There was an air traffic controllers’ strike in France on the Friday I travelled. My airline informed me that unless I had received an email telling me that my flight was cancelled, then it was proceeding as scheduled. This was a relief. This was my first trip to Paris in approximately a decade, and it would also be my first foreign trip from my new local airport – Shannon, in County Clare. Paris is a city that I have visited several times over the years, but never really as a tourist. My trips tended to be overnight trips on the high-speed train from Amsterdam for nights out. This time I was going to explore it properly. My co-conspirator for this journey was my friend from England (via Limerick) who’d be arriving on the Eurostar from London.
The flight was at 19.25. My bus to Shannon Airport was meant to be at 17.24 from Limerick Station, with arrival at the airport at 17.53. The bus arrived in Limerick Station at a leisurely 17.45 and reached airport at 18.15. At security check-in I was told the Vueling boarding pass on my phone wasn’t valid. Back to check in desk I trotted, got new pass and back through security. I went to the lav, bought a Coke, and strolled to the departure gate. Gadzooks. Where was my bag? It certainly wasn’t with me. The clock now read 18.55. Back to the toilet I went – no bag there. Back to security. No bag. The kindly airport policeman checked cameras. ‘You brought it through security’ he informed me. That was all very well I thought to myself, but where was it now. I had my insulin packed in that bag.
The announcement over the intercom ominously declared ‘Flight to Paris closing’.
Thousands of years ago (meaning February 2020) before the hated Plague had restricted our lives so drastically, I visited Rome for the first time. While I was there, I took the FrecciaRossa hi-speed train service to Naples so I could travel to the outer edges of that city to see the archaeological site of Pompeii. This had been a dream of mine since the age of nine years old when I was taught about it in school. It fascinated me – the idea that a town was frozen in time after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius two thousand years ago. It exceeded my expectations. However, my regret was that it was a day trip – there was so much to see and do in Rome that I didn’t have time to explore the rest of Italy’s third largest city Naples. When my friend suggested an early autumn jaunt back to Naples, I was all over the idea like eczema. Flights were booked, accommodation sorted and on the 7th of October we travelled from Limerick to Dublin to begin our journey.
I felt very responsible. This being my twenty second foreign trip since the start of the pandemic meant that international travel was quite routine for me. My friend hadn’t travelled abroad since late 2019 (when we visited Ukraine) so was understandably nervous. I tried to place myself in her shoes. We’d work it out.
As I sat in Dublin Airport waiting to board my plane to Bergamo, I had a thought. If I’d checked travel dates when booking my foreign trips six months earlier, I wouldn’t have travelled to Naples one weekend, returned home, only to go back to southern Italy the following weekend. I’d have stayed in Italy. Sadly, this was only a thought, so there I was again – sitting in Departures, waiting to board a Ryanair flight.
Upon arrival in Bergamo I realised why my hotel was so cheap – it was out in the countryside – and as my flight landed at 10.30pm I had to take a taxi there – there being no public transport at that hour. The driver was a sleazy grifter. He didn’t look like one, but he changed forty euros for a five-kilometre trip. In these situations, it’s not worth arguing. I paid the money and swore not to take another taxi this holiday. Arising at 7.30 I started planning my return journey to Bergamo Airport for my 11.50am flight. Sipping a strong coffee, an awkward fact presented itself. It would be quicker to walk from my rural B&B than to take a bus. Also 40 euro cheaper than Uber was telling me the 5km journey would cost. It seems like I had misjudged by driver from the night before. This is after all the most expensive part of Italy. The early morning stroll to the airport was scenic and rustic until I reached the motorway. I could see the airport in the distance, but how to safely traverse six lanes of traffic. A kindly Italian farmer pointed me in the direction of an underpass (he saw me looking bewildered from his tractor). Onwards to Lecce.
On my lunchbreak I went downstairs to the Spar to buy an apple.
As it was Friday, I decided to get a posh takeaway coffee to welcome the weekend and Culture Night. Noticing a tiny barbershop beside the coffeeshop and needing a haircut I went in, to be informed that only cash payments would be accepted. How very ‘Ozark’ I thought to myself. It’s highly unlikely that money is laundered through that business, but that television show has alerted me to the myriad of ways in which to sanitise money.
I crossed the road to the bank machine.
‘Is it you again?’ roared the man through the open window of his car. He alit from the vehicle, his eyes ablaze, his voice irate.
I stared at him in stupefied bewilderment.
‘You’re after dropping something on the ground.’
He thought I was a litter lout.
‘Thanks’ I replied walking back to the white item. It was a large tissue – the kind I have never used. There was no way on earth I was touching that. It could have cooties. Glancing nervously back at the flustered gentleman I could see he was shouting into his phone. He wouldn’t notice me ignoring someone else’s litter.
The permanent move back to Limerick is progressing. These last few months since I obtained the keys to my new residence have seen me spending more time in Limerick than I have in decades. As I work out my notice on my lease in Dublin, I have been splitting my time – to ease me gently back in to life in m y hometown. One of the habits I acquired during lockdown in Dublin was the consumption of a bowl of porridge every day for breakfast – often accompanied by a boiled egg. In the absence of a subsidised work canteen during the plague, I had to fend for myself. Thanks to the pandemic I finally rediscovered the childhood joy of porridge – this time in the microwave. While I have long been a fan of a humble bowl of oatmeal, the gunk left at the bottom of the pan was off-putting. No longer – two and have minutes in the nukowave will suffice – with no scrubbing afterwards. Kearneys porridge from L’Idylle was my go to brand – featuring frequently as it did on the L’Idylle weekly bonus offers. Upon moving to Limerick, to my horror, I discovered that there was no budget, German supermarket near my house. I ventured to Dunnes where a tube of own brand porridge and a tube of Flahavans were purchased. Both were a vile taste of disappointment – lacking the texture and flavour of L’Idyyle’s version – being, stodgy, bland and flavourless.
May 22nd 2015 is the day that Ireland became the first country in the world where marriage equality was legalised thanks to a popular vote, when 62% of voters said that we were equal.
On 24th May 2015, the day after the count Limerick woman Ann Blake received a text from her brother, asking ‘How’s the morning after the life before?’ This question became the title of the play ‘The morning after the life before’ which subsequently toured the country and the world. I saw this play in Bewleys Theatre in Dublin in March 2018. This year for Limerick Pride, Dolan’s Warehouse in Limerick staged the reprisal. As my move home to Limerick will be finalised by next month I thought I’d pay a return visit. I am happy to have done so.
Yesterday was Bloomsday in Dublin. In 1922 the novel ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce was published and recounted the activities of a man – Leopold Bloom – over the single day 16th June 1904 in Dublin. Since that time that day has become a day for commemoration and celebration of the book, and the life of the writer. There are cultural and literary events all over the city, with particular attention on the locations around the city mentioned in the book. Devotees dress up in Edwardian outfits, and everyone has a jolly good time. I enjoy the festivities.
Yesterday I decided to mark the event by attending the Bewley’s Café Afternoon Theatre to see ‘Little Cloud’ – an adaptation of the short story ‘Little Cloud’ which had originally appeared in Joyce’s 1914 collection ‘Dubliners’. Adapted for the stage by Patricia Browne, directed by Vincent Patrick and produced by Judder Theatre, it tells the tale of office worker Tommy Chandler (played by Stephen Kelly) who is meeting his old college friend Ignatius Gallagher (Vincent Patrick) for drinks in the Shelbourne Hotel. Tommy is a dreamer and had great dreams of becoming a writer. Meanwhile it is Ignatius who has achieved literary success in London and New York with his celebrity interviews.
*UPDATE* June 1st 2022 – the following post is from 2018. Last year for Pride, some male managers dressed up in drag – remotely. I shudder to think what this year will bring.
The rainbow flag fluttered proudly in the breeze as I approached the office. I entered the building. Someone had been busy overnight. The lobby was festooned with rainbow flags and balloons. Gay Pride had reached the Wastelands and my office was celebrating.
Over the weekend I travelled to the West of Ireland for a cabaret show. On Friday afternoon I took the tram out to the Red Cow. The Red Cow is on the outskirts of Dublin and marks the point where country people know they have arrived in the Big Smoke. I was being collected there from where we would drive to our ultimate destination – Galway city. The tram journey was surreal – firstly a very polite sixteen year old offered me his seat. I know that my hair is white, but surely I retain some semblance of youthful effervescence, remaining as I am, in my forties. A few stops further a woman boarded with nine children. All were hers it would appear. Some of the older children were carrying cooked chickens in brown paper bags. The chicken grease leaked all over the floor. I offered her a plastic Marks and Spencer bag which she gratefully accepted. When the ticket inspectors boarded the tram, it was discovered that none of the party of ten had a valid ticket. I have no idea what happened, as the next stop was the Red Cow where I disembarked.
We weren’t travelling to Galway that night. We were spending it in the midlands just outside Athlone – a town on the River Shannon that I had heretofore never visited. We had a drink in Sean’s Bar overlooking the river. This is one of the many bars in the land that claims to be the nation’s oldest. I was impressed by the sight of Linda Gray and Larry Hagman (Sue-Ellen and JR Ewing) in a photograph taken of them sometime in the 1980s, standing outside the bar. We each gave our impression of a drunken Sue-Ellen. Our AirBnB was located on the Roscommon side of the town, and was a very lovely old farmer’s cottage. The following morning I opened my curtains to the sight of a grey horse who had wandered into the garden overnight. The cottage owner knew who owned the beast so we bid farewell to our breakfast companion when his owner collected him.
As the years go by, realisation is dawning on me that Spain is one of my favourite countries in the world to visit. From the buzz of Madrid to the barrios of Barcelona; to the beauty of Granada; the seaside of Malaga and the Yumbo Centre of Maspalomas, it is a country of vast variety and culture; incredible food and scenery and with lovely people. And it’s hot. The proviso I would apply to my love of Spain is that I cannot visit between the months of June to September, not being built to tolerate such intense heat. Last weekend for the 6th time in three years I boarded a plane for Espana. My destination was the Spanish Atlantic – the cities of San Sebastian and Bilbao in the Basque Country – a region located in the western Pyrenees, straddling the border between France and Spain on the coast of the Bay of Biscay. Euskal Herria is the Basque name for the area.
It’s an area I have long known about, but never visited. Upon moving to Amsterdam in the year 2000 I was friends with a woman from the area who described a region of enormous beauty. Aer Lingus offers direct flight to the area’s capital Bilbao. The time to visit was finally here.