Friday, July 29, 2011

Noddy’s nuptials

Noddy’s nuptials went off without a hitch. No, it’s true - they were actually married a year before.
Because they were hitched in Australia, there had to be another celebration this side of the planet exactly one year later so family and friends could join in. Proper order! Speeches were mercifully short and scarce, grub plentiful and we weren’t able to finish off the beer despite giving it our best shot by taking all night. There was no dancing, but it sure was barn to be wild.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Long way from Tippity home

The ATM in Clonmel asked me to kindly withdraw my card “fully” upon completion of the transaction. Evidently locals are very flathúlach with their bank cards and only ever half remove them, leaving bits of cards stuck in Geldautomats all over Tipperary.
Nevertheless, we were treated royally during our brief stay, my aunt and uncle – like my cousin before – rolling out the five star roast spud and cinnamon cake treatment to ensure their grand nephew/cousin will visit again. I’ll be tolerated as his mode of transport but am happy to oblige with such hospitality.
“Jaaaaysus,” my uncle said when he opened the door to be confronted by the nipper brandishing a Waterford hurley. The preemptive strike failed to allay the unfortunate hurling references and predictable gloating, but the little fella’s impressive stickwork and poise off the ball reassure me that a star to quash Tipp taunts is in the making.
We brought him to Sliabh na mBan, where his namesake was once either enchanted by women or women raced to the top to marry him. These legends’ details are somewhat sketchy given the passage of time. Either way, the nipper fell asleep, evidently not impressed by the view nor stories of heroes’ exploits.
On Thursday I’d my first pint since landing on these shores. It was probably the longest I’ve gone without a pint on these shores since I myself was a babe in arms. It coincided with the long overdue (two years!) reunion with Noddy, who passed through Nagle’s in Kilsheelan to regale us with stories of standing on poisonous snakes and being eaten by fire ants. And we finally met his wife! A fine addition to the family. They’re getting married again tomorrow.
I’m home now at last, introducing the nipper to his roots and the cows next door. One little sneeze was enough to send them all running for the far corner of the field. Cow-ards. He had no thought of fear when he dived straight into the sand at Duncannon as the Sunny South East lived up to its name.
Tonight Noddy accepted responsibility for the little fella’s religious and mafia upbringing. As godfather, I'm sure he'll teach him plenty of valuable lessons in life. How to avoid poisonous snakes and fire ants will be among the early lessons no doubt.
Now though the village is abuzz with the excitement of his nuptials – Noddy’s nuptials, the nipper is still a bit young for that kind of carry on (at least until a substantial dowry is offered) – with people from far, wide and narrow here for the festivities. Rumours of fire-chickens are flying. (Unlike the unfortunate chickens.) It promises to be quite a hooley.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Doolin dealin'

Perhaps the lack of an ATM In Doolin explains why the locals screw money out of visitors any which way they can. €42 we're paying for the hostel. Without breakfast. Jenny said it was €29 to stay in a dorm but that's simply too outrageous to be true.
There's only one regular shop in the village (thousands selling woolly jumpers and trinkets adorned with shamrocks) but the groceries are so overpriced only gold bars covered in platinum adorned with the rare egg of a six-legged sabre-toothed mouse are accepted.
None of that compares, however, to the news they now charge people €6 to see the renowned Cliffs of Moher nearby. Cliffs! With an entrance fee! Not to buy them, or eat them, but to see the fucking things. They can keep them.
Of course we're in Clare, so I shouldn't be surprised. If ever a county should fall into the Atlantic let it be Clare. I'd like to see them charge for the cliffs then. It's no coincidence the Burren is Clare's highlight as well as its least populated area.
To make matters worse, the hostel is full of weird Austrians. I know Austrians are weird anyway, but these ones are even weirder that normal Austrians, worse even than Bavarians. If ever there was a time for Clare to fall into sea...
The nipper's coping admirably. I don't know where he gets the strength.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Omey Island

The tide was out so we walked out along the sand to Omey Island and hoped to bejaysus we'd have time to make it back before it came back in again.
The nipper seemed unperturbed. He'd just had a nap while a strange star cast the countryside in an otherworldly golden glow. When he woke up the clouds were back in charge again. Normal service resumed. Good timing Nippity. He still hasn't seen the sun shine in Ireland. Many haven't. I might have seen it once myself, but can no longer be so sure.
We proceeded despite the gloom and ominous threats from above, wind bending our backs but not our will as we picked our way around pools and ridges, leaving footprints wiped clean as soon as they were printed. Finally we struck dry land - if you can call it that. We were Ome!
The island frivolously opposes the Atlantic while maintaining a fingertip connection to the mainland. A few foolhardy bushes are the only things taller than military-length grass foolish or hardy enough to grow here.
In the middle is Lough Fahy. An 'E' may be missing but still I consider it a family lake, even if the link is as tenuous as that of the island to the mainland. Swans swanned around on the lake as if they owned it, with nowhere a human in sight.
Our guidebook says 20 people live on Omey, but we met a woman on the way over and she said one fella lives here. Apparently he's "fond of the drink" and has had to swim home from the pub at three in the morning when the tide is in. I believe the woman over the guidebook. There are no pubs on Omey Island.
Rabbits abound and bound about in numbers that defy numbers. There are rabbillions of them, darting off with white tails in the air as soon as one of them notices anything suspicious - anything that isn't another rabbit. I'd say they're not disturbed too often. There ain't a whole lot goin' on on the island.
For the nipper it was just one wonder - a oneder - after another. He met a couple of horses on the way over and squealed with delight, then looked on in amazement as a couple of dogs - a big brown fella and a little white one - hysterically ran into fields and over stone walls, panting in excitement as they rushed about savouring the wonders of the wind. By the time he got to the donkey and the cows, he'd had too much excitement - another nipper nap.
He slept through the downpour whipped into our faces by the unforgiving wind, and missed the excitement of climbing over jagged rocks and under barbed wire fences as we sought a shortcut back. Neither of us fancied swimming back.
Thankfully we made it before the tide did, back to Derval waiting patiently on the mainland. We set off in the car for home, twisting and turning down narrow overgrown bumpy roads with the landscape becoming increasingly familiar. Before we knew it we were back at Claddaghduff again, back to Omey Island! Now at least we know how it got its name.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Galey gael

Gale force winds and driving rain from the Atlantic scuppered our plans to go camping last night. The nipper was up for it, but there was a chance we’d all be blown away in the middle of the night so we sought refuge in a B&B. Draughts howl around the house to show us what we’re missing outside.
Now it’s merely raining, a steady heavy drizzle for the last 17 hours, and there’s only a warning of gales. Everything’s wet. The nipper’s sleeping – there’s nothing else to do. 
He stayed in a hostel last night, and loved it. Plenty to see – a cat, a couple of sheep, weird tourists – and he slept like a baby. Now he needs more wonders to marvel at.
Connemara is hauntingly beautiful through the rain. Shades of green brushed by low clouds and sombre mist, it’s a wonderful wilderness punctuated by scattered rocks, lonely trees, shimmering lakes, rocking sheep n’ rolling bog. Bollocks to the rain, ‘tis time to go exploring.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Terminal illness

Approaching the glut of orange non-twinkling twinkles below, we pass over the black shiny sea still – despite Fukushima’s best efforts – among the world’s most radioactive. The city looks nice from this safe distance.
Landing in Dublin, we’re greeted by a huge shiny new terminal, sparkling, clean, soulless. Built at stupendous cost in times of delusion, it’s an unwitting acknowledgement of Ireland’s madness. Visitors learn all they need to know without leaving the building.

Friday, July 15, 2011

First flight

One way of making use of a seatbelt is by eating it. He tried. It was his first flight so who can blame him? At least he tried.
Otherwise he chatted away to himself, smiled while looking all around and fought sleep like a warrior. Happy in his nappy. It was six hours past his bedtime before he finally hit the hay, exhausted from all the excitement of being higher than he's ever been. I'm still not sure he's come down yet.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Half nipaversary!

Half a year old today! Six months ago he landed on the planet – or would have but for the quick reactions of the midwife – today he wakes up in Ireland for the first time, no doubt wondering why it took a lifetime to come back to the land of his ancestors.
Half a flippin’ year! Mad. There was so much confusion and excitement at the time I don’t even remember half-marrying the midwife, but thankfully the cause of it all has been taking everything in his stride as he continues his undaunted progression.
I thought he couldn’t get any bigger. I was wrong. He’s HUGE. If he carries on like that it’s only a matter of time before he devours us. Of course, he still pretends he can’t sit or walk and so we’ve to carry him all the time, despite his bulgingness. Tell-tale creases are the only way we can discern where his joints are. He won’t be able to pretend he can’t walk for much longer.
He did learn to rollover in the last month. Not on command like a dog – he’s got his dignity – but when it suits him to flip from his back to his belly to better see what’s going on. And he always wants to see what’s going on, to the detriment of sleep and even – would you believe – eating. Wide eyes like vacuums taking everything in.
Teeth have taken a break from progression, but lurk ominously behind the gums, while hair is beginning to sprout on his head. It’s very fine hair, almost fur. Perhaps he’s a nip off the old block.
He’s a happy nip – that’s for sure. He laughs a lot, and flirts outrageously with his smiles. He has all the women of Berlin (and some of the men) wrapped around his little little finger.
He likes nothing more than the wind in his face – he literally drools with happiness, blinking, licking his lips and squeaking with joy – while there was a broad smile when he felt rain for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I guess he’s going like Ireland so.
Flowers are like magnets for his grabbing hands. They might regret their alluring properties when he rips off their blossoms, but he’s definitely a fan of nature and the outdoors. He sighs with contentment as a breeze ruffles the fur on his head. I feel he might be an Arctic explorer one day. 
If not that, then perhaps an astronaut – he loves being a rocket flying to the sky – although in light of recent developments I suppose he’ll more likely be a cosmonaut.
Naut one way or the other, he’s halfway to being one. It’s the six month nipaversary!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hair we go!

We’re all set! I just finished packing (almost) and we’re about to head to the airport. The nipper’s so excited he’s been puking and farting all day. The homecoming!
For the next two weeks, blog activity will be intermittent as we bask in the bliss of a land without Deutsche Post’s returned letters, the GEZ’s neverending bills or shopkeepers who “aren’t allowed” break €5 for change.
There’ll be a special post tomorrow, but apart from that they’ll either be few and far between, or short and frequent if I decide to make use of my handheld device which is most certainly not a fruit of any type. I tried using an orange once but the results were so messy and sticky it put me off typing on any sort of fruit.
Tschüß for now Berlin, Hallo Irland!

Vive la différence

England were out, my job was done.
I take my leave of the World Cup with the main prize still to be decided. Germany are out, Brazil are out, Australia are out, Canada out, Mexico out... But women's football is definitely in.
It was a helter-skelter couple of weeks, punctuated by trains, increasingly underwhelming catering (Berlin won – not a carrot cake anywhere else), small beers, mundane cities, and the pressure of not erring without the time to think. Once the copy was filed, there was no time for anything else.
The football far exceeded my admittedly low expectations, with skills, pace, guts and nail varnish a plenty. France in particular impressed, especially Gaetane Thiney and Louisa Necib, who can do stuff with the ball the begrudgers can’t even aspire to. There has been excitement and scripts befitting Hollywood – the hosts shocked at the last, Hope Solo defeating the evil Marta against all odds – while there was a distinct lack of diving bullshit, hissy fits, theatrics, negative tactics and tiki taka, making this women's World Cup far more entertaining than the men's borefest last year. Vive la différence!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Small beer country

This is small beer country. It’s impossible to get a normal-sized one.
I asked for a “großes Bier” today and she came back with a 0.2l glass. A fucking thimble. It was gone before I even knew I drank it.
“Do you not have any bigger beers?” I asked.
“They’re the biggest we have,” she replied. “You can always order more of them.”
I guess that’s the idea. The locals like to brag about how many beers they were able to consume the night before. “Ja, Ich hatte 20 Biers letzte Nacht! Man, bin ich ein Trinkschwein!”
Twenty beers being about the equivalent of a pint.

I first discovered the small beer phenomenon when I arrived in Leverkusen. If ever there was a place where you need large beers it’s Leverkusen. Jaaaaysus, it’s shit. Beyond shit. Shit is a compliment.
I strolled its streets at night and wondered why its inhabitants were all hiding. Not a sinner to found anywhere, not a stray cat, not even a rat.
Trains don’t even stop in Leverkusen, whizzing by to leave you feeling unwanted on the platform. I swear they speed up as they approach the town. The driver probably closes his eyes and holds his breath as he zooms through.
The locals (perhaps they’re vampires, I only met them during the day) speak an incomprehensible language among themselves. They could understand me, and reply in German, but I couldn’t decipher a word they said to each other. Probably just as well.

Bochum, like Leverkusen, also had the feeling of being a giant mall. Again, the beers were tiny. An utterly uninteresting town. Even a Fernsehturm worse than Hamburg’s can’t save it.

I didn’t sample any beers, big or small, in Hannover, but still woke up with a hangover when my alarm failed to sound for an early train out of there. Even without drink, mornings are bad here. There’s a guy on a horse outside the Bahnhof and it has cute little green trams, but that’s all I can tell you about Hannover.

I ended up in Köln at 2.30am, (where I had to wait an hour for a connection back to fucking Leverkusen) and its cathedral is impressive. The centre looked nice enough through my exhaustion and until my little tour was interrupted by an over-friendly transvestite who kept following me until I decided to head back to the Bahnhof.

I’m in Düsseldorf now, where there seems a strange fascination with coloured statues in various poses on top of pillars. It also has a Fernsehturm! But it’s crap, albeit not as crap as Hamburg’s.
The old/rebuilt part of the city’s nice, crammed with bars and restaurants frequented by hen and stag nights. I guess they come here so they can brag about all the beers they drank. The beer is nice, golden coloured and brewed locally, and the locals seem to like nothing more than standing around narrow tables outside the brewpubs, sipping.
It’s certainly better than the other cities I’ve passed through to date, although it wouldn’t be hard. Düsseldorf’s bigger, there are people, and trains stop here – my main reason for making it my new World Cup base – but as mentioned before, the beers are tiny.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Mönchengladbach

Mönchengladbach is a city remarkable for its utter unremarkableness. When I came here last week, my only view was blocked by an incurable steamy bus window. I know now, it was doing me a favour.
Its inhabitants, however, are a different story. In my limited dealings with the Mönchkins I have encountered nothing but rude, surly, unhelpful turds. From the bus driver today who wouldn’t let me off when I couldn’t disembark quickly enough (I made the mistake of allowing others on), or the security guy who insisted on seeing my accreditation when I was leaving the venue, to the fucker who nearly ran me over outside the stadium tonight. In a word – gobshites.
I realise I haven’t met all the natives, but if the sample I did meet is in any way a general reflection of the local populace, then maybe they should change the city’s name to Mönchkinsgladtoseethebackofyou. I’m sure I heard cheering as the train left for Düsseldorf...

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Slaptop

Always screw bottle caps on tightly after filing a match report before running at breakneck speed downstairs to the post-game news conference. Opening the bag for the laptop to find your bottle of water everywhere but in the bottle does little to help when your laptop is effectively drowned and you’re expected to update that match report with quotes. Immediately. Drowned laptops with injured keyboards and unconscious mousepads are quite unresponsive to the input of quotes – no matter how hard you pound them in, no matter how interesting those quotes may be.