Notes From the Country

I was born in a city. I have always lived in a city. I grew up with a street lamp outside my window and the sound of a train passing by every twenty minutes. I’m used to light, and noise, and shops that are less than five minutes of a walk away. I’m used to lots of people going about their business with earphones in, purposely not making eye contact and completely ignoring the existence of anybody else on the road.

So when I take a trip to the countryside, I’m always reminded of the things country people take for granted that are – for me – hugely abnormal. Every so often something happens and I feel like I’m surrounded by Dothraki nodding and muttering “It is known” about something that is decidedly not known. At least, not to me!

Here are a few of the many things I don’t understand about life in the country:

  1. People letting themselves into your home with absolutely no warning.
    • Not so much as a knock on the door! They just turn the handle and walk in. I once got out of the shower, wrapped myself in a towel and padded down the corridor to the kitchen to grab my hairbrush only to find the parish priest sitting at the table casually making himself a cup of tea. I reversed myself back into the corridor at the speed of light, believe me. I stood in the corridor frozen with horror before deciding that my best course of action would be to speedwalk back to the bathroom where I locked the door and listened for the sound of the door.
  2. The lack of convenience stores.
    • I mean really, the clue is in the name. They’re convenient. Usually they are open all hours of the day and night and they sell everything you could possibly want at 2am when you’ve only just realised you’re in dire need of a pack of kitchen roll, a carton of milk, a bag of basmati rice and a tube of toothpaste. Here in the countryside there is only a single shop, it is the size of a large bathroom, and it stocks a wide variety of random items that you might – or might never in your life – require for any reason at all. It also closes at six and the walk there definitely takes more than five minutes.
  3. The silence.
    • It is unnaturally silent. The only time you hear real sound is if the rain is pounding against the window or the wind is making the house creak. The cars are too far away to be heard and so instead there are only inside-noises; the ticking of the clock, the hum of electricity, the sound of the pipes kicking into gear… It’s uncanny.
  4. The darkness.
    • It is onyx outside once the lights go out. Unless the moon is working as God’s own spotlight, you can see absolutely nothing at all. Although I don’t mind this, it does have the peculiar effect of imposing a sort of natural curfew on me; at home I think nothing of leaving the house after dark, but here I suddenly feel like it’s so much later. As soon as the windows become opaque black rectangles, I am ready for my pyjamas. There’s no way I’m going anywhere. I am not afraid of the dark, but if I were I would be terrified because it is black as pitch.
  5. The country hello.
    • In Dublin, I can happily spend half a day surrounded by people without acknowledging even a single one of them. In the countryside, on the other hand, you can’t pass a single person without them nodding their head and saying “Hello there!” or “Fine weather we’re having!” or “How are you?” or making some other kindly, weather-related utterance. When they know you, this greeting is usually accompanied by a smile, but when they don’t it’s often delivered with a suspicious, gimlet-eyed stare. If you make the mistake of coming to a standstill in front of them for any reason, it’s even worse; they try to entangle you in a sideways game of twenty questions in an unsubtle attempt to find out who you are, where you came from and what you’re doing there. Any unfamiliar face is treated to the same gentle interrogation, as if they’re trying to make sure they have a full character profile to hand over to the police for when you, the suspicious stranger, start up some nefarious business and threaten to upset the quiet community vibe.

There are things I love about the countryside too, of course.

I love the animals.

There are lambs in all the fields now, springing around in a wobbly way as if they’ve been made from cheap pipe-cleaners. There are friendly little robins that don’t look as if they should be able to take flight at all, they’re so rotund. There’s Charlie, the cat, who sometimes greets me with a bloody mess of a breakfast outside my bedroom window (usually one of the aforementioned rotund robins). There are crows, watching carefully for leftovers, and wagtails bobbing across the patio. There’s even a hefty badger that trundles up the path at night to eat whatever Charlie’s left behind. He gobbles up anything in the bowl before trotting back into the darkness. As a city kid whose only exposure to wildlife was cats, dogs, red foxes rooting through wheelie bins, and roadkill… the badger in particular always delights me.

I love feeling ‘away.’

Although it’s inconvenient not being able to go anywhere or see anyone at a moment’s notice, it’s also nice to be here. It’s nice to feel removed from the normal. It’s nice to be out of my everyday timetable; it’s not hugely productive, mind you, but it is nice. It’s like hitting F5. I’m ready for the city again. I’ve had my break and now I’m ready to put back on the robes of routine.

I love how clean the air feels.

I mean, I think the air in Dublin is pretty clean too, but here it feels healthy. When I inhale, I feel like I’m doing my body good. It’s nice.

I’ve been doing a lot of inhaling and exhaling, thanks to your many suggestions on my last post. It’s helped! Thanks guys. Sometimes I just need the reminder to breathe.

If you also need the reminder, here it is: Breathe!

And now if you’ll excuse me, it’s starting to get dark, so I’m off to put on my pyjamas…!

Toast Seems to be The Hardest Word

I look at the brunch menu in my hand as if it is written in Sanskrit.

What is ‘endive’? 

Why ‘avocado bruschetta’ and not just regular bruschetta?

Why a ‘3-egg omelette’? Who needs three eggs in the morning? Isn’t that awfully inflexible? What happened to poached eggs and toast?

I flip the menu over and finally find what I was looking for; namely scrambled eggs on toast, goujons, french toast, and bacon butties. They are clustered together in a section marked disdainfully as only for ‘Under 12’s’.

Ridiculous, I think, flapping the menu in distress. Are omelettes now considered more mature than scrambled eggs? Does the way you like your eggs say something fundamental about you as a person? I have obviously missed the memo explaining that when you reach the age of 12 you have to put away childish things and scrambled eggs on toast.

I place the menu flat on the table as the waiter approaches and look up at his expressionless face.

“Hi! Could I order off the under 12’s menu please?”

He blinks slowly at me. His mouth gives the tiniest twitch, one corner of his mouth twisting ever so slightly downwards. I don’t know it yet, but this is actually the only bit of expression I will manage to elicit from him over the course of brunch.

“Yeeees.”

The tone is so flat it’s hard to know how he feels about this lapse in protocol.

“Oh great!” I beam. His face stays stony. “Can I… err… Can I get the scrambled eggs on toast then please?”

His eyes flick down to the notepad in his hand.

“Scrambled eggs,” he intones. I wondered whether he is repeating it to himself or asking me to make sure it’s correct. I decide I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference either way. This man had clearly never heard of inflections.

“Yep!” I say, just to be clear. I point at the menu item. “Scrambled eggs on toast!”

He moves on with the order, and I sit back, happy to have avoided the fate of the adult omelette. Honestly. Nobody needs three eggs in a single meal. Especially not considering my cholesterol levels.

Fifteen minutes later, my scrambled eggs appear.

…Only my scrambled eggs appear.

My (at least) three-egg serving of scrambled eggs has somehow been wrangled into a circular form in the middle of my plate. It looks like a giant flan gone horribly wrong. An inedible amount of watercress has been strewn across the plate with reckless abandon.  I say a quick prayer for any under-12 who has ever been faced with this monstrous portion of scrambled egg.

There is no sign of toast.

I silently accept the scrambled egg cake, eyeing it warily. I feel like I have suddenly been entered in an all-the-eggs-you-can-eat competition. I am unprepared. I tentatively tear into the quivering yellow creation with my fork. Three bites in, I decide I cannot continue without toast to break up the monotony of all that egg. I make my way over to the waiter, who is across the room standing next to the bar.

“Hi!” I smile. He turns towards me. He does not return the smile. He looks neither surprised nor annoyed to see me there. His face simply does not move at all.

I forge ahead.

“Can I please get some toast?”

There is a brief pause as the words float through the air, enter his ears, and swim around in his mind. He digests them, and then his lids lift just enough for his eyes to find mine.

“Bread.”

Again, question or statement? Hard to know. I hedge my bets.

“… Toast…?” I say hopefully.

He gives the smallest of nods and then walks stiffly away.

Five minutes later, as I am busy deconstructing the egg abnormality, he reemerges and approaches us with a wooden walk that might scream ‘I WOULD RATHER BE PICKING JAGGED SPLINTERS OUT FROM UNDER MY FINGERNAILS’ or else might just be his strangely inflexible natural gait. It really could be either. He bends slightly at the waist and puts down a plate containing two small circular slices of bread.

I stare at it, nonplussed.

“Thanks” I eventually mutter, more out of reflex than genuine gratitude. I am still staring at the bread. Our waiter receives my thanks without so much as a glimmer of acknowledgment, and immediately travels back to his spot beside the bar. His face – for a change – betrays nothing at all.

My mind ticks over as I butter the bread. I did ask for toast, I think to myself as my knife gouges the soft white crumb. Three times! Toast! Is toast an uncommon request now? Is this an unspoken rule like the adult omelettes? Am I that out of the loop? Is there some other way to ask for toast? Did he do it on purpose? Is he over there now, laughing at my futile attempts to get a regular, normal, single portion of scrambled eggs on toast?

I surreptitiously eye him up. He is standing stock still, staring at a light fixture, his face an impressive blank. No, I decide. This man is clearly not capable of such a stretch in emotional range.

Baffled, I eat my bread discs. I leave nothing but the watercress behind, and briefly wonder if it’s possible to overdose on scrambled eggs.

Then I pay and, because I’m a sucker, I tip him the standard 10%.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Home on Sandymount Strand

 

 

 

 

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I grew up next to the sea, near Sandymount Strand.

Sandymount Strand is a strip of coastline which used to just consist of a tarmac path and jagged  boulders leading down to the beach. A few years ago someone official got serious notions and put in streetlamps for the dog walkers and exercise machines for those who 1.) use the strand as a running track and 2.) have no shame*, which has actually improved the area quite a bit. When the tide comes all the way in, the sand disappears entirely, and the water crashes up against the rocks, flooding the gaps and trapping sea-borne debris. When the tide goes out, the sea is almost in line with the horizon; it retreats so far out that the beach looks like a desert.

It’s a very recognisable stretch of coastline, largely due to the 680ft Poolbeg chimney stacks** on the left, which rise up from behind the Dublin Bay Nature Reserve. Their jaunty red and white rings make them look like they were painted by a rabid Where’s Wally? fanatic, and I’m glad that they’re now protected structures because the skyline wouldn’t be the same without them.

The strand features in ‘Ulysses,’ if you’re ever brave enough to read it, and it’s a nice place to stare out at the edge of the world for a while and gather your thoughts. Although I’ve never been one of those people who pound the sand in brightly-coloured running shoes and would have to be dragged bodily into the water – since willingly setting foot in the sea around Ireland is not something I will ever do again*** (I only willingly venture into the sea when I’m abroad) – I’ve always loved it. I love how the landscape changes so radically with the weather.

I’ve seen a swathe of cloudless blue so bright it would hurt your eyes. I’ve seen rainbows. I’ve seen purple evening skies and clouds slung so low you could touch them if you stretched. I’ve seen flat, sneaking tides and wild waves that crash over the granite sea wall, ignoring the sandbags hurriedly placed to keep them at bay. I’ve sat on the sand, and on the rocks, and on the grass, and on the benches, and on the wall of what remains of the old sea baths. I’ve been caught out by the tide and had to wade shoeless back to land more than once.

Sandymount Strand has always been a part of my life. It’s played a million different roles as I’ve grown, and I’ve felt every possible emotion on that beach. At times it was an escape, and at other times a refuge. I have so many snapshots of memory and feeling that feature the strand, it’s almost an extension of my home. On that strand I shivered with friends while trying to light disposable barbecues. I prodded at dead jellyfish with pieces of driftwood, and picked through mounds of seashells for seaglass. I walked the dog so many times, in so many different kinds of weather, that I’m sure there isn’t a grain of sand she hasn’t sniffed.

I’ve walked down there to pick blackberries with only blank happiness on my mind, and I’ve run down there to cry until I thought my heart would burst. I’ve been kissed in a parked car there, looking out at the stars, drunk on love, and (on a different occasion, thankfully) puked out the passenger side of a car, just plain drunk, in more or less the same spot.

Dublin has a lot of beautiful areas, and honestly, Sandymount Strand probably isn’t on anybody’s Top Ten of things to see in the city. Places like Killiney Hill, the Phoenix Park, St. Stephen’s Green and Temple Bar would be more highly recommended than this capricious bit of coastline. Still, I love it. It has character.

Now that I live away from the strand, I miss it from time to time. I miss the wind whipping my hair into one mad scribble, and I miss coming home from a winter walk by the sea with my nose and cheeks red from the cold. I’ll have to make an effort to get back there more often.

In the meantime, one of my best friends gave me a print of it for our home, where it has pride of place in the living room. It reminds me that homes don’t always have to be houses.

Sometimes they’re simply a strip of shoreline with sand and saltwater spray.

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*I have yet to see a single person use these. I think most locals would rather die than be spotted using them in any kind of unironic manner.

**You can actually see them in the U2 video for In The Name of Love, although the video is black and white so you don’t get to see them in all their loony glory. You do get to see Bono with a mullet though, so that’s something.

***When I was about ten my parents entered me in a Sea Swim. Safe to say the traumatic memories still linger. I thought I was going to pass out and drown from the cold, and I emerged from the water a changed child, blue-tinged and with a thousand-yard gaze.

thoughts on death post header when do i get the manual

Thoughts On… Death

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I remember my first dead body.

That makes me sound like a serial killer. Let me rephrase.

I remember seeing my first dead body.

It was my maternal grandmother’s – my Yaya’s – and she was lying in a coffin with white satin lining. It was propped up, almost standing to face those coming to pay their respects, and she was pale. Unnaturally pale. Much paler than I had ever seen her. Her expression was serious, her mouth turned down at the sides. There was no joy in her face at all, which was very unlike her. She was a woman who was always smiling, always laughing, always trying – like a stereotypical grandmother from a storybook – to feed you delicious food until you burst at the seams.

She was a woman who was always shuffling around the kitchen, or fanning herself with her abanico as she leaned back, out of breath from laughing, sighing “Ay!”

She was a woman who always took the time to pin a brooch to her breast and put lipstick on before going out, who always sprayed herself with perfume and made sure each blonde curl was in place, and who had a faith in God that stayed with her even after hope had been abandoned.

Now she lay, silent and still, in a box behind glass; an unsettlingly strange and wrinkled doll in a building of tears and heartbreak. She no longer looked like herself. She was missing that spark that made her her. This wasn’t my Yaya, this wasn’t the woman who would envelop me in her arms and kiss me over and over again until I wriggled away laughing. This was a husk. A shell. This was the discarded coccoon of a life well-lived, of a woman well-loved.

Death frightens me.

Life frightens me.

It frightens me how fragile we all are. It frightens me that we go through life as thin-skinned human popsicles made of nothing more than a pinch of star dust and earth, brought together and animated by an ember of life.

And when that ember is extinguished or extinguishes itself, leaving behind the curling smoke of memories and loss in its wake, it can be suffocating. The after-effects of the end of a life can feel like your heart is in a vice, and every thought of the person you loved and lost is a turn of the screw.

Death is something that enters into all our lives, and it visits more often the older we get. We like to ignore it, skirt around it, pretend it won’t touch us with its long, cold fingers, but it does. It will. It is unavoidable.

When it will come to us is largely unpredictable. It can slip in and out of our lives at any time. As we grow older, we become more aware of its presence; we look over our shoulder every so often and do things that we hope will make death pass over us, at least until we are old and infirm. We stop smoking, we exercise, we eat healthy food. We become more risk averse. We understand the full weight of life. If we’re lucky, we accumulate loved ones and experiences and hobbies and passions that we don’t want to say goodbye to, and so we shrink back when we feel death nearby.

Don’t pick me. Don’t pick us.

We support our friends in their times of grief. We cry with them, because we know the pain. We may not feel their loss, but we feel their suffering. We read terrible, tragic stories about strangers and feel sorrow, but also relief; glad that it didn’t happen to anyone we know, glad that it happened to someone else, somewhere else. No matter that their grief is just as profound, just as crushing as it would have been for us.

Death is busy elsewhere, and we have the audacity to feel safe in its absence.

There is a unique and precious freedom that comes before we learn about mortality. As children, we exhibit a recklessness that we lose around the same time we begin to comprehend the concept of consequences. Even though this is obviously an important part of growing up, I’m starting to think we could all do with adding back a little of our childhood bravery. I know I could. After all, we don’t know when death will come to call.

Is there anything to be gained by dreading it the way we do? Is there anything to be gained by pressing ourselves against the wall, hoping to make ourselves invisible?

I’m not suggesting we all go BASE jumping in the morning.

I’m not suggesting we start a diet consisting solely of donuts*.

I’m just wondering out loud whether we – I – should live a little less fearfully. There are things I haven’t done yet because a thin, reedy voice in the back of my head makes it its mission to spook me every time I think about them too hard. If I talk myself out of things I wish I had the courage to try, am I really living my life to the fullest? I can’t keep putting things off for an indeterminate ‘someday’ when I don’t know how many somedays I have left. I should make the somedays today.

And so should you.

I hope that when death comes for me, I have lived a long and full life. I hope that like my Yaya, I leave behind memories of love and laughter, good food and good company. I hope that like her I have time to say goodbye to those I love, and that I face it with courage and acceptance. I hope, but I don’t know.

So in the meantime, I’m going to try to live fearlessly… or at least, less fearfully.

Same same, but different.

 

 

*Although how delicious would that be?

 

 

 

Thoughts On… Adulting Struggles

It is unseasonably warm in Ireland at the moment. In a freak occurence, the sun is actually visible, the clouds are wispy and barely-there, and the temperature has crept up to Irish-sunburn levels (which isn’t very high, but it’s high enough for people to wander the streets in singlets, puffing and red-faced, panting about how it’s “FAR too hot!”).

I am currently sitting at my table, with a cup of tea beside me to wash down my many supplements*, thinking of the many, many things on my To Do List. The thoughts of all these things that need to be done have come together to form a thick, grey, thundercloud of tasks, and every so often it sends forks of lightning formed from pure unadulterated panic down my spine.

This is Not Good.

I know myself well enough to know that I need to get a handle on this situation. I feel overwhelmed, but I know that all the items on my endlessly long To Do List are doable; it’s only when thinking of all of them, together and at the same time, that I start to sweat and wonder whether it might be a good idea to change my name to Carmen Sandiego and move to Raja Ampat to sell beaded bracelets on the side of the road.

I do love making beaded bracelets…

Adulting is hard sometimes. I have yet to master the life skill of organisation. I rarely make lists, and even when I do make lists I inevitably lose them, which usually leaves me worse off than I was before. I often lose track of time because I’m so focused on a single thing that I forget 1.) to eat, 2.) that time is passing and 3.) there are in fact other things that require my attention. The fact that this blog is still alive and updated is a minor miracle considering how abysmal my scheduling skills can be.

And yet…

I love the feeling of being productive. I love the days when I smash through the things on my To Do List with reckless abandon and reach nightfall exhausted but delighted by my progress. I love seeing things look the way I envisioned, or finishing something and knowing I don’t need to worry about it again for a while. I love escaping out from under the crushingly heavy Sisyphean boulder of responsibility that builds up every once in a while after a period of slacking (or, say, a particularly lazy holiday).

Considering that I LOATHE this feeling of having every chore ever invented hanging over my head, feel positively meh about actually doing them, and enjoy the feeling of having done them, you would think the obvious thing would be to get through them as quickly as possible. The adult, rational part of the brain would tell you that it is the only logical course of action. I know this.

So why am I still sitting here?

Wish me luck. If you have anything stronger than luck (bourbon?), send that too. If you have a way of tackling mammoth To Do Lists in a productive manner, let me know your secret. You can whisper it. You can even send it by smoke signal; I’ll keep one eye on the windows just in case.

I’ll be right here, tediously checking my way through a list as long as my arm.

 

*Seriously it’s getting out of control; I’m now taking iron because my iron stores are low, folic acid because a friend told me everyone should be taking it all the time, vitamin D because I rarely see the sun here, vitamin B12 for my skin and vitamin C and zinc to help absorb the iron. I was talking to a friend recently who said I should also be taking magnesium, but I really don’t think I can bring myself to take more than five tablets in a day unless there is a serious and pressing need…

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…..

Pilates? I Thought You Said PIE and LATTES!

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I took myself to a pilates class on Friday.

My friend asked if I wanted to join her, and instead of going with my usual gut reaction to an invitation to exercise (“No thank you, I would rather boil my own eyeballs”) I decided to accept.

I changed into leggings and a sports bra, dug out a pair of pink Flashdance wristbands (mandatory), and pulled on a pair of those ultra-low socks with elastic that either digs into your skin like a cheese wire or is so ineffective that the sock slips off and crumples uselessly under the arch of your foot.

I was ready.

We arrived at the pilates in extremely high spirits. The elation and novelty of having decided to do exercise was giving me the sort of insufferable feeling of magnanimity I usually only feel after donating to charity. I practically bounced into reception. Pale ash floorboards and white walls immediately gave me the feeling I should be whispering, and the two expertly made-up and manicured receptionists raised their false lashes in slow synchronisation to stare expectantly at us. We mumbled our names in the hushed tones reserved for church or, apparently, health studios with minimalist decor, and tripped our way down the stairs to the room of mirrors.

Now, I realise that there is a reason for the mirrored exercise room. I understand that it serves a purpose, and that the purpose is to keep an eye on your form. It’s important when practicing yoga to make sure that you look more like a swan and less like an inbred inner-city pigeon that just survived an aggressive encounter with a housecat.

That being said, isn’t there something profoundly unnerving about having to maintain eye contact with yourself while your entire body threatens to seize with cramp? Other people may be able to do curtsy lunges while looking like fierce, fit princesses of the modern age, but when I do them I look like a deflating balloon. It’s hit or miss whether I’ll make it back into a standing position. Since watching abject failure makes me uncomfortable, I try to avoid looking in the mirror positioned mere inches from my face. If I happen to accidentally catch my own eye, I flush red and shake my head apologetically.

Sorry, Gym-Mirror Me, I think. I’m doing my best here. These muscles haven’t been used in about a decade. Can we move past this mortification and pretend it never happened?

Gym-Mirror Me exhales deeply and ignores me, shaking with the effort of sinking into another curtsy lunge.

After class had ended, I lay on my mat and tried to ignore the silent screaming of my abdominal muscles as I thought about the year ahead. There are so many things that I want to accomplish in the next twelve months. Last year brought some pretty adult changes to my life and involved a lot of google searches that started with, ‘How do I…’ and ‘What does it mean when…’ and ‘Why do I need…’.*

I know this year will be bumpy. Aren’t all years bumpy in one way or another? I don’t think I’ve ever had a year that was uninterrupted smooth sailing the whole way through. I’ve had years where I’ve encountered setback potholes the size of craters, and challenges that loomed over me like the vertical face of K2. I’ve also had years that felt like studded paths, with nothing too drastic, just little bumps in the road to slow me down.

I’m hoping this year will be the latter. You know, traversable potholes. Surmountable challenges. Nothing that will blindside me at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

I left the pilates studio feeling like an astronaut in space, on an endorphin high that didn’t leave me until the following day when I realised going up or down stairs would be a challenge for the rest of the weekend. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I enjoyed it! I think I might actually go back and hand over more hard-earned money in exchange for another forty-five minutes of punishment.

This year is already full of surprises, and we’re not even ten days in.

What next?

*Thank God the internet took off before I reached my teens. How on earth did people manage before Google?!