London is a reliable city for a short weekend visit. So close and well connected to Ireland that it’s possible to take a Friday to Sunday visit and still have ample opportunity to have a good time. It is too vast a metropolis to absorb in a single visit, so it’s better to select your intentions for each visit and focus on those alone. The rest of the city will still be there when you return. I have visited the city dozens of times – but never for longer than three nights. It remains an ever-exciting destination.
My trip last weekend was from Shannon to Stansted Airport in the Republic of Essex. The flight from Shannon Airport was on time and upon arrival I boarded the National Express which dropped me outside Bethnal Green tube station. Located in the East End of London this feels like my part of town having visited on multiple occasions over the past decade. I walked along the Regent’s Canal to the house in Shoreditch where my friend lives, resisting the urge to yell ‘You ain’t my muvva!!! Yes I AAAAHM’ a la Kat Slater in Eastenders, at various passers-by. I felt that might be slightly inappropriate.
The sun was shining and it was 7pm. We strolled over to Broadway Market – a Victorian market street that divides Shoreditch from Hackney, located beside the canal. There’s a variety of cafes and bars and food stalls on this road- but not one of them are part of a chain. We chose the Koya-Ko restaurant where a rice bowl cost an eye-watering fourteen pounds and a beer cost eight quid. Cost of living crisis etc.
Currently playing upstairs in Chaplins Pub on Hawkins Street in Dublin 2 is the Judder Theatre production of Edward Albee’s first play ‘The Zoo Story’.
Written in 1958 this one-act play concerns two characters, Peter and Jerry, who meet one Sunday afternoon on a park bench in the Phoenix Park in Dublin – Central Park in New York was the original setting. Peter is a wealthy publishing executive earning 200,000 euros a year. Married, he has a wife, two daughters, two cats, and two parakeets. He sits reading a book (Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘David and Goliath’ – an appropriate choice for what is about to unfold) and minding his own business. Jerry approaches him. Jerry is an isolated and eccentric bearded man who strikes up a conversation with the unresponsive Peter – imposing on his peaceful state by interrogating him and forcing him to listen to stories about his life and the reason behind his visit to the zoo that day. Jerry lives in a boarding house in Palmerstown and tells tales of his housemates, his lustful, alcoholic landlady and her vicious dog.
Eventually, Peter tires of the encounter and tries to leave. Jerry does not respond well to this rejection.
The Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Lisbon this coming Saturday. Ireland is sending a heterosexual singer called Ryan O’Shaughnessy, who loves to talk about his girlfriend Ailbhe. His song ‘Together’ tells a gay love story, with the video to match. Apparently Russia is considering a broadcast ban on the song for breaching its gay propaganda law. You’d think they’d be more concerned with the fake re-election of Putin. Then again, what do I know?
The ‘fare finder’ section of the Ryanair website offered an unexpected gem. A return flight from Shannon to Marseille on the first weekend in May for a mere seventy euros . This was unusual. Flights from Shannon are more limited in terms of destination than Dublin and they tend to be more expensive. So this was a treat. I had never been to France’s oldest and most notorious city. The reputation it has for being a dangerous city did not alarm me – Naples has a similar reputation and that was one of my favourite recent trips. Plus I have been to the United States twice over the past year. Marseille might be a bit rough and ready but mass shootings are not a a daily occurrence like in the US. So long as I kept my wits about me there should be no problems encountered. The alternative was to stay in Ireland where a one night stay in Cork city cost the same as return flights and four nights’ accommodation in Marseille.
My research told me that the Old Port was a must see. Marseille was founded as a port city by the Greeks 2600 years ago. A tourist train would take me to the Notre Dame de Nord cathedral overlooking the city. Le Panier looked like an eclectic street. The papal town of Avignon was a short train journey away – the palace where seven popes was based for a period of seventy years in the fourteenth century was one of the world’s finest. I had always wanted to visit it.
The bus journey to Shannon Airport was frustrating as it is poorly served by public transport. I probably have unrealistic expectations considering how small the airport is. My flight was at 19.20. I booked a bus ticket for 16.25 which was meant to get me there by 5pm. The bus arrived into Colbert Station from Cork thirty five minutes late. The rain that fell during my wait can only be described as vengeful. I reached the airport at 17.35 – my journey enlivened by the young woman with streaky tan complaining on the phone to the friend she was visiting in Birmingham about how her flight was delayed by two hours and how she would only arrive at 10.30pm. I gave a smug inner chuckle. My flight was on schedule and I would arrive at 22.45 and reach my AirBNB by 23.30.
It was in 1999 that I first travelled to the land of the movies – the United States of America. My destination was California – San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego to be precise. In the quarter century since that trip, I have revisited the country several times, usually to the East Coast. However, I have always harboured an inclination to return West. It just seemed too far though – involving an eleven-hour flight from Ireland – or too expensive. But still so appealing. When Aer Lingus had a sale last November, I got a shiver of anticipation when I noticed that a return flight from Dublin to San Francisco cost a mere three hundred euros, with a March travel date . I bought it instantly. Prices like those are rare. It was time to make my triumphant return to the city by the Bay.
My memories of the city were magical. Being a 24-year-old gayling on my first trip there, it was a pilgrimage. The Greeks may have invented the Gay, but San Francisco had become one of the world’s major gay capitals since World War 2 when soldiers returning from war decided to remain in the coastal city rather than return to the Flyover Land of their birthplace. I travelled back then, with some friends from Dublin. We partied hard. I had a weeklong affair with a man from Virginia named Topher who I met in the Midnight Sun bar on my first night out. He introduced me to Jägermeister – that grotesque liqueur with mind altering powers. I went to work with him one day – he was a professional dog walker with a side business in selling marijuana to San Franciscan lesbians – the most Californian job I can think of. I bought the first of Armistead Maupin ‘Tales of the city; books in a second-hand bookshop in the Haight-Ashbury district – the district in town where the 1960s flower power, hippie movement began. My memories of that time are as golden as the bridge.
The flight to San Francisco was unpleasant as all long haul, economy flights tend to be. My traveling companion was arriving from London so despite the fact he had departed before I did, the pre-clearance for the US that happens in Ireland meant our arrival times were coordinated. After dumping my bags in my grotty Fillmore hotel (San Francisco is one of the most outrageously priced cities in the USA) we made our way to the Castro where we dined on Indian food and quaffed some refreshing G&Ts in Twin Peaks gay bar (this bar opened in the 1970s and was noteworthy for the fact that it had big open street level windows so passers-by could look in, and patrons could look out). It was emblematic of gay liberation – gay people were no longer banished to dingy, windowless basement – and the opening of the culture. Having invested in a public transport Muni card, we got the bus home and retired quite early – jetlag induced exhaustion was acute.
After my thwarted attempt to visit Stockholm, I suddenly had the entire Easter weekend to myself, and not a solitary plan made. As it was Saturday I visited the Milk Market where I bought a bag of apples, a dozen eggs, a block of gubbeen cheese, a carton of Valencia smoked nuts, a chicken roulade and a cup of Turkish hot sand coffee. After lunch I went online to see what was happening in Limerick. What was this? Two live performances of ‘Carrie’ by the University of Limerick Musical Theatre Society. It was 1.45pm. The matinee began in fifteen minutes. As the Belltable theatre is only a two minute walk from my residence I had plenty of time.
Paying my fifteen euro entrance fee I made my way to my seat. It was towards the back of the house. That wouldn’t do at all. Quickly glancing at the website I saw that the second row had several spare seats. So I moved – I wanted to be able to see the expressions on the actors’ faces.
I arose early on Good Friday – I was a man on a mission, with places to visit and things to do. Late last year when Ryanair was doing another of their promotions I managed to find an Easter deal to visit Stockholm – departing on Good Friday and returning on Easter Monday – for 98 euro return. Stockholm (or Sweden) had never featured highly on my ‘places I must visit’ list – partly because I had visited Malmo on a day trip from Copenhagen years earlier. This meant I had already been to the land of IKEA and Volvo, so it was not a gaping hole on my European travel map. This coupled with the fact that it was still sub-zero at night in Stockholm in April, meant my attitude towards Sweden was one of mild interest rather than burning desire. Don’t misunderstand me – I adore ABBA as much as the next person, but they are a band that has transcended time and space that can be appreciated from anywhere.
I packed my bags, taking special care to look after my passport card. When I replaced my ten year passport book last year I also invested in a five year passport card. This credit card sized item enables travel within the EU without the need for a regular passport. Good thing really. My passport is currently at the Nigerian Embassy in Dublin as I wait on a visa for my brother’s June wedding. This would be my first trip solely using the passport card. Into my hand luggage it went along with bank cards; phone, insulin; change of underwear and a book – my reading material for this journey was ‘The wonder’ by Emma Donoghue.
To the station I went to catch the 12.55 train to Dublin. This wouldn’t be a direct train – I would need to change at Limerick Junction. Regular readers will know of the existence of Limerick Junction – a bleak, desolate station in a field in county Tipperary where passengers from Limerick travelling to Dublin must change to the Cork train to their final destination of Heuston. The Junction is a hovel where dreams go to die, suffering as it does from a micro-climate where it rains 367 days a year, where the temperature rarely exceeds 4 degrees and where there are only two hours daylight even in the height of summer. While I might be exaggerating somewhat, you’ll understand the type of place it is.
Surprisingly that Saturday the Cork to Dublin train was already waiting at the Junction. The sun was shining. How unusual, I thought to myself. My seat was D33. I was seated at a table of four. The other three passengers at my table were three Dublin grannies who had been to Cork to support their grandchildren at an Irish dancing Feis (competition). Press 2 below for next page
Update 23 March 2023 . A man in his 60s and a woman in her 50s were arrested yesterday in Kerry on suspicion of murder of Baby John – the Caherciveen baby).
I was a child when the Kerry Babies case was the biggest news story in the country. I can remember it being splashed all over the news, and can recall the bare bones of the story. I can remember the picture of Joanne Hayes on the front page of every newspaper, every day for what seems like months, during the Tribunal of Inquiry into the original case. I can remember my father describing it is as a horror film.
I made my way to the airport in an almost fugue state. A 6.20am flight meant arrival at the airport at 4.30am – not the time of day that I want to live, laugh or love. After I made my way through the security screening I realised that I had lost my ring – between the metal detector / X-ray machine and the point when I was on my way to the gate. My father’s wedding ring had slipped off my little finger. Perhaps it was when I removed my belt and jacket, or took the liquids and laptop from my bag for screening. This was unfortunate. I have worn the ring intermittently over the past twenty years. I received it after my father died in January 2003, while I was on holiday in Melbourne. Having noticed that the ring was slipping off my finger more easily in recent months I had made a vague commitment to being more careful with it. Fully awake now I went back to the screening area. The guards re-Xrayed my bags and in an apologetic but firm manner told me that they could do no more, and gave me a card to report it to Lost and Found, who updated their website with missing items daily. I was peeved. I am not somebody who is sentimental over physical things, so I wouldn’t be weeping into my pillows over the missing ring. Save for the ring though, and a brown leather box, these were the only items I possessed that belonged to my father.
There was no point in stressing. It had happened, it couldn’t be undone, and I’d have to get on with my trip (after an email to Lost and Found). My first ever journey to the cradle of western civilisation – Athens. I’d been to Greece’s second city Thessaloniki a few times previously with work, and to the beautiful island of Mykonos, but this would be my first trip to Athens. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew there would be magnificent, ancient ruins for sure, but had been told by various people – Greeks included – to be careful, as it was a fairly grungy city where petty crime was sometimes a feature.
Travelling on Friday 3rd March, four days earlier Greece had experienced its worst ever train disaster when a packed, passenger train travelling at full speed from Athens to Thessaloniki had a head on collision with a freight train coming in the opposite direction. Fifty seven people (at the most recent count) had been killed. Greece was a county in mourning, while also seeking answers from the government who had privatised the rail network without securing the rail infrastructure’s safety.
On Friday 10th February I purchased a monthly pass for the Omniplex 13 screen cinema in the Crescent Shopping Centre in Dooradoyle. As it is awards’ season, the quality of films showing on the big screen currently, is higher than the dreary superhero blockbusters which predominate over the summer. At 15 euro per month (with a minimum three month subscription) to see all films showing, I would need to see five films over the next three months to break even (it is ten euro per film if you pay as you go). It turns out I had quite the cinematic week, taking in the following films.