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

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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.

There’s Something About Zombies

Zombies. The living dead. Michael Jackson in Thriller. The word alone is enough to give me a sleepless night. Sleepless, not just from sheer terror but sleepless from busily plotting my zombie apocalypse survival plan. If you don’t have one already you’re a fool. A FOOL!

Zombies have scared me since I was quite young, almost as much as vampires. Vampires scared the shit out of me. But somewhere along the way, zombies began to supersede auld Nosferatu in my terror stakes. This is because of 28 Days Later, no two ways about it. For a long time, I didn’t have to worry about zombies cropping up in pop culture that much. We had entered the era of the vampires (again). Zombies were outré, vampires were making their dastardly come back. Not that dastardly, as it happens, as it was in the form of some pretty shit teenagers being pensive and covered in glitter. Vampires aren’t scary anymore, they’re pathetic. Granted, there have been movies like Let the Right One In that returned terror and horror to the lore of vampire but the damage was done.

Zombies, on the other hand, had been evolving in the cultural wasteland left behind when vampires lost their bite (sorry). 28 Days Later, a film I still cannot watch in its entirety, changed the post-apocalyptic horizon forever. Zombies are now even MORE terrifying. They can outrun me for the love of god!! How am I supposed to make my way to a safe haven with a pack of virulent undead sprinting along behind my flat-bed pick-up truck?! I won’t even have a chance to reload my double-barrelled shotgun. It’s a disaster. A DISASTER. Even movies that are supposed to be funny (Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland) just make me queasy. I still haven’t seen all of Shaun of the Dead and my friend said that watching my facial expressions during Zombieland rivalled the entertainment value of the film itself.

This brings me to the current landscape of prime time television, a realm in which I was safe from zombie Armageddon. Not so since the launch of The Walking Dead. Now, I’m not a complete wuss but Christ on a bike! The special effects experts on this series should be locked away. It’s crazy. Even thinking about that half-corpse from the pilot episode dragging itself across the grass gives me the willies.

Well, I said to myself, maybe I should sort this fear (kinemortophobia, as it happens) out. They say knowledge is power and fear of the unknown is… I’m not really sure what “they” say about fear of the unknown but it’s not good so I decided to read up on zombies. A quick scan of the most reliable source in the known Universe, Wikipedia, tells me that zombies are just people. People who think they’re dead but they’re not really. And by being “dead” they no longer have a life and therefore will do as they’re told. It’s social reinforcement, stoopid. So… yeah, OK then, but this person is TRYING TO EAT MY BRAIN!

Luckily, I live in Switzerland! Switzerland is well known for being brilliantly, defensively paranoid. This works for a continental zombie outbreak by dint of the fact that at the click of a few buttons, the entire country blows up all entry points and becomes a virtual island amongst the chaos. OK, I suppose the original intent for this was something to do with an enemy invasion but what worse kind of invasion is there than zombie??

In summary, zombies are as scary as they come. They seep into my unconscious like so many vampires before them and cause me to have dreams where some of them sprout wings and fly at me. That’s f*cking terrifying, seriously.  And it’s in the early morning, when I’m emerging from this fog of terror, that I thank the stars for the secret underground bunker located somewhere near my apartment that I apparently pay a tax for. Switzerland, you’re a zombie-phobe’s best hope, and I salute you, you paranoid bunch of well-prepared legends.

Home

There’s an uncomplicated nature to the sky here: pale and clear, with a slight haze. No roll of cloud or break of shape or sudden shafts of sunlight. It’s a constant, warming blanket of sky. There is no wink of a cloud to leave you wondering.

The trams run along their clean lines, trains cut across the cities and country like the line of a carpet knife. The Alpine peaks rise on the horizon like a bank of cumulonimbi. The lake gleams in the late Summer air, the surface broken by the wash of a boat, speeding nowhere. The mountains – so clear, so beautiful – painted on to the background,

I am drawn to another lake, to another country. Now the water rocks the boat gently as it pushes away from the harbour. The waters are never quite calm, the swell always obscures a view. The lake takes you and pulls you into its centre, surrounded by hills of ever-changing green. The mottled blue sky greets you with the sudden roll of thunder. The calm beauty of one minute, the squalling winds of the next. The sky turns black, the winds pick up, the Irish Sea has come to County Clare.

The unpredictable mischief of a storm marries the sudden beams of brilliance in a complicated sky.

Home.

 

The Flatpack Mysteries

Aaah, IKEA… How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways…

1. The delivery time: It’s worth mentioning that, for a country so obsessed with time, the Swiss have a fairly lackadaisical attitude towards lengths of it. It took IKEA almost four weeks to deliver any furniture to my place. It was incredible. It’s something I was warned of before I moved but I’d been staying in a corporate let for two months before I found my place and I couldn’t really order anything before that. As a consequence, I was furniture-free for a month

2. The Sofa of Despair: I bought a sofa from the WONDERFUL IKEA back in the mists of October. Let me reiterate that: October. It was mid-January by the time the sofa had been deciphered. The combination of several boxes, the wrong set of instructions, my weedy arms, distinct lack of spatial awareness led to a three month delay in having a sofa. Didn’t stop me from having my house-warming though! It just meant I had what one of the girls described as a “mystery couch”: you never knew when one part was stuck to the other and whether you’d end up on the floor or not. Not a fun type of mystery, needless to say.

3. The Bed of Doom: It took IKEA three or four weeks to deliver this bed, and when it was delivered, I found I was too wee and weak to actually build it myself. That and the fact that life from mid-October to Christmas was so hectic I never got the chance to ask friends around to help. Luckily, the wonderful Brian and Anthony sorted it all out for me at the same time as the sofa. It was then that I discovered IKEA beds do not come with slats… The mattress falls through the gaping holes like semolina through a sieve. Really lumpy semolina. It’s worth mentioning that work had been a bit nuts. As a result, IKEA trips are confined to post-work trips at 8pm. I made one such trip two days after the bed was assembled. I was tired. I was hungry. I was cranky. I went to the Schlafzimmer section. They didn’t have the cheap-ass slats I wanted. I was cajoled into getting the slightly more expensive ones. I wandered down to the warehouse part to discover the unholy SIZE of the feckin things. I couldn’t lift one box, let alone the two needed. Grumpiness compounded, I left, vowing to never enter that reasonably priced hell ever again… Reader, I returned. I bought slats.

4. The layout: Designed to flummox, the layout of an IKEA showroom pushes all the wrong buttons of my anxiety triggers. I can feel the tension rise in my shoulders as soon as the lift door opens and I realise I know every single fake living room in detail but still have no idea how to short-cut my way to kitchenware.

Ok, maybe there are some underlying issues I need to address before I blame IKEA for all of my furnishing woes… I should probably learn how to ask for – and accept – offers of help from friends. I should work on my timing. I always end up in IKEA when everyone else ends up in IKEA. No. Bad times. The final thing I need to work on is acceptance. I need to accept the fact that with the amazing value that is IKEA furniture, come certain… inconveniences. But convenience in Switzerland (as with most countries) comes with a hefty price tag.

That sofa is worth it though. That is one damn fine sofa.

So, Switzerland, eh?

So. Zurich. That happened. Is still happening, in fact. After I got my shit together and packed, I made the biggest move of my life, to date. And here I am! In Switzerland, of all places. 

It’s been nearly six months now. I can’t quite believe that… In many ways, it seems like a couple of weeks, in others, like I’ve been here for years. And that’s a positive thing. I’ve settled in but the city still feels new and fresh and (despite all prior evidence to the contrary), exciting. It’s incredible here. The quality of life is so high. I can’t describe it accurately right now so maybe I’ll wait for another time, when I feel I can do it justice. 

The people. The people are what really make a place, right? I love Swiss people. I fully expected the stereotype, which was so awful of me, considering I come from a culture so maligned by lazy caricatures that I should be more aware or vigilant of applying the same rules of unfairness to other nationalities, but I didn’t. I came with this preconceived notion of boring, quiet, straight-laced, cold people and the truth couldn’t be more different. I love Swiss people! They’re funny, warm, have the strangest language EVER, the best chocolate known to man and (the ones I’ve met so far, anyway) have been so welcoming. I am very proud to say I have Swiss friends here.  

The Irish expat community has been an especially great way to meet people and make friends, too. I joined the local GAA club (proper emigrant, me!) and I have met some fantastic people and made some fast friends. The experience of those who have moved here and their willingness to help you out is so encouraging. They’ve all been through it before – the big move – and know how tough it can be so people here are instantly prone to offering you help to build your sofa or help you move house, find a flatmate etc. And they’re funny. They’re funny as fuck. 

But the person who has made the move for me sooooo much easier has to be Brian (GingerBlogMan). Brian and I were mates in university all those years ago and to have him (and his partner in love and crime, Anthony) in Zurich when I was making the decision to take the job was what really made my mind up to move. They really sold the place to me and if they weren’t here, I’m honestly not sure what I would have done on my own in a strange new city with no friends and only my work colleagues for company. They came around yesterday to build some furniture and mentioned that they needed to get me a house-warming gift – eh, you gave me friends! Can there be a better present than that? 

So that’s it for now. Niamhy (MetroChica) and I are starting a health kick so I need to go find some inspiring pictures of people with better bodies than us and super healthy recipes. Oh yeah, it’s January, baby. 

Adieu! Image