A Christmas Limbo

 

I love Christmas.

I LOVE it.

I love it the same way boy racers love souped-up cars with LED strips, or the way crazy horse people love horses with braids. It is a strong, evergreen, slightly irrational love. Every year I get tingles of excitement when I decorate the house. I shamelessly sing* along to Christmas carols at home (and sometimes shamefully in public), and I often have to pull over to fully absorb the giddiness the comes over me when I see a particularly overdecorated house.

Each December I pick a colour scheme for the tree and go all in. Last year was metallics; gold and silver and twinkling warm white lights. I strung up silver snowflakes made of wood and placed a garland on the mantelpiece to keep the stockings company. I had a “_____ DAYS TO CHRISTMAS!” board where I’d rub the old number off each morning using the side of my fist before using a piece of chalk to write in the number of days left.

I also love to cook, but it isn’t the same kind of love. It isn’t the pure, blind, uncomplicated love that I have for Christmas. The kitchen is a bit of a mixed emotional bag for me (I’ll probably go into this in a future post), and yet it’s one of my favourite rooms in the house.

…Or at least it would be, if it were actually a room and not a space the size of a broom closet.

Off the top of my head, here are a few of my feelings on cooking:

UPSIDE: I love cooking and baking, I find it really relaxing, particularly if I am stressed out about something in particular.

DOWNSIDE: My kitchen is miniscule. Tiny spaces and large hot baking trays make for inevitable burns. Burns are, needless to say, not relaxing in the slightest.

UPSIDE: I love to scrape all the cake batter from the bowl before putting it in the dishwasher (I obviously eat it all).

DOWNSIDE: I eat so much raw cake batter I generally feel sick for hours afterwards.

UPSIDE: I feel actual heartwarming joy when I feed people.

DOWNSIDE: I bristle at the slightest hint of being taken advantage of, so even though I like cooking, I don’t like being expected to cook. It’s a fine line and where exactly the fine line is tends to depend entirely on my mood.

UPSIDE: I love to cook with other people.

DOWNSIDE: I hate to cook with other people who get wound up and stressed about things, or who get sick of it halway through and decide to half-ass the meal in a way that makes me twitch. Also, as I mentioned earlier, only half of a human being can squeeze into my kitchen at any given time, so cooking with other people in my kitchen can get quite… intimate.

Regardless, my feeding foibles are about to be inconsequential, because this year things will be different for both my Christmas and my kitchen.

I won’t be at home, for one. In a lazily planned, then hastily planned, then stalled, then not so much planned as suddenly-thrust-upon-us turn of events, the kitchen and bathroom will be undergoing a much needed makeover. Since we only have the one bathroom and a kitchen is a fairly necessary component over Christmas, we will all be moving out for the foreseeable future. That means no tree, no snowflakes, no fairy lights, no glitzy tablecloth, no Christmas candles, no gingerbread house, and no stockings. Maya, Oscar and we the people will need to pack up our clothes and out cat trees and relocate until some all-too-distant date in January.

It’s not the best timing, but it does have a few things going for it:

  • Any fluttering concern for my glass baubles in the paws and claws of two very playful kittens is no longer relevant, since they (baubles, not cats) will be staying boxed up until next year.
  • The kitchen will soon(ish) be able to comfortably fit more than half a human being, which is very exciting since currently a great portion of my cooking and baking time is taken up spinning slowly in circles looking for any relatively flat surface on which to precariously balance things.
  • The sooner it starts, the sooner it’s done. Presumably.
  • It is forcing me to be a lot more organised than other years**.

Having said all that, I feel conflicted about this lack of Christmas in my home. I have to mentally smack myself down every time the giddiness rises up within me. I wind up having short, cyclical conversations with myself that leave me feeling flat and defeated.

‘Maybe I’ll pull out the-‘

‘You will NOT!’

‘But it’s no harm to just-‘

‘NO.’

‘Perhaps one single-‘

‘Inner voice, I will strangle you with a length of tinsel, so help me God.’

‘…’

I am fighting my own Christmas spirit.

Let’s hope I can get through this strange holiday limbo with my Christmas cheer – and my sanity – intact.

Itwillallbeworthititwillallbeworthititwillallbeworthit…

*I use the word loosely.

**This is stressful and if I think about it for too long it makes me want to roll myself into a blanket burrito until the new year; I am not an innately organised person. At the end of each school year I would open my locker and immediately be buried in an avalanche of loose A4 pages. I would then have to dig my way out of this mountain of paper before hastily shoveling it into plastic bags and making it dissapear before locker inspection. Were they notes? Were they important? Who can say?

 

 

There Goes The Neighbourhood…

Traveling in London (1)

I am not always comfortable around people.

I enjoy being with people, don’t get me wrong. I like spending time with people. People are great! I have a lovely time whether I’m out with friends or at home chatting over tea.

It drains me though, and it drains me fast. Fast like my Samsung S7 battery that runs down after a few hours of intense usage, not like ye olde Nokia 3210 battery that lasted five days if you played Snake on it constantly, and twenty-three days if you barely touched it at all. When I spend time with people, afterwards I need to retreat, relax, and recharge, and usually my recharging station is my home, where I work or study at the dining table next to the window.

This is how I first became aware of my neighbours.

My window overlooks their balcony, and every day out of the corner of my eye I would see a man and his dog – who we will call Frank for the purposes of this post – coming and going on their walks together.

I can’t fully explain my obsession with Frank. It started out as a pretty benign distraction from my day; I would see Frank (an English Bulldog) and Frankman (the name I gave his owner) exit the building, and then I would watch, amused, as Frank lay stubbornly down on the grass and refused to go anywhere.

Frankman would sigh, exasperated, and half-heartedly tug on the lead.

Frank would dig his barrel chest into the grass.

Frankman would grumble and pull with all his might.

Frank would duck his head and hunch his stocky shoulders, as immovable as a rock formation.

Frankman’s pleas would go from an exasperated, “Come on, Frank” to an increasingly desperate “FRANK! FRANK! COME ON! FRANK!”

Frank would stare implacably at his owner.

Frankman would yank on the lead in a sort of daily exercise in futility.

Frank would lie on the grass stoically refusing to go anywhere before he was ready. Then, as if he hadn’t just been making a scene for the past five minutes, he would calmly get up and trot off with a flustered Frankman in tow.

This would happen before almost every single walk. I would watch these scenes, and over time I grew fond of both Frank and Frankman. There was something really endearing about Frank, who made it clear that if he went anywhere at all it was only because he was allowing it, and there was also something endearing about Frankman, because he always looked so buttoned-up and serious but would lose all and any air of authority around Frank.

Frankman also has a wife (Frankwoman) and together the three of them were the Frankfamily. They brightened up my days considerably with their Frank-related antics. Even on his own, Frank would bring a smile to your face. Like a creep I would sometimes take photos of Frank’s more memorable moments. I have, for example, a video of Frank falling off a chair and quickly getting back up to look around and check if anybody witnessed it. He was a character.

And then one day, Frank was gone.

One week he was being his usual obstinate self, and the next there was no Frank, no walk, no tug-of-war happening in the garden. I barely saw Frankman or Frankwoman. Where was Frank? Considering I had never spoken to Frankfamily, there was nothing I could do but wonder. I rationalised it to myself coming up with a variety of reasons he wouldn’t be at home, but in three years Frank had never to my knowledge been apart from the Frankparents. If they were at home, so was Frank. The whole thing was worrying.

The following weekend, I watched as Frankman arrived home with a tiny bulldog puppy in his arms.

Frank was gone.

Since I never spoke to Frankman and Frankman never spoke to me, the mystery was unresolved until one day when my father dropped over for a visit. As I walked in with him, we met Frankman and the new addition walking out. Unaware of the delicate neighbourhood ecosystem in which nobody directly addressed anybody else, and instead only ever communicated through comments directed at each others’ pets, my father asked Frankman what had happened to “the big dog”. Frankman looked down at the ground and explained that Frank had had a heart attack while they were out for a walk. A congenital heart defect, undetectable until it was too late. He said it casually, scuffing the toe of his shoe into the grass as he spoke, but his voice was gruff with emotion.

The new addition was called (let’s just say) Ariadne.

Ariadne was adorable, but she wasn’t Frank. She was too small, too cute. She bounded out for her walks with great enthusiasm. She didn’t know Frank’s trick of standing up on the chair and placing both paws on the balcony railing to survey his domain. She didn’t bark as often. Her best moments came when she attacked Frankman’s shoes and when she waddled off with a leaf or a stick she’d found, proud as punch.

We switched Frankwoman’s name to Ariadnewoman, but Frankman remained Frankman.

You know, in memory of Frank.

A year on, Ariadne is almost Frank-size. Oscar and Maya are fascinated by the way her stocky little body romps around the garden. She’s a fan favourite. She still doesn’t know the trick of standing up on the chair to look out over the garden, but she has been starting to show sure signs of stubbornness. The other day I had to retreat to the back of the apartment laughing because she wriggled under a bush, sat down, and no amount of begging, shouting, pleading, threats, offers of treats or cajoling would coax her out. Ariadnewoman eventually sat, defeated, on a bench to wait out this episode of hard-headedness.

And now, Frankfamily are moving away.

Naturally, I didn’t get this information from the source – I still have never had an actual conversation with the couple – but the information is legitimate. They are leaving. When I first heard this, I was more upset than anybody should be about strangers moving house.

“They should have warned us,” I muttered darkly to Scrubs.

“Don’t be weird.” He said.

“Do you think we could start a petition for them to change their minds?”

“Definitely not.”

“We should be able to lodge an objection. Do they not know Ariadne is essential to neighbourhood morale?*”

Scrubs sighed and eyed me with considerable alarm. “Please hide your obsession with their dog for just a little while longer.”

Of course, I couldn’t do that. How could I let Frankfam move without letting them know they would be missed? I decided to buy a card. I went into town and bought a card that said, “Sorry You’re Leaving” on the front and, “Wishing you all the best” on the inside. Perfect, I thought… But then the overthinking started.

 Ariadne can’t read, I reasoned. A card won’t make her happy. I bought a dog toy – a white, fluffy alpaca – and a gift bag to put it in. I nodded, satisfied with myself.

Maybe I should add a dog treat, I thought.

I grabbed a pack of chicken twists from the shelf.

Maybe two, just to be sure she’ll like one of them.

I grabbed a Jumbone.

I turned towards the till, but it was too late.

I had lost the run of myself.

I can’t just address the whole thing to Ariadne… My brow furrowed. What about the humans? What about Frankman and Ariadnewoman? Is it rude to exclude them?

A couple of lollipops, a bag of fizzy sweets, a couple of chewy bars and a box of maltesers got swept into the basket.

When I got home, I wrote the card to Ariadne and her humans. I thanked Ariadne for brightening up the block, told them we (the humans and the cats) would miss seeing them around and good luck with the move. I threw everything into the gift bag, took the maltesers back out because they seemed like overkill, and left it on their balcony.

Then I went home, sat down, and realised that:

  1. Having never had a conversation with them ever in my life, it might not have been the most reasonable thing to go so overboard with the goodbye present.
  2. They probably wonder a) who I am and b) how on earth I even know they are moving.
  3. I now have no choice but to avoid them until they leave because I am so embarrassed.

When I told Scrubs he groaned and asked why – WHY – I would have done such a thing without consulting with him first. He is naturally mortified by association, but at least he can claim ignorance since I am obviously the nutter who wrote the card.

So.

I am still sad that they’re leaving our neighbourhood. They just seem so lovely and I like to think in another life they would have stayed another four years and eventually we might have worked up to greeting each other with actual words and eye contact. Who knows. Dream big!

On the other hand, at least once they leave I can stop feeling myself turn red with embarrassment every time I see them, now that they know without a shadow of a doubt that I am their number one fan.

Swings and roundabouts.

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Maya and Oscar watching Ariadne; people’s heads have been cropped out to protect the innocent (Frankman)

*Not complete hyperbole; for about a year somebody in our apartment block named their wifi ‘CAN WE PLAY WITH ARIADNE PLS”

 

 

Cooped Up in Cork, Ireland

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I’ve been living in Cork for the past few months.

I’m a Dublin girl, so I’d grown up hearing Corkonians talk about how Cork should be the capital city of Ireland, and how Dublin had robbed Cork of its rightful place as the nation’s most important city… It left me with a somewhat garbled idea of what Cork must be like. After hearing all this chatter, I imagined Cork to be a large, multicultural place on par with Dublin. You know, an actual, geographically alternative capital city.

… And then I moved here.

Cork city is tiny. If I walk so slowly I’m practically going backwards, I can walk from my apartment all the way through the city centre to the other side in twenty minutes. Not only that, but considering it’s the south-west corner of the island, I had always imagined Cork to be positively Mediterranean weather-wise. This is also not the case. In fact as I type this, I’m looking out the window at a flat, grey expanse of cloud that is so low it’s partially obscuring the rooftops of surrounding buildings. It has been raining since last night without pause, and this seems to be the usual way of things in Cork. I never realised Dublin could ever be described as “dry” until I lived here.

I realise all this may sound very negative, so let me assure you that Cork has its positives. The surrounding countryside and all of West Cork is truly beautiful, even with the constant, unrelenting rain. The pubs here are charming, the restaurants are wonderful, and the people here will happily talk your ear off if you stand still for longer than two minutes (the key is to keep moving and look busy).

It’s a city with incredible detail. You can walk down a bland, narrow passageway and look up to find beautiful stained glass, or climb up a raggedy-looking hill and come to a little castle, or drive down a bog-standard country road and find an old viaduct.

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When it comes to food and drink, Cork has you covered. For vegetarians, it has unbeatable options such as Cafe Paradiso – the only high-end vegetarian restaurant I’ve ever been to – and the Quay Co-op which has every possible vegetarian/vegan product you can imagine. For omnivores the arracy of choice is spectacular, from lunches at Orso to brunches at Liberty Grill to dinners and cocktails at Market Lane and Cask. There are coffee shops on every corner, and there are university students everywhere giving the city a young, slightly alternative vibe.

So on balance, I find Cork city… fine.

It’s fine. It’s okay. When we go out with friends it’s fun, and the rest of the time it’s raining and I’m stuck in the apartment, slowly being driven insane by whoever designed this place.

Really, the apartment is probably the crux of my issues with Cork city.

The place we’re renting here was clearly built with only optics in mind. The block was built before the recession, and is presumably now being rented out until house prices go back up and they can make their money back. Whoever designed it obviously gave a lot of thought as to how it would look in photos, but unfortunately nobody stopped to think about how it would feel to live in it.

When we first moved in, I spent valuable time and energy trying to figure out a way to make it more homely. Eventually I admitted defeat, because no amount of soft woollen throws can soften the angular white walls and black and chrome decor. The hard leather couch could probably just about accomodate half a person … as long as that half a person doesn’t mind sitting on something that gives about the same level of comfort as a window ledge. We don’t have a television, but if we did it would be smack in the centre of the room leaving no space for a dining area. The round table – that we have unceremoniously shunted into the corner – is a glass and chrome monstrosity that shows up every streak and stain on its surface. You never need to use coasters, which is nice, but there is something unsettling about seeing your legs every time you look down at your plate.

Basically, if you want to feel comfortable in this apartment, you need to feel like one of those people who isn’t home long enough to give their house a personality and so rents the furniture from a staging crew. You need half a friend, since that’s all that can be comfortably entertained at one time, and you need to be really into microwaveable meals (the microwave here is a space-age contraption the likes of which I’ve never seen before).

The apartment does come with rack space for 12 wine bottles though, so while apparently the ideal home owner will have no friends, they will have the storage space to accomodate a robust alcohol dependency.

I like my apartments to be cosy. I like the place I’m living to have lots of soft textures and warm colours and preferably a fireplace or a stove. Maybe some twinkly lights. Ideally a pet around the place to snuggle with. This apartment checks none of those boxes. It makes me sad. I hope I can shake off my discomfort for the last few weeks that I’m here and maybe venture out into the rain a bit more… I can’t have seen everything there is to see here!

Still, I doubt I’ll be too sad when it’s time to move back to Dublin.

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In other news, I numbered comments on the last post from 1 – 22 (I didn’t count double comments) and then used Google’s handy dandy random number generator to pick a number and it chose:

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… which if I’m right means Lost Astronomer is the winner of this giveaway. Astroboy, send me on your address (if you’re happy to) and I’ll send you on a little box of randomness!

I’m in a bit of a mood today which is seeping into everything I do so if you can read my grumpy thoughts crawling into this post I apologise. Poor Cork, getting the short end of the stick today! I think I’m going to go bake a cake or something to lift my spirits…..