Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Everything in its right place

I'm happy to say that the blog is now fully up to date. About time too. Tomorrow morning we're off to San Francisco and I had made it my mission to get everything done and updated before then.
All posts which had no images up to now have now been blessed with pictures. These include the posts on Madrid (Parts I and II), Pamplona, the Ronaldo presentation, Sweden, and a couple of others, so I invite you to go back and be amazed by the sheer brilliance of my photographic skills. Archives can be accessed by clicking the links on the right.

I think from now on I'll be bringing a USB cable with me on my travels, so Der increasingly misleadingly-named Irische Berliner can be updated with photos as I travel. I'm not sure what the internet access situation will be like in Perú, but hopefully I'll be able to keep ye updated while I'm there. Otherwise it'll have to be postcards!

Thanks for reading and for the encouragement and comments. Keep them coming!
Next broadcast from San Fran. 10/4 as they say at the end of sentances over there. No doubt there'll be plenty to write about...

Swedish epilogue

I feel I didn't do Sweden justice in the few words I wrote about it when we were there. To rectify such a lamentable situation (caused primarily by a surprising lack of internet access) I want to add the following words which I hope will give a more accurate reflection of our time there.

I never mentioned that we slept on wild rucola a couple of nights. (This in the same campsite infected by the clog-hoppers/Käseköpfe I mentioned already.) In the morning we collected blueberries, mountains of them, for breakfast.

I never mentioned the front-door glass patterns made by the drops of rain as we paddled along the lake. No longer fashionable it seems, when I was a kid everyone in Ireland had doors with patterns like these. Probably another inspirational Swedish design, brought about after hours and hours of canoeing through the rain and getting nowhere. Normal people think about the lovely dinner which awaits them when they finally do get home. Swedes, on the other hand, think furniture design.

I never mentioned the drops turning silver once they hit the surface of the lake. Tiny silent silver explosions. Little sparkles glittering across the lake. No Irish door had a design like that. Anything so beautiful in Ireland would of course be destroyed by jealous neighbours in a matter of minutes. "Who does your man think he is with his fancy door?!"

I never mentioned the commotion caused by badgers at Paul and Anna's place one night, or that Jenny stood in badger shite the next morning. I'm sure that has to be good luck. Something sort of exotic about standing in badger shite I think.

The ICA. A dreaded organisation in Ireland known as the Irish Countrywoman's Association. In Sweden it's a supermarket. It still brought terrifying memories flooding back of biddies nagging, moaning and complaining of petty little concerns of no concern to anyone to themselves. I never mentioned that. Nor should I.

The Swedes are lauded for their inventiveness, but I've come to believe the opposite is in fact the case. Uniformity is the order of the day. They all had the same ringtone on their phones (it would of course be the same as mine). They all wear the same clothes, have the same haircuts, drive the same cars.
Power of numbers and collective opinion has helped them convince the world that their designs are the best, their fashions up there with the most cosmopolitan. It's precisely because it isn't fancy, that Swedish designs are so lauded. Simplicity is key, a happy coincidence for unimaginative Swedish designers.

I guess they learned their lesson on August 10th, 1628. The Vasa warship was supposed to awe the world when it was launched from Stockholm harbour on that date. It was one of the most fancy boats ever made, with wonderful designs, carvings and ornate images. Big-wigs and dignitaries from all over Europe were invited to share in its glory as it left the port.
It promptly sank. The idiots would built it spent more time making it fancy than making sure it could sail at all. Much to the embarrassment of the Swedish royalty, the floating piece of art couldn't actually float properly, at least when there were waves, which are of course plentiful at sea, as most sailors will tell you.
Never again was anything fancy made in Sweden.

Still, you've got to hand it to the Swedes for making a success of failure. The Vasa was hauled back out of the sea in 1961 and a museum built around it. It's now Stockholm's most popular. Maybe it was all part of the 350 year plan.

Perú, Perú, wir fahren nach Perú!

It's decided! Dates determined, destination chosen, project picked, flights booked! It's Perú! We're leaving for Lima on September 22nd, arriving in the Peruvian capital no doubt to ask ourselves, (not for the last time I'll bet,) if we're really sure we know what we're doing. After all, it will be the end of January before we're back!
From Lima, we will make our way to what will become our hometown for the next four months, Huancayo, smack bang in the central highlands of Perú, a city with over 300,000 people living more than 3km above sea level in that majestic spine of South America, the Andes!

I found out yesterday the city was originally home to the Wankas. Wankas! I kid you not. They were driven out by the Incas who in turn were out-Wankaed by the Conquistadores. Huancayo's still called Wankayu in Quechua, the indigenous language. The locals evidently have a good sense of humour so I'm looking forward to meeting them. I just hope we never need to ask for directions. "Can you tell me the way to Wankayu please?" How are you expected to say that with a straight face?!

The project we'll be working on is for a crowd called Carisma Perú. There we'll either be teaching, or acting as "teaching assistants" for the local Quechua kids in a school or possibly an orphanage. God help the little Wankas. They don't know what they're in for.

To be honest I don't really know what we're in for either. It promises to be quite an experience but a lot of details are still up in the air (as indeed we'll be when we get there). "Welcome ... see you in October," was pretty much all we heard back from the organisation when I told them the good news yesterday. Nothing about accommodation, transport, where exactly we'll be working etc. So we'll see. Maybe the project isn't quite finalised after all.

For me there's been an internal struggle the last few weeks as I ask myself whether I could justify taking four months out to help kids in a country I've never even been. Sure, it's a worthwhile thing to do, but I ask myself; how worthwhile? Is this the best thing I can do?
A scepticism comes from not knowing whether I'm maximising my potential, and whether or not my efforts will really have made such a difference to the lives of other people. I believe there's no such thing as a selfish act, and it's ironic perhaps, that selfish motives such as the promise of a great adventure ahead have helped me decide in a favour of unselfish ones.

We'll have a couple of nights in Madrid on our way over. It'll be Real's last chance to sign an exciting winger in his prime. I'm sure Theresa's Mütter would be happy to let me go for the price of some new jerseys with numbers on their backs.
But then, I've already made a promise to the little Wankas of Huancayo...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The latest brush...

In two weeks we drove 850 miles around Ireland without any hassle from the gardaí. Ten metres from safety the fuckers pulled me in. Blue lights flashing behind me. Just ten metres from safety!
"How are you. Can I see you licence please?" your man said when I rolled down the window.
I couldn't believe it. Of course, I hadn't my licence with me.
"No. You can't actually. I haven't got it with me," I replied with resignation.
"Where is it?"
"At home."
I sat there while he went to look at the tax, insurance and NCT. Everything out of date since June the year before.
"You know your insurance is out of date?" he said when he came back.
"Yeah, I know. But it's insured. I just haven't got the disc yet."
I explained the car been off the road up to two weeks previously, when I bought insurance and booked an NCT. I hadn't been in the country long enough to receive confirming documents. I produced a form stamped by his colleagues to confirm the car had been off the road and thus not liable for tax.
Of course, it was liable for tax from the time I put it back on the road, but I just hadn't a chance to post the damn form to the tax office. Too much fun and diversion to be had.
"Even if the car was off the road, you know the car is liable for tax now that it's back on the road?" said Mr. State the Feckin' Obvious.
"Yes, yes, I know. I just have to send the form," I replied. "I'm actually bringing the car back off the road now, this minute! I've to send off the form, but you can see it's all filled out and ready to go."
He demanded that I produce proof of insurance, my licence, and the NCT booking at a garda station of my choice, and gave me another lecture about driving without tax. Yeah, yeah. I thanked him for sticking his unwelcome nose in my business and drove poor ol' Derval - the innocent victim in all of this - back to her resting place from where I'd picked her up two weeks before.

It was the first time in my life I'd been stopped by gardaí for no apparent reason. Maybe they were working on a tip-off. The list of possible suspects is long - all the people I've pissed off recently - anyone from Kilkenny, Kerry, Tipperary, Northern Ireland, England, Barcelona, Bavaria, the cheeseheads... Jaysus, it could have been anyone!

Your wan in the garda station took photocopies of everything. "It's now at the garda's discretion in he presses charges," she explained sweetly. "You'll just have to wait and see."
My only possible offence may be for driving without motor tax for two weeks. If Mr. Nothing-Better-To-Do decides to pursue it, it will mean a heavy fine and penalty points on my licence. Hopefully there won't be a fine though. It will save me the bother of not paying it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Borussia Brötchen

On Wednesday I was the guest of Borussia Dortmund to see them thrashed five nil by Real Madrid in a match arranged to celebrate the German club's 100th anniversary. Happy Birthday lads.
Despite it taking more time to get to Dortmund (9-hours by bus) than it would if I had flown to Madrid, I couldn't turn down the chance of seeing Raúl, Kaká, Benzema et al play in Germany. Particularly once Borussia granted me a press pass! (It's great being a journalist. I just have to figure how to make some money from it, and then I'll be set.)
I was especially looking forward to a big feed of Brötchens und Bier after being spoiled by Hertha Berlin at the Olympiastadion last May.
My ticket, despite being free, included the price of local transport to and from the game. What a country! Unfortunately it didn't cover the bus trip from Berlin. Now that would have been something.

On the way to Dortmund I noticed what wonderful names some of the towns in Germany have. Halberstadt made me ask myself where the other half of it was. Presumably that's called Anderehalberstadt. How careless can a city be?! They should join the two together again, à la Berlin, for what I'm sure would be a joyous reunion. They'd have to change the name then of course. Maybe Getrenntnochmalstadt.
Guterslöh is another fantastically-named place. From what I could see of it, there actually seemed feck all else to do there except get slowly goutered. "Ah the memories," said Dáire when I told him I was there. We drove past it on the way to Berlin from Ireland all those months ago.
There's no end to the fun you can have with German place names. It's a subject I'll have to return to at some stage in the future.

Dortmund itself seemed to have been taken over by flying rhinos. They were all over the city, just hanging around nonchalantly.
I suspect these may in fact have been horses in disguise. I had seen "Frische Pferdewurst" advertised for sale. Rather than sausages for fresh horses, I have a suspicion these were in fact sausages made from horses who weren't clever enough to disguise themselves as rhinos. Nobody would dare attempt to make sausages from a rhinoceros. The wings were an added precaution however, just in case.

Getting the U-Bahn up to the stadium, I had an open bottle of beer in hand when I was stopped by a Polizist. Calmly and almost apologetically, he explained that it was "verboten" to be drinking on the city's public transport. I could drink on the platform but not on the train. He suggested I could wait 10 minutes for the next train while I finished my beer, or bin it before boarding. He was so polite and nice, it was ridiculous. I told him I'd go outside and finish it there. He thanked me for my "Verstandniss". I almost hugged him.

The fans were in jovial mood on the way in, one boldly predicting Dortmund would win 20-0. Inside the atmosphere was incredible. The Gelbewande Sudtribune was indeed a "yellow wall". All jumping, singing, clamouring in unison.
They whistled the Madrid team when they came out, much to my surprise, although they reserved a great cheer for former BVB player Metzelder. (He practically made love to them afterwards when he came out on his own to thank them for their reaction.) The fans kept cheering and singing even as their team was being slaughtered. Even as Madrid pinged the ball around, the stadium rocked with noise.

The unfortunately-named yet sublimely-talented Kaká was a joy to watch. His back-heel to set up the first goal set the tone for the rest of the game. He received tremendous applause when he was taken off. Ronaldo, meanwhile, was shite, and his every touch was booed by the Dortmunders.

I, however, was more concerned about the lack of brötchens and beer. There was none! No beer on tap, no belegte Brötchen, no sausage soup (horse meat or otherwise), no fresh fruit, nothing! Dortmund 0 Berlin 1, I thought to myself. Very disappointing.
At half time I went downstairs to join the commoners in the queue for beer. It was hot, and my tongue was hanging out for a drink. Jaysus! 15 minutes passed. I waited. I missed Robben's goal as the second half started. Still I waited. "Was machen ihr denn?!" asked fellow impatients, stamping their feet. Everyone gasping for liquid. We could hear the roars from the stadium and still we waited.
Eventually I gave up. Fuck it. I came hear to see the match. 12 minutes of the second half missed, and still I had no drink. Dortmund -1, Berlin 1, I thought. I'd probably still be waiting if I was there now.

After the game, I wandered up behind the press box where I noticed a few other journalists going. A security guy eyed me suspiciously. "Kann ich ihre Karte sehen bitte?" he asked. I showed him the ticket and he opened the door with a smile. Tentatively I went through. Beer! I couldn't believe it. A whole bar with Madels behind it pulling pints to beat the band! Fancy tables and chairs, carpet on the floor and all!
I was barely able to talk I was so dehydrated. "Ich hatte gern ein Bier bitte," I gasped. Five seconds later all was forgiven as I was sipping an ice cold Pilsener. I was too late for the brötchens - hungry feckers got there before me - but it didn't matter anymore, the wait was over.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


The rain started as soon as we neared the ferry. Almost as if it knew we were heading for an island in the Atlantic. As if it knew we wanted to go camping. It poured down.
The boat itself was hilarious. Shopping bags sat on the seats, while the islanders stood, happy with their purchases from Lidl. There are no Lidls on Inishbofin. They peered out at the rain. Eyes up to heaven as they contemplated a familiar foe. They were well-prepared; all sporting heavy duty rain jackets, unlike Jenny who had forgotten hers in Tralee that morning. For some reason the islanders all huddled together at the back of the boat, just under the overhang, as if afraid to disturb the bags of shopping inside.
Two dogs were also on board: a freaky Alsatian with different coloured eyes, and a small white little fella who had the misfortune of being stood on every so often. He stood surrounded by islanders with his short little legs stretched out for balance as the boat rocked over the waves, a glum look on his face. A yelp every five minutes or so betrayed another trodding by a clumsy Inishbofiner. The rain meanwhile, kept pouring, and the wind was picking up...

We had planned on just flinging the tent up somewhere when we landed but the reaction of two islanders on hearing our plans convinced us to go to the hostel . A feckin' storm was developing. The hostel was full however, but the owner, Kieran, took pity on us and threw a couple of mattresses under the stairs beside the fire. "You'd be crazy to go out in that," he warned us. "There's no way you could camp out there."

Later the rain subsided enough for us to make it down to Day's pub near the pier. The creamy pints were only bettered by the music. Jesus, it was great! I was captivated. "How long do you think it would take to learn to play the fiddle?" I asked Jenny the next day. "Three years before it even sounds right," she replied. I wasn't inspired for long.

Just 164 people call Inis Bó Finne (Island of the White Cow) home. There are no gardaí so basically there's no law. Cars go untaxed, uninsured, unNCTed, (much like my own). Pubs stay open as long as they want. Sunday's session went on until 6 a.m. but they've been known to go on much later. This was only a quiet night.

You can do whatever the hell you want and so nobody bothered getting up too early. Most ate breakfast around 10.30 a.m. Very un-German. Afterwards we set off for a walk around the island. The sun made a rare appearance on what I was to learn later was the "nicest day in weeks". It bathed the island in an otherworldly light. We walked and walked and walked; over emerald hills, along grassy bodhreens, across ridges, heather-clad rocks, overhanging cliffs, sandy beaches. We skimmed stones across a mirror-topped lake. It was glorious.

Using "maaaaaa" as a warning call on toilet breaks on Inishbofin can lead to a lot of confusion. Everywhere can be heard the bleats of the island's most populous four-legged animals. It's actually quite noisy. Noisy quiet. If it's not the bleating of sheep, it's the tearing, munching and chomping of grass. The odd "mooo" or "hee-haw" break the maaaa-notony.

A ram stood high on an outcrop above us. He surveyed all before him, looking out to sea majestically. As if taking in the beauty of a magnificent peaceful evening.
Like in the Comeraghs, flocks of sheep are free to wander wherever they will. They scampered casually before us, stopping to graze when they felt they were far enough, moving on again when we approached.
"Let's catch one!" I suggested.
"Which one?" Jenny asked.
"That one there," as I identified the least threatening one closest to us.
They scattered in panic before us, bleating in consternation as we pegged after them, fanning out in all directions as they sought to escape. Towards the cliffs they fled, turning left, right, always looking back as if they couldn't believe we were actually chasing them.
We stopped to gasp for breath. The woolly feckers were just too fast. They bleated their disapproval from a safe distance.
Suddenly, we noticed something moving on the outcrop behind us. Something very fast. The ram! He tore down the side of the hill, scurrying between rocks as he charged down towards us. Galloping like bejaysus. Shit! What do we do?!
Waaaaaa!!! I ran back up towards him. I figured attack was the best form of defence. WAAAAAAAA!!!!! He wasn't expecting that. He quickly changed direction, joining his brethren who had gathered for safety in numbers. They bleated in unison. Maaa! Maaa! Maaaaaa!!!! as they scampered down the hill in panic again. Your ma won't save you now. So much for the ram.
Jenny ran from the other side, as if to hedge them off. Jaysus, it was mad! We stopped for breath again, gasping between laughs. Again the woolly feckers were just too fast. I was surprised how much Jenny enjoyed it. I guess there are few sheep-chasing opportunities in Berlin. Hopefully no one saw us.

We wandered on and found a colony of rabbits. They didn't hang around long enough to be chased however, instead darting back into the safety of their burrows. Sheep, of course, don't have burrows, although I'd say the Inishbofin sheep might now be thinking of digging a few.

Déise dreamin'

Waterford City was decidedly short on flags when we passed through. Evidently the humiliation of last year's All Ireland Hurling Final defeat to the Cats killed any enthusiasm or hope which may have flourished in any other year. Not this year. There was feck all Déise dreamin' this time around.
I was keen to get to a decent pub to see the game, more in hope than expectation, but we were driving from Kerry to Inishbofin and we found ourselves in the heart of Connemara as the game pucked off. Not a pub to be found in what must be Ireland's scarceliest pubulated area.

Never mind. Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh kept us updated as we sped down the road towards the ferry at Cleggan. My haste to reach the pub was slowed as I concentrated on his commentary, compensating to the extent I drove neither faster nor slower than I normally do. In between, I was trying to explain the rules of the game to Jenny who had never seen hurling before, but had heard from just about everyone in the previous week, myself included, that it was "the best and most skillful game in the world".
"You just have to hit the ball with the stick," I told her. "And make sure Kilkenny don't score."

Joy fluctuated with despair and back again. A Waterford goal was followed by a Kilkenny goal and a flurry of points. We got to Cleggan just as the Déise were in the ascendancy, as they threatened another famous comeback. I burst into the pub to find on old man, the barman, beside a fire and no one else. He had the match on; I didn't care. The Waterford lads brought the gap down to just two points. Go on!

That was as good as it got however; the damned Cats were just too good. Ah well! The wait goes on. 1947 was the last time Waterford won an All-Ireland, their second. Kilkenny meanwhile have 31 and will be looking to add to that again in September. Fuckers.
"Only those from Waterford can ever understand," as Davina, a proud Déise woman, told me last year. I guess it's in the blood.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cute hoors in Kerry

Kerry was the next stop on the itinerary. "Wild camping" behind the sand dunes at the beach at Ventry on the Dingle peninsula. Not very wild to be honest. No bears, snakes or lions to contend with, which should be the minimum requisite before anything can be considered "wild".
In Ireland, wild camping just means going without a shower and peeing behind bushes. Pubs can be used for other business, and in this case we had Páidí Ó'Sé's pub up the bodhreen from the beach. There was a céilí on when we arrived on Thursday night but only the Americans were paying any notice.
Páidí himself seemed happy enough though, and the archetypical cute hoor went around greeting people as if a rock star. Famous, of course, in these parts and beyond for his footballing exploits, the former Kerry manager infamously caused outrage when describing Kerry fans as "fucking animals". He should know. The pub is stuffed with pictures of himself - modesty is evidently not one of Páidí's qualities.

Just up the road from the pub the next day, I noticed a cow eating and shitting at the same time, apparently without any qualms or sense of awkwardness. In one end, out the other. I thought it a great time-saving measure, and excitedly informed Jenny that all cows eat and shit at the same time.
"You can't generalise for all cows based on what one does," she told me. As if there just happened to be one crazy cow in the field, with the others turning their eyes to heaven at her lack of decorum. Of course, all the mad cows are in England, although they're all convinced they're giraffes.

On our way to Tralee to meet Jenny's friend Johnny, we stopped off at the South Pole Inn, the pub opened and run by retired polar explorer Tom Crean in his native Annascaul. (That's him on the right with sled dog puppies in 1915.) I expected to find the pub stuffed with penguins seeking respite from the Irish weather, but there was only an old woman there who kept talking to the staff despite their best efforts to ignore her.

Irish hospitality means stuffing your guest with food and drink until they can neither eat nor drink anymore. Whether you want it at all is irrelevant. "Ah go on, you'll have another bit." Not until it's coming out of your ears will no be taken for for an answer. Not that I'm complaining. Far from it!

This time it was the turn of Johnny and his wife Kathleen who had cooked us dinner. Unfortunately Johnny had forgotten Jenny was a vegetarian. Pandemonium! Johnny pulled out everything he had in the house that wasn't beef strogonoff or chicken curry. A chopped-up kiwi, some dried fruit and nuts... anything he could find that wasn't meat. "I'll concoct a lovely meal for her now," he said with a note of panic in his voice, as he cut slices of cheese on her plate.
"How's Tralee?" Jenny asked him once he'd calmed down. "Great!" he replied. "Terrible rough though..." and he proceeded to contradict his first answer by describing all the fights, muggings and stabbings which had been afflicting the town. Johnny has a heart of gold but he's allergic to silence, and he avoided it at all costs by talking without pause for thought, air or water.

Tralee is a scary place on a Saturday night. Legs and flesh everywhere. The girls may as well have gone naked altogether, sauntering up and down the street, swaying their arses and pouting their lips. Castle street is no catwalk but that didn't put them off. Cute hoors of a different variety.
"'Tis hard to drive, isn't it?" Johnny said as he drove us to the pub. "You'd need blinkers," I agreed.
Presumably the girls were doing all they could to take the fellas' attention off the drink. Wherever we went that night they were horsing it into them as if trying to extinguish raging fires in their bellies. (As were the girls themselves later on.) I wouldn't mind if the pints were free, but they most certainly were not.
Two nights before, in Páidí's pub, I noticed fellas going to the bar to order more drinks when they only had two full pints each left in front of them. They weren't taking any chances.

Kerry is a beautiful county but our time there wasn't as good as it should have been to be honest. For me, the past cast its shadow over the few days, and I felt like old memories prevented us making new ones. I was happy to leave it when we did. Next stop Inishbofin!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Punk sheep! Jaysus!

The Comeraghs in Co. Waterford must be Ireland's most under-rated mountains. As beautiful if not more so than any others in the country. My uncle took us there despite his allegiance to Tipperary, and once he got over the initial shock of my hair.
"Jaaaaysus!" he said as he opened the door the day before. It was a word we'd been hearing plenty of since we arrived in Ireland. In fact, I'd never noticed how often it was used before, but I guess with Jenny in tow, I was beginning to see things from another perspective. Everything prompted "Jaysus" as a reaction, whether at home with the parents, or camping with Noddy and Sully.
"What do you mean, you're not hungry? Jaysus!"
"Jaysus, that wind would strip a bullock!"
"Jaysus, those sausages are lovely!"

But back to the Comeraghs. They were dotted all over with sheep which were left free to roam wherever they wanted. White cotton balls on a pristine emerald mat. Only these weren't normal sheep, but punk sheep who seemed to be at odds with the beautiful unspoilt nature around them. They all had either bright luminous pink or garish blue painted on their hides. Highlights which would not have looked out of place in Berlin.
"Isn't it mad the colours they're putting on the sheep these days?" my aunt Eileen said.
All they were missing were the leather straps, metal studs, bad hygiene and attitudes. I guess the farmers want to be able to identify them from a distance. I wondered if the sheep liked being punks, or if it was a source of shame for them; if they sniggered at each other behind their backs, or wanted to hang out with the one with the "coolest" highlights.

I tried taking pictures of them, but the fuckers wouldn't pose at all and instead ran off.
"Must be English sheep," I told my aunt.
"Probably Tipperary sheep," she replied. "The lousers!"

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Noddy's last hurrah

Noddy's last weekend in Ireland was a hectic one. As much for us as for him. 'Twas Saturday when we finally landed in Whitechurch.
Next up on the round tour of Ireland for Jenny to meet were my parents. "Jenny, my dad. Dad, this is Jenny," on arrival in the kitchen. Smiles and handshakes all round. A similar procedure for my mother when she came down the stairs.
The parents seemed to like her anyway, despite her vegetarian tendencies and dreadlocks. My dad seemed especially impressed when she took on the weeds in the garden, ripping them out with Gefühl und Kraft, and my mother evidently liked her enough to show her embarrassing pictures of my childhood as soon as my back was turned.

On Sunday we went camping with Noddy and Sully despite warnings of rain, rain and more rain. (The shitty Irish weather was a recurring theme in many a conversation over the two weeks, no matter who was talking and no matter the current conditions.)
Jiggsy knew a good camping place apparently so we drove out in convoy to Ballyhack even as the clouds were gathering overhead. After lugging tents, sleeping bags, beer and food through countless fields and over I don't know how many gates, he finally brought us into the woods on a hill overlooking the Three Sisters' flow into the sea. Not that we could see any of that - the feckin' trees blocked the view.

Jiggsy didn't hang around for long, heading off for some activities which are apparently so illegal he had to whisper what he was up to despite being in the middle of a forest with no one for miles around. Maybe he was worried the salmon would hear him.
My sister also declined to stay the night, leaving just the Three Amigos and a Berlinerin. "Good luck in fucking Australia," Niamh told poor ol' Noody as she was heading off, not making his prospects sound too enticing. She laughed at her Freudian slip, but it was too late - the tone was set for Noddy's last shindig before he set off for "Fucking Australia".

After getting the tents up and a good fire going we sat around and Sully took on the role of the seanchaí, regaling us with his stories. He was in mighty form. Everything was "savage" and a cause for wonder. He'd evidently been watching a lot of documentaries lately and he told us of the cuckoo chick kicking the other chicks out of the nest to be fed by their parents.
"He just sits there with his mouth open waiting to be fed," Sully explained. "Eventually he just takes over the whole nest while the parents go mad trying to feed him. It's savage!"
Niamh, who was still there at this stage, told him he'd make a great cuckoo, sitting with his mouth open waiting for food.
Sully was delighted with this idea, immediately throwing his head back, his wings/arms out to the side, imagining himself to be sitting in an ever-smaller nest. "Hawwwwwww," he gurgled. For a moment, it was as if he became a cuckoo. Savage.

To be honest he's not that far off. A couple of nights before, he came home from the pub to his girlfriend's house, starving and tired and naturally drunk. Finding a loaf of bread in the cupboard, he was too tired to slice it. He proceeded to butter the top of the whole loaf and bite great chunks from it. Of course the mother came down to the kitchen to see what the racket was about, only to find her prospective son-in-law with half a buttered-loaf stuffed in his gob. Savage, as he'd say himself.

We ate pistachio nuts as we sat around the fire. "The best nut in the world," Sully proclaimed. I agreed. Noddy, however, did not. "They're fucking rotten. It's like chewin' sticks!" he argued, popping one into his mouth before making a face like a tortured monkey.
"You do know you've to take them out of the shell before you eat them?!" I asked him.
"Sticks!" he replied, popping another, shell and all, again making a tortured-monkey face.

We had no cooking utensils so we improvised. Corn on the cob was wrapped in tin foil and thrown into the fire. A long flat flagstone became a frying pan, and sausages and even steak were soon sizzling away on it. Of course the feckin' stone exploded, sending the lot into the fire, the sausages rolling into it one by one. We managed to fish them out again and no major harm was done. Despite the stone exploding twice more from the heat, we managed to get everything cooked enough to make it edible.
"Savage sausages," Sully declared.

The fire itself gradually became bigger and bigger as the night went on. "Stumpy" (pictured above with Noddy) was sacrificed early on. Jenny went gathering wood as if preparing for the long Berlin winter. Like a small Swedish logging company, she gathered enough dry wood to power a locomotive to Moscow. Hin und zurück.
Of course the stockpile wasn't piled or stocked at all, but flung directly onto the ever-increasing fire. Soon it went beyond the boundaries of the stones the lads had sensibly placed around it before lighting it; the fire outgrowing its nest.
"Like a cuckoo!" Sully observed, sending us into fits of laughter. "Savage."

I'm not sure at which point the fire actually became a bonfire, but it got to the stage where we were collecting dead trees and throwing them onto it. Noddy developed novel ways of breaking them into smaller pieces. Firstly he grabbed one trunk in the middle, holding it horizontally and then running directly at two standing (still living) trees to snap it in the middle. I don't know how he didn't break himself in two. An almighty crash and wallop was followed by a heartfelt "Owwww".
Nod then used the two standing trees to act as a fulcrum, while he lodged a trunk between them and pushed with all his might until that snapped in two. 'Twas evidently hard work though, and so we just threw full unbroken trees onto the fire, while Noddy, for some reason known only to himself, took to climbing the trees that were still standing.
"Three more trees!" I told Jenny as we continued to gather fuel.

Meanwhile the raging flames sent showers of sparks flying towards Sully's tent. Sully, who was resting dangerously close to the fire, didn't seem to notice as the rest of us waited for his tent to burn down, but the sparks took their toll as he was to find out later on.
"How'd you sleep?" Jenny asked him the next morning.
"Great!" he replied. "Well, actually, I was a bit wet. Me head got drownded."
He brought her over to his tent to proudly show her the holes which had been burnt into its side. With perhaps even more pride, he showed me the wet pillow which he slept on.
"Me head was drownded!" he repeated, somehow delighted with his misfortune. "Savage," I replied.
The news quickly spread. Jiggsy rang Noddy to see if we'd survived. Apparently there had been a storm and very heavy rain which none of us had noticed.
"We were grand," Noddy told him. "Although Sully woke up with a big wet head on him!"

Monday night was Noddy's last in Ireland before he emigrated the next morning. After bringing Jenny to see the sights of south west Co. Wexford, we called to the house that night. Sully was already there, beer in hand, and we took off were we left off the night before, albeit without any trees.
Again, the conversation ranged from the bizarre to the ridiculous, with the lads talking of strange goings on in the village, from the gardaí in a high-speed chase which Sully observed when he was "scraping the walls at home", ("They itchy?" I asked), to a round up of who died where and when in which crash in the area. Jenny looked on in amazement.

Maggie, Noddy's mother, came in at one stage and said it was like an American Wake, an old tradition in Ireland where an emigrant bids adieu to family and friends he usually never sees again. It was an Australian Wake in this case, and of course we'll see him again, but all the laughter, stories and banter couldn't disguise the melancholic air as we considered his move to "Fucking Australia."
It took a while to say goodbye to him that night, but no doubt we'll be meeting again soon enough. When exactly or where now will be anyone's guess.


We'd arrived in Wexford from Stockholm via my cousin's in Dublin and Gav and Delphine's in Greystones. It was there I was finally reunited with Derval, my beloved Volkswagen Golf who had been left abandoned since she brought me on the first leg of my journey to Guatemala last Christmas. Perhaps because she had been ignored by me since then, did she react a little strangely to my touch at first, as if I was a stranger, or worse - as if she'd been with another driver in my absence. Perish the thought - I know my Derval would never do such a thing!
She did act strangely though; slow, unresponsive, laboured. As if the spell was broken, something was missing, things just weren't the way they were before. Dare I say it? The affair was over.
I thought back to all the lovely times we'd shared together; driving ridiculous distances up and down the N11 to football every week, trips around Kerry, spins to the beaches of Wexford, muckfests at Oxegen and the Electric Picnic, our first time on a boat together when we got the ferry to France, the drive to Berlin, and what I thought was to be our last adventure together when we went to Paris on the way back to Ireland.
All good times. But all in the past. Poor Derval couldn't handle the idea our time was over and it took some time to coax her back for a final fling. She'd evidently spent the previous seven months brooding about it all.
"There'll be more adventures!" I promised her. For two weeks' driving in Ireland, we needed her! Of course, I didn't tell her it would be just two weeks. I took a spin out to Glendalough. As if nervous at first, I had to reassure her on the way out, and slowly, slowly, she came back to me. Gradually she became more responsive and on the way back she was flying! She flew around corners with gusto, tearing up gravel, eating up the miles. Derval's back! Adventures were calling!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Zurück (mit Tee!)

The first post in almost two weeks! Such neglect of the blog has never been seen before. Now that I'm back in Berlin, I want to assure you, dear readers, that I will of course be bringing ye all up to date on the latest happenings to have been happening, complete with photos and all, before I head off again.

Copious amounts of tea will no doubt be drunk while I'm updating it all, and I'm glad to say I now have enough stockpiles to avoid any recurrence of the Great Tea Famine which had lasted almost two months, an eternity to have to suffer inferior brews to Barry's Tea.
I'd say I've enough tea now to offer relief to the people of Boston after they carelessly dropped theirs into the harbour in 1773. Nothing to do with American independence at all, this was simply a matter of taste - the poor Bostonites were evidently sick of drinking English muck. How history would be different if they'd had decent tea!

Would you believe I almost returned from Ireland with none at all. Walking down to the pub for the last pints before the journey home last night, Tony asked me: "I suppose you got your box of Barry's Tea anyway?"
Jaysus! I'd forgotten all about it. The panic!
Thankfully Jill came to the rescue, despite other things to consider right now, picking up a box of 160 bags on her way to down to the Harbour Bar after receiving an emergency call from her husband. 160 bags! Happy days.
My cousin had also given me tea, fancy French stuff in a tin which is almost too good to drink, and I'd also bought a load of chai Assam black tea in Stockholm which I'd been lugging around for the last two weeks.
No wonder the airport dogs' noses were twitching suspiciously as I passed.