

“For me, the book is the man and my book is the man I am, the confused man, the negligent man, the reckless man, the lusty, obscene, boisterous, thoughtful, scrupulous, lying, diabolically truthful man that I am.” Henry Miller, Black Spring.

Oh fuck off, Henry. This vainglorious bullshit got old back when Hemingway was farting it out. Yeah, yeah, you’re so brilliant, but so flawed. The flaws are not something you can control, no they are as much a part of you as green is to grass. And what’s that? Something’s told you the rest of the world should know this? Needs to know this? 

“I am thinking that in that age to come I shall not be overlooked. Then my history will become important and the scar which I leave upon the face of the world will have significance.”

Can you imagine anyone other than a spoiled wannabe intellectual writing this piece of self-aggrandisement? I mean, what an insufferable shite. What annoys me further, as with a lot of the pretentious twats, is the thinly-veiled attempt at Joycean prose. Leave it out, for god’s sake! 

You see the same attempts to glorify boy-man-hood and generally being an asshole in contemporary literature, too. Just look at Nick Hornby and Dave Nicholls. I just finished reading One Day. Why on Earth would Emma fall for that cocky, putrid, druggy mess of a man? Maybe that’s his point, that people are fucked up, not just men, because Emma must have some serious self-esteem issues, clearly. And the tragic lovers spin? *vomits* Does he have a magic hat of literary devices lying around? ‘In case of writer’s block, please deploy tragic death in time of romantic resolution.’ Urgh. Annoying.

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Right, so if you read the tiny fine-print between the lines there, I think I might have been going through a bit of an anti-man moment.

On the first paragraph, the thing is, since I’ve been back, I’ve come to believe that my flaws, like Miller’s, are beyond my control and now understand the importance of accepting them. So I’ve softened my own cough for myself, in a way.

I stand by my comments about One Day, though. Horseshit. 

More Ghanaian tales to come!

Oíche mhaith.