Monthly Archives: May 2012

Internet Dating

So, I’ve signed up to another dating website, even though every time I do (I’ve joined four different ones over the course of the last few years), I get severe buyer’s remorse afterwards. Its probably because, of all the things that you can buy that promise a better life (a new dress, a gym  membership, whitening toothpaste), internet dating seems to offer the most. True love! Soulmates! Happily Ever Afters! So, if (when) you fail to find said true love/soul mate/happily ever after, its all the more frustrating and disappointing when you think of how much money you’ve wasted.
Also, I think the whole internet dating thing offends my default romance setting. The initial set-up, with profiles and pictures and endless lists of things you like and don’t like seems to me to be essentially shopping for a boyfriend. ‘Oh, well, yes, I like this model, but I wonder if I could get him with blue eyes rather than green?’ And then when (if ) you get to the first date its often more like a job interview than a date. ‘Yes, I am very close with my family and feel that family life is important. I spend every Christmas with them and speak to my father weekly, which I believe shows my stable and well-adjusted nature, perfect for a long-term relationship and potential marriage.’ On some deep level, my brain still believes that the only way you can meet your one true love is when you both reach for the same, red hard-cover, gold-embossed copy of ‘Anna Karenina’ at the second-hand bookshop. Or, when you happen to sit next to each other at a friend’s wedding. Or, when his best friend lets the largest country house in the vicinity and you meet at a dance and he insults you because of your low-class, so then you decide you hate him, but then he falls in love with you because you don’t care and he proposes and you refuse and insult him and so then he mends his ways and becomes awesome and you decide you made a mistake, but aren’t sure if he still loves you and then his crazy aunt comes and tells you you’re not allowed to marry him and then he proposes and you say yes and you have a joint wedding with your sister who happens to marrying your husband’s best friend.
Oh. Sorry. Got a bit carried away there.
I also feel there’s a bit of a stigma still around internet dating. Like, that it’s for old, divorced people or socially stunted people. The amount of men that have said to me, ‘So, what’s a nice/pretty/confident/outgoing girl like you doing on an internet dating website?’ as their first message is too numerous to mention. I know its meant to be a compliment, but it just ends up making me feel even more romantically incompetent. Read in another way the comment could be: ‘You look reasonably nice and pretty! And you still couldn’t manage to find someone? So, what’s wrong with you?’
But, still, I have several good friends who are currently in long-term, happy and stable relationships through their participation in this modern-day form of torture/humiliation that we call internet dating, so I’m once again giving it a go. I figure that, at the very least, I can start to meet some London people and they can take me out to awesome London places and I’ll start to get a sense of the city. And that has to be good, right?
However, there are several things that annoy me about the gentlemen I meet online. So, at the risk of sounding like a know-it-all dick (hi there anonymous internet trolls! I look forward to your abuse!) or someone who writes books with annoyingly smug titles (‘he’s just not that into you’ nyah nyah nyah), I wrote a list of the things that are most likely to make me lose interest in a man on an internet dating website (if any of the gentleman online wish to write a similar list about the women online, I’d be glad to read it. I honestly have no idea how best to advertise myself on these websites. Ugh. Just describing the process as ‘advertising myself’ makes me feel sick to my stomach, but it is sort of true).

1) Photo. If you don’t have a photo, I ain’t interested. Don’t take it personally, boys, I’m the same with recipe books. If a recipe doesn’t have an accompanying photo, I’m completely at sea when attempting to choose something to make for dinner. It is the same with your profiles. Its not that I’m superficial and only want to date men with six-packs and jaws you could cut diamonds on, but simply that, as they say, a picture speaks a thousand words. A photo will give a better sense of who you are. Especially when it seems most people these days ‘like movies, live music, keeping fit and traveling’.  And, in that spirit, be very careful about which photos you chose as your main profile photo. Don’t choose a photo in which you are scowling. You might think girls like dark and brooding, but, there’s a fine line between Heathcliffe and deranged axe-murdering stalker. Best to urge on the side of caution and choose a photo that shows you looking reasonably happy, confident and comfortable. I know its a tall ask. I know some people don’t feel comfortable with a camera stuck in their face. Maybe try to get a friend to take a photo when you’re not expecting it. “In the moment”, as they say. Give them a camera and have them jump out at you when you’re in the midst of laughing at a hilarious joke your friend just told you. Also, unless it’s a photo of you at the beach, please no topless photos. I don’t care if you have six-pack. Well, I do care, but its not going to make me want to date you more than somebody else who doesn’t have a six-pack. And if you care that much about your six-pack that you need to show it to me before I even know your name, then chances are my desire to date you will dip into the negative digits. Also, you may think that Zoolander-style photos are hilarious, but so do about a thousand other men and, believe me, after a while, the joke gets old. Oh, and, one last thing. Drunk photos? Seriously? Especially drunk photos where you are flanked by scantily-clad, buxom, bronzed women? Are you still drunk when you’re choosing them? No-one looks like a good prospect when drunk in the Playboy Mansion. NO-ONE. Not even Hugh Hefner.

2) Proper grammar and spelling in your profile. I may be in the minority here, but if you misuse ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ or mix-up ‘their’ and ‘there’ and ‘they’re’, it will equal an instant rejection from me. if you don’t use caps locks, i will start to wonder what’s wrong with the left little finger that it cannot stretch to the caps locks or shift keys. If you end every sentence with! I will not think you are enthusiastic! Or, I will think you enthusiastic in the way that my gym instructor is enthusiastic! In my head all your sentences will end on an upward inflection! And this will annoy me! And then I will think you are annoying! And I will not contact you! Similarly… if you use… all the way… through your profile… I will not… think you are thoughtful… I will think… you have written… your profile stoned… and cannot remember your…. words. But the worst thing of all, the absolute worst, is text speak. Dudes, seriously. If you use ‘lol’ at all, at any point in your profile or messages to me, my instant reaction will be to compare you to a 16 year old girl. I will imagine you flicking your long, blonde hair out or your baby blues and, like, sucking on a strawberry lollipop and, like, checking your glittery nail polish and whilst that probably does it for some people, I promise you, for me it DOES NOT. You may use text speak ironically, in which case, I will smile ruefully to myself, but the danger is, will I know you are using it ironically? Best to avoid it entirely.

‘LOL! This is definitely my best angle! The girls won’t be able to resist me.’ Found at: http://menknowpause.fooyoh.com/menknowpause_lifestyle_living/5209717

3) Don’t start your profile with, ‘Not sure what to write!’ Don’t start it with, ‘I don’t really feel comfortable writing about myself like this…’ Don’t start it with, ‘Never done this internet dating thing before! Thought I’d give it a go…’ Don’t start it with ‘Smart, handsome, friendly (and humble) guy…’ Yes, we realise it’s uncomfortable and awkward. Chances are, the girls looking at your profile also felt very uncomfortable and awkward when writing about themselves. I promise you, absolutely everyone is uncomfortable and awkward. Pointing it out does not help. Its like the person who says, ‘Well! This is awkward!’ after an awkward pause. There is no response to this. Its not funny. Its not original. Its just… awkward.

4) So, on match.com, you can ‘wink’ at people to show that you’re interested. If, gentlemen, you have ‘winked’ at me and I haven’t responded, chances are I have read your profile and am not interested in you. I know its a bit rude not to respond, but I actually have a life outside of internet dating and don’t really have time to message everyone who has winked at me, so sometimes I don’t reply. I apologise. If you wink a second time, or a third time, or a fourth time, I guarantee I have already looked at your profile and am not interested. Look, if you imagine it in a real-life scenario, at a pub or something and you wink at a girl across the bar and she doesn’t respond, you take that at face-value. She’s not interested. No amount of winking will change her mind. And, I mean, really, after a while its just blinking not winking and that’s not alluring that’s just confusing. 

5) If you have sent a ‘wink’ and I ‘wink’ back, don’t make your first message to me, ‘you’re cute’ and nothing else. I will go from thinking you are a potentially fascinating individual who I may have an interesting conversation with to thinking you are a sleaze and most likely masturbating over the pictures and profiles you have open on the dating website. I’m not joking. That’s the image my brain immediately jumps to. I won’t respond.

6) If you are living in Morocco, I’m sorry, but I’m not interested. Not even if you tell me I’m beautiful and you want to marry me. Actually, especially if you tell me that. Men living in Thailand, Italy, Cyprus and any other country apart from the one I’m living in, please also consider this post relevant to yourselves. I think we should all agree that long-distance is a bitch even in this wondrous modern-age of the internet and Skype and jet-planes. Plus, I don’t have UK passport, so there’s no point in marrying for that.

7) If you have sent a ‘wink’ and I ‘wink’ back, don’t make your first message to me be self-pitying, defeatist and pessimistic. For example, heading a message with ‘…not the greatest match…’ Dude, if I’ve winked at you, I’ve found something in your profile interesting (even if it is simply your correct use of grammar), so just trust that and run with it. I will either think that you are less than enthusiastic about talking to me (oh, well, no-one else has replied to me, so I suppose I’ll have to just talk to this one), or that there is some problem with you. Or, even if there is nothing wrong with you, the fact that you think there is something wrong with you will fill with me dread as I imagine long dates in which I attempt to convince you that you are worthwhile human being (I’ve got my hands full convincing myself of my own worth as a human being, which is a full-time job, so really, dude, you’re on your own).

8) If we have used the vile instant messenger for the swapping of 4 or 5 lines of conversation (‘hi’ ‘how are you’ ‘what are you up to’), do not then expect me to give your phone number so we can ‘text’. I wouldn’t have thought this needed explanation, but some gentlemen have been insulted at my lack of enthusiasm for this idea. Sorry, dudes, its called, ‘Not-wanting-to-open-myself-up-to-a-stalking-situation’. Conservative, I know, but after many years of having the fear of God put into me regarding strange men and the things they might do to young ladies if they got the chance, its hard to break some habits. But, if we turn it around, exactly why do you need my number so soon, anyway? And, if we’re already arguing 5 lines of text into our relationship, is this something that either of us want to pursue, anyway? I thought not. Good day, sir.

9) If I have agreed to go on a date with you, do not text to ask me how big my boobs are.

Do I really need to go through an explanation for that?

10) If we have messaged for a bit and, then, for some reason, I have decided that I’m not interested in you, do not want to go on a date with you and have stated why, you need to respect this. No amount of texts and emails are going to change my mind. It shouldn’t take me giving my phone to a male friend to answer for you to leave me the hell alone (oh, and for gentlemen who were confused by my refusal to give out my mobile number in point 8, take this as the reason why).

But, hey, really, guys, I’m just a down-to-earth, easy-going girl, looking for someone to share some laughs with.

Really.

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Cycling the Greenway

So, we’re up to my second day in Westport, Co. Mayo. Having wrecked myself on Croagh Patrick last Friday, I decided to do something similar the next day on the bicycle. You may remember that I wasn’t able to get a bus from Westport to Achill Island, so I decided to cycle 42km there instead. The sun was still blazing, but I had sensibly bought sunscreen this time, and proceeded to cover up my already bright red arms and neck.
After a check-in with the cycle company, who told me where to start, gave me a map and their phone number so I could call them from Achill and get their courtesy shuttle bus back to Westport, I headed on my way. I was full of enthusiasm, feeling like an intrepid traveler once again, having packed up my panniers with water, food, a jumper (more to ensure that the Irish weather DIDN’T turn cold, as we all know by now that the Irish weather is malevolent and will only ever do exactly what you expect it not to do), books, sunscreen, my map, my mobile and money.
But, then, not even out of Westport, I hit the first hill. Oh, woe is us, my legs cried, do you not remember what we did just yesterday? Why do you hate us so? All my confidence that I would make it alive to Achill Island in a timely manner was now starting to drain away. But, I convinced myself the only thing to do was to try.

This was an excellent choice. The Greenway (part of which I had cycled the day before) has mainly made on the old railway line between Westport and Achill Island. This old railway line is quite interesting, featuring, as it does in a prophecy put forward by an Irish monk, named Brian Rua Ui Cearabhain in the 1600s. Old Brian said that one day between Westport and Achill Island there would be “carriages on iron wheels, blowing smoke and fire, which on their first and last journeys would carry corpses”.  Well before the time of trains, Brian’s image would have seemed surreal and terrifying to his contemporaries. For us it is more chilling. Beyond the fact the Brian seems to have imagined trains before such things were beyond the imaginings of most men, the trains from Achill to Westport did indeed carry corpses on their maiden voyage of 1894 and their final journey of 1937. More than a bit chilling and thrilling. 
Anyway, the advantage for me is that trains aren’t great on hills and unless you’re in Switzerland and not really able to do so, people who build railway lines tend to do it on a flat surface. Or, as much of a flat surface as they possibly can. The people who had converted the railway line to the cycleway had been mercifully considerate and kept the flat gradient, meaning that the fear the first hill created in myself was completely unfounded. 
In fact, with the sun a-shining and the green hills a-rolling in the picturesque distance, it was all I could to stop myself from yelling out in sheer delight that I had happened upon such a country and such a place at such a deliciously wonderful time. I mean, if I had taken my holiday at most any other weekend in the rest of the year, it would not have been nearly so pleasant and pretty. But my sheer chance, I had taken my adventure holiday on the only blazing hot sunny days Ireland is likely to have in 2012, making the water sparkly, the hills shimmer, the flowers sparkle and the landscape seem, on the whole so painfully beautiful that it was sometimes necessary to stop and reach out and touch something, just to make sure it was all real and not some incredibly fabulous, accidental drug trip. 
In fact, when I was whooshing down the lovely Greenway, safe in the knowledge that the path was for cyclists and pedestrians only, no cars, I couldn’t help but squealing, ‘Greenway!’ in a strange, high-pitched voice, as if I were a character in MarioKart (‘Ima gonna win!’). I was just so happy that someone had come up with the idea of creating the cycle way and that other people had also thought it was a good idea, and they had given them money, and then other people, whose farms the Greenway cuts across, said, ‘sure, I’m happy to have a Cycleway in between my cows and sheep’ and, finally, that other people had been employed to design and build it. 
Artist’s impression of Jenny on the Greenway. Found at: http://www.mobygames.com/game/n64/mario-kart-64/screenshots/gameShotId,246966/
I made it to Achill Island in record time, even with the amount of stops I required to squeal delightedly at the little lambies eating grass by the side of the road. The lambies weren’t as delighted by my presence and tended to either run away, pee or poo when they saw me. Charmant. 
I had initially told myself to take it slowly as I wasn’t sure my fitness would hold up. Also, I was enjoying the scenery. However, two… middle-aged people went past me and… well it hurt my pride just a tad. I felt like as the young, sprightly one I should be overtaking them. I suddenly became very competitive and insisted on pushing myself, making certain that I at least kept them in sight, if not being able to overtake them. 
Of course, this resulted in me getting to just outside Achill Island and my body suddenly packing it in. No, no, Jenny, we refuse to go on any further until you provide us with a litre of water and two bananas. At least. Luckily, I had packed just such things and after a brief rest, I managed to get back on the bike and head the final kms to Achill Island. It was 12:30pm and I decided to take a break in the shade and read some of my book (a side note about the book. My housemate lent it to me and it is about the ‘Sack of Baltimore’, where Barbary pirates stole away 107 English settlers from the Irish coast in 1600s. Absolutely fascinating. My housemate is great). After a bit of a break, I convinced myself to try and see some of the island. However, I looked at the map and realised that the loops around the island were at least 20km and the longest was 44km. Deciding I didn’t have the energy to do another 42km, I thought I’d just head off in a flat-looking direction and see what I found. 
I found a secret garden, the ruins of Castle Grainne and a shady spot to read my book and look out of the sea. 
It was about this time, 2:30pm, that I started to think I should call the bike hire company and get them to pick me up. But there was part of me that was oddly reluctant to do so. Part of me that was thinking, oh, but what if I want to see some more of the island? Or what if I want to cycle back a little of the way to Westport? I’ll just wait a little longer and then decide. 
I’m sure you can guess what happened. My brain convinced me that I could definitely cycle the 42km back to Westport again, if I just took it slowly and wouldn’t it be cool to brag that I had cycled 100km in one day and wouldn’t it be nice to see all those pretty places again properly and I could take breaks for food and I’d be really fit after I did 10km and etc. etc. etc.
To be fair, I did make it back to Westport in one piece. It did, however, take me 6 hours, when the initial trip had taken me 3. I also had to stop in every town along the way, drink litres of water and devour large amounts of sugary, carb-based foods. Bags of dried apricots. Packets of salty potato pancakes. 
By the time I was outside of Westport, it was 9:30pm and the sun was racing towards the horizon. I was only barely managing to pedal on flat bits of ground and the minute there was even the hint of an uphill slope, I’d jump off the bike and walk it up instead. All the bugs were coming out in swarms and were sticking in great numbers to my sweaty, sunscreen arms, or flying up my nose or into my mouth, or into my eyes and taking up residence. In short, it wasn’t the most pleasant homeward journey. I probably would have enjoyed myself much more if I had just called the blasted shuttle service. 
However, I did get to brag to the girls in my hostel room about it and the men I returned the bicycle to in the shop the next door were very impressed. And we all know that my main in life is to impress people I don’t know, so all in all, I’d say it was quite the success.


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Climbing Croagh Patrick

Today, I’m moving away from the ‘heart-on-sleeve-so-honest-it-makes-you-uncomfortable’ style of post that proved so controversial a couple of days ago. Instead, we’re back to the ‘fish-out-of-water-tourist-Jenny-makes-amusing-mistakes-but-still-manages-some-weird-understanding-of-the-world-around-her.’
Yay! Tourist Jenny! She’s my favourite Jenny.
Much more fun than Honest Jenny.
Or Identity Crisis Jenny.
Or 3:30am Jenny.
ANYWAY.
So, yesterday was my last day at Fishamble, which was quite sad *sniff sniff*. But, I’m meeting up with the Literary Manager again next week to talk over the internship, so its not all over, not quite yet. Dragging out that ending as far as it can go.
Anyway, as I have a week and a half before I head off to Alaska and not much time in Ireland when I return, I thought I would try and squeeze in as many Irish tourist things that I have wanted to do all year and never have for one reason or another. I wanted to see Co. Mayo, Co. Sligo and Co. Donegal and I wanted to do it all in 6 days. Ambitions? Yes. Do-able? Just.
My final shift at Fishamble turned into half a shift and going to see a lunchtime production of ‘A Galway Girl’ at Bewley’s Cafe Theatre, which was quite fun. Now, that is a full-length play, not just someone singing the Steve Earle song over and over for an hour. In fact, there was absolutely no mention of that song, which is kind of a relief. Not that I don’t like the song, but… well, its all about context, people. Something that you might enjoy after a couple of pints whilst surrounded by American tourists may not be exactly what you want to hear when you are going out to the theatre completely sober.
After the show, I headed home, picked up my bags and walked to Dublin Heuston station. The sun was blazing. I mean, it really was blazing. It was warm. It was HOT. Its funny, that’s the time I miss Australia the most, whenever Ireland is most like Australia, that’s when I get homesick. Maybe its because I don’t know what to do with myself in Ireland when its warm. Or maybe all my Australian memories are indelibly tied to blazing, uncomfortable heat. Whatever. To make things worse, when I saw down at Dublin Heuston station, with the blazing sun blazing through the glass roof in a blazing manner, three Australian women sat down next to me. I desperately wanted to talk to them, but, at the same time, I had a strange desire not to be so needy (‘I couldn’t help but hear… are you Australian? So am I! Perhaps we could discuss superficial cultural things that we may have in common. Umm… the ABC? BBQ’s at the beach? I know, Vegemite! Or thongs, with me safe in the knowledge that no-one is going to get uncomfortable because they think I’m talking about underwear? I’ll even talk about Tony Abbott for a bit, if that’s all you’ve got!’) I pulled out my Lally Katz collection of plays on the off chance that they happened to be Australian theatre buffs with a passing interest in the new generation of Australian female playwrights and would recognise me for the Antipodean I was. Turns out they didn’t get the reference. Still, it was nice listening to them talk. Reading my (Australian) book, listening to the Australian accent and with the blazing sun blazing away, I got a strange sense that if I just closed my eyes, enough Australian things would conspire into some sort of vortex, transporting me back to Central Station, waiting for the Newcastle and Central Coast line, heading home to see Dad. I think the Katz plays were affecting my sense of reality. Those things are trippy.
Anyway, I was actually getting a train from Dublin Heuston to beautiful Westport, which is the closest town to Croagh Patrick (croagh=mountain). Croagh Patrick is a place of pilgrimage for many Catholics, as Saint Patrick is meant to have spent 40 days and nights up there one Lent many a moon ago. It was my plan whilst in Westport to walk up Croagh Patrick, visit Achill Island and then head to Donegal. I had decided that if there was any place that I really, really, REALLY needed to hike up in Ireland, it was Croagh Patrick, for what I would assume would be obvious reasons.
The evening in Westport was just as beautiful as it had been in Dublin. We’re moving into that wonderful part of the year in Ireland when the sun stays out until 10pm. I still find it a bit confusing (I think one of the reasons I’ve been staying up so late is because I’m not used to going to bed so soon after it gets dark), but it is glorious when the sun is out. And the sun was out.
After dumping my things at the hostel and getting a little dolled-up, I headed out to find a pub my housemate had suggested I check out (as a side-note, I’ve decided that the reason I like my new hair colour some days and not on others is because it really needs me to wear make-up with it for it to look right. My hair + no make-up kind of looks like wearing a gold lame disco top with tracksuit bottoms. It doesn’t quite work. As I often go about without make-up, it sometimes looks a little odd with my party-bright-disco hair. But, that is by the by). The pub is called Matt Molloy’s and is owned by the flute player from ‘The Chieftains’. I checked it out on the map and it looked like it was just opposite my hostel. Easy. I set forth, full of optimism.
Of course, this being Ireland, maps are not to be trusted, street signs are non-existent and you’re better off just following your nose. I circled the inner block of the town 3 – 4 times without seeing the pub, gave up and wandered into a random place that seemed atmospheric and had music going on. As I walked in, an American tourist told me I looked lovely, which just added to the charm of the place, really. As I was ordering my drink in this pub, I looked at the barman’s shirt, and, of course, it was the pub I had been looking for. I must have walked past it four times without realising it was the place I wanted. Oh well.
There was a fantastic band playing, who also happened to be Norwegian, which meant that they were doubly fantastic. Of course I went up and tried to talk to one of them in Norwegian, but he couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand him. He was from Trondheim, which I am telling myself was the problem and not the fact that I’ve probably forgotten most of my Norwegian through lack of use. The bass player was the most typically ‘Norwegian’ looking man ever, he had snow-white hair, blue eyes and the jaw bone and facial structure I associate with the Norwegians, so I developed a special fondness for him. He noticed and kept shooting me smiles, too, which was nice. All innocent, people, he was probably older than my Dad. Not that you are old Dad, all I mean is just..  oh, dig UP, Jenny, dig UP.
So, yes, where was I? Sorry, Facebook interlude. Umm… yes, I had a lovely time at Matt Molloy’s pub and a man from Atlanta, Georgia told me that he could tell I was ‘an adventurer’, which I very much appreciated and would like to put on my business cards, please. ‘Yes, hi, I’m Jenny and I’m an adventurer. A man from Georgia told me so.’
This morning, I woke up to a blazing hot sun (BLAZING) which was coming right through my curtain-less hostel room and interfering with my dreams. I had learnt the day before that my travel plans for my days in Westport were not going to work out as I had hoped. The buses to Achill Island only departed at 4pm in the afternoon, presumably because no-one goes for day trips, they only ever stay out on the island for at least a night. Well, that is to say, they are FORCED to spend a night out on the island because the Irish don’t run a bus service that caters to day-trippers. A cunning plan, Tourism Ireland, or, at least, Tourism Achill Island.
Not knowing how else I could get out to Achill Island, I started looking at the information available at the hostel. And I came up with a plan. The other way to get to Achill Island would be to cycle there. Now, it is 42 km from Westport to Achill Island, so it would be no mean feat to cycle there and back in one day (84km. Seriously. Do the math). However, it seemed my only option, so I decided if I got up really, really (REALLY) early, I could take it slow, with lots of breaks and of course, there was the glorious sun that would stay out until 10pm, giving me plenty of time to complete the marathon cycle if necessary. I then realised that if I hired a bike today, instead of just on Saturday, I could not only start cycling really, really (REALLY) early towards Achill Island, but I could also cycle to Croagh Patrick instead of walking there and shave a good 3 – 4 hours off my travel time. Part of me was thinking, ‘Now, come on, Jenny. I know you’ve started back at the gym, but who are we kidding? You’re still pretty out of shape. Can you really cycle 84km in one day? After walking up Croagh Patrick the day before?’ I decided to ignore this voice. 
So, off I pottered to the bike shop. I’m ecstatic that I did. They’d only just opened when I got there and the man who helped me was a bit flustered. The good weather had meant the place had been very busy and he wasn’t sure which bike, if any, he could give me. 10 minutes later, though, he had me set up with bike, helmet, lock, panniers and high-vis vest. He showed me the best way to get to Croagh Patrick and off I headed into the blazing Irish sun. The bike man told me that they could also arrange a pick up for me the next day, meaning I would only have to do 42km and not 84km if I wanted to see/get to Achill Island. I was delighted with myself for taking the chance and not stopping myself before I’d even tried. 
Really, the money for hiring the bike the extra day was worth it just to get the bike-man’s advice on how to get to Croagh Patrick. I would have taken the main highway, but the bike shop man directed me to an old railway track which is now a pathway/cycleway and then onto the coast road. It was a quieter, safer, and most importantly, more picturesque route. I had the magnificent Croagh Patrick in clear view on my left pretty much the whole way.
Now my camera has finally given up after 8 years of faithful service (it had still been working on and off in the last few months, but it was starting to make everyone and everything look like you were viewing them whilst on an acid trip, so I decided to retire it), so I’m relying on the friendly internet to give you a sense of what I saw today.

The magnificent Croagh Patrick. But today, there was not a cloud in the sky. NOT A SINGLE CLOUD. Its some sort of modern-day Irish miracle. Found at: http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showthread.php?p=78452809

The ride was beautiful and almost exclusively downhill which gave me a false sense of confidence, whizzing away, going, ‘Oh, I don’t know why I was worried, this is going to be a breeze’. I kept ignoring the voice that pointed out I would have to climb back up these hills on the way home…
At the start of the ascent of Croagh Patrick is a car park, where I locked up my bike, feeling very smug as I walked past all the people who had merely driven to the mountain. Oh, I was so feeling so fine, so fit and healthy on this glorious sunny day.
I started the hike up and almost immediately came across this:

Found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tomszustek/3857084609/

My first thought was that St. Patrick was pointing a pistol at me. I think, is this a message from God? That he wants no heathens on his holy mountain? On closer inspection, I realise St. Pat is holding out a shamrock, but I was sufficiently unnerved to wonder if the whole expedition was actually that good an idea. The ascent is very steep, the mountain is very high, I’m not very fit, I’m using my handbag as some sort of demented backpack because I forgot to bring one and the sun is… well, did I mention that the sun is blazing? Yes?
But, on I go. Ten minutes in and I feel like I’m dying of thirst. I drink half my water and I’m not even a third of the way up the mountain. Again, I think, maybe I’m not fit enough for this anymore. But I convince myself to keep trying, taking it slowly, stopping now and then to admire the scenery (and catch my breath). It really was a magical place. Despite there being a fair few other people on the mountain, it was so quiet that all you could hear was the hollow whooshing of the wind through the grasses. Oh, and the occasional sheep. You could tell why people would think it might be a place to become enlightened, to converse with God or have a religious experience.
By the time I’ve finished the first ascent and gotten to the only flat bit of the hike, I’m feeling good. A Cork man in a black shirt who was powering up the hill before is now stopped and waiting for his brother. He seems intent on letting me know that it’s his brother holding him up and not exhaustion on his behalf. He adds in that he did a long run yesterday too, so he’s feeling a bit tired. And it’s hot. Otherwise, the implication is, he would be bounding up the mountain with the speed and grace of a runaway gazelle. It was an interesting conversation, because, of course, once upon a time, climbing Croagh Patrick was meant to be a religious experience, about pain, suffering and penitence, whereas now its just about the challenge, the exercise and the achievement. You can do runs up Croagh Patrick, you can do 7 day challenges, where you climb it 7 days in a row and all sorts of other things. I guess its still a religion of sorts. The religion of personal achievement and self-improvement. But, still, within this religion, you don’t want to show that it’s any effort. Or, you want to grunt and groan the whole way but never stop. Ok, so, maybe its exactly the same as the religious pilgrimage just without the praying. And with shoes (many pilgirms walk up without shoes, because the walk is basically just sharp rocks. Now with extra suffering and penitence! What fun religion is!)

On the flat bit of the hike. Found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croagh_Patrick

 At the top of the mountain (I did get there eventually), is a little church and a rectangular square of concrete guarded by low metal fences that is supposed to mark St. Patrick’s bed. It looked rather uncomfortable. The second ‘station’ was next to it, the first being on the flat bit of the hike and the third bring past the summit. The stations are kind of like activity stations when you’re on boot camp. Except, with like prayers ‘n stuff. They were asking me to say a set number of Our Fathers and Hail Marys whilst walking round in circles or kneeling or some such. I didn’t much fancy kneeling on the rocks, so I said what bits of the Our Father I could remember in my head, which was about 4 lines and on I went. On the other side of the church, I found other hikers and a collection of dogs. One dog, a sheepdog, was the calmest, more centred, blissed out dog I have ever met. Seriously, this dog looked like a guru in an Indian ashram. I felt like this dog had it all worked out; he understood more about life then I did. He was just hanging in the sun, looking chilled and wise. When I sat down next to him, he immediately rolled slowly onto his back, one front paw raised and making a patting movement in the air whilst he watched me. Not demanding or excitable like many puppies or dogs, just, ‘you will do this for me now.’ So, I rubbed his belly for a few minutes which he enjoyed. When I stopped, he sat up, put his paw out again and made the same patting movement, as if saying he still wanted me to pat him. I patted his paw and then he put his paw on top of my hand, bringing it down to the ground with his paw, as if comforting me. ‘Ok, we’ll stop with the patting for now, my child, if that is what you wish.’ We sat like that for a few minutes, like the guru and disciple. It was ridiculously silly and made me so unreasonably happy I couldn’t stop smiling.

Church at Croagh Patrick summit. Found at: http://banner25.redbubble.com/sets/36465/works/1908882-croagh-patrick-church

After a short break, I headed down the mountain again. You always think walking downhill is going to be that much easier, but the ground was so slippery and the gradient of the hill so steep, that it required a great deal of balance and stress on the knees to get down again. I was caked in dried sweat, bright red and my hands were so swollen that my ring was in danger of cutting off the circulation to one of my fingers. But, I still made it down in good time. In fact, the only difference I think between unfit me now and Andean-leaping-fit me of 2008/2009 was that I had to go a bit slower and possibly my recovery won’t be quite as easy. I’ll leave that to tomorrow to worry about.
Anyway, because of the bike, I had many more hours than I had expected to have after finishing the hike. So, I took a breather, had some lunch and headed out again.
I saw the National Famine Monument, which was very sad. Its in the shape of one of the coffin ships and has all these flying raggedy skeletons over the top of it. In fact, it looked so sad and miserable I decided not to go in and look at it too closely. After all, the sun was blazing and I didn’t feel like being miserable. There were all these signs up for the Clew Bay Archaeological Site Trail, which I had never even heard of, but I decided that was as good a trail as any to follow and went round ticking off the sites that I could find. The trail is meant to be driven though, not ridden, so I eventually had to give up when the signs started asking me to ride 10km to the next site. I headed back to Westport, taking any side roads that took my fancy, finding myself on a pier, then on a beach, then at a quay and many other places. I saw so few people. The coastline was all mine.  Well, mine and a couple of cow’s.

Clew Bay. Found at: http://www.mulrannyparkhotel.ie/fishing-mayo

The sun was so, so glorious and the sky so blue and clear that it didn’t seem quite possible that I was still in Ireland. I started to think about the other sunny days that I’d had in Ireland and I realised something interesting. Because gloriously sunny days are so rare here, I could actually remember all the details of all the sunny days I had experienced. That might sound depressing to someone back home, but I thought it was miraculous. As if each sunny day was as important and unique to you as every single one of your lovers, meaning you could recall every single detail.
This particular lover has a sting at the end, though. It always happened to me in Australia too. The first really sunny, hot day of the spring/summer, I would wander around in a happy, slightly mindless daze for hours and completely forget what happens when one wanders around in the blazing sun for hours. One gets sunburnt. And I got spectacularly sunburnt today. I’m now wearing a delightful summer dress, the effect of which is ruined by the bright-red sleeves on my arms, the angry red circle around my neck, the red-clown nose and the snow-white shoulders and decolletage they are contrasted against. Oops.

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Cut Hair, Red Hair…

Something’s been going wrong over the past two weeks. A lot of things seem to have conspired at once to produce within me a feeling of crisis.

1) I received an email about 3 weeks ago, at the height of my visa stress, that knocked me for six. I didn’t deal with it straight away (couldn’t deal with it straight away), due to impending ‘being-chucked-out-of-the-country’ issues, but as soon as that had died down, the email loomed large once again. This email, which I don’t want to go into detail about, made me suddenly question various truths I have held about myself and my life over the past three years. And, when you think about it, three years is a pretty large chunk of time to have to suddenly start questioning.

2) I turned 28. That’s a pretty freaking huge number, as far as I’m concerned. It may seem on the surface a seemingly innocuous and mundane number and you may well ask, ‘what’s so wrong about 28?’ but we need only dig a little deeper to realise the inner sinister nature of the number 28. For starters, it’s closer to 30 than 25. It is an even number, which is only a good thing for ages that are multiples of 10, because then at least you get the benefit of a huge party with which to drown your sorrows/mask your anxieties/make you feel worthwhile (you know its true). You don’t even get the benefit of saying, as you do at 27: ‘Oh, its my Saturn’s Return! I will experience great power and magnificence this year, as a far-off planet returns to the point it was when I was born and I get to be more ‘me’ than I ever have been before. Oh, yes, I can already feel myself becoming more myself. Pass the guava juice.’ The only proper way to deal with such a horrible birthday as 28 is to pretend it doesn’t exist and only grudgingly eat banoffie pie and ice-cream until you feel uncomfortably full and then reluctantly agree to see a comic book movie with your housemate.

3) I returned to Dublin. Yes, yes, I know, I was freaking out something terrible about the thought of NOT being able to return to Dublin, but the fact is I had such a delightful time in the UK when I was forced to leave Ireland and I was so deliriously excited over my UK visa and the thought of moving to the UK, that when I landed back in Dublin it was a bit like ‘Wooo…. oh. This place again?’ Its like when you get really excited about the start of a big road trip and you get all the mixed tapes going and your friends are all excitedly discussing what you’ll see and where you’ll go and what you’ll do and looking out the car window, when someone suddenly realises that they’ve left their bags at home and you have to turn around and go get them. So often the excitement is never so great the second time round, like the rhythm has been thrown off, the momentum has been wasted. I got myself all worked up about moving to London and then realised I wasn’t moving there for another 5 weeks. Boo.

4) I’m finishing up with Fishamble. The position of Literary Intern with this company is one of the first jobs that I have truly loved, have felt I was capable of, have felt I was making a difference and contributing to something that I believed in wholeheartedly. I loved the people I worked with, enjoyed getting up each day to go to work, learnt and was inspired by my workplace and I could go on and on and on listing many other wonderful things it did for me. Most of all it gave me a sense of self-worth. I don’t know if or when I will get another job that ticks so many necessary boxes and that also ticks the most important box of all (that not even Fishambe could tick): its paid. As much as I enjoyed the internship position, its obviously not something I could do in the long-term and I just can’t be certain that a similar paid position will be coming along anytime soon.

5) Related to the above, I got very excited about two London jobs that happened to be advertised in the past two weeks, both of which I was qualified for and could do well. Both were in companies that I would sell my front teeth (and many of my back teeth too) to work with. When I suddenly (and unexpectedly) had my UK visa approved, I worked hard at writing excellent applications for the two positions and submitted them all full of innocent hope and optimism. Almost straight after I had hit the ‘send’ button on my email, my natural pessimism kicked in and the voice in my head (lets call it the Eeyore voice, as it speaks in a similarly downcast way) listed all the reasons why I probably had no chance of even getting an interview for these positions, let alone the job itself. The Eeyore voice won’t even let me tell you what companies I’ve applied for, on the off-chance that you will turn out to be evil, gloating people and not my friends at all and will laugh in my face and cry, ‘Ha! You think you could work for THAT company? Why, they would not employ one such as you to shine their boot caps!’ (Eeyore thinks everyone vindictive is also Victorian. I think he gets the ‘v’s confused). Either that, or I’ll jinx my already-slim-chances of an interview by telling you which companies I have applied for. Either way, I’m not writing them down, if only because I don’t want to have the ability to read back over my foolish hopes and dreams in 3 -4 weeks time if I haven’t gotten the jobs.

6) I had a meeting with the Guest Artist we’re working with for the Cork Midsummer Festival in which he managed some incredible insights into my character and life story for a man who I have only met 3 or 4 times. None of the things said were were critical or negative, if anything they were highly sensitive and understanding. However, that just seemed to make it all the worse. I wasn’t upset, but I suddenly saw myself in a completely different light and I didn’t like what I saw. This flash of a half-grown woman, a stunted person, someone who still seemed to be 15 years old, girly, verging on prissy, someone who, despite moving across the world innumerable times, seems still to give the impression of naivety, of innocence, someone who has never, will never be described as ‘sexy’ (why the sudden, particular obsession with this word? Possibly something to do with number one in this list, but possibly something completely unrelated).

All of which lead me to Sunday afternoon on the bus from Cork to Dublin, staring out the window and getting a sudden desire to just grow-up, stop being anxious, and bloody well GET OVER IT. All of it. At once. Right this minute.

Somewhere deep in my brain, probably somewhere on that creative, impulsive side, ‘growing up’ became translated into the physical action of cutting off my own hair. And then dying it red. Both of which, surprisingly enough, I did.

As a person who has always been painfully aware of her physical appearance (and its effect on the way others view me), the potential disaster of cutting my own hair and then dying it is actually a fairly big fuck you to the past 27 years of my life and could be seen as an apt representation of ‘getting over it’. Honestly, if there had been a tattoo parlour open on Sunday, I would probably have gone inside and inquired about the prices for a little ankle decoration for the words ‘get over it’ in sanskrit or something equally naff. I’m not saying I would have gotten the tattoo (lets not go crazy here), but I would have felt no reluctance in approaching the big, gruff, tattooed men in the parlour and asked for a price.

Anyway, I now have a haircut that I quite like and a hair colour that I don’t mind. I certainly look very different, and I would venture to say, ‘more grown up’. But does that make me so? Certainly the way people treat me has a big impact on how I feel about myself. And the way people treat you is (unfortunately) related to how you look. The more people call me ‘darling’ or ‘honey’ or ‘sweetie’ the more my brain convinces itself that I’m still only a relative child in the world and shouldn’t be expected to take on board difficult tasks or responsibilities or goals. Perhaps this will lessen with my new look. I have a feeling, though, that I still radiate naivety and I’m not really sure how to switch that off. Maybe I should stop biting my nails.

My hair: really not the worst thing in the world. You know, when compared to genocide or nuclear weapons or the breakdown of the Middle East peace process. 

But am I any different, in myself, deep down? I do actually feel a bit different. I’m apparently a person who will cut off her own hair with a cheap pair of 2 euro scissors with blue plastic handles and damn the consequences. I’m also a person who no longer cares about being a natural blonde (because, as if this actually MEANS something? Sure it saves me a few quid every month, but does being a natural blonde actually equate to being a superior human being? I think the history of Germany circa 1933 – 1945 might answer that question adequately). On some strange level, I do feel like I’m moving into another era of my life, but is this because of the hair, the move to London or the email (or, indeed, a fortuitous joining together of all three into one gigantic book-end of a life period)?

Have I, in any sense, ‘gotten over it’?

The answer, I suspect you’ll find, is a resounding ‘no’, hence why I’m still blogging at 3:30am, why I suddenly can’t get up in the mornings and go for a swim, why I’m stumbling around Dublin in a kind of sleep-deprived, hunger-induced haze. It leaves me feeling a little daft for thinking that the solution to an identity crisis was at the bottom of a box of 5 Euro Clariol Nice ‘N’ Easy No. 93, but, hey, you’ve got to give me points for trying at least, right?

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Cambridge Lite

I’m going to be honest with you. I’d rather be continuing with my Hercule Poirot movie marathon than writing this blog post, but maybe that will make it mercifully brief for the both of us.
I though I’d just note down a quick little description of what I did last week before I forget it all, because it really was quite de-lightful. Perhaps not quite ‘Brideshead Revisited’, but we tried out best (and, yes, ok, I know Brideshead Revisited was set in Oxford not Cambridge, but, really, people, who are you kidding? They’re essentially the same place. *Jenny proceeds to be torn violently to shreds by various Oxbridge acquaintances and luminaries*)
I arrived in Cambridge late on Monday night and friend Michelle picked me up from the train station. She has just been to a ‘hop’ (a 1950s swing dancing session! For reals!), so was appropriately attired and on her beautiful bike with a beautiful basket. Essentially, she looked like she had time-warped to pick me up. What a lovely start to my stay.
Tuesday I met up with my wonderful cousin, Kathryn again and we wondered all over town, admiring the river, the bridges, the punts, the men on the punts (we actually admired too loudly about one and had to run away. We decided it didn’t matter because he was clearly inviting such comments by what he was wearing, at which point we realised that if anyone had dared to say such a thing about a woman, we would have bitten their heads off. We left such disagreeable and confusing thoughts and continued on our way…) and I even managed to have a short Spanish conversation with some very enthusiastic Latin children in the punts below which delighted them no end (it consisted of them yelling, ‘Say, ‘Hola!’ at me, which I did and then I followed with ‘No hablo espanol.’ To which they replied, ‘Un poquito,’ and I said, ‘Si, si, un poquito’. Earth shattering). At the market, I bought 50p worth of fresh dates (sold in a paper bag), which I had never encountered before and delighted me no end. Kathryn was not as enthusiastic, her face went through several permutations before she declared, ‘it takes a long time for me to get used to new things.’
That night, after a heated discussion on Australian politics with Michelle and Kathryn, Michelle and I headed out to her favourite pub, where we made friends with a wildlife photographer who worked for the local Zoology museum and then got invited on an excursion to the Cambridge Botanical Gardens the next day by a man with a ponytail, bow-tie and checked scarf (I’m not even kidding, these people exist!) It was all rather cool.
We headed to the Cambridge Botanical Gardens the next day and were shown all the highlights (meaning the plants that were in season and in bloom), plus many scientific names and facts that I have since forgotten. Michelle took me to the hothouse with the Australian plants, which was like walking into a great big wall of home-smells and made me feel a little bit homesick and very small.
That afternoon, I sat in on a workshop of a paper of one of Michelle and Kathryn’s friends, which was very interesting. Essentially, its like a work in progress, just as we’d do with a script in the theatre. The paper is presented, hopefully people have read it all ready, the author poses some questions or talks about the things that worry them and then everyone puts in their two cents. I read the paper beforehand (though didn’t venture any comments in the workshop, being a lowly Australian actor with no claim to being a Cambridge scholar) and felt suitably intelligent and studious. This, combined by my attendance at a seminar the next day makes me feel that I am eligible to use the phrase, ‘I studied at Cambridge’. As long as people don’t probe too deeply, I should be fine.
That evening, Michelle, Kathryn and I went to a formal dinner, which involved getting very dressed up in my new favourite dress (its black, purple and green silk, probably a 1980s riff on a 1950s design, tight bodice, flouncy skirt with tulle underneath to make it stick out. IT IS THE BEST THING EVER) and then drinking lots. I also got to eat treacle tart, which is Harry Potter’s favourite dessert, in a hall that could look like it was in a Harry Potter film (see previous comment about Cambridge and Oxford essentially being the same place). So, that was pretty good and all.
The next day we did something that I can’t tell you anything about. It was that top secret. No, seriously, I promised I wouldn’t tell. And, now that MI5 is probably monitoring this blog because I mentioned Thames House and smiled weirdly at the CCTV cameras (seriously, and the CIA owns Gmail – just WATCH YOURSELVES), I don’t want to take any risks. Rest assured it did not involve breaking the law. But, maybe the Russians would want to know. Or the Israelis. Or somebody else… 
On that note, I might end. Before I type something I regret.
Back to that wonderful little Belgian: 

‘Ze little grey cells….’ Found at: http://thegrimview.wordpress.com/2011/12/24/hercule-poirot/

NB Any passing security agencies, please take the above comments in the spirit in which they were intended. That is, irreverently. I know you guys are really great about that sort of thing. You know, with your sense of humour and stuff.

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London, Baby!

I’ve arrived safely in London after a huge amount of stress over the end of last week. I’m sure most of you already know, but for those of you who missed the updates, last Monday I was told I had to leave Ireland on Friday and there was no way to get another extension of my visa. I was ok with this until about Wednesday, when the UK embassy had still not returned my passport from my visa application. I attempted to cancel my application via fax and did not get a reply. On the Thursday, I attempted to cancel my application again. When I still did not have a reply by 3:30pm, I panicked and called everyone I could think of, eventually getting the UK embassy to call me back. They informed me that my passport was in the UK, where all visa applications must now be sent for a decision. Turned out, very luckily, that my passport was in the next mailbag, arriving Friday, but they were still uncertain whether or not it would arrive in the morning or the afternoon. My flight was at 5pm, so I had a little bit of leeway, but not much. I spent Friday half preparing to leave Dublin and half deciding what I would do if my passport wasn’t returned in time. At 2:30pm, I got a call from the UK embassy to say not only was my passport returned, but my visa was approved, which made me deliriously happy and I then spent the next 20 minutes running around the house madly, alternately giggling and squealing and in between times attempting to remember what things I still needed to pack. I left the house at 2:50pm to find a taxi. I had to get to an internet café and print out the email from the UK embassy, then get to the UK embassy to pick up the passport and then get to the airport in time for my flight. Of course, there were no taxis in sight and I ended up running all the way to the internet café with my giant backpacker’s backpack on my back and another in my hand. Then, I attempted to get a taxi from the internet café to the UK embassy, but, apparently, no taxis in Dublin take credit card, so I had to run to find an ATM, where I panicked and pulled apart both backpacks on the floor of the convenience store, thinking I had left my wallet in the internet café (I hadn’t), finally collapsing in a sweaty, red-faced heap into the next taxi that came along. I got to the airport (admiring my very fancy UK visa all the way), dropped off my bags and got through security 5 minutes before my gate was supposed to close, but luckily Aer Lingus was 10 minutes behind, so I even had time to buy a drink and gobble up my egg sandwich dinner before boarding. Luxurious.
By the time I got to my favourite hostel in the whole world (Palmer’s Lodge Swiss Cottage), I was so utterly zonked I couldn’t even begin to focus on anything as ‘complex’ as my Bill Bryson book, so ended up staring uncritically, mouth open, at the whatever movie the hostel was showing, which I think was some kind of paranoid, terrorist airplane thriller thing called ‘Red-Eye’. All I really remember is the girl shoving a pen into Cillian Murphy’s windpipe, which keeps making my throat feel very vulnerable.
Yesterday, I was so excited about being back in London that I actually broke myself.
When I’m in cities for the first time, I prefer walking around them to taking public transport, because I think it gives you a better idea of the place, it helps with your sense of orientation and you often stumble upon many amazing things that you overlooked or ignored in your guide book. Even though I’ve been to London before, I think that the approved visa gave me some strange sense of ownership over the city and I was all, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna walk all over this town! You hear that, London? You’re my town!’ Forgetting that London isn’t really a ‘town’ that you can walk from end to end and see the majority of it, but is more like, oh, shall we call it a ‘mega-city’? Which does not encourage walking.
Anyway, ignoring this little fact, I walked from my hostel in Swiss Cottage to Sloane Square. Here is an approximate map of the route I took provided by google:
I’m getting tired just looking at it.
You may well ask what the hell did I think I was doing, there is a perfectly good underground system, and what was I trying to prove by walking that far and didn’t it waste heaps of time that I could have been sightseeing in and surely there are nicer places to walk then central London, anyway. In my defence, last April I walked from Swiss Cottage to Covent Garden and it was a most pleasant, spontaneous and colourful journey, in which I bought a pink and lacy top and took a boat ride on the lake in Regent’s Park (see post here: http://ohtheplacesyoullgoireland.blogspot.co.uk/2011_04_01_archive.html). I thought it would be similarly delightful this time around. Of course, I forgot that the last time I did this walk it was charmingly balmy, with a ‘burning’ sun and blue skies. Yesterday, it was grey and cold. And the ‘stroll’was quite a bit longer, clocking in at 2 and a half hours. By the time I got to the Royal Court Theatre (which was my quarry), my thighs were chafed, my knees were aching and I was experiencing a slight dizziness, which I can only attribute to extreme hunger and/or dehydration.
The only upside to the walk was that I unexpectedly came across Thames House and the MI6 building (I think, really, considering what they do, the only way that one should come across Thames House and the MI6 building is ‘unexpectedly’). I’ve been going through a revival of my obsession with ‘Spooks’, so I was utterly delighted to find myself outside of the British intelligence headquarters. I kept smiling at the CCTV cameras outside Thames House, wondering if someone was inside watching me; and then worrying that if someone was inside watching me, they might get suspicious if I was smiling unaccountably at the CCTV cameras; and then attempting to ‘act normal’ and not look at the CCTV cameras no matter what, which I’m sure made me look even more suspicious and it all just went down hill from there. Well, downhill, in that I would have looked like a lunatic, not, downhill in that people came out of Thames House and disappeared me. I mean, obviously. Its not like they’d allow me to blog from an MI5 safe house. Unless they did let me just to confuse you all. NO, but, really, anyway… On the upside, the MI6 building is really very impressive. Its as if, when they designed it, they sort of thought, ‘Now, if Hollywood was designing a spy building, what would it look like?’ And then they designed exactly like that. I was so inspired, I went back to the hostel and looked up online whether or not I would be allowed to join MI5 or MI6 on my youth work permit, and, I don’t think you’ll be surprised to find out, I’m not allowed to. But, as some of their workers end up dead inside gym bags, and my anxiety is sometimes so monumental that I can’t even get through the daily newspapers without needing a little lie-down, this is probably a good thing.
I booked some tickets at the Royal Court and then headed back to Charing Cross to see a Lucian Freud exhibition, which was absolutely brilliant, if a little crowded. Lucian is a very famous British portrait painter who had many lovers and many babies and also happened to do incredibly raw, vulnerable and exposing paintings. And, I mean, exposing in a psychological way, though many of them are exposing in the physical way as well. I’ve always loved portraiture, as opposed to landscape art (which I sometimes find boring – though not Monet, Turner or van Gogh), or conceptual art (which I often find confusing). After 2 hours of the art, I was back on the tube for Sloane Square and a 3:30pm matinee at the Royal Court – a new play about the Nigerian-British community, quite funny, quite interesting, really harrowing ending.
Then, because I felt like I really hadn’t walked enough that day, I walked back to Swiss Cottage, via Covent Garden, at which point I collapsed into the kitchen of my hostel and devoured two large salads, a baguette and a large yoghurt with cherries. It still wasn’t really enough.
Today, all I have been doing is recovering from yesterday. I’ve spent the time sitting around staring at my compute and looking into London jobs and accommodation, which is more than a little exciting. But, also intimidating. Part of me still doesn’t believe that I’ll be living here in just a few weeks time. It’s going to be quite the culture shock from Ireland. The city is so overwhelmingly huge. There are so many people. Its so expensive. I’m a little scared.
In Dublin, you can’t pay for a taxi with your credit card, in London, I can buy a 1.95 pound tea with a credit card. In Dublin, if you ask for milk with your tea, they simply hand you over a jug, in London, they look at you waiting for further direction. ‘Milk? Yes? Soy? Full-Fat? Skim? Low-Fat? Hot? Cold?’
I don’t know, I don’t know, I just want milk!
Ah, first world problems. 

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The Story of How I Ended Up Like This

You’ve all heard of the Butterfly Effect, haven’t you? The idea that something small could have big consequences down the line? That the flapping of a butterfly’s wings could create a hurricane? I think Ashton Kutcher once made an educational documentary about the phenomenon. Well, my life for the last 4 weeks has been one great big demonstration for the Butterfly Effect. How several small choices at the end of March and the beginning of April resulted in me, lying prostate on the couch at home in Dublin, crying anxiously, abusing defenceless UK embassy employees on the phone and shaking uncontrollably (well, yes, ok, the shaking is now under control, otherwise, how would I be typing this blog post? But, I assure you there was much shaking just a little while ago).
At the end of March, I submitted, for the 3rd time, an online application to the British Embassy for a youth work visa. I was determined to get it right this time and didn’t want to pay the application fee until I was sure I was going to get all the right documents. I had been waiting, for 2 weeks, for the Commonwealth Bank to send some documents to my Dad in Australia, who was then going to express post them to me in Dublin. However, even though the process was meant to take, at most, a week, Dad still hadn’t received the documents. At this point, Dad and I decided I needed an advocate on the ground in Australia, so he marched into the New Lambton branch with my details and asked the branch manager to issue some documents that corresponded exactly with what the British Embassy required (I sent him the information to take into the bank so they could read it for themselves). Luckily, the branch manager had already spoken to me about the exact same issue, so she agreed to give the documents to Dad.
Dad went back the next day to get the documents, which I think was a Tuesday, intending to express post the documents that afternoon to me, getting to Dublin just before Good Friday. This was essential, as I needed to hand in my application documents the next Tuesday. However, when he went to pick up the documents (with a little gift of Easter eggs to say ‘thank you’), they weren’t ready.
Its just one day, right? Well, yes and no.
Dad got the documents the day after, on the Wednesday and immediately sent them off to me. I checked the mail on Thursday morning and, of course, the documents weren’t there. I checked the available appointments at the UK embassy and found that the next available appointment to hand in my documents (if I didn’t do it on the 6th of April) was the 18th of April. Thinking that was a bit too far away (and cutting it a bit fine with my visa running out), I decided to wait one more day to see if my documents arrived the next day (I’d found out that the mail would be delivered on Good Friday in central Dublin).
Of course, the mail didn’t come on Good Friday and when I checked the appointment times, they had changed from 12 hours previously and the only available one was on the 23rd of April. Even further away. Even more of a risk. But, I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t have my documents and there were not other available appointments. So, I booked myself in. I was still hoping that in the 3 weeks between when I booked my appointment and attended it, that I would get an extension of my Irish visa and I wouldn’t have to leave on the 4th of May.
As we all know, that didn’t occur, so on the 22nd of April, the day before my appointment, I had to make a decision. Did I take a chance and hand in my application? I researched application times for this time of visa online and the website said in the last year applications for this visa had taken 2 – 3 days. I checked to see if there was a way of cancelling the application once it was submitted. There was. I thought about all the effort a multitude of people (not least of all myself) had expended to get all the correct documents at the correct time and the amount of times I had paid money to the UK embassy. If I didn’t get the visa, I had to return home to Australia and apply again from there (as we have discussed previously, not the worst thing in the world, but slightly illogical in its wastage of time, money, airplane fuel etc). I went, f**k it. What’s the worse that can happen?
Well, the worse that can happen happened last night.
I had been waiting patiently for a response from the UK embassy. When they hadn’t replied after 3 days, I started to worry. When they didn’t reply after 5 days, I convinced myself they were going to refuse my application. After 8 days (and 2 days before I needed to leave the country), I realised I had to cancel the application, which I did via fax. No reply. No reply the next day either. I sent the fax again. No reply. I gave the UK embassy until 4pm yesterday to reply and then I was going into panic mode, which would involve ringing anyone I could think of, including the Australian embassy. Luckily, as I was checking the website of the Australian embassy, I realised they only stayed open until 4:30pm, so my deadline was moved forward to 3:30pm. In my state of delayed anxiety, I left it until 3:20pm and realised I couldn’t wait any longer. I called the UK embassy.
And, when I say, I called the UK embassy, I mean that I called the Indian call centre (at least, I think its an Indian call-centre, I can’t find out for certain on their website – giving out that information wouldn’t be a great idea) that is the middle-man between UK visa applicants and the UK embassy. Which would be a brilliant idea for efficiently processing visas as long as ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WENT WRONG EVER. And every single applicant and application WAS ABSOLUTELY PERFECT IN EVERY WAY. Of course, as I have proved, I was not a perfect applicant, nor was my application a perfect one. It was more of a, ‘Hey, let’s throw it at the wall and see what happens’ kind of application. When I rang the Indian call centre that afternoon (for the third time in a week), I explained my situation as calmly as I could and then demanded (calmly) that they give me a phone number for the UK embassy visa section in Dublin so that I could ‘speak to a person’. They informed that they ‘had no numbers’ for the UK embassy and that they communicated with the embassy visa instant messaging. I pointed out (slightly hysterically at this point), that my passport was MY passport and despite the fact that I had willingly given it to the UK embassy, it was the most important document I had and that it was absolutely INSANE that there was no way I could get it back from the UK embassy if I needed it (and I needed it). To her credit, the call-centre lady went to see what she could do and when she came back she said they would instant message my contact details to the UK embassy, ask that they call me urgently and that they would escalate my urgent request for my passport. I wasn’t certain anyone would call me, but I saw this as my only option.
10 minutes late I was speaking to the UK embassy. And they were informing me that my passport was no longer in Dublin, but had to be sent to London for a decision. This was a new process for all visa applicants. Which I OBVIOUSLY was not aware of. The woman asked, ‘were you not informed the process would take 10 – 15 working days when you applied?’ Fair enough, UK embassy woman, I was informed of this, but I was not informed you would be sending my passport out of the country, which I think changes the situation slightly. MAJORLY. So, I’m having a panic attack on the other end of the line and the woman is still asking me if I want to cancel my application, knowing that the earliest I can get it back now is next Tuesday (unless, of course, it happens to be in the mail bag on Friday – today). I end up yelling at her, ‘I don’t know! I don’t know! Fine, cancel it, do whatever you like!’ To which she replied (logically, but not helpfully or sympathetically), ‘Its not what I want, its what you want, there’s no need to yell at me…’ etc. etc. etc. which was all fair enough except for the fact that I was dissolving on the other end of the line. I ended up cancelling the application, got off the phone and immediately attempted to call the immigration bureau in Dublin and request to stay longer in these unusual (and awful) circumstances. I couldn’t get through. Every option and number I selected got me through to a voice recording, and it was 4pm by this point and I was in danger of missing the Australian embassy. So, I hung up and rang the Australian embassy.
They were wonderful. The woman listened very carefully to everything I said, asked pertinent questions, got further details, went through my options, gave her advice and then said she would personally follow up with the immigration bureau the next morning at 8am (it being 4:15pm at that point, she thought she wouldn’t be able to get anyone on the phone that afternoon).
Whilst on the phone to the Australian embassy, the UK embassy rang me to say that they had spoken to Croydon and Croydon thought my passport and application were in the mailbag arriving Friday, but the embassy didn’t know if the post would be delivered in the morning or the afternoon as it changes, apparently. They said they would call me when my application arrived and I could come and pick it up. They also said they couldn’t tell at this stage whether or not my application had been approved, which I didn’t particularly care about by this point.

This is what bureaucracy and visas will do to you. Found at: http://www.businessinsider.com/ten-things-that-have-freaked-the-market-this-morning-2011-9

Thinking I had done absolutely everything I could, I lay down on the couch, covered myself up with a blanket and attempted to stop shivering. The Australian embassy then called back at 5pm to say they had gotten on to the immigration bureau and I had permission to stay, but only until my passport returned, which I felt was fair enough. 
So. The flight I am booked on to leaves Dublin at 5pm this evening. I am hoping against hope that the UK embassy will ring this morning to say that they have my passport and that I can come and pick it up. Failing that, I hope they call early afternoon to say that it has arrived and I can come and pick it up. But, if everything fails, I at least know that the Irish authorities are aware of my plight (its most definitely a plight) and that I can stay until my passport arrives. Though, I do have to get a letter from the UK embassy stating they have my passport and that I applied for a youth work visa.
I don’t know if the Indian call centre will be able to provide that.
So, fingers crossed I get the passport today!

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