Thursday, 28 April 2016


When I moved to Belfast from London, I knew exactly nobody here.

Actually that isn’t entirely true: as I visited Belfast for the odd house-hunting weekend, a few lovely people came my way - care of happy serendipity - and quickly progressed from passing acquaintances to firm friends, by the time my feet and things were no longer “in transit.”

It’s true I didn’t know exactly what I was going to, when I accepted a role in a city I did not know, but my reasons for leaving London couldn’t have been clearer: I’d reached a point, in the back end of my thirties, where I’d grown tired of it. My social life was unsatisfying and dwindling and I couldn’t think of enough reasons to live so recklessly beyond my means just to cover a mortgage. Friends were moving out or moving on, having kids, getting married or travelling such odysseys each week to get to work, they were flat-out exhausted (and far away) by the weekend. And, although it was hard to acknowledge at the time, my job was also making me unhappy and, it turns out, more importantly, making me sick. It was time to ring in the changes (as if change itself wasn’t actually life’s raison d’etre).

It was a new job that bought me to Belfast initially - a 2 year contract with a big London company – it wasn’t a step up or a step down but a sideways move which felt like a step in the right direction. When I found out I got the job, the first person I called was not family or a close friend but a man named Colin, who was a Northern Irish acquaintance I’d made a year before. As it happened, he’d just landed a job which was taking him to Buenos Aires so I wasn’t the only one with travel on my mind. I called him up and said “Guess where I’m going?” and shouted “Belfast!” because I was too excited to let him work it out for himself. I’ve never forgotten his exact response. Even before a “well done” or “that’s good news” he said “You will find home there.” In those words. I remember glowing with pleasure as he said it.

The next few months went by at a giddy pace. I felt as if I’d been given my own personal Get Out Of Jail Free card and nothing could touch me. I was no longer bothered by the push of commuters at rush hour or the constant snarl of traffic outside my window. Not even my former boss who, on hearing my news, told me he wasn’t going to renew my contract anyway could bring me down. When the last thing he said to me on the matter, before settling into a cold shoulder routine (which lasted the rest of my employment term), was a petulant “But you don’t even know anybody in Belfast!” I thought: but I will.

So there I was, one massively ordinary weekday in the middle of August 2009, checking in at the airport with my hand luggage (two sizes too big) and a suitcase (two sizes too small). “I am moving to another country today” I huffed by way of an explanation at The Check-In Man as I struggled to heave the burgeoning fabric case onto the check-in belt.  The Check In Man smiled and wished me luck - and waivered the fee my overweight bag demanded for good measure. I took it all as A Sign.

Now, you’d think for someone who was well-versed in writing a blog, I might’ve written about my move by now. I’ve been here seven years this summer, after all. Surely I have something to say about the country I have found myself in? About the little idiosyncrasies that make here, here vs there, there? About the little eateries I’ve discovered? The bars I’ve drunk in (and got drunk in)? The people I’ve met? The hideaways I’ve unhidden? The understandings I’ve hilariously misconstrued? The friends I’ve formed? The life I’ve built? But I didn’t. And I haven’t. I can’t say for sure why. I think because I’ve been too busy…experiencing it.

I don’t expect Northern Ireland is everybody’s cup of tea…and it's not for me to change anybody's mind. But my experience has been a blind date turned full-blown affair.  I fell in love with my tiny arts-and-crafts, turn-of-the-century house in the middle of the city with its pretty pitched roof, stained glass and Victorian tiled path. I fell in love with the soft rain and the eye-contact and the unexpected friendliness of strangers and neighbours, on buses and over partition fences. I fell in love with the countryside and the way the weather and light whips and changes in the blink of an eye. I fell in love with the warmth and innate wryness of those who live here and have lived. And survived. And thrive against some extraordinary odds. And when I fell in love literally, it was this life I wanted him to see and share. And together we fell in love with a rural existence, and for a ramshackle cottage near the sea. And we made a home and gave that home to a cat and then another cat and then a dog and then one more.

Life isn’t perfect here (Is it anywhere?), the ups and down continue apace: the weather is reliably unreliable; the politicians reliably regressive; friends come - and, sadly, friends go; my Crohns flares up and it abates; work is satisfying and unsatisfying; and for reasons, I still can’t fathom, it’s too damn hard to find a crusty loaf of bread or an honest-to-goodness gastro pub.  But the countryside makes my heart sing, the mountains make my soul soar and the beaches so expansive, so glistening, so…empty...unfurl my shoulders. I can breathe.

There was a time I couldn’t breathe. Not without a paper bag and counting to ten.

I never did get the chance to tell Colin he was right.

I guess this is my postcard, long in the making, to those who once read this blog. It doesn’t say Wish You Were Here. Instead it says: I Hope You Find Your Own Here To Wish Upon, Wherever That Here May Be.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

It was the Eighties. Which is irrelevant. And I'd just ordered a burger and fries from that once popular burger franchise, you know, the one? The one that became Betamax to Mickey D's downloading capabilities.

Anyhow, I took my tray of bun-related, skinny-fried joy to the seating area upstairs, passing the little white mouse as I went...

The little white what-now?

I head back to the counter, careful not to step on the wee critter in the process and wait patiently for eye-contact, my fries quietly congealing in their damp paper sleeve. The put-upon man at the tills is used to one-way traffic. He has the look of a man haunted by the flotsam of directionless teens and John Waters movies and right now he is doing everything in his power not to catch my eye.

Me: Excuse me (I shout over the din) EXCUSE ME!

He reluctantly looks over, waiting for whatever fresh hell I'm about to lay at his door. He is ancient. At least a decade older than me, the majority of his customers and all of his staff. Even to my 17 year-old self, he strikes me as A Manager Who Probably Doesn't Manage All That Well.

"I saw a mouse"


"There! On the stair!"

"Where on the stairs?"

"RIGHT....THERE!" I point.

It takes a moment for the penny to drop. I can't keep a straight-face. He watches blankly as I giggle like a loon.

"It wasn't wearing clogs. to be fair" I spurt out.

I bet he really hated teens.

Friday, 28 September 2012


She’s got the cut-glass features of a classic Eastern European femme fatale and, currently, she’s looking at me, from across the bar, with all warmth of a high security prison guard.

“I’m sorry, but that room has already had breakfast”

"Err, no, I haven't"

Her manner is matter-of-fact, she's The Bored Bouncer, as if hotel guests ARE ALWAYS trying to con second breakfasts. The withering disdain seems a bit much, I think. 

To be honest, up until the minute I walked into that breakfast room, I'd taken for granted I was indeed the guest in Room 91 - it's the same room I'd stayed in the week before - but now I was being challenged, it threw me a little.

She repeats herself, because repeating her position will clear the issue up. 

“Room 91 has had breakfast” Her belief so unshaken to contrary evidence,  I wonder if she’s a Creationist.

I'mm in Room 91!” I whine the whine of the unjusted. “And I can assure you I haven’t had breakfast yet!”

She is not having it and, the point is, neither am I. I’m annoyed and I am hungry and I cannot resist challenging this Escher styled logic.

I try another tact:

“Okay, have you seen me before?” she hesitates. Got her.

I imagine my next move might be to invite Her Bloody-Minded Highness to my room...

"See? I can get in!" as I open the door.

"See? ONE toothbrush?" as I show her the bathroom.

"See? A boyfriend I can dial up on Facetime who is a living eye-witness to it just being me and the flocked wallpaper and those weird little disco lights in the bathroom that are meant to affect your mood (which, in fact,  they kind of do, because whatever I am thinking or feeling, their incessant flickering makes me think of Donna Summer and waltzers and screaming-if you-want-to-go-faster and who the hell thought of putting flashing coloured lights in a toilet?)"

I’m about to implement my unconventional plan when I spot my name by the room number

“That’s my name!” I'm indignant now. “Why would I want a second breakfast? I’m not a bloody hobbit!” At which point another waitress leans in. She smiles and informs The Ice Maiden that it's a mistake before disappearing to serve coffee elsewhere. 

The Woman Who Wanted To Say No is foiled. At least this time. Curses. She doesn’t apologise, her mouth as tight as the apron wound 'round her tiny waist.

“Sowhatdoyouwant?” she asks impatiently.

I note she doesn’t offer me a menu. “Can I just have a cooked breakfast, but no eggs?”

“What can you mean by that? Is it meant to be a full Irish breakfast?” 

She really is an arse.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

hearing things

“Nothing yet?” he enquired.

And that’s when I knew I was in trouble. The “he” in question was an audiologist and I was his patient, sitting in a heavily-lined bunker, cushioned from sound, much like (it turns out) my ears.

“I’m afraid your hearing loss IS moderate and that IS significant” breaks the casually brusque Doogie Howser with a preference for upsizing his ISes. I am busy guessing our age difference as he points at the damning evidence before me. There it is, a downward-sloping graph, which he is helpfully deciphering with all the jolly detachedness of an Akela reading a map. (I’m guessing sixteen years.) But this is no map, it IS the inner life of my ears. And they are f*cked.

Wow, I thought, I could be his mother.

“I think you should consider a hearing aid at this stage and do everything you can to avoid further exposure to loud noise”

“Define loud…”

He smiles “Been to a lot of gigs, have we?”

“Yes, Father, for I have”

No nonsense, he talks on: anomalies..blah…in my results…blah blah….indicating loss…blah..might be not be environmental..possibly hereditary…blah…recommending an MRI scan…

Ironically, I was only half-listening because my inner Edinburgh monologue had kicked in:  “A hearing aid? A Hear-ing? AID??  But that’s only a short skip to mechanical hearts! Next stop: walk-in baths! Free bus passes! Whay-hey! I was always advanced for my age!” 

I was sent back outside to wait for my fitting. And whilst I sat on the plastic chair, balancing my belongings, I reeled. I sat and I reeled because that day, I had gone in for a check-up and was leaving with an actual disability. Like the man who walked down a mountain and came up a...creek of shit.

“Look on the bright side, you’d qualify for the Paralympics”

My boyfriend, a man with a profoundly-deaf sister and a practical way of seeing things…

But its not like I suddenly discovered last Wednesday my hearing was a bit..faulty. For years I thought I wasn’t concentrating enough or was being a bit dim - really. That’s the thing about gradual deterioration. It’s deterioration. And it’s gradual. Whether it's your hearing or your eyesight, you compensate for the loss, and keep compensating and then before you know it, you’re doing a Helen Keller with the household furnishings.

I have a friend of mine whose Blackberry typeface setting is so big it can be seen from space. She’ll squint at wine bottles, menus, shaggy dog stories - but her glasses remain in the case. She has a clear view of her place in the world, so what if it's a little hazy?

I don’t know when my hearing started to diminish. I know I missed the odd word, then the odd sentence, then I realized I was listening really, really hard in any situation that involved atmospheric noise, or music, or more than one person. I’d rewind TV shows because throwaway lines were lobbed right out of the ballpark. I didn't hear my phone ring so often, it became a running joke amongst friends. Ah, my friends! This news has been a bit of a eureka! moment for them:

“So, I’ve got something to tell you. I’ve met a divorced unicorn and we’re moving in together…”

Me: (blank face) “I’m thinking of having the spaghetti, what about you?”

Under certain circumstance, trying to catch the conversation is akin to trying to roll a jelly trifle across a cattle-grid. It’s simply not going to get there in one piece.The pub chats I’ve missed; the tiny panic during a “mumbled” shopping transaction; the inability to understand A. Single. Word train station announcers say…oh wait, that’s everyone.

My soundscape has been unavoidably retracting, the dull, sometimes shrill, thrum of tinnitus taking its place. This summer, in Italy, I couldn’t hear the crickets chirrup. I don’t always hear birdsong. I can’t remember the last time the lazy hum of a bumble bee registered in my head. My heart breaks a little bit. It feels like part of reality is loosening from my grasp. I’m DiCaprio, slipping from the floating wood, sinking…

My childhood jumps out at me via albums: Drama (Yes); Two Days Away (Elkie Brooks); Elton John and his Yellowbrick Road; Rod Stewart with Atlantic Crossing; The Police, The Stones, The Who, everything by The Beatles ever; Sweet Charity and West Side Story; Modern Lovers and Kate Bush. I was chained to the stereo, I worshipped at her altar as my nimble hands reverentially slid crisp paper sleeves from cardboard jackets. That exquisite pleasure from feeling the weight of the needle balanced upon my finger, the sheer thrill of being completely absorbed.

By Christmas 1981 I had my first Sony Walkman. Life finally had its own score. I was hooked - and I cranked it up to eleven.

The technology attached to my ears has changed: cassettes became CDs became mini-disks became MP3 players...but the isolated joy has always been the same. Pure and unadulterated.

I don’t know how to end this post. I don’t know how this story will end. I hope to preserve the rest of my hearing. If I’m DiCaprio, I want to be saved by the Carpathia, accept losing a foot to frostbite, maybe, put daft Rose behind me as the holiday romance she clearly was. I don’t want to disappear from this beautiful, audibly-nuanced world.

I continue to listen to music – but I keep an eye on the volume and I carry earplugs (just in case). But mostly, I’m no longer ashamed of not “keeping up” with what’s being said – there’s a reason, and it’s been a blessed relief to finally admit it.

Friday, 11 May 2012

"Are you Sarah Connor?"

The first time I knew Something Was Up was right before my move to Belfast.

It was a time of great excitement, a time of dreaming, a time of swotting up on the locale via Google maps, a time of…damn, what is WRONG with my computer? WHY is it sooooooo SLOOOOW…?

The rainbow of doom had been spinning lazily across my screen with alarming regularity for weeks. For a while, the gaily-coloured beach ball companionably bounced me out of one program. And then another.  And then it upped the ante and began cartwheeling across everything. Things got heavy between us when it started to crash.

And then it all went dark.

I don’t remember much after that but my hard-drive was gone, along with my photos, my questionable movie collection, my short stories, my unused blog posts and the countless invitations I’d ignored from the last chance back-up saloon.

I’d had my G4 Power-book for years. It was a tank of a Mac and I’d loved it. It was sturdy and hardwearing, and satisfyingly retro-heavy. It was deserving of a happy montage highlighting all the places we’d been together: high-fiving in parks, laughing on street corners. It was as loyal as a golden retriever pup and I wasn’t willing to let it go. So there I was, sitting in geek pre-op waiting on a couple of bearded, up-talking Macperts who were about to give it a full frontal lobotomy.

I shed a discreet tear but I went through with the unholy procedure anyway.

Like all things bought back from the dead, the replacement hard-drive was… well, it was not the same. Changed beyond all recognition underneath its familiar metal skin, my computer had been violated. The Krays had gone in and moved all the furniture around, it no longer responded to me. What a fool I had been!

I didn’t have my zombied laptop for long before I unceremoniously dropped it on the floor. Killing it for a second and final time, in a domestic collision between my big toe and the corner of a rolled-up-carpet, it landed with a sickening thunk. I knew, this time, it was over.

They call me Elecno
At the Regent Street Apple shop, I bought a spanking new MacBook Pro. It was glossy and sleek and light as a feather. I was taking it out of its box just as I was putting the rest of my life into one. I didn’t have time to try her out properly (yeah, her) but I was pretty sure We’d Get Along Fine. But my new Macbook was faulty out of the box - the very box I’d just packed up, along with the receipt, and carted off to a storage facility ahead of the move.

And that was the start of it, what happened next is how I got my nickname: Elecno. For I, and I don’t like to be immodest here, have a super power and by a super power, I mean, a really crap power: I can make electronic goods go wrong…by sheer dint of using them. 

The next indicator Something Was Up was when the company I was working for in ordered an office laptop for me. It was the size of a small dining room table, weighed more than a short man and was made by Dell. It was almost-new. And it almost-worked. It was eventually repaired enough times to warrant them giving up and replacing it with something new-new. Dell Replacement No 2 (same make, same ridiculously cumbersome build) was just that. I dragged it two hours down the road to Dublin before I realised the screen was dead. It was taken back to the company’s HQ to be sorted out by a mystified IT – the wires to the screen had magically become loose. When it happened a second time, they decided to replace it with another...

About this time, the Blackberry I’d had for nine months also died in my hand. The screen went blank and that was the end of that. Insured by Orange, the replacement phone swiftly arrived but, being reconditioned, within the space of a week, performed the same dying swan song as the first. I complained bitterly and was sent a brand new phone.

Blackberry No 3 lasted SEVERAL weeks before I dropped it in the washing up bowl.

Look, this, and that other (carpet-related) incident, are the only times in this tale of woe where I hold my hand up, and toe, and say, “Yes! THAT was MY BAD!” I’ll tell you what else was my mistake: thinking a pack of rice and a Tupperware dish were ever going to make it any better...

Orange immediately resorted to a reconditioned replacement, replacement phone. Not that I had time to think about that, I had Dell Replacement No 3 to deal with – this one had a keyboard with keys only loosely attached to the board. Still, at least it had a screen that worked even if I did keep dropping my H’s. (And T’s and D’s).

Blackberry Replacement Phone Number Four didn’t work out of the box. It was so obviously faulty, I followed the Orange delivery man down the office stairs demanding he replace it then and there. He didn’t. Blackberry No 5 arrived two days later via the same (now sheepish) courier. It lasted not much longer thanks to its inability to take calls or email on a daily basis. It was at this stage that a wise Orange employee kindly released me from my two year contract and suggested I find another phone – and also another phone company.

Dell Replacement No 4 didn’t like Word documents. Or PDFs. Leading to Dell Replacement No 5 which worked, if very slowly.

IT began avoiding my calls.

I moved on from Orange to O2 and the iPhone. A year in and things are going okay (touches wood). Mostly I keep my phone in a rubber cover and there’s a plastic screen protector too. I try not to touch it with my bare hands. I’m sporting Marigolds as a fashion statement. 

Dell Replacement No 5 was handed into my old company when I left the job – and not thrown out of a high, hotel window, as often fantasied.

Macbook Pro No2 has just had its hard-drive replaced. (Just two years in.) The upgraded hard-drive continues to spawn issues. As I type, I am just back from my fourth trip to the Genius bar in two months. I think I deserve an honorary blue geek tee for keeping them in business - but my requests remain unanswered.

Like I said, as superpowers go, I won’t be recruited to The Avengers anytime soon but maybe I have my role to play? Maybe people like me are the Sarah Connors of the future? Waiting in the wings as humanity’s secret weapon against our robotic overlords?  

Until then, I’m buying a bonnet and a buggy and joining the Amish. If you need me, I’ll be in a field somewhere. Ask for Elecno.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

no jacket required

“I was wondering if you would go shopping with me?” ventures my boyfriend addressing the itch I couldn’t scratch that is his wardrobe.

By wardrobe, I don’t mean furniture but the disparate collection of unlikely clothing he seems to have acquired over his adult years. I ponder on how many of them just showed up on his doorstep, a little worn, looking for a warm box to sleep in and some love. On the plus side (a) they all fit (b) they often have some obvious previous function, like being waterproof, or warm or both and (c) they stop him from getting arrested for indecent exposure, so that’s something.

Interestingly, his attire’s general appallingness is directly proportional to how wonderful he is. He might be one of the world’s worst dressed men but he is also one of the world's best men. Yes, he wears his Blackberry in a holster ALL THE TIME but he has the heart of a lion (and is easy to get hold of); he is as sharp as a Hawkins; as emotionally astute as a Phil Collins power ballad and as sincere and fresh as a breath of sea air. He is the rose to my thorn and the sun to my mooning about, so what if he looks like he’s got dressed in a dark room for the last twenty years? A dark room somewhere in rural Russia?

“Of course I will go shopping with you” I reply evenly, still eyeing up the holster, my nemesis.

“Good. I’d like to get some new clothes. Tops and stuff” he concludes. Dear reader, he didn’t have to ask twice! Holster, schmolster! I have stonewash jeans and ancient fleeces to flush out. I’m mentally totting up the amount of bags I might be taking to Oxfam…

I grab my coat and he grabs his “And whilst we’re at it”, I nod to his jacket enthusiastically, “We can update that” It’s out of my mouth before I can stop myself. I was going to be gentle, go slow, catch a monkey but…

“What’s wrong with my coat?” he asks genuinely surprised. It’s hard to be tactful here. The coat in question is a light ski jacket in purple and turquoise. Turquoise? Even the name of the colour is dated, like saying oblong or Marathon bar or going to keep fit. It looks like a shell-suit in search of its trousers. There’s a hint of bat sleeve and a touch of mid-80s Iron Curtain about it. It’s so wrong, it was never right.

“I took it to the Czech Republic twenty years ago!” he protests.

I’m actually surprised he didn’t buy it there.

He looks a little crestfallen and I feel bad “Wow, its taken 20 years for anyone to tell me it’s a bit shit.”

“Darling, you’ve been wearing it for twenty years. Time to move on. Let it go…” I touch his smiling face, his Blackberry holster sticks into my hip. I decide to heed my own advice: the holster can wait.

And he is really easy to get hold of…

And with that we walk out the door in search of a new horizon and jeans. Definitely jeans.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

you're not wise

"So the cat can't get in"

Was my response to larger-than-life, landlord-stroke-friend's "Whatsis?" as he pointed to the heavy media tome resting atop my fish-tank.

This reference book, the size of two Rogets, an LOTR compendium and the entire back catalogue of Freemans catalogue pressed together, is an unnecessarily chunky, inevitably out-of-date...brick built by people clearly too Amish to Wiki. I don't know why I have it but right now, its full weight is helpfully bearing down on the lid of my tank. A talisman against marauding recently-adopted rescue cats. Ungainly, yes, but helpful I thought. Nicky (larger-than-life/landlord/friend) doesn't miss a thing - including the leftover blueberry scone I'd squirreled away in the fridge for later, which he is now eating. He's prodding the book disapprovingly.

“The cat? What Tigger/Tiger/The Bear? Watsisface?” he says, referring to my recently acquired feline. Nicky does't quite get domestic pets. To be fair, he is a farmer who rears cows destined for dinner plates. Animals are for outside “For fucks sake, Ness, wise yer head!” He shares the last bit of scone and contemplates Stan and Ollie, the two oddly inquisitive fish in question, as they mouth unspoken ooohs at the glass, not knowing that a weight of information separates them from having food and, possibly, being it.

‘I’ll tellya what” he says in his best ‘I’m just a country boy from County Down accent’ - which sounds A LOT like a Cornish pirate - “If that there wee fella" pointing a crumb-laden finger to the cat, "...manages to JUMP up here, then OPEN the lid on that tank, then PULL OUT that there feeding tray with his tiny, wee claws AND THEN catch those wee fish? You know what? You’ll be wanting to put him on the telly.”

He thinks more on the unlikely scenario. (Nicky's secretly fond of the fish.)

“Hell, if he manages to get those fish, after THAT? I’d cook him some chips myself to go with it but"