Smoked monks and suicidal witches

Antrim Round Tower

Antrim Round Tower

Well… it’s a tower, I said thoughtfully. And it’s… round. But what is it?

A Round Tower, replied Billy, helpfully. She set off in search of the entrance, walking all the way around the tower and returning to her original starting point approximately 8 seconds later.

It seems that Irish Round Towers are actual “Things”, if you know what I mean. As in, there’s a Wikipedia page about them, and everyone knows that having a Wikipedia page is the very proof of existence. I have a Wikipedia page, therefore I am. Unfortunately, this theory doesn’t help me to prove my own existence, nor that of most other people I know. It remains possible that we do not exist. This hasn’t caused me any significant difficulties so far, though, so I’m not particularly bothered about it.

Anyway, this disturbingly phallic piece of Irish history stands at an impressive 93 feet tall, and is probably about a thousand years old. In a wonderful example of the same Irish construction ability famous for building an unsinkable ship that sank, they decided to put the door to the tower about 7 or 8 feet up the wall.

Up here! Tower door.

Up here! Tower door.

The logic, perhaps, was that in case of an invasion of Vikings or whoever was causing trouble back then (I assume it wasn’t always the IRA and the UVF), the frightened monks of the surrounding monastic settlement could scurry up the ladder into the tower, and then withdraw the ladder so that their attackers couldn’t reach them. Yah! they’d shout, defiantly, as the Vikings scratched their helmets and wondered what to do. Oh, crap! they’d add soon afterwards, as the Vikings gave each other a leg-up and set fire to the door. For, indeed, when you’ve got a couple of dozen monks piled into a tall, narrow, and (let’s face it) chimney-shaped tower sealed with a lid, the solution practically leaps out and smacks you in the beard.

And so it is that Round Towers all through Ireland show evidence of fire damage around the door, and have records of people burning or suffocating to death inside them. Irish history: you couldn’t make it up.

The best part of Antrim’s tower, however, is actually the large boulder next to it, which is impressively entitled “The Legend of the Witches Stone”. The stone has two bullauns (depressions) which are said to always be full of water (and apparently a Subway napkin, which I had to remove before taking the picture… grrrr!).

Legend of the Witches Stone

Legend of the Witches Stone

This is interesting. It is like a mysterious holy miracle thing, and I am keen to return sometime when it hasn’t rained for weeks, to see if they are still water-filled. Of course, in typing that sentence, I see the problem with my plan, and very likely the real reason why the holes always have water in them…

The information sign suggests that the water in the bullauns was regarded as holy, and was therefore possibly used to “baptise converted pagans or cure warts”. I found this sentence very amusing. Religious rebirthing symbolism on the same level as curing warts. Gotta love it. However, the reason the stone got its name is that according to legend, a local Antrim witch who was unhappy about the construction of the monastery decided to show her disapproval and take a stand – or rather, a flying leap. Off the top of the tower. She landed on a large stone, so hard that when they scraped her off it, they found that she’d dented it. To this day, the impressions left by her knee and elbow remain in the boulder.

It’s a beautiful story, no?

Alas! It is probably not true – not least because the stone was originally located over a hundred yards away from the tower. Mind you, she probably had a broomstick. Although why a witch would jump off a tower in protest, fly a hundred yards on her broomstick, and then jump off that, too, is a bit beyond me. Maybe I’m putting too much thought into this…

[Apologies for the rubbishness of my photos – I don’t have a camera, and my phone isn’t much good at the best of times, never mind twilight. For better (i.e. “someone else’s”) pictures, click here.]

Driving in NI

Ice cream, I decided, having spent the day writing numerous informative articles about poison ivy. Ice cream.

It wasn’t much of a descision, as decisions go, in the world history of decisions. I mean, it certainly wasn’t up there with “abolish slavery” or “invent the internet”, for example. But I felt that it was the right one. I requested a companion on Facebook, and was soon on my way to pick up Billy (who – interesting fact – is one of only two of my blog “characters” who actually goes by her blog nickname in real life). We decided to drive to Newferry, it being near to where she lives, as she assured me that it involved scenery and water and walking and that sort of thing.

As it turned out, Newferry was very difficult to find. We stopped for ice cream in Toome, and my cone was long gone by the time we eventually reached our destination. I have to issue a complaint at this point regarding signposts in this country. They are almost always in the wrong place. What is this, a test of intuition? Punishment of tourists and/or those who don’t know their own country very well? If a signpost marked with your destination is pointing down a road, you immediately indicate and turn down that road. That’s just obvious, surely. When I did this tonight, I ended up first in a housing estate and then in a farm. It turns out that the sign meant to take the next road, not the one it was pointing down. Or, in the case of one sign, it meant nothing at all and was just there for a bit of a laugh.

I don’t think this is Newferry, we agreed solemnly each time, returning to the point where we saw the original sign saying “Newferry 3 1/2 miles” and starting again. Anyway, when we eventually arrived in Newferry, we discovered that it was, in fact, a large car park. If there was more, I remain unaware of it. It was a car park, and a jetty, and some people in boats and on water skis.

We were unimpressed, particularly since it had taken us half the night to get there from three and a half miles away.

So Billy, being the one with very little navigational ability as opposed to the one with no navigational ability whatsoever, suggested heading to Antrim to walk along a nice river path. Is Antrim close? I asked dubiously. It’s just down the road! said Billy cheerfully.

We went to Antrim, which, it transpired, was actually a half hour drive away.

By the time we got there, we had decided that aiming for specific destinations when neither of us really possessed an ounce of common sense nor a sense of direction was a foolish idea to begin with. Instead, we decided to look for brown signs and follow them, with a view to finding something culturally interesting, saying Ohhhh, how interesting!, and then going home.

That’s how we ended up walking round and round and round a very tall, very narrow round tower looking in vain for its entrance, and reading about suicidal witches gliding from windows. But I think that deserves a blog post of its own. ..

From Carnlough to Bedlam

Ladies and gentlemen, as promised, I am staging a comeback.

I am determinedly shaking off the past and filling my days with productive work, family, and friends, instead of sitting glumly feeling hard-done-by and rejected and sad. This has only been happening for a couple of days, mind you, but I already feel slightly better, which in itself is making me feel slightly better, if you see what I mean.

Carnlough - old phone box

Carnlough - old phone box

I drove The Parents to Carnlough on Monday, and it was nice to get out for a walk. The sea always makes me feel better, for some reason. It’s calming and pretty and also associated with lots of happy childhood memories for me, so that’s all good. And Carnlough is one of those tiny little old-fashioned Northern Irish seaside towns, with a sweet harbour and an unhurried feel, and its main street running along the seafront. We strolled, we ate fish and chips and ice cream by the sea… it was lovely.

And who could fail to feel better when looking at this sort of thing?

Carnlough beach

Carnlough beach

Blues that chase away the blues...

Blues that chase away the blues...

Seriously gorgeous. I may have to indulge in sea therapy at least once a week from now on.

Yesterday, then, I worked, and also mused about the fact that I was having so much difficulty refraining from dwelling on Certain Issues. I managed to find a good solution, but I’m a little too embarrassed to share it with anyone except the one person I’ve told, who laughed at me instead of thinking I was a scary freak for having to do such a thing. Anyway, suffice it to say that I will no longer be able to waste large amounts of my time and sanity on the wrong person, even if I should wish to do so. And that’s all I’m saying. :)

Of course, the person who laughed at me when I was seriously confiding in her about my heartbreak and drastic measures could only be McBouncy. I called out to visit her today, and I feel cheered, cheered I tell you! The McLovely house is always bedlam, I don’t think they’d mind me telling you that, but today really took the entire cake tin, mainly because McBouncy had described it as a very boring, quiet, chilling out day. As I sat there watching an almost fully grown Red Setter skidding around the floor in hot pursuit of an ever-so-slightly faster cat while McBouncy and I tried to protect our drinks and have a conversation, I had to disagree.

Arghhhh! squealed McGinger as the cat took refuge beside her and the dog promptly joined them.She leapt up and appeared to join the chase. Now we had a dog, a cat, and a child running around like mad things. The dog started to bark, and McBouncy – in helpful response to her daughter’s squeals – suggested that McGinger just bark back.

The dog was barking. The child was barking.

Then the dog actually vaulted over the sofa, with me still on it. This was a little scary. I left soon afterwards.

I am very thankful for the fact that a place such as the McLovely house exists. It’s impossible to sit and mope while all that’s going on around you!

Wasting Time

Oh dear. I really need to get out more. I’ve had so much enjoyment from this video that it’s making me fear for my sanity.

Mind you, it was, once again, my father who introduced it to me. Watch this, it’s so funny… it‘s Kat! This recluse-style living has really got to stop, for all of us.

And so I have decided that tomorrow, I am taking The Parents out somewhere and we are going for a nice, healthy walk. We shall stride briskly, breathe in some fresh sea air, drink water, perhaps eat a salad, enjoy stimulating and intellectual conversation, and return home energised, rejuvenated, and glowing with health. We shall not limp along like crocks, eat ridiculously large ice cream cones, stop for a pint, or discuss the guy from the pub who said he’d streak home if Liverpool won the match, and then kept his word and ended up walking down the Larne Road with his clothes under his arm as an old lady coming out of the chapel checked out the back view.

Nope. I’ve really got to shake off this lethargy, and get up and out. All work and no play has made me tired, sluggish, bored, and quite miserable. I think I’ve worked through Phase One (crying and self-pity), Phase Two (anger and bitterness), Phase Three (acceptance, loneliness, and depression), and am now ready to tackle Phase Four: re-establishing contact with human beings. Ugh. It’s not that I don’t want to see my friends; of course I do. It’s just that I don’t think I can remember how to talk, and also, actually sending messages/replying emails/making phone calls and then the physical process of getting up, getting dressed, going somewhere… it all seems like a really big deal at the moment. Is that normal?!

But I’m going to make the effort. Otherwise I’ll never get to Phase Five, which is hopefully “having fun”, or indeed Phase Six, which is probably “getting a crush on somebody completely inappropriate and starting the whole process over again”… ;)

Scaredy Kat

Once upon a time, when I was off in some far-flung land, The Parents arrived home one night in the torrential rain.

Nothing too unusual about that, you might suppose, since it is Always Bloody Raining in this country. However, it is a slightly rarer occurrence for someone (e.g. The Parents) to discover said torrential rain inside the house as well as outside.

Thanks to some poor planning on the part of whoever built this house, the yard slopes down towards the back door. Very occasionally, owing to a disastrous combination of very persistent rain and the drain becoming blocked at the most inconvenient of times, the water will just merrily flow down the back yard, under the door, and into the house. This doesn’t happen on a regular basis or anything, but it’s certainly an experience when it does. The only recollection I have of it happening was when I was very young, maybe 5 or so, and went to go down the step into the kitchen one morning to find that it was, in fact, ankle deep in water. It was all very exciting, although mum didn’t seem terribly amused.

Anyway. The Parents arrived home one day last year to discover that disaster had struck again. Poor mum had just had the new kitchen fitted, and there it was, all full of icky water. Dad pushed open the kitchen door to find himself paddling, as a pair of shoes floated past. He heard a terrified miaow, and saw, on the windowsill, poor Kat the Cat, who had no idea what was going on. She was sitting there, a small and furry Robinson Crusoe, watching with wide and frightened eyes as random household objects floated around below her on the previously dry kitchen floor.

A cat rescue operation was carried out, and the house restored to its previous dry and clean condition. There were lasting consequences. One of these is that both my mother and the cat are now scared when the rain comes on. Mum’s out checking the drains and the yard water levels every five minutes; Kat comes flying off the roof like a mad thing and racing down the yard with a wild look in her eyes as soon as the first heavy drops appear.

Which brings me to yesterday. It has rained, and rained, and rained here lately. It is depressing the hell out of me. Rain, rain, rain, it goes. Rain, rain, rain. Yesterday, it was particularly determined rain. RAIN, RAIN, RAIN, it went, thundering on the roofs and windows and bouncing off the ground. Kat the Cat appeared from nowhere as if by magic, paws hardly touching the ground as she sprinted into the porch and hid behind the door. But here’s the weird bit. When it’s raining heavily, she won’t lie in her basket – which isn’t at ground level, it sits on an ottoman. So it’s not like it got flooded previously and she thinks it’s going to happen again. And yet rain seems to put her off getting into her favourite snoozing spot.

So yesterday, I went out with my laptop to sit in the porch and absentmindedly lifted the cat from the only chair, placing her in her basket instead. That was the point at which all hell broke loose. The ridiculous creature was genuinely petrified – hair standing on end, legs outstretched, claws out, hissing, wriggling, the works. The second she touched the basket and all this happened (taking me somewhat by surprise, as you might imagine), she howled and practically fell backwards on to the floor in a scrambling flurry of legs and tail, in her madness to get away from the scary killer basket she’d been happily snoozing in a few hours earlier. She then proceeded to sit on the floor and stare up at it, ears back, eyes wide and frightened. She refused to get in until the rain stopped.

That cat has never been all there, mentally, but I fear that being terrified of her own bed when it’s raining outside is taking things a little bit further towards Seriously Disturbed than ever before…

My lil' lolkat

My lil' lolkat

A Site For Sore Eyes

This morning I woke up after a rather disturbed night’s sleep and found that the headache and eye strain that come with spending too much time writing/staring at a computer screen were still making their presence felt.

With another day’s work ahead of me, I staggered downstairs for a healthy breakfast of Nurofen and nicotine and caffeine, hopeful that at least one of these would improve the head situation sufficiently for me to produce some relatively useful web content without the blood vessels in my eyes exploding. I discovered my father sitting in the porch with his laptop.

We sat in companionable silence, me ingesting three different kinds of drugs, him reading blogs. The silence was broken at intervals by sniggers. These were obviously not from me.

I eventually gave him a questioning What’s so funny? look.

I’ve just discovered a guinea pig blog, says he.

Dad has really only just accepted the presence of Kat the Cat in his life. It seemed a little odd that he was now reading about other domestic pets in his free time.

No, no, he explained enthusiastically, it’s a blog by a guinea pig. “True Thoughts Of A Guinea Pig”.

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I went back to smoking and drinking coffee, and he went back to reading and giggling. Then I backed slowly out of the room and carefully closed the door.

I’d love to end it there, but I must confess that as I was waiting for the painkillers to kick in, I looked up the guinea pig blog. It really is very funny. It’s a guinea pig called Sighs, who lives with his cage-mate, “Dumb Fuck”, and keeps a diary of his experiences as an intelligent, somewhat intellectual guinea pig doomed to an existence of eating pellets and watching the beyond stupid activities of the ‘monkey’ who owns him (“What’s-her-name”), and “that moronic boyfriend”.

I think it’s great that the guinea pigs of the world now have a forum for their thoughts. Poor Sighs is quite a bitter character, and his frustration with everything he sees around him would probably consume him if he didn’t have some way of letting it all out now and again. So he blogs. He blogs about his contempt for What’s-her-name, his utter loathing of the moron boyfriend, his desperate attempts to get some serious, intellectual conversation out of his cage-mate, who only wants to eat and fart and sleep.

If you’ve ever wondered if the diary of an intelligent, sociopathic, angry, frustrated guinea pig who swears like a trooper would be funny, as I’m sure you have if you’re anything like me, then this is a fantastic find. Kept me back from a whole stack of work for an hour, anyway. Kudos to Dad.

I really need to get back to work now.  You go and experience Guinea Pig Sighs.

What do They know about me?

Typically, I’ve started getting a steady stream of work coming in. This means that my career as a freelance writer is finally taking off properly just as I’ve decided to go and be an English teacher for a year! But I won’t complain. It’s still not great pay, but it’s going to give me a little bit of cash in reserve when I arrive in Korea.

Of course, it means I’ve hardly been out of the house, since I’m working very long hours. I suppose I really need to start getting out and socialising, since people might be slightly miffed to discover I’d taken off again without seeing them even once.

I did go to see MonkeyMrs tonight, as she’s just returned from Ethiopia and was therefore able to entice me out of hiding with fresh Ethiopian coffee beans (nothing short of spectacular, by the way). We were exchanging travel tales and catching up when MonkeyMan arrived in.

Yeah, so I think it might be strange at first, I continued after greeting him. Eating with chopsticks and, well, not being Korean and everything. But I have now learned the Korean alphabet!

MonkeyMrs nodded enthusiastically. MonkeyMan just looked decidedly confused. Erm, hang on… what? he asked uncertainly. Are you moving to Korea? Going to a Korean restaurant?

I think, generally, you’d probably be expecting the answer to be closer to the second option. It was quite good fun to be able to casually reply with the more exciting one!

I have started the process of applying for sealed transcripts of my university marks and suchlike, and tonight went to the police station to request a criminal background check. I must say I was suitably impressed by the nice policeman, who was very friendly and helpful and pleasant – very different from my only other time in a PSNI station, when I was trying in vain to get someone to care about poor Rio the Clio’s injuries. He made me forget that I’d been feeling slightly nervous, as I always do when I encounter authority figures, despite the fact that I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m always scared that I’ll be seized with an uncontrollable urge to to something bad (like the laughing at a funeral concept – you know it would be the worst possible thing to do, and you absolutely do not want to do it, so suddenly you feel yourself overwhelmed by the desire to), and then I’ll get thrown into jail. Plus I just have this vague fear that I really have done something terrible at some point and blocked it from my memory, and They know about it, and it’s “in the system”. Which would be awful, when you think about it.

I have a touch of the neurotic about me.

So how long will this take? I asked as he gave me back my documents and handed me my FOI Request receipt.

About 40 days, he replied, upsettingly. Seeing my alarmed expression, he hastened to reassure me. Do you actually have a record? he asked, shaking his head with a smile as if he knew the question to be ridiculous as I was clearly a lovely, good, pure, innocent and well-behaved young lady. I shook my head meekly. Not so much as a traffic offence, I said demurely, wondering for the first time how on earth that is still true after three and a half years of Really Bad Driving. He promised me that it should only take a couple of weeks for someone as perfect as myself, and I nodded in relief.

Moving to Korea, I see? he added. I nodded again.

Nice policeman sighed wistfully, looking at the two hoodie-wearing teenagers sitting sulkily glaring at him from behind me, and the woman who’d just walked in wearing a woolly hat and scarf, in the middle of July.

I don’t blame you, he said sadly.