New and Unexpected Housemate

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I have a housemate called Lenny.

I don’t know when he moved in. He lives in the bathroom. I noticed him for the first time the other day. I opened the door, turned on the light, and there he was.

“Oh.” I said. “Hi.”

He froze, then ran for cover. He hid in the corner while I brushed my teeth. We watched each other warily. Well, I watched him warily. I can only assume he was watching me too. In reality, his eyes are far too small for me to know exactly where he was looking.

You see, Lenny is a silverfish*.

Since discovering him in my bathroom, I’ve done some investigating. Lenny appears to be a bachelor, and he’s fully grown which confuses me because I have never seen him before. Either he has always lived in my bathroom and I never knew, or he recently moved in without consulting me on the matter.

That first night, I spent an abnormal amount of time in bed staring at the ceiling and thinking about silverfish viewing apartments. I imagined Lenny strolling onto the tiled floor with an attractive silverfish realtor, listening to her as she explained the pros and cons.

“So this bathroom is frequented by two adult humans. I know you were probably hoping for more in terms of dandruff or hair, but then we’d really want to be looking at an elderly human’s bathroom and that would really strain your budget. I think this is a good compromise. Now, the only thing is that as you can see, they’ve recently installed a more powerful fan in the ceiling, which is going to cut down on humidity significantly. On the plus side this will make the price more negotiable. Also there is quite a lot of plaster to feast on and they sometimes leave books there on the countertop, so that is quite the perk….”

I googled silverfish to find out more about Lenny. Apparently almost everyone has a silverfish housemate. One or two are expected in rooms with high humidity. One website recommends overlooking their presence before adding, “If you have an infestation however, you may want to call pest control.”

…I think if I have an infestation I may want to move out, but that’s just me.

They’re very small and they eat plaster and book bindings and glue and hair. They don’t bite or spread disease, or even do much damage.

Oh, and they can live up to eight years.

EIGHT. YEARS.

According to the fountain of knowledge that is Wikipedia, the predecessors of silverfish are considered the earliest, most primitive insects. I can well believe this, since Lenny looks like he recently scuttled off a seabed from the Cambrian period. They can’t climb vertical surfaces. They are nocturnal. Also, as long as they have access to water they can live without food for more than a year.

What the hell, Lenny? What kind of a mutant fossil are you?

I don’t want to hurt Lenny. I don’t even really want to evict him. I will, however, be keeping a close eye on him. If he starts inviting over other silverfish to netflix and chill, or having silverfish parties until 5am, we may have to re-examine things. For the moment though, I’m happy to cohabitate.

As long as Lenny stays in his corner, we’ll be fine.

 

*Don’t google him, he’s not pretty.

Ghost In The Cell(Phone)

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I may not be active on the dating scene, but I am aware that the times they are a-changing and these days it’s all about the swiping. I know that mirror selfies are a hard swipe left, and photos with dogs are a swipe right, and when I’m talking to friends who are users of Tinder, Bumble, or OKCupid, I’ve noticed something come up over and over and over (and over) again…

Ghosting.

I’m not talking about the Slow Fade. I’m not talking about slowly stretching out the time between unenthusiastic responses until they completely drop off into the void of forgettable connections. Last time I was single, the Slow Fade was considered the “kind” way to let people know you’d really rather not. The hint was subtle at first, but the process was drawn out and gradual and by the time the other person was taking four days to reply “Yeah lol,” you knew. You knew it wasn’t going anywhere. One last, “Okay let’s meet up soon!” (read: Never) and you were off the hook.

This ghosting business though, it’s different. It’s rough. The dates will go well, the texts will be promising, and then-

NOTHING.

One day they’ll be texting back within seconds, saying they see themselves with you and they’re a little worried they’re taking things too fast but they can’t help themselves, and the next they’ve vanished completely from this corporeal realm. Someone else will text deep into the night after your second date about how great a time they had with you, and how they can’t wait to see you again… and then they’re gone as if instantly vaporised by an alien weapon. Except that unfortunately, they haven’t vanished or been vaporised; thanks to the power of social media, you can see that they were last on Whatsapp two hours ago.

Three days later they’re sharing memes on Twitter like you never existed.

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Everything is so instant now. Push notifications on your phone tell you about likes and retweets and messages and statuses the minute they’re posted. Everything happens NOW.* Does the ghosting phenomenon mean that people are no longer willing to invest a little time in being kind to people they’re not interested in? Is it a case of, ‘Why bother?’ You’re not interested, it’s not going anywhere, why waste time writing back to them when you could be spending those valuable 30 seconds swiping right on someone you might actually connect with?

I don’t understand.

I’m trying to understand, but I’m failing miserably. I’ve tried to look at ghosting from the most sympathetic angle (they don’t want to hurt you by straight-up saying they’re not interested) but even that falls a bit flat. It is far more confusing and disorienting for someone to be unabashedly enthusiastic to the point of cringe and then drop off the face of the earth without so much as an adios, than it is to reply to a couple of questions with monosyllables before hitting them with a quick, ‘Hey, sorry but I’m just not feeling it. Was lovely to meet you though.’

In the first scenario, there are multiple things that can have happened. Maybe they were in some horrendous accident, or they dropped their phone in the toilet, or they were falsely accused of a heinous crime and are now in prison where they had to use their one phone call to ring their lawyer, or they’re in a monastic hut on a remote island somewhere with no reception, and they’ve been desperately trying to communicate with you via smoke signals, but since smoke signalling is a lost art you saw his, ‘I miss you and can’t wait to see you again, how about Friday?‘ wisps of smoke, and mistook them for nothing more than distant cloud.

I mean really, anything could have happened.

The second scenario is a lot more cut and dried. They’re just not that into you. It is what it is. It sucks, but there’s no ambiguity. There’s no need to expend valuable mental energy wondering what happened. It doesn’t feel like something potentially promising was cut short for reasons unknown. You just didn’t click and sometimes that happens.

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Maybe it’s because I don’t use Tinder or Bumble (unless I’m using them on the behalf of close friends, which is great fun and highly recommended), but it really bothers me that ghosting is so common. I heard the other day that ghosting is “common after the second date.” What? Why are people putting the effort into pretending to be interested, rather than putting that same amount of effort into slowly stepping back in a gentle way?

Absorb the fact that at least one person out there thinks it’s a reasonable move to text someone about having kids… and then never text again. Just sit with that for a moment. What is that about? Am I the only one that feels like the leap between those two actions (the text about kids and the ghosting) is a bit like the leap between two four-storey buildings? Like, sure, you can do it, but I wouldn’t advise it and I definitely don’t think it’s healthy.

I think certain things are getting lost in our instantaneous culture; I think some kindness is slipping through the cracks in communication.

Have you ghosted or been ghosted before? Can you explain the thought process? I’m feeling very old and out of the loop here. There’s enough to be confused and worried about in the world than why your Tinder date hasn’t whatsapped you back even though they’re online and you know they’re online and they know you know they’re online…

Can’t we just bring back the Slow Fade? Is it retro enough yet to be cool again?

*I’ve disabled pretty much all push notifications on my phone for the last while. Other than Whatsapp and Snapchat, nothing gets through instantly anymore. It’s actually been pretty great! If you have a lot of social media accounts I definitely recommend trying it for a week.

 

Thoughts On… Mother’s Day

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The other day, my mother called me like she always does. She calls every day. She calls to tell me what she’s doing, or to tell me about her day, or to tell me the latest deal in the grocery store. She calls about anything and everything. She talks away in rapid-fire Spanish and really, minimum input is required on my part. The occasional, “Mmm hmm,” one or two yeses and some listening sounds are sometimes my only contribution.

The other day, she called and talked to me about certain bathroom renovation plans. I half-listened while making soup.

“… No se como va a salir pero por ahora va bien la cosa. A ver si viene el Martes y asi empezamos a ver como va a funcionar…”(“… I don’t know how it’ll turn out but for now it’s all going well. If he comes over on Tuesday then we’ll start to see how things will work…“)

Suddenly her voice dropped away and there was a muffled sound.

“Hello?” I asked, alarmed. “Mama?”

“Ah, no pasa nada, es solo que…” (“Ah no everything is fine, it’s just…“) Another pause followed, and then suddenly, at the end of the phone, in English, “Hello! Where deed you cam from?”

I frowned, wooden spoon held aloft. “Mama?”

“No, no te hablo a ti,” (“No, I’m not talking to you“) she said. No kidding, I thought. She continued, “Es el perro del vecino, que se ha escapado.”(“It’s the neighbour’s dog, he’s escaped.“)

I nodded thoughtfully and placed the wooden spoon back in the pot to give the soup a half-hearted stir.

Another muffled sound.

“Do you wan to go hom? Weel I take you hom?”

More muffled sounds.

“Es el perrito del vecino, es muy mono, es que a veces se escapa. Ahora le traigo a casa.”(“It’s the neighbour’s little dog, he’s very cute. Sometimes he gets out. I’ll bring him home now.“)

A pause, and then, away from the mouthpiece, “Cam on, I take you hom.”

My eyes rolled to the ceiling as I considered the fact that my mother 1. was talking to the dog as if he might answer, 2. obviously believes the dog speaks English, and 3. also believes that the dog can somehow tell the difference between English and Spanish. I started to laugh then, softly at first and then harder and harder until I was doubled over against the counter. My mother, unaware of what I was laughing at, started laughing too. We laughed together over the phone; me, her, my spoon and the neighbour’s dog.

“Que? De que te ries?” She kept asking.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.

I had a very different post lined up for today; an intensely personal post with mixed feelings and some fury that I wrote a while ago after a particularly bad day. I was feeling frustrated and upset and keyed-up and disappointed and angry and basically every kind of negative emotion that can be bundled into one moment. Sometimes Mother-Daughter relationships aren’t the stuff of most Mother’s Day cards. Every year I spend a long time looking through the card aisle before I can find one that is appropriate. I love my mother; she’s my mother. It’s just… complicated.

So on this, the day after Mother’s Day, I decided to share this moment instead, because that’s how she is. That’s how we are.

At least sometimes.

Happy Belated Mother’s Day to all of you out there who are mothers. Odd mothers, wonderful mothers, hardworking mothers. I hope you had a lovely day.

 

Stripping Off in Suwa, Japan

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I walked into the Katakurakan onsen with trepidation clawing up my throat.

A smiling lady handed me a small towel and a small key at the window of reception, then gestured gracefully towards a door on the left. This was something I’d noticed a lot since arriving in Japan; every Japanese person I encountered seemed to have been born with the kind of grace that eludes me on a daily basis. Clutching the towel to my chest, I pushed open the door to the women’s changing room and walked in.

In no way was I excited about getting naked with strangers.

I was dragging my feet with dread. My skin had started to itch with a strange, cold, prickling sensation that wasn’t in the least bit pleasant. It hadn’t been my idea to visit the onsen, but the lovely Japanese man showing me around Lake Suwa had seemed personally affronted when I said I would rather not. His smiling, insistent head-bowing had worn me down until, resigned, I had nodded and followed him into the brick building.

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According to Wikipedia “an onsen is a Japanese hot spring and the bathing facilities and inns frequently situated around them. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsens scattered throughout all of its major islands. Onsens were traditionally used as public bathing places and today play a central role in Japanese domestic tourism.”

I knew very little about onsen before visiting, other than the fact that you have to be naked and tattoos are strictly verboten. Now here I was, standing in a changing room, clutching a towel, wishing the tiled floor would open up and swallow me whole.

Once I’d accepted that this was, in fact, happening, I looked around for any hint as to what was expected of me. I knew that I would have to strip down, but where? Here? Signs in unintelligibly bubbly kanji laughed at me from the walls. Trying to act nonchalant, I sat down and started to untie my shoelaces ever so slowly as panic bubbled up in my chest. Nobody there spoke any English, and I sincerely doubted my rudimentary phrases of Japanese (O-genki desu ka? Sumimasen! Kore kudasai) would get me very far in learning the intricacies of onsen ettiquette.

Just then, the door swung open and, as if sent to deliver me to salvation, a middle-aged lady walked in. She might as well have arrived in a beam of light, I was so glad to see her. I watched her out of my peripheral vision as I pretended to be absorbed by the process of peeling off my socks. I could undress myself – that part didn’t present a problem; after all I’ve been doing it every day of my life – but I needed to know what came after. I didn’t want to have to stand there naked like a total gom while I fumbled to understand what to do next.

The woman, unaware that she was the hero of the moment, kicked off her running shoes and started to briskly remove her clothing. I kept my eyes on the bench as she dropped her blouse, her bra, and her bobby pins into a tidy pile on the pale ash slats. I picked up the pace with my own clothes, pulling off my loose knit jumper and tank top in a single movement. Now that I had found this unwitting guide, it was important I keep up with her. I couldn’t let her disappear from view.

When she was quite nude, she put her belongings in a locker.

I also put my belongings in a locker.

She used her key to lock it, then slid the elastic keyring onto her wrist.

I did the same.

Picking up her towel, still ignorant of my careful observation of her every move, she walked through the changing room and passed under an arch into the room with the main bath. I followed, now so intent on following this poor woman like a creepy stalker that I barely registered how weird it felt to be totally naked around perfect strangers.

I said barely.

It was weird. It was very weird. I have a somewhat strange notion about my body in that I’m okay with showing it off to an extent – I feel comfortable in a bikini, and don’t mind changing in front of people if the situation demands it – but I don’t like getting completely naked in front of anyone who isn’t my partner. It’s a personal thing. I’d just rather not share the sight of my entirely unclothed body with anyone else. Make of that what you will. It’s not a matter of prudishness or shame or discomfort with my body… It’s just a personal preference.

I never said it made sense.

So here I was, standing in a room in Japan decorated to look like an ancient Roman bathhouse, stark naked, holding only a small towel and trying not to stare at anybody.

…Which, I mean, if I’m going to be naked around strangers anywhere, Japan is probably far enough away for it to almost not have happened at all.

My mentor turned to an area on the right, and sat on the tiniest stool I have ever seen. The stool was positioned in front of a little washing station, with toiletries on a similarly tiny counter. I followed her lead and sat two tiny stools down, with my knees up around my chest. I watched her surreptitiously as she used the shower head provided to wash herself, and copied her movements while wondering why the uncomfortably tiny stool was necessary. What was wrong with a shower cubicle?

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When she stood and made her way to the bath, I followed a couple of minutes behind. I walked to the far end of the bath and stepped into the warm water trying to look as unperturbed as possible. When my whole body was submerged in the warm water, I folded my towel and placed it on a ledge just like my onsen angel had done, and then I lay back, closed my eyes, and tried to stop thinking.

It’s almost impossible to stop thinking. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it, but it’s like trying to herd cats. Emptying your mind of all thoughts is a lovely notion, but if you actually sit down and try to do it you can find yourself thinking about how hard it is to stop thinking, and then thinking about thinking about how hard it is to stop thinking…

Basically what I’m trying to say is that my mindful meditation didn’t last very long.

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I opened my eyes to see my onsen guide walking along the bottom of the bath. I stretched my leg out and felt around with my toes. I was surprised to find that there were thousands of small pebbles lining the floor of the bath. I slid down a step so that my chin was barely above water, and pressed the soles of my feet into the pebbles. It felt good. I could see why people loved the onsen. The water was exactly the right temperature; not too hot to step into without wincing, and not too cold to lie there for an extended period of time. It was quiet. The few women in the room were absorbed in their own rituals, washing and relaxing and combing out their hair. I’d never been in an all-female space like this before, and it felt very safe.

Strange, but safe.

I soaked there until my fingertips wrinkled.

Afterwards I stepped out to find my onsen lady getting dressed. Apparently it’s good to keep the minerals from the onsen spring water on your skin, so it’s normal not to shower after your soak in the bath. I pulled my clothes back on with no small sense of relief, and emerged into the cool air with a pink, flushed face and a new appreciation for onsen culture.

I feel like maybe after a couple of visits I might have managed to feel comfortable with the whole thing (although my brother told me he had to go to one with his coworkers and even just typing that sentence out now makes me incredibly uneasy, so who knows?). I’m glad I did it at least once, anyhow.

Have you ever been to an onsen? If not, would you try it?

And the real question… WOULD YOU TRY IT WITH YOUR COWORKERS?

A Struggle in Poetry

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In honour of World Poetry Day (which was yesterday), and the suffocating fog of misery that I spent the past week trying to ignore (which has now finally, thankfully lifted), I wrote a poem. I promise this won’t be a regular thing – poetry is not my strong suit – but it is easy and quick and I’m still feeling a bit fragile, so this will get us over the hump to Friday.

Standing chest-deep in the oceanKnocked back by every wave,She waited.Her face wet with salt waterHer feet anchored in sand, (1)

Settling Down

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There’s something about the term ‘settling down’ that makes me panic. What kind of a term is that? “Settle down.” It’s the kind of thing you say to people when they’re acting hysterically and won’t listen to reason. It’s what you say to a spooked horse, or a hyperactive child. Even on their own, neither of the words are particularly positive; ‘settling’ gives the impression that you begrudgingly wound up in a situation you’re not entirely happy with, and ‘down’ has a negative sort of connotation all of its own. Why can’t you ‘settle up’? It can be a bit frightening to think about spending a lifetime with one person. I definitely think that’s true.

That horrible phrase doesn’t help though.

Neither do the jokes guys make about ‘the ball and chain’ or being forced into marriage reluctantly. Who wants to be a ball and chain? What a miserable description. When I hear grown men joke about it I honestly come out in hives. Over the weekend I listened to this one guy “joke” about how he didn’t even want to get married every time his fiancee’s back was turned. She would come over to join the conversation every so often and tell some charming, amusing anecdote about some element of their relationship, and as soon as she wandered away he would be miming slitting his own throat and making faces to make his friends laugh.

I mean… What the hell?

It baffles me that this is somehow considered hilarious banter. I can promise you now that if that guy ever had that situation reversed on him, he would absolutely hit the roof. Never have I heard those kinds of words come from the mouth of a guy who would take the converse in stride. In fact, if any one of these guys overheard their girlfriend or fiancee make fun of him to her friends while his back was turned, they would have a meltdown so massive their ego might never recover.

Some people can be such prats, honestly.

Anyway, back to settling down.

I can get pretty spooked about it. Every so often I’ll think about it and feel a wave of uncertainty. At first, when I examine my fears, they have a very particular form to them. I can practically turn them over in my mind. What if I get sick of them? What if they start to irritate me all the time? What if I fall out of love?

Once I scoop my way past that shallow layer though, I realise that the real fear comes from the underbelly of my superficial thoughts. What if they get sick of me? What if I start to irritate them all the time? What if they fall out of love?

It all sounds so easy – you ‘settle down’, you make a home, you go out, you have friends over, you live happily ever after… But what about all the what ifs? What if you start to feel trapped? What if you feel lonely, or unheard, or unconsidered? What if you forget all the things about the person that you fell in love with? What if you don’t take the time to remember how you felt the first time you met them? What if you start to resent them? What if small issues snowball into unbreakable barriers between you?

There are six things that I’ve learned from experience are vital for a healthy relationship:

  • Trust
  • Honesty
  • Gratitude
  • Respect
  • Love
  • Communication

Without any one of these, the whole house of cards can come fluttering down in a depressing cascade of emotions. I’ve been in a rotten relationship before, and I think it really opened my eyes to how rare it is to be in a good relationship. It’s so, so much better to be single than to hang onto something that’s missing any of the above.

Maybe I’ll never ‘settle down.’ Maybe I’ll just refuse to ever use those words unless I’m one day in a situation where I’m patting a nervous horse on the nose. Maybe I’ll settle UP, and the ‘settling’ won’t be the begrudging sort, but instead the comfortable type; like the way you settle into your favourite armchair with a good book.

And when I think about it that way, it really doesn’t sound scary at all.

 

*Header image is obviously an image of my dream reading armchair. I will share with the pupper. We will squidge. It will be perfect.

St. Patrick’s Day from an Irish Perspective

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Once more from the top.

St. Patrick’s Day is either referred to as St. Patrick’s Day or Paddy’s Day. Those are the only acceptable terms. St. Pat’s Day, St. Patty’s Day, any and all of the other variations… they make Irish people feel so unclean they need to scour with wire brushes just to scrape off the horror. Please don’t use them. Please. PLEASE.

In addition, it’s shamrock we use, not clover. These are same, same, but different. Shamrock has three leaves, clover has four. Shamrock is what we use on St. Patrick’s Day because legend has it that St. Patrick used the plant to explain the holy Trinity to the pagans of Ireland. He used the one stalk and three leaves to demonstrate how the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were all one.

You see now why clover doesn’t quite fit the bill; that pesky extra leaf really gets in the way of the story.

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Not this one.

St. Patrick’s Day is a day when the world seems to almost become more Irish than the Irish themselves. Little leprechaun hats, and Kiss Me I’m Irish t-shirts, and green-tinted sunglasses, and shamrock badges, and face paint, and all sorts appear on the streets of Dublin city, and all of these things are almost exclusively draped on tourists. Here’s the thing; the only Irish people you tend to see in Dublin city centre on St. Patrick’s Day are either parents with small children, or small children. The rest of the population has scattered, bunkered down in their homes to survive the touristocalypse. Usually this is done with a decent amount of alcohol and some friends. I myself can’t remember the last time I went into town on St. Patrick’s Day. At most, I’ll wear green eyeliner on the day and listen to some U2 and Sinead O’Connor.

When you’re a wee thing, the St. Patrick’s Day parade is a great day out. Usually raining, you drag your parents out to stand in the cold. You watch smiling American baton-twirlers in woefully weather-inappropriate clothing file past while clenching their teeth to stop them from chattering. There are giant floats, and someone usually presses some Cadbury’s Roses into your hand, and you can usually expect to find a tatty cowboy hat and some green beads in the gutter. Afterwards, you go home beaming.

Your parents usually trail behind in a noticeably less enthusiastic fashion, holding all the junk you’ve collected off the ground. This is later disposed of surreptitiously while you’re turned the other way.

After a while though, you realise that actually the parade is not worth leaving your house for, especially since they televise the whole thing. You get a much better view from your comfortable couch at home than five people deep in a crowd full of soaked, screaming children. The day is a national holiday, and we definitely take good advantage of that fact, but we like to leave Temple Bar to the tourists who arrive in droves every year to drink pints on the cobblestones.

It’s nice to see people from all over celebrating our tiny island. When you zoom out a bit, it’s pretty incredible that today, people all over are enjoying our culture, or at least their idea of it. I mean, we don’t have a day of the year when we all celebrate Portugal, for example, or the state of Indiana. Both of these are roughly the same size as Ireland. It’s lovely that Irish people have traveled enough and made enough of an impact globally to have this day of green-hued shenanigans. It makes me feel quite proud, actually, when I think about it that way.

So happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! In uncharacteristically cheesy fashion I’ll add a little  old Irish blessing here for you:

May your neighbors respect you,
Trouble neglect you,
The angels protect you,
And heaven accept you.

…Now where’s my green eyeliner?

Spilling The Tea

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If you ask anyone abroad what the national beverage of Ireland is, I would wager that they’re likely to say Guinness. After all, Guinness has been successfully plying their trade for years now – 258 years, to be exact – with Irishness as a large part of its brand persona. It has the harp, and the Irish music, and that ad at Christmas that shows Dublin looking perfect and makes you feel a tingle of excitement… I mean, Guinness really puts forward a good, solid argument for why it’s the natural choice for the nation’s official beverage.

Despite all of this however, Guinness just doesn’t get the job done. It doesn’t win that coveted spot in the hearts of Irish people everywhere. It’s not what Irish people ask their mammies to send them when they move abroad, to be drank with packets of Taytos and slices of brown bread with real butter.

Clearly, the national beverage of Ireland is tea.

… and not just any tea. You’re either a Lyons tea person, or a Barry’s tea person. There’s no room for other, lesser brands of tea. Get away out of here with your Lipton, Twinings or Tetley’s. Don’t waste your breath offering PG Tips. Lyons or Barry’s are the only acceptable brands of tea on this island. If you’ve ever watched Father Ted, the character of Mrs. Doyle is not so much a caricature as a slight exaggeration; when you visit someone’s home, often one of the first questions they’ll ask you is whether you’d like a cup of tea, and if you decline, you will be asked if you’re sure. If you decline again, you’ll be asked to reconsider, and the cycle will generally continue until you give in… so really you might as well accept the first offer, if only to save time.

I am actually an Irish anomaly; I held out on drinking tea for about 26 years. All my life, I drank only hot chocolate – preferably with many, many mini-marshmallows – until a fateful day four years ago when I finally surrendered and joined the tea-drinking masses. In the end, I was no match for the endless national browbeating. I now drink tea (Barry’s, obviously, since it’s undeniably the superior brand) and coffee (Nespresso Dulsão capusules are my favourite) and I don’t even sweeten it.

I know. Big strides.

It turns out tea is useful for every occasion. Sweet tea if you’re in shock, and iced tea if you’re too warm. Hot tea and biscuits for chats with friends, and hot tea and a book for evenings alone. Coca tea for altitude sickness, and chamomile tea for winding down. Tea cups if you’re feeling fancy, and mugs of tea if you mean business. I have fully come around. I now understand the wonders of tea. It is multipurpose, much like the pancake.

I do have a secret though. A terrible, shameful secret. Sometimes I crave something a little more… exotic. Sometimes the taste of Barry’s isn’t enough to get my juices flowing, and so, I have a confession to make. I hope you’re sitting down for this.

For the past few years I’ve been cheating on Barry’s tea.

About three years ago, somewhere in the state of Florida, I came across Tazo tea and fell deeply in love with the variety* available. There was zen tea, chai tea, pumpkin spice tea, and I piled boxes of the stuff into my Target shopping cart with the sort of frenzied excitement I usually reserve for a sporting event or a trip to the zoo. I arrived back in Ireland and stacked my Tazo tea collection in the bedroom, far away from the box of Barry’s so as not to feel guilt over this infideli-tea**.

Since then, every trip to America has involved stripping the aisles of Target of all boxes of Tazo tea. They are one of three American items that I insist on hoarding like I’m preparing for an impending apocalypse. The other two items are peanut butter M&Ms – which for some reason that is beyond human comprehension have yet to reach Irish shores – and the honey that comes in the bear-shaped container***.

I also compulsively raid hotel rooms for their individually packaged teabags, and now have a tea chest in the living room that houses an impressive number of truly bizarre tea flavours. Not only have I become a tea-drinker, but I have developed a natural curiosi-tea**** for all the different flavours out there and their effects. I have become a tea explorer. I try to drink tea wherever I go now, to see what’s out there that I haven’t yet discovered. As a late bloomer, I find myself trying to make up for lost (tea) time. Moroccan mint tea was a fast favourite. Matcha tea in Japan was also delicious.

Still though, I always seem to come back to Barry’s in the end.

My once-dormant Irish tea gene must be a dominant one.

*Varie-tea! It took enormous willpower not to insert that pun.

**I apologise.

***I cannot explain my love for the honey except to say that the bear-shaped bottle just cheers me up no end, although I did once make the mistake of microwaving one of them and you should know that it was a tragic mistake. The bear melted and shrank until he was a hideously deformed, stumpy version of his former self. It was quite depressing. He still had his eyes and they had changed shape just enough to look sort of accusatory and horrified. I tried to keep him for a while but every time I caught sight of him I felt like I was in The Tell-Tale Heart; Honeybear Edition, so I finally gave him a sad burial in the bin.

I feel like this anecdote makes me sound a little peculiar.

So… pretty accurate, really.

****Don’t judge me.

 

Freaks and Fried Butter in Florida, USA

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I am going to say something today that you might dismiss as ridiculous hyperbole, but I promise you that I say it with utmost sincerity:

There are few events in life as entertaining for a European as the Florida State Fair.

Six years ago, on a whim, Scrubs and I parked our rental car in front of the Tampa fairground and hopped out with entirely average levels of excitement. We bought our tickets, pushed open the gate, and ambled in. I was hoping for a small petting zoo and maybe a few stalls selling candy floss (or ‘cotton candy‘), while Scrubs was hoping for a speedy lap of the fairground and a quick getaway before I had a chance to kidnap a pygmy goat.

What we hadn’t even dreamed to hope for or expect were the hours of entertainment we managed to buy for a mere $12 each. From the moment we walked in and looked around at the first aisle of stalls, we knew that this would be one of the high points of our trip. In Europe, there is a common negative stereotype of Americans that is… unflattering, to say the least. You’ve probably come across it before; Americans are expected to be loud and not particularly bright, with a love for the star-spangled banner that borders on the fanatical, an enormous appetite for junk food and an enthusiasm for supersizing everything whenever possible.

Although on our travels we had periodically come across certain people or places that had tipped their hat to these stereotypes (the same as in any country, really), the Florida State Fair was the first and last place we visited that managed to fit all of these into a 300 acre space.

Food stalls with multiple options greeted us as we walked in. They offered everything – and I mean everything – on a stick. I am not sure why Floridians believe food is immediately made immeasurably better if it’s on a stick, all I can say is that they seem to believe it fervently.

We walked past these stalls with our mouths agape. Monstrosities that must have been conceived in the depths of hell screamed at us from brightly coloured billboards.

Everywhere we looked, people were eating indescribable (yet presumably edible) foodthings with great relish. Our eyes as wide as saucers, we eventually made it past the food stalls to the agricultural shed, where I found the pygmy goats, as expected… and cattle. Cattle with enormous horns that looked downright uncomfortable. I’m not sure these bulls were fully on board with the whole bigger-is-better mindset.

At least I understood why the cattle were there though. We passed the pygmy goats and cattle and pigs and sheep, and suddenly came across a kangaroo.

Kangaroos, as far as I can tell, are not native to Florida.

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We kept walking and came across a giraffe. A giraffe! Giraffes are definitely not endemic to Florida! He looked extremely out of place. I stopped to give him a carrot.

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As we left the menagerie and continued on our way, we stopped for some grilled corn on the cob (not on a stick) and discussed the peculiarity of seeing African and Australian land mammals at a fair that was supposed to celebrate the best of the state of Florida. Little did we know, however, that the most peculiar was yet to come. We rounded the corner only to find a collection of brightly coloured tents festooned with hand-painted signs that stopped us dead in our tracks.

I feel I should explain here that my only experience with side-show attractions is what I’ve read about in slightly-problematic children’s books. Up until I saw these tents, I honestly, truly, hand-on-heart believed them to be something that had died out with the arrival of political correctness. As far as I know, “freak shows*” are not a thing in Europe – certainly, they’re not a thing in Ireland – so I probably stood and stared for far longer than is strictly polite when I realised what exactly I was looking at.

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What.

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On.

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Earth.

I moved from tent to tent, astonished, as people queued up, paid, and wandered inside as if this were a perfectly normal activity for a sunny afternoon. The curiosity burned inside of me as I tried to decide whether it was ethically justifiable to pay to see “wild little aboriginies” or a “snake child” if you suspected they might only be animatronic dolls. They couldn’t possibly be real people… Right? In the end, my conscience won out of over my curiosity and I left the area of colourful tents feeling an uncomfortable mixture of intrigue and disgust.

We reached the rides (by far the least interesting part of the entire fair), cast an eye over the monster trucks (of course), and then I looked to my left and saw it, shining like a beacon of hope in this desolate land.

The holy grail. The most “American” thing I have ever seen in my entire life.

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Deep-Fried Butter.

Obviously, it had to be done.

After weighing up the pros and cons of the menu (Pro: curiosity would be satisfied. Con: swift and premature death from coronary artery disease), we queued up and ordered two deep-fried butters and two deep-fried oreos. A short but surprising conversation with the nice man at the window proved unexpectedly illuminating when he told us that deep-fried butter was his bestseller. In fact, his nephew had given up his high-paying job in IT to run a deep-fried butter stall because it was more profitable. Both impressed and appalled, we retreated to a quiet spot with our deep-fried cholesterol grenades and examined them closely. In my excitement, I didn’t bother to focus my camera and as a result the photos are a blurry mess, but this is what they looked like on the outside.

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I wolfed mine down in quick succession and then remembered I had meant to take a photo for posterity, so I asked Scrubs to take a bite out of each and then allow me to photograph them.

…Which he did, because he has the patience of a saint.

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The one on top is the deep-fried butter, while the other is the deep-fried oreo. If you’re shaking your head in disgust right now or making an extremely unimpressed face, I can only say that you know not what you do. Much as I would like to scoff at the very idea of deep-fried butter, the unfortunate and inconvenient truth is that it was absolutely delicious. As best I can tell, they roll a knob of butter in sugar and cinnamon before freezing it, and then deep-fry the frozen blob of unhealthiness to create something that looks truly rank but tastes like melted heaven.

The deep-fried oreo, by comparison, tasted dry and bland.

Tired out from feeling like time-travellers exploring a strange land, we stopped for some candy floss on our way back to the real world. We also stopped to marvel at sandcastles, sculptures made from butter, stitched fabric and wonderful quilts. We eyed the funnel cakes and corn dogs suspiciously, and finally made it back to the car. We left the car park feeling the aftereffects of profound culture shock.

If you have the opportunity to visit this wormhole in the fabric of time, please go. It is unlike anything else you will ever experience. Wave a tiny American flag. Marvel at the sideshow stalls. Eat some deep-fried butter.

… and then maybe get your cholesterol checked, because I did and it was sky high.

Some say I still have high cholesterol** to this day.

 

 

*Apparently the use of the word ‘freak’ is considered correct now?

**I actually do although I don’t think I can honestly still blame the deep-fried butter….

Tangled

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Before I get to today’s more light-hearted post, I would just like to say thank you to everyone who read and/or commented on my last post. I was worried about people’s reactions, but everyone was thoughtful and kind. I was really touched by how people took the time and read and comment, even if they didn’t entirely agree. I know it’s a tricky subject. So thanks. Thanks for being great people.

Back to more frivolous, Fridayish thoughts…

I am terrible at maths. TERRIBLE. Numbers make no sense to me. I have an extremely short memory when it comes to maths. If you teach me a formula I will learn it. If you ask me to do it again the next morning though, I will be absolutely incapable of even remembering where to start. It’s like my brain builds bridges to the answers, crosses over, and then immediately sets them on fire.

I constantly write down numbers back to front. If someone calls out their phone number for me to take down, I sigh internally. It’s bad, is what I’m saying. Numbers hate me. I avoid all forms of mathematics if I can possibly help it. The rest of the time I count on my fingers.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that when I say that discomfort > benefits = avoidance forever, even that completely fabricated formula is probably wrong. Yet it’s how I deal with things on a day-to-day basis. So, for example, I haven’t been to the hairdresser since last June.

LAST JUNE.

I got a trim. It was not traumatic in any way. The hairdresser didn’t stab me with scissors or give me a bowl cut that turned me into a monk from the middle ages. She was a chatty, lovely, gorgeous blonde who did exactly what I asked her to. “You should visit the hairdresser every eight weeks,” she said.

Eight months later, I am still dragging my feet.

I really, really hate going to the hairdresser.

I am not actually particularly attached to my hair. I mean, I would miss it if I woke up one day to find it packing a bag and heading for warmer climes… Although I couldn’t blame it (“I’m sorry, I just can’t do this anymore. You never even wear a hat. You don’t consider my wellbeing at all and it’s just not a healthy relationship for me. Bye Felicia“). I’m not someone who really does anything with my hair. It just sort of… chills out. I’m a bit weird about textures and always want things to be pleasantly tactile, so I never put product in my hair because I like my hair to feel soft and silky. I basically want my hair to be run-your-fingers-through-it soft at all times. You know, for any surprise moments when someone might run their fingers through my hair.

…Happens all the time.

Even if that weren’t the case though, I don’t know how to use any products on my hair that aren’t a GHD. I don’t dye my hair. I don’t know how to put my hair in a messy bun. I can’t use mousse properly. I don’t even really know what dry shampoo is or how it works its magic. To be clear, I would like to know how to do these things, I just never learned, and now I feel like it’s a bit late in the game for me to start braiding my hair and using texturising spray.

So it just sits. Which is fine.

Except that it really does need a trim every now and then, and now that we’re over 600 words into this blog post, and some people will have hopefully dropped away in boredom, I can finally, hidden-halfway-down-my-post, explain why I hate going to the hairdresser so much:

It makes my anxiety flare up something fierce.

I know. I even feel shame typing that. Everyone has anxiety these days. It must be social media or society today or maybe there’s something in the water. I could pretend that I don’t feel anxious about interacting with strangers, but then I would be lying and I’m not very good at that.

Some people hate going to the dentist. I actually really enjoy going to the dentist! All I have to do is show up, lie back, and relax for however long it takes to do whatever it is he does with all those spiky instruments. Then he has one-way conversation with me about the importance of flossing, during which I always open my eyes wide to show I’m taking his dental opinion seriously. He makes me spit in a cup, and then he lets me leave. It’s not so bad. I quite like it. I spend the rest of the day running my tongue over my teeth. So smooooooooooth….

But the hairdresser.

The hairdresser is a different kettle of fish. At the hairdresser, I’m expected to make small talk (something I am already terrible at) with someone who I’m reasonably sure could not care less about the holidays I have coming up, or how my week has been. I mean, they probably just want to do their job and cut my hair without hearing information that will be discarded as soon as I’ve left the salon. Still, it’s expected of them to make small talk and ask about my life, and it’s expected of me to tell them about it and ask questions in return, and so we get stuck in an awkward cycle of expectations and reluctant small talk, and basically the entire thing makes my anxiety flare up like crazy to the point where I actually feel bad picking up a magazine and flicking through it. Instead, I hide my hands in the folds of my plastic bib and twist my fingers so hard they feel like they might break, and silently wonder how much longer I’m going to have to talk about my plans for the weekend.

It’s horrible.

[Sidenote: This is one reason* why I have never been to a nail salon. That scene in Legally Blonde where she goes and unburdens herself to her nail technician freaks me out. Like, do you have to make conversation for the entire nail … experience? You’re hardly going to sit in silence avoiding eye contact while someone literally holds your hand. Then again what if there are awkward silences? What if you run out of things to talk about? How long does it go on for? Just thinking about it is making me bounce my leg anxiously.]

It’s now March, and my hair is almost at my waist. It needs a chop. What I really need is for someone to drag me bodily to a hairdresser. Realistically, after typing this, I will avoid thinking about it for another, ooh, three months? Sounds doable.

So that’s my frivolous Friday thought; my first world problem of not having the cojones to go to the hairdresser. Wednesday: long blog post about awful truths. Friday: long blog post about getting your hair done. This blog is a rollercoaster of emotion.

If anybody has any tried-and-true methods for making yourself do things you don’t want to do as a grown adult… please leave it in the comments. Or carry me to the hairdresser, tie me up in one of those black plastic ponchos and dump me in a chair.

Either or.

I’ll see you on Monday! Have a great weekend.

*My other reason is that the sound and feel of nail files completely freaks me out. Just typing that out made me curl my fingernails protectively into my hand.