“But I wore the juice!”

I got you something to fix your brain, said Riho, a genuinely helpful and sincere expression on his face.

Unaware that my brain was in fact broken, I accepted his gift with some surprise. It was a book of puzzles intended to develop logical thinking, and he presented it to me with a pleased smile, telling me it’s like exercise for the brain. Lesser people would almost certainly take offence at this sort of thing, you know.

So, apparently I am not prone to regular bouts of logic, and this has been on Riho’s much too active mind in my absence. I can imagine his distress as he pondered the problem, and his relief when (in a fittingly logical manner) he found a solution. Just start at the beginning of the book, he told me encouragingly, and as you get the hang of it, and they get more and more difficult, you will train your brain to actually use logic!

Good grief.

Not one to be ungrateful for a present, I settled down to attempt the puzzles. What a nightmare. I think that when they were handing out logic I probably got lost on the way to claim mine, being unable to follow my map. The book is full of those puzzles with grids, where you’re given a handful of clues like the oblong box was made two days before the yellow box, which was not circular or decorated with glitter, and some time after the square orange box which was decorated with either sequins or stars, and you have to work out all the information about each item through a series of wild guesses by employing logical thinking.

Poor Riho. I could see his face crumpling as he realised that the situation (or my brain) was much, much worse than he first suspected. He let me wrestle hopelessly with the first (i.e. “easiest”) puzzle for as long as he could endure the wailing and groaning and hitting things as I exclaimed This is Just Not Possible! in an increasingly high-pitched voice. To his credit, he remained calm, taking the book and pen from my clenched fists and attempting to talk me through it. Three hours and several arguments later, the first puzzle was complete, I had a pounding headache, and Riho looked bewildered and decidedly disturbed.

Is it just me? Does this “logical thinking” stuff come naturally to most people? Are other people more resistant to being wound up than I am because this unknown thing called logic steps in and tells them “you know what, think about this – can it really be true?”?

At one point in my life, I believed that chicken fillets came from pigeons. Now, to be fair, I was very young at the time and, having just discovered that meat came from birds and animals, had gotten into the habit of asking “and what animal does this come from?” as I ate my dinner. Having dutifully answered my sausage, bacon and minced beef queries on successive evenings, Dad seemed to have run out of patience by the time I tucked into my chicken dinner. He looked seriously at me, perhaps exasperated at my lack of basic logic even as an infant, and said “pigeon”. My horror earned him a stern glare from Mum, and he hastily assured me that he was joking, trying to explain why it should have been obvious to me that chicken did not come from pigeon, but the damage was done. I was incredibly suspicious of chicken for quite some time.

You think I’m joking, don’t you? You haven’t even heard any of my driving lesson stories. Consider the following exchange between myself and my unfortunate driving instructor friend, which occurred when practising in an unfamiliar area shortly before I attempted my test for the third time:

Him: Take the next right.
Me: How?!
Him: What do you mean, “how”?! Turn right!
Me: But there’s too many lanes!! Which one am I meant to be in?
Him: To turn right?! This has been the longest 6 months of my life.
Me: Shut up, shut up, shut up, where am I going, help me!!!!
Him: Get into the right-hand lane. I mean, honestly. There is no hope. We might as well just buy you a bus pass and – WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!!!!!!!
Me: (scared by sudden yell) Turning right! You told me to turn right!
Him: (diving over and grabbing steering wheel in panic) Not on to the bloody railway track!!!
Me: (also panicking) I wasn’t going on to the railway track, I was turning on to that road, there!
Him: Oh, the one marked “No entry – one way”?
Me: Err… yes.
I shall persevere with my puzzles, but I don’t feel as if there’s much hope.

Traveller’s Rest

It’s good to be back in Tallinn.

The absence of blog posts this week is an indication of how exhausted I’ve been – finally being able to lie down in a comfortable bed, cook healthy meals in a familiar kitchen, and lounge around in pyjamas all day reading and chatting and sleeping has been a real luxury. It’s also caused my body to groan “Finally!” and give up. Little things like blogging, working, and actually going outside have fallen (temporarily) by the wayside in favour of letting myself rest and recover from the most manic and unsettled few months of my entire life.

Monday was a longggggg day, with possibly the most bizarre flight I’ve ever had, even by Ryanair’s standards. The main problem was that the pilot really didn’t seem to be concentrating or – to be honest – to know how to fly a plane. Not that I’m judging, because I suspect that I wouldn’t have been able to fly it much better myself, but you tend to take these things for granted, don’t you? And for a start, he was convinced it was October. He kept telling us that it was. I’m pretty sure it’s September, but I don’t know what end of me is up any more, so I could be wrong. Anyway, after a very up and down sort of flight (I mean that very literally) during which my right ear had become more and more fuzzy (of hearing, I mean – i don’t mean to suggest that it suddenly sprouted a lot of hair or anything), he announced that we were coming in to land in Lithuania (it was Latvia, actually, but hey – they’re right next to each other), local time was 3pm (even though it was 2pm) and the weather was, once again, fairly typical late October sunshine. At this point I can only presume that he pressed a large button saying STOP, as opposed to performing any kind of complicated and expert landing procedure, for the plane didn’t so much “land” as simply fall out of the sky, end up on the runway (possibly by sheer happy accident), bounce a few times and skid to a halt in front of the terminal.

“Oooooh!” squeaked several women as we did the bouncing thing. Then they broke into spontaneous applause. I mean, WHAT? What the hell were they applauding? The fact that the plane didn’t technically go on fire or shatter into pieces? It’s not like it was the most graceful and delicate flight and landing anyone had ever experienced. Or maybe it was, and that’s a sign of the way things are in Latvia, I dunno.

Anyway. The day was greatly improved by the absolutely AMAZING bus from Riga to Tallinn – I was dreading 6 hours of bus, but this one had comfy seats, leg room, a coffee bar, WiFi, and a little TV screen with the politest bus host I have ever seen. He spoke in Latvian for about 10 minutes, then repeated his speech in Estonian, and just as he was kindly starting his English version I was thinking to myself “The only shame is that my battery’s going to go done in my laptop in about 2 hours – what would make this perfect would be if someone would invent a way of putting electric sockets on to buses!”. And little TV host man, so very politely, says “Internet access is free for your unlimited use, to while away the time or catch up with some emails, so if you want to power up, please do make use of the power sockets located between the seats”. Super-impressed, I was. And the toilet was not just a toilet, it was “a comfortable space for you to refresh yourself in privacy”, and the seats didn’t just recline to make you more comfortable, they allowed you to “curl up and doze off peacefully with the soothing sound of the road beneath you”.

I seriously love Estonia.

Withdrawal. Again. (Or “In which I kindly, with the patience of a saint, refrain from exploding and injuring all the imbeciles that seem to surround me”)

Hey Hayley! screams the irritatingly enthusiastic message from Facebook. Now you can throw a spaghetti cat at your friends!

Isn’t that marvellous?

I have been up since the early hours, on train after bus after train and all but strip-searched at the airport by a possible witch (with PMS). I have been shaken around inside one of those fluroescent tin cans that Ryanair call planes, with my knees somewhere near my ears and my right ear so severely popped that no amount of swallowing is prompting a return to a normal level of hearing. I have only vaguely recovered from my food poisoning incident, and so the ridiculously-priced sandwich I attempted to eat earlier is now lurching around quite dangerously in my stomach. I have in my hand a ticket from Riga Airport to Riga Coach Station to Tallinn Coach Station – only it appears that there is no bus to Riga Coach Station, despite the fact that I have paid for it, and so now I must find a bus into the city and do all the ridiculous Excuse me, do you speak English? nonsense again. And probably pay more money, too. There is also a small child running up and down the airport lounge screaming blue murder, and his parents appear to be deaf or just defeated.

I may also need to mention that I have not had a cigarette since approximately 10pm last night, and I want to kill the small child, its parents, Facebook’s Superpoke team, Eurolines bus company, hotdog vendors worldwide, Michael O’Leary, and the Swedish airport shuttle driver who tried to draw it to the attention of the entire bus when I accidentally tried to pay him in Slovakian money, not really seeing the difference in the notes. I will not, of course, kill any of these people, because underneath it all I am actually a really nice person. Not quite Julie Andrews, but perhaps at least a little bit Marge Simpson.

And then I log into Facebook and see a new notification. Ah, I think gratefully, a little note or message from someone who loves me, is thinking about me, or just wants to say hello! But no. It is a message that proudly explains my new ability to throw spaghetti cats at my friends, as if it is something I have been longing for, and indeed something that will genuinely improve my life. I am disgusted with everything in general. I have just purchased a vodka at the bar. I do not care that I can’t afford it. It is the only way I am going to survive.

And it tastes crap without a cigarette. As does the world.

Money Matters

Blimey, Sweden is expensive.

I don’t mean that Sweden itself is expensive, obviously. That would be crazy money (especially for a struggling freelance writer), and I’ve no idea how you’d go about it anyway, or even if it’s possible to buy a Nordic country privately. I’ll check on Ebay when I have a better internet connection; you can find pretty much anything on there.

Anyway, what I mean is that things in Sweden are, in general, very expensive. At first my alarm at being charged 18 for a little bottle of Fanta amounted almost to panic, until I realised that despite the very “Euro” feel of Stockholm, they have their own currency and not the Euro. Still, finding out that 18SKr is about £1.50 didn’t help much. I would never have been able to afford the public transport fares had I not discovered a 7-day pass which turned out to be slightly more economical. And buying a book for my journey back to Tallinn was quite a painful experience, to be honest.

Disappointingly, this meant that I had to abandon my plan to treat myself to a proper sightseeing tour of Stockholm, around all the places that I wanted to see, complete with a guide who might be able to tell me lots of interesting stories and fill in all the history. I could not justify the thirty quid that this type of 1-2 hour tour seems to cost, on average. I would also have had to go without food for a few days, but that’s beside the point. Still, I managed to have quite a pleasant time alone with my map in the Old Town, wandering happily around the royal palace, giggling at the cute little guards in their funny uniforms, and letting the occasional statue inscription trigger vague memories from my history classes.

On the way back to the train station, I found an internet cafe, and went in to see if they’d let me print out my boarding pass. They did. It was one page, in black and white, and they charged me 20SKr for it. In moments of surprise or annoyance, I’ve realised that I tend to lapse back into my natural Norn Irish. Away on! I said this time, looking outraged. 20SKr is about £1.70 or something like that. For one page?! In black and white?!!! Obviously I had Dumb Tourist written in neon letters on my forehead. I explained this to the man (the “one page” bit, not the Dumb Tourist bit), and he looked a little startled, although it was amusing to see how quickly and meekly he cut the price in half, having expected me to hand over a twenty without questioning it. Still, though. I’m pretty sure that printing used to cost something like 10p per page. Am I showing my age now? Or has the whole world gone mad? Or is just Sweden?

Counting the coins from my pocket as my tummy rumbled, I got off the train and saw a little fast food stand next to my bus stop. Intently, I surveyed the menu. I did not understand any of it, but there were pictures, at least. And then I saw the word “hotdog”, and beside it, “10Kr”. I looked at the change in my hand. Hooray! I could afford dinner!

Having lay here on my mattress for the past two hours, groaning, my face flushed, pains shooting through my abdomen, my stomach churning, and my insides in general making sounds that I’m not accustomed to hearing them make, I have been forced to admit to myself that buying an 80p hotdog, from a roadside vendor, in a country where a sandwich and a drink can cost you a tenner, was probably not the most sensible thing to do.

You live and learn. Hopefully you live, anyway.

I prefer trains.

An hour. A whole sodding hour I spent packing and repacking my bag before I left Vienna to catch my flight from Bratislava. I really don’t understand how I have exactly the same amount of stuff before every flight, and yet each time it seems to take up more and more space in my bag no matter how much squishing and squashing and rolling up I do.

Still, I got it all in (and, you see, part of the problem is that I can’t just be content with that if I’m to get it on as hand luggage – it needs not only to fit, but to fit with room to spare. Not bulging at the sides, as on the rather disastrous flight from Eindhoven to Stansted, which saw me removing items in a fluster whilst on the plane, being watched by a disapproving flight attendant and several middle-aged Cockney geezers who felt the need to tut at me, as I attempted to make the bag go into the overhead lockers). And then I put on all my extra jumpers, jackets etc. to go through security. Waddling along like a plump little barrel, I deposited my bag and outer jacket on the conveyor belt.

Sadly, it seems that the fatness of my face does not quite match the fatness of my body when I’m wearing 10 layers of clothing, and the Slovakian security woman, suspecting that my body was actually a long way beneath my clothes, indicated that I should remove more jackets. Sweating unpleasantly, I struggled out of a few more items and added them to the heap before going through to collect everything at the other side.

But no. Open, said the next security woman, indicating my bag. I groaned inwardly, realising what was about to happen. And yes – she went through all my stuff in a very half-hearted, disinterested manner, pulling all my tightly-crammed items of clothing loose, and then said OK. It’s not even like there was anything in there that shouldn’t have been (and once again I think of the Eindhoven incident, where I ended up flinging my shampoo etc. at someone and saying Take it! Keep it! Throw it away, I don’t care – I’m going to miss my flight!). She just fancied a nosey.

Fuming, I stared hopelessly at my bag, once so meticulously organised, now in a state of disarray. There was nothing for it but to try to cram everything in again. And now, as I sit at the gate waiting for my flight, I realise to my dismay that the bag is once again bulging at the sides, so I’ve another battle with an overhead locker to get through before I can relax for an hour.

I hate flying.

Smoke gets in your mind

Ah. I didn’t know Vienna was the self-proclaimed Coffee Capital. Marvellous.

Following my fourth delightful caffiene treat of the day, I strolled happily through the Museum Quartier. I was stopped by a woman in her thirties, who looked exremely distressed. She was babbling frantically in German and rummaging in her bag with the jumpiness of someone not all that well balanced, but she looked genuinely upset, so I chose to believe that she was not searching for a firearm.

I’m sorry, do you speak English? I asked in some concern. She switched languages immediately, her hand emerging from her bag, now holding a purse. I need to buy a cigarette from you, she said urgently, fumbling to open the purse. I laughed, relieved. Don’t be silly, you don’t need to buy it! I said as I opened my bag. She shook her head, looking determined, and pressed a Euro into my palm. It must be penalised! she insisted dramatically.

Erm… the cigarette? I asked, removing one from my pack. She nodded, her eyes never leaving the cigarette. Yes, she said edgily, I have quit, so I cannot buy my own packet. But today my boyfriend broke up with me and I lost my job, and if I do not have a smoke I will have to kill myself. Buying one is better than buying twenty.

And almost as good as killing yourself, I agreed with the genuine sympathy of one who has experienced these things, although admittedly not both on the same day. Hastily I gave her the ciggy and lit it for her. She inhaled deeply and almost collapsed at my feet, an expression of relief and ecstacy on her face. There’s a sort of unwritten rule amongst smokers, saying that if someone begs you for “just one” cigarette after they’ve openly admitted that they’re quitting, you must not give in, no matter how much you feel for them. However, I’ve added a sort of sub-clause, because I’ve been at the point of desperation that this woman had reached, and I know that sometimes “just one” will significantly improve matters. Buying that full packet is the clear indication that you have, once again, failed miserably. You want to put that off for as many months as you can, just to prolong the self-delusion and general misery.

We shared a couple of quiet moments together, smoking in solidarity. We are both women. We are both smokers. We have a bond. Then she smiled gratefully at me and moved on, leaving me staring miserably at the cigarette between my fingers. Is it a coincidence that this poor girl approached me on the very day that I had held up my cigarette packet and determinedly declared After this pack, I quit? She really didn’t inspire me with much confidence, in any case.But the decision was already made, and so there are only three more cigarettes to go.


I’m intrigued by the idea of selling to quitters, though. At that rate, I could make a profit of €15 for every pack I bought, rather than a loss of €5! All I’d have to do would be start targeting stressed-looking people on the streets. I bet at least 50% of them are ex smokers, who’d kill (or pay €1) for “just one” cigarette. In days when income is uncertain and the budget is tight, it’s certainly an idea…

Where am I?

I’m suffering from a severe case of haven’t-got-a-clue-where-I-am-itis, which means that the first few minutes upon waking up in the morning are becoming increasingly confused and disorientated. It’s a new ailment to me, since for much of my life it was a safe bet that when I opened my eyes I would be in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Things are a little less certain these days.

I’ve had to develop a routine upon waking: firstly, don’t just assume that you’re in the last place you remember being, as sometimes the mind simply can’t keep up. Take a moment. Let your brain wake up before you attempt any complicated memory feats.

Next, try to remember which country you’re in. This is an extremely helpful step, and makes the next one much simpler. Which city? Cast your mind back to the day before, and gather all appropriate information: train journeys, names of stations passed through, people spoken to… it’s all relevant. Once you’re reasonably confident of your approximate geographic location, you can try to get more specific.

Open your eyes and look around – do you recognise the room? Initially, the answer tends to be “Erm… no”, but don’t panic: generally you can  retrace your steps from the night before, and at least recall the last person you saw before going to sleep. This tends to help narrow things down (consider what language they spoke, what their accent was like, that sort of thing – grab any stray pieces of jigsaw that you can find).

In the past week, I have woken up in Holland, England, and Hungary, and now sit dazed and confused in Austria. Three mornings in a row found me in three different countries. From a loft room in Utrecht, to a pink bedroom in Cambridge (I have been sternly reprimanded for calling it “London”, but it was close enough. I got to meet up with yet another internet acquaintance, mainly because of the proximity of his house to the airport, and to sleep in a real bed. Hurrah!), to a hostel in Balaton.  Since then, I’ve slept on someone’s couch in Budapest, and am currently in some guy’s flat in Vienna, looking out at the rain with a feeling of utter exhaustion. I do not want to see any more nice buildings. I do not want to ask anyone else if they speak English. I do not want to visit another museum, or climb another hill, or try to figure out how, where and when to validate tram tickets in yet another city.

I don’t mean that I don’t ever want to do these things again, of course. Give me a few weeks to recharge the batteries and no doubt I’ll be wondering which country I can visit next. For now, though, I’m knackered. I have no energy left: only this afternoon I got stuck in a set of tram doors, which rather inconsiderately closed on me as I was trying, in my feeble state, to struggle up the steps with my bags. I do not know the German for Somebody help me, I am going to be killed when the tram takes off with me half in and half out of it!, but fortunately Arrrrghhhh! seems to be universally understood, and a guy on the tram leapt forward to open the doors and haul my bags in with one hand, and me with the other, as the tram went merrily on its way.

No more! I want to wake up in the same bed for several days in a row. I want to spend an entire day sitting in one place. I want to spend some time with someone who actually knows me, and have real conversations. And so, after the weekend, I’m heading back to the familiar surroundings of Tallinn and the comfortable company of Riho. Ah, Tallinn: where everything is cheap, people speak English, and my biggest problem is being unable to identify the ingredients for my speciality dishes in the supermarket.

Just need one final spurt of energy for a whirlwind tour of Vienna, a train ride to Slovakia, a flight to Sweden, sightseeing in Stockholm, a flight to Latvia and a six hour bus ride to Estonia, but sure that’s nothing…