Sunday, August 23, 2015

Mad month

“After a few drinks I forget to pronounce my nouns.”
The Germans looked at him incredulously. If they didn’t think we were mad before, they certainly did now.
“My vowels! My vowels!” Noddy protested.
But it was too late. The damage was done.

It’s a month and a day since we departed for Ireland, the young fella and I, and a lot of mad shit has happened between now and then. This is the first chance I’ve had to even think about it.
Eoghan and Mary got married the first weekend. I met Mary at the wedding, and a load of other people, some familiar, others not, but all a pleasure to meet.
The priest told a story of when he was a kid, his sister had a cat that she was dearly fond of. She loved that cat. But one day the cat stopped moving, not a budge. Of course she was distraught, in bits, and she went inside to tell their father. He told her they’d go up to the village, get a load of chocolate, crisps, sweets and ice-cream, “and then we’ll come home, have a party and bury the cat.”
But then they looked outside and saw the cat get up again. “Kill it!” she said.
I don’t know what that story had to do with marriage, the church, love or anything, but it’s a good one and the wedding party appreciated it. Definitely better than the usual banging on about Jesus and all that.
Eoghan’s mother gave out to me for “corrupting him” but I heard she holds a lot of people responsible for that. It was great to see him, and his brother Geoff after all they’ve been through. Humbling stuff, puts life in perspective. Lots of drink was consumed, merriment had, friendships made, and promptly forgotten over hangovers the next morning as we awaited breakfasts.
The young fella and I hightailed it to Inishbofin with the help of Helen, my cousin, on the Monday. She only had a couple of days there but they were good ones. He loved the boat over, it was flying up and down like a yo-yo, battered and thrown around by Atlantic waves.
“Weeeeee!” he shouted as bodies flew around. Nobody else could stand. Neither could he. It didn’t matter.
Inishbofin itself is simply great. I’ve decided it’s my island. I might retire there some day if it hasn’t been washed away by the sea already by then. The wind would blow you off if you’re not careful and the sudden rain showers would freeze you to the bone, but the shades of green and blue are beautiful, and any island with as many donkeys is magical.
We rented bicycles and stayed on a couple of days after Helen left. We’d forgotten the young fella’s cough juice in Helen’s car back on the mainland so she sent it over with the next ferry back. Everything comes over on that ferry, the island’s lifeline.
We cycled to the cliffs, went looking for seals and rabbits, said hello to every donkey or sheep we met. We went to the pub every night for dinner. The young fella loved their chips and ketchup. I loved their stout, the best stout I’ve drunk anywhere.
We found the nicest beach in the world and the young fella scurried around collecting bits of smashed crabs. He threw them all into the sea, back where they came from.
“That’s Ireland over there!” I told him, pointing out the majestic mountains that could be seen across the sea in the distance.
“I know!” he said after I’d told him the umpteenth time.
He didn’t want to leave, so I promised him we’d be back. There’s another island beside Inishbofin, Inishark, which was abandoned in 1960 and is now uninhabited and full of ruins. I want to get over to that. We have to go back, we’ll be back.
From there we made it down to Whitechurch, about as far away from Inishbofin as you can get. Home. Niamh and Síobhra picked us up on their way down from Sligo. So it was a real family reunion with the parents there as well.
We went out to Duncannon, were nearly blown away again, paid a visit to the pub, walked down to the river, called up to Noddy’s mother, and visited the aunt and uncle in Kilkenny.
“Shite Kilkenny,” as the young fella called it. I don’t know where he picked that up. He evidently didn’t think it was that shite as he didn’t want to leave there either. We went for a walk by the river in Inistioge and he was treated to ice-cream. No matter how cold it is you can always eat ice-cream.
A brief trip through Dublin was too long for my liking. Overpriced bars catering for stag and hen nights, guarded by bouncers wearing ill-fitting suits doing their best to look even shiftier than the people they’re letting in. Only the earpieces set the bouncers apart.
A woman working in the Spar on George’s Quay told a beggar outside to “move on” away from the shop. He wasn’t even near the door.
The same Spar didn’t have any beer. There are no Spätis in Ireland. But there are in Berlin! We escaped “summer” in Ireland before it killed us – it was 13C in Dublin as it was 36C in Berlin – and made it back to the warm embrace of Spätiland.
Noddy and Tahnee beat us to it after flying over from Australia. They were asleep or trying to sleep when I got in the door. Noddy woke up fairly promptly after I got in and the drinking and general madness began.
It might have been that night that he told the Germans in the Späti across the road he forgot to pronounce his nouns – that night or another one, I can’t remember – but he ended up staying up all night to collect Paul from Cincinnati at Tegel airport the next morning. I gave him directions but have no idea how he made it. Neither has he. He brought Paul straight to the Späti upon arrival so he was well oiled when he woke me up in the afternoon.
They did their own thing while I had to work at the weekend but there was still time for dinners, more drinking, talking shite and drunken philosophy before I took them to the “Zombie Hospital” of Weißensee. Then a bit of relaxing at the lake before we enjoyed starlit pizzas at I Due Forni.
We got the train to Prague the next day. That was fun. Of course there was lots more drinking involved. Noddy used anything and everything to open his bottles, including chairs, the door from the kitchen press, and the front door to the apartment we were staying in. The latter looked spectacular but proved problematic to get back on the hinges. But we persevered and it turned out all right in the end.
We nearly didn’t make it back to Berlin. Our train broke down as soon as we got on it and we had to wait two hours for the next one. As soon as the next train arrived, everyone ran off in different directions, as if they were allergic to it. Tahnee had disappeared so Noddy ran one way, Paul another, while the young lad and I ran over to the other platform. Nobody’s phones were working. Pandemonium. But we somehow found each other again and got on the damn train before it took off.
We went to Wannsee the next day. It was fantastic, frolicking, swimming and splashing in the water, throwing a football around, and sipping beer in the sun’s warm glow. I could have stayed there forever.
But there was work the next day, and more drinking to be done – we didn’t get to bed before dawn any morning – before it was time to say goodbyes with a heavy heart. Cincinnati and Australia are fucking far away.
Last week was a recovery week – I haven’t touched a drop of beer since they left – and one catching up on all the commitments I’d deferred while they were here. Documentaries, newspaper interviews, excursions, and more work. I really need another holiday.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Oslo (I don't belong, I belong)


Anytime I go to Oslo I look from outside with my face pressed against the glass. Just an observer, I cannot partake. It’s too damn expensive.
This time I didn’t have even one beer the whole time I was there – it must be a record. I bought a book with the money I would have spent on a beer. An expensive book but a good one.
Again I paid for everything on credit card. But I found a krone in my hotel room on the last day – the first time I handled actual money on any of the four visits in the last couple of years. One krone (NOK) is about three billion euros.
I managed mostly to survive on free food from the “Strawberry Party” at Oslo City Hall and the free grub for journalists at the Bislett Games. I ate like a snake, stuffing myself when the food was free, abstaining when it wasn’t. I tried digesting slowly. I’m still alive so I guess it worked. I guess that’s how all journalists survive. Free grub and/or cheap beer.
Oslo itself is pristine, steel and glass buildings, not a corner askew, immaculate. Cars are shiny and confident, the yachts too, all the fucking yachts. It’s spotless, no place for rubbish. There are sculptures and art pieces on every corner. The city’s pretty, everything and everyone.
Somehow I like Oslo, I’m not sure why. It seems like a fourth home now. I guess I like the sculptures and art pieces. The people are very nice and friendly. And I found a squat, though the squatters probably also have yachts. I admit being envious of the yachts and the fancy apartments overlooking the sea. There are equal levels of envy and disdain. I don’t want them, I don’t think I want them. I’d like the option of being able to reject them though. Perhaps I’d be corrupted too.
On the other side of the kroner there are the Osloers left behind, the ones who don’t have yachts, fancy apartments or restaurant reservations. There are quite a lot of fucked-up people around, some lying on benches, cans in hand, others on drugs of one sort of another. There are plenty of beggars too. When I arrived, four white police officers were harassing a black guy. I don’t know the circumstances – maybe the black guy murdered someone (I doubt it) – but it still jarred the attention. Them vs. us. Insiders and outsiders.
I imagine Oslo is a hard place to survive without connections, possibly even with connections, a hard place for outsiders. I suppose it always was – even the Vikings left for greener shores.

The first picture below was taken at 1.03 a.m. on June 11, after I’d finished work. It was darker than the picture shows – I guess the camera gathers what light it can – but still remarkably bright for such a time of night. I have to go to the Arctic Circle. One of these days, if I save enough…