Heading off

I find heat difficult to cope with. I’m not even talking about the sunburn factor – just the wamth itself is enough to make me spend my days groaning miserably and fanning myself ineffectually with a magazine. When I was in Nashville a few years ago I had to be rushed from air-conditioned building to air-conditioned car in the fastest possible time, lest I dehydrate and/or collapse, landing in an overheated heap on the melting tarmac, where my body would instantly sizzle and evaporate into the hazy air.

Anyway. With this in mind, I don’t know what possessed me to opt for the south of France as my chosen destination for the month of July.

I’m actually having panic attacks about it, as I sit once again in a sea of unpacked clothes and general disorganisation. Tallinn has been pretty hot, but temperatures have never gone above what I might reasonably be expected to endure in Northern Ireland. It distresses me terribly, therefore, to observe that the temperature upon my arrival in Lyon promises to be 32°C.

There’s only one thing for it, I decided yesterday, as I returned from a mild stroll in even milder temperatures and spent ten minutes gulping down water and pushing sweat-soaked locks of Mad Hair out of my eyes, the Mad Hair has got to go. And so it was that this afternoon I located an English-speaking hairdresser’s salon and marched resolutely towards it. Having less hair on my head is, let’s face it, probably my only hope of survival in 32°C. All intentions of growing it into a chic, sleek bob have been abandoned: this is an emergency situation, and it is time to return to the insane spikey look. It is a matter of life and death.

Alas! I am too late, for the hairdresser had no appointments available today. I leave tomorrow morning, with the hair equivalent of a 15-tog duvet on my head.

Woe is me. Woe.

Come and give me your hand…

Dudes. I fear I’m, like, regressing to my Hippie years.

I really hope I’m not becoming one of those characters who go travelling in a depressing attempt to ‘find’ themselves. I’m not lost. I’m right here, and I know who I am. Maybe it’s more a case of my gradual realisation of how much more there is for me to learn about the world, mixed with my glee and enthusiasm at finally having broken out of my self-imposed boredom.

Whatever the reason, I find myself increasingly filled with a desire to dance when I listen to my current favourite song – New Soul by Yael Naim. Not only is it refreshing to hear a song that doesn’t feel the need to be about love, angst, heartbreak and yearning, but the song’s lilting, joyful melody just bubbles over with excitement and, well… freedom.

I’m a new soul,
I came to this strange world,
Hoping I could learn a bit ’bout how to give and take.
But since I came here, felt the joy and the fear,
Finding myself making every possible mistake…

While not overlooking the potential for mistakes, problems, difficulties and pain, it paints a beautiful picture of life as a journey of discovery and – wait for it – fun!

Fun. Throwing caution to the wind, dancing with wild abandon, digging holes on the beach, hopping on a plane to a strange land, standing in the middle of a cheering crowd at a festival, hanging out with friends, embracing the unexpected, laughing until your tummy hurts, lurching unsteadily on a shuddering tram, delighting in the unusual, travelling light, trying things like wild boar and roasted elk, and watching the sun rise over the sea.

The song’s video captures its spirit, and I’ve watched it over and over again. I never tire of seeing the girl’s fleeting glimpses of the fun and excitement that lurks just outside the walls of her confined space, where she spends so much time trying to paint a true picture of the outside world. I love the moment when she suddenly realises that she can push down the walls, and finds herself out in the open, with the world at her feet. The pause in the music as she gazes around in awe is followed by smiling, exuberant dancing, clapping, splashing, singing, laughing and pure joy as she celebrates her freedom.

Erm. Don’t know where all that came from. I could’ve just said, “Here, watch this video, it’s class!” and left it at that, but that wouldn’t really be me, now, would it?

In which I dig a hole for myself

I’m not normally one for posting photos of myself on my blog. There are enough Genuinely Frightening photographs of me on various social networking sites to scare anyone for life, and I generally try to compensate by not adding any more. This, however, has to be seen for my foolishness to be believed.

The cheesy handwave isn’t meant to be cheesy; it’s actually there for contrast, i.e. normal skin colour vs. current facial skin colour. The really disturbing thing about it is that this roasting happened only a couple of days after my blog post about my previous painful experiences with the sun.


Anyway, yesterday I took the advice of Foreigner and went on a little daytrip to Pärnu – Estonia’s “Summer City”. It is, as she suggested, a beautiful place, and I was particularly taken with the beach. Warm, white sand, sparklingly clear water, beach cafés and bars, volleyball nets, playground games, music… it was an ideal place to relax after, erm, a couple of days of work (you have to ease yourself back into these things). I lay on the sand for a few hours, just appreciating life, feeling the warmth of the sunlight on my face, and trailing my fingers lazily through the fine sand.

I was woken from my half-doze by a little boy who had been playing nearby. He said something to me, and I shook my head. Ma ei räägi eesti keelt. He repeated his babbling, and I shrugged helplessly, prompting him to look at his babysitter, a girl of around my age, in some confusion. She spoke to him at length, evidently explaining our language barrier in greater detail than my five words would allow. He did not appear to understand, and continued to attempt to communicate with me. Eventually I realised that I had absent-mindedly been digging a small hole in the sand as I trailed my fingers through it. Small Boy was interested in my project, and suddenly arrived at my side with two plastic spades, one of which he offered to me.

Erm… aitäh! I said as I accepted it in some amusement, watching as he began to dig in quite a purposeful manner. He kept looking at me and babbling quite sternly, so I meekly obeyed and joined him in some serious digging. Small Boy communicated with me in short phrases and hand gestures, having apparently concluded that my lack of speech meant that I was some sort of slightly stupid overgrown child.

Before long, we had a very deep Hole In The Sand, which we surveyed with satisfaction. Small Boy was saying something about which he was clearly quite excited, but I could not understand him. Frustrated, he turned to his babysitter, who was grinning. Ah, yes… she said to me, in halting English, he asks if you do not mind to be… ah… She, too, began the odd hand gestures, apparently having difficulty finding the right word. I watched helplessly as the pair of them mimed something utterly ridiculous, until eventually the babysitter indicated the Hole In The Sand and added …to be under it?

Excellent. Small Boy wanted to bury me on the beach. It was like one of my worst nightmares coming true, and I was powerless to stop it for fear of making him cry or something. Helplessly, I got into the Hole In The Sand, and Small Boy began to shovel sand around me in delight. The Babysitter looked increasingly overcome with mirth, and did nothing to change what was happening to me at the hands of her charge.

I had to stay in the hole for at least 15 minutes before he got bored and dug me out. I’ll probably have nightmares about it for many years to come.

La vie for me

How do you get from Lyon to Brussels for less than fifty quid?

It’s not a joke, it’s just a question I’ve been pondering today as I practise my window-sunbathing once more and plan the next few months of my nomadic existence. I think I’ve got the hang of it, mes amis, and life now seems like a positive, enjoyable thing, rather than a dull, day-to-day survival quest. I simply was not cut out to stay in one place for very long. And now I’ve discovered that I don’t need a huge savings account to just take off and drift around the world – and the freedom of this lifestyle suits me right down to my battered walking shoes.

Next week I leave for France, le pays de mes rêves, and I could not be more excited. I’m travelling to Riga (Latvia) by bus, then catching a flight to Berlin. The next day, I fly to Lyon, where I’ll meet my new flatmate – a friendly computer programmer who’s letting me rent his spare room for a month. I suppose it’s a little odd that I seem to be flitting from country to country, staying with computer programmers, but I expect there’s a reason for everything.

The plan, as you know, was to settle in France for a while, but that was before I started panicking about the cost of rent and discovered the rather brilliant alternative: housesitting. It is fantastic! You register as a housesitter, and people who are going away for a few weeks or months can ask you to go and live at their house. In exchange for rent-free accomodation in beautiful, foreign surroundings, and the opportunity to live in a different country for a while, you agree to look after their house and their pets while they’re away. Perfect!

So, that’s the New Plan. No more desperately searching for “cheap” rentals in specific locations. No, I shall chase housesitting assignments instead – all I have to pay for is a plane ticket (or a train ticket, if they’re close enough together). My first stint is in Belgium, in a lovely house near a small village, where I’ll be taking care of a dog and a parrot. The owners are picking me up when I arrive in Brussels, and introducing me to some of their friends at BBQ… hooray! New country, new friends, and a summer evening BBQ. It’s all falling into place.

Might as well hop on across the border when I’m in the area, and go to Anne Frank’s house (I’ve wanted to see that since I first read her diary and approached my mother, confused, asking why the book ‘just stopped’. I cried for a long time when she explained). So, the next stop, post-August, will hopefully be Amsterdam if I can hunt down a housesitting job there in time.  Plus, I’ve hear that the cafés there serve interesting brownies – and I’m all for sampling foreign cuisine. :)

Go on, go on, go on…

Following my Father Jack reference in yesterday’s post, I’ve been asked by a confused Non-Irish to explain what I meant. I could just tell you to watch this short clip…

…but it probably still wouldn’t make an awful lot of sense, right? And so it falls to me to represent my people and tell the rest of the world about Father Ted. I can’t really explain why it’s funny, but it is. Three priests living on a remote island: Father Dougal (simple-minded and completely incapable), Father Jack (retired – an alcoholic who rarely says more than Feck! Girls! Drink!) and Father Ted (doomed to live on the island with the other two thanks to some dubious financial incidents in his past). Their housekeeper, Mrs. Doyle, loves tea and wants everbody else to love tea, too.

That’s about it really.

The show was a a clever mix of silly plots, repeated catchphrases and likeable characters, and I don’t know anyone who didn’t love it. I’ve spent many happy evenings watching back-to-back episodes with friends. And while I can’t exactly do that with you, dear readers, I can share some favourite moments with you via the magical medium that is t’internet.

I particularly like this scene, where Mrs. Doyle (famed for her go on, go on, go on… ye will, ye will, ye will insistence that people have ‘a wee cup of tea’) tries to persuade Ted to try some cake.

Who could forget the priests’ infamous attempt to write a song for Eurovision? Another classic clip!

This one, however, is probably my ultimate favourite. Father Jack has sadly passed away due to a mix-up between his brandy and a bottle of floor polish, and – who would’ve believed it? – it turns out that he had a lot of money stashed away, which he has left to Ted and Dougal. There’s a catch, of course. Jack had a terrible fear of being buried alive, so if the other two want the money, they’re going to have to spend the night by Jack’s coffin. Erk. They do it – and in my favourite ever Father Ted moment, Ted gives a beautiful reading from James Joyce’s The Dead

I’ve a horrible feeling that I may have lost some of my readers now. The Irish sense of humour is like no other. However, I am taking some confidence from the fact that I made Dirk watch the show once, and I think he got it… although it was difficult to tell if he was just laughing in a frightened “I really don’t understand you people” kind of way.

So what do you think? Father Ted: Love it or hate it?

What a difference a day makes.

Would it cheer up all you grumbling Ballymenites who moaned about the Irish weather following my previous post (“That’s one way to alienate your readers,” commented Riho, “write posts complaining about sunburn when they’re all stuck in the rain.”) if I told you that we’re all in the same (waterlogged) boat now?

Yes, today it rained. I worked at the same window, but was warmed only by yesterday’s glowing sunburn. Which, incidentally, wasn’t too bad until I forgot about it when I was vigorously drying my back after my morning shower. Again, ouch. Anyway, I worked, it rained. I finished work, it rained.

That scuppered the plans to go out and see the Victory Day/St. John’s Day party and bonfire, which made me sad because I’d heard they like to jump over the bonfire and burn witches and all sorts of fun stuff like that. However, this is Tallinn, and there’s always something entertaining going on. Sometimes right outside your window.

Like this old boy, for example.

He was either (a) an alien, confused and disorientated, just landed from a far-off planet from which he was  sent to gather data about the mysterious human race (like Mork, for example. Or John Lithgow when he was in Third Rock from the Sun), or (b) very, very drunk. Bemused, I watched as he stared at his feet for a while, raindrops pelting down on him and bouncing off his sodden clothes. I look at that picture and the only word that comes to mind is drookit.

It was unclear to me why he took off his coat and hung it on a light. To be honest, I was a little distracted by the fact that he then approached the round plastic thing at the end of a drainpipe (I don’t think I’ve ever had occasion to refer to one of those before, and I find myself at a loss for an appropriate noun), contemplated it for a long moment, stooped down, removed it, and then drank all the rainwater from it!!! By the time I came to my senses and grabbed a camera he had reverted to the original Father Jack-esque Are those MY feet? stance, so I’m afraid you’re just going to have to take my word for it.

Suitably refreshed and impossibly drookit, he walked very slowly and deliberately out of sight, possibly to purchase a new coat and/or call Orson.

Never a dull moment.

Burn, baby, burn.

I’ve just realised that I’ve managed to get my back and shoulders spectacularly sunburnt.

Please dismiss any images of lounging around soaking up the rays on a beach that that sentence might conjure up, for they would be wildly inaccurate. I’ve been working very hard today. On a Sunday, for shame. Tsk.

Of course, ‘work’ no longer means ‘sitting at a desk in a darkened room with no window for eight hours a day’. Thanks to the marvels of freelance writing, I can work where and when I choose to, which, it goes without saying, drastically transforms my attitude to it. I love my job!

Brief pause as I reflect upon exactly how many years I’ve spent longing to say that with a straight face.

And so it is that I got out of bed when I felt like it, made a nice big pot of coffee, and settled myself at the floor-to-ceiling windows of the appartment to tackle my work in the warmth of the sunlight. Feeling slightly like I was on show in a greenhouse, I threw the window wide open and enjoyed the cool breeze as I typed. As a result, a casual glance in the mirror when I stopped for lunch revealed, to my dismay, some upsettingly red portions of skin. That’s going to hurt.

I am no stranger to sunburn, being a girl of Very Little Brain who consistently fails to learn from some of life’s more painful lessons. Forever etched upon my mind is the fateful family holiday in Tenerife, where I spent at least one day (probably more – it’s all a bit blurry) in bed because of a severe case of sunstroke. It improved my Spanish slightly, as I could only move enough to switch on the TV, so I spent my time groaning feverishly and watching dubbed episodes of The X Files and Friends.

Fastforward to a few summers later, when I took a break from my A Level revision to have lunch in the back garden. Naturally, I fell asleep on the sun lounger, and with no one there to wake me up I found myself sitting some of my exams in a considerable amount of sunburnt pain. Putting on school socks over red-raw skin is not a pleasant task.

Yet still I did not learn. A camping trip to Tollymore Forest Park with a group of friends a few years ago saw me lying blissfully in the sun, uttering phrases like “Ahhh… this is the life!” before predictably falling asleep. That was dire – so badly burnt was I that I needed assistance to get up from my inflatable mattress the next morning. Poor Lollibelle had to half-carry me to the showers, where she threw me in and waited anxiously outside as I stood, swaying dangerously and propped up against the wall, underneath a lifesaving stream of cold water.

Still. Getting sunburnt whilst sitting at my ‘desk’ is such a novelty that I don’t think I can bring myself to complain.

This is the life!