I can’t use chopsticks, though.

I am writing this post purely as an attempt to get my brain to wind down sufficiently for me to go to sleep. I worked a twelve-hour day today, which is a fairly new concept to someone who’s struggled to find enough writing work up until now, and my eyes are actually aching from staring at the screen all day. However, as the alternative to putting down the laptop was lifting a large and heavy suitcase from the top of my wardrobe and searching its contents for my degree certificate, I chose to come here instead. Blindness will follow shortly, no doubt.

I am becoming an expert on all matters pertaining to green tea. I have written 25 of 50 articles on the subject, and would really like to write about something else. So here it is:

I have The Plan!

Not bad – just over one month of self pity and wallowing and depression was required before I pulled myself together and thought seriously about how to travel and make money at the same time. The solution?

I am going to teach English in South Korea.

Hurrah! It is all very exciting and scary and all the rest of the things I felt way back last year when I wrote this post. That delicious thrill of anticipation, the fear that I might be raving mad, the joy of a completely unfamiliar country just waiting to be explored, the thought of the new people who might cross my path, the enthusiasm for trying out a new type of job… it’s all there.

Of course, I do have the slight worry that I’ve gotten my hopes up and I’ll end up being disappointed – I should probably wait until I actually land a job before I post this. But what the heck. You’re used to being dragged along with my bursts of enthusiasm, and then listening to the crying when it doesn’t go to plan, right? Anyway, from what I can tell, demand for English teachers in Korea is much higher than supply. The only reason I won’t get a job is if, erm, I can’t find that degree certificate. Or if I discover when I get a police check done that I once committed a serious crime while sleepwalking. Barring that sort of thing, I think it’s going to be fine.

I announced my intentions on my Facebook status, and am once again in awe of the miracle that is the Facebook Friends List. Within less than 24 hours, I have made four contacts in South Korea, through friends who saw my update. Three of these are teaching English there, and I’ve had really useful conversations with them – including one which made me realise that there was absolutely no need for me to go through an agency, thus saving me over £1500 in one minute. This new contact then introduced me to the person who got him his teaching job, and voilá! The process is underway.

It’s the personal aspect of the modern Facebook-assisted world that I really love. Looking through endless websites, I could gather plenty of information, but I still had this niggling worry that I would land in Korea to find no one there to meet me, and discover that it was all a scam and I had nowhere to live, or that the whole set-up was really dodgy. This way, I’m getting to talk to friends of friends – people whose characters are vouched for, who are actually doing the thing that I’m trying to do, and who are seeking out jobs for me in schools that they know from firsthand experience have a good reputation.

It’s this that’s giving me great peace of mind about my decision. I mean, if you saw a job description with things like Approx. 25 hours per week.  Accommodation provided, rent paid. Return airfare paid. Salary £1000 net per month. Assistance with work visa application. in it, and knew that you were pretty much guaranteed to get it without really having to apply or try, wouldn’t you think it was too good to be true, and that there had to be a catch? But now I’ve talked to people who can assure me that it’s all above board, and what’s more, they love it!

Given the low cost of living and the fact that accommodation is paid for, my sources tell me that if I want to earn and save money for future travels, this is the place to go. Apparently I can get by on £200 per month, saving £800. If I continue to do a bit of writing work, too, then after a year in Korea I could have saved up somewhere between £10,000 and £12,000. Do you realise how much budget travelling I could do for that?!

I am very enthusiastic about the whole thing. However, I fear that my eyes are about to fall out of my head due to strain, and I have 25 more articles about green tea to write, so I think a good night’s sleep is now called for…

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Attempted Murder

There is a sudden commotion in the back yard, scuffling and crashing followed by a shrill squealing noise. I look up in alarm from my 14th article on the health benefits of green tea, and see Kat the Cat’s tail waving suspiciously amongst the shrubbery. I can’t help but remember how proud and superior I sounded yesterday, when I was telling my grandmother about how my beloved kitty has never gone after birds.

Throwing open the door and yelling “OI!” with unbridled rage that subdues the next door neighbours into complete silence right in the middle of the grandson’s bubble-blowing lessons, I storm up the yard and am greeted by a guilty looking Kat the Cat with a tiny sparrow clamped in her jaws.

I am clearly much too soft-hearted and easily upset to be a cat owner. My eyes fill with tears and my stomach churns as the cat and I eyeball each other in a wary standoff. It is all my fault. If I’d never gotten the cat, she would not be in this yard, and the itty bitty birdie would be cheerfully twittering away beside the pond as planned. Now its little legs are sticking helplessly out of a whiskered mouth. All my fault.

I must do something. I lunge at the cat, who makes a dive to get past me. My rage and guilt make me a better predator than my pet, and I catch her tail. We pause again, and then I yank the tail fiercely. Sort of like a feline gumball machine, she spits out the bird and wheels round to free her tail, at which point I grab her collar. Unfortunately the collar turns out to be one of those safety ones designed to snap open if caught. No doubt I’d appreciate this if the thing doing the catching was a high-up tree branch rather than my hand, but I am considerably less thrilled to find myself holding a limp piece of cloth with a bell on it as the cat leaps towards the terrified bird once again.

“Nooooo!” I yell, having lost all remaining calm and poise. I snatch the cat up by the scruff of her neck and practically swing her into the porch, slamming the door in her indignant face as she attempts to dart straight back out again.

I go quietly to examine the sparrow. It is very tiny, and cowering behind a flowerpot. There doesn’t seem to be any blood, but it’s not flying away. Upset, I seek advice from both parents, and then from Google, which alternately berates me for not just letting nature take its course (thus saving unfortunate bird from a long, slow death), and advises me to put the patient into a cloth-lined box and keep it in quiet isolation for a few hours to let it recover from the shock.

Cloth-lined isolation booth prepared, I attempt to retrieve the bird, and am quite upset to discover that it clearly thinks I am just as evilly evil as the evil evil cat. It hops around, keeping out of reach. Not wanting to traumatise the poor thing any further, I leave it alone and return to the porch to shout at the cat and stare out of the window at the guilt-inducing baby sparrow.

It is cheeping. Probably calling to its friends and family for help. All scared and frightened and hurt. Cheep-cheep-cheep. And the cat is going mental to get out, which is probably what makes it think that cats can leap halfway across the room from a chair back to a window that’s open no more than 2 inches, and not fall backwards 6 feet to the ground.

Cheep-cheep-cheep.

I will not sleep tonight, out of guilt and sadness. I may wake Kat the Cat at regular intervals just so that she’ll lose some sleep over the head of it, too.

Waiting to murder

Waiting to murder

Why do we do the things we do?

As much as I have generally negative feelings about The Twelfth, I did love it when I was younger.

A diary entry from a very young Hails reads:

I woke up because there were drums outside and we went outside and waved at the orange people. Then we put on our new clothes and went round to Queen Street. We sat on the kerb and watched the bands. There were lots of people. I had a flag and I waved it and mummy took photos of me. Then everybody came to our house and had broth.

A diary entry from a 12-year-old Hails reads:

I love the Twelfth Day! It’s like a big party.

Street Party

Street Party

It’s so exciting to wake up and hear all the drums in the distance – today the first band went past and I had to hide behind the curtains to watch, because I was still in my pyjamas and the boy that I like is in that band. I saw him though – he looked sooooo cute in his uniform! And then later when we were out watching the bands, Colin was teasing me about him, and he decided to get a photo of him, and ran out into the middle of the road to take it – I was so embarrassed!!!!

Broth de Twelfth

After the parade everyone always comes round to our house for broth. It’s a tradition to have broth on The Twelfth. Mum makes the best broth in the world, and she makes two big giant pots of it. We have family members and passing friends calling in and out all afternoon, and it’s such good fun. It feels like a big festival with all the noise of crowds and bands in the background, and the flags and streamers everywhere.

And then everybody goes round to the local pub – it’s the only day that children are allowed in, and it’s always packed full. Today some men had guitars with them and they played music and we had a singalong. And the barmaid let us have a Hooch each, but she said we weren’t to let on so we drank it out of glasses and pretended it was fizzy orange!!! I had a great day.

27-year-old Hails doesn’t have a diary, but she has a blog. Today’s entry reads:

I woke up to the sound of drums. Not just from the neighbours’ grandson, who received the somewhat unwise gift of a drum and a pair of cymbals several months ago and has been a very lively presence ever since, but also from the bands from all over the town who were on their way to the Field. This is where they start and end the parade.

Band

Band

Lambeg Drums

Lambeg Drums

The parade consists of bands and Orange lodges. There’s a band from each local area, each one with its own uniform. The most common kind is the flute band, but there are also accordian bands, bagpipe bands, and lambegs. Oh, the lambegs… huge big drums, for anyone who isn’t familiar with the concept, so large that the drummers can only carry them for a short time, and so they play in shifts. When the lambegs play, you feel it in your stomach and hear it for a week afterwards.

In between each band is an orange lodge. These are mostly made up of older men who have been brought up to be staunchly proud of their history. They walk with dignity, dressed in suits and bowler hats, often with decorative swords, flowers in their lapels, and all with an orange sash draped across them. There’s no one in Northern Ireland who doesn’t know the song:

Orangeman

Orangeman

It is old, but it is beautiful,
And its colours, they are fine.
It was worn at Derry, Aughrim,
Enniskillen, and the Boyne.
Sure my father wore it when a youth,
In the bygone days of Yore.
And it’s on The Twelfth I love to wear
The Sash my father wore.

The Twelfth commemorates the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, where William of Orange (or King Billy, as he’s known round these parts) ended the attempt of ousted Catholic king, James II, to regain his throne by ensuring that the few remaining Protestant strongholds in Ireland were captured by his new Irish Catholic Army. Although deeply unpopular in England, James still had quite a loyal following in Ireland, whose natives were Catholic – but his occupation of the North caused great resentment amongst a population with a heavy concentration of English and Scottish Protestant settlers. William’s troops marched in to relieve the besieged city of Derry, and all hell broke loose, for a while, until the Battle of the Boyne eventually brought an end to James II’s confidence about his chances of hanging on to Ireland.

No doubt there are umpteen versions of this story, but this is a simplified one, and the only one that I can even vaguely understand – it’s all very complicated, and I’m not likely to be able to explain the Irish Situation in one blog post, when none of us here really understand it anyway. Anyway, to this day, you’ve got the Protestant Unionists, who are grateful to King Billy for liberation, and who see themselves as part of the UK. Then you’ve got the Catholic Nationalists, who see themselves as Irish and would rather James had been successful (he was known as Séamus an Chaca or James the Shit when he deserted his Irish supporters and returned to exile in France!).

Anyway, what I’d really, really love to do would be to go up to a number of random band members, flag wavers, banner carriers, and Sash singers, in my capacity as an investigative journalist (!), and ask them to tell me about what they’re celebrating. What was the Battle of the Boyne? Who was King Billy fighting against? Why?

Future NI political leader?

Future NI political leader?

I guarantee you that the percentage who could answer with more than a shrug would be very, very small.

Painting the town red (,white, and blue)

As everyone knows, Norn Iron is a bit mad.

At this moment, for example, there is a group of about 30 fully grown men walking past The Parents’ house, wearing decidedly weird, braided uniforms, banging on drums and playing flutes, behind a group of men in suits and bowler hats, who have orange sashes draped across them and are carrying a large cloth banner featuring a picture of a horse. All the neighbours are out to watch as they march towards, erm, a big field. It is 9am. Nobody seems to be perturbed by any of this, apart from me, obviously – I have been hiding under my duvet for a while and eventually had to get up to take painkillers for the headache and grumble in annoyance from behind the curtains as the windows vibrate.

As I’m aware that many of my readers have never had the pleasure of being in Norn Iron over the Glorious Twelfth, I am going to venture out when the parade starts and take some pictures. I’m trying not to think unhelpful thoughts such as “This time last year I was living in the South of France”. Still – I went out to see their festivities, and got pickpocketed. That’s not likely to happen here. At the worst, I’ll get hit by a flying paint bomb.

View from my bedroom: chapel with paint-attacked door.

Local chapel with paint-attacked door.

Anyway, I shall set aside my own issues with this day, and aim to provide a useful, informative, and entertaining report about the 319-year-old tradition of intimidation and sectarian gloating cultural celebration of national identity.

I just wanted to get the grumbling out of the way first.

Must be able to cackle. Must not be allergic to cats.

Some might sympathise with my position. Others might envy it.

On the one hand, I am broke and unemployed and stuck in the house all the time when I want to be back out enjoying a travelling lifestyle. On the other hand, I have absolutely no ties and no responsibilities, and so am free to consider whatever strange or wonderful opportunities happen to come my way.

I’ve been entertaining the notion of taking a little backpacking jaunt around Ireland, for example. Hitching rides and staying with Couchsurfing hosts. Or Scotland, where I’ve discovered that I can take bus rides from place to place all over the country for £1 a time. Or going to live at a hippy-run “sanctuary” on the Isle of Skye, miles from civilisation, staying for free in exchange for helping out with the animals. Or housesitting anywhere in the world, if I get lucky with that again. It’s not a totally bad situation to be in, if only I could get some more regular writing work coming in as well.

Or a job. But of course, it doesn’t have to be a “normal” job, because (a) there aren’t any going at the moment, and (b) where’s the fun in that?! Which is why I found myself sending an email yesterday with the subject “re: Witch Vacancy”.

Wookey Hole Caves (near Bath, England) are advertising for a resident witch. You don’t have to actually be a witch (I just want to clarify at this point that I am not!), but you’d have to dress like one and live in the caves, muttering and cackling to yourself, so that tourists get a good feel for what it was “really” like there in the Dark Ages. The “real” witch was unfortunately turned to stone by a Catholic monk armed with holy water, so a fake witch is now required.

The general manager of the Wookey Hole Caves says:

“The job is straightforward: live in the cave, be a witch, and do the things witches do. We are witchless at the moment so we need to get the role filled as soon as possible. The successful applicant will need to like dark, enclosed spaces, be good around a cauldron, enjoy the company of cats and have a good cackle. We are looking for someone who is friendly, a little mischievous and with lots of character.”

Oh, and the salary is £50,000, did I mention that bit? Now, for £50,000, I’d be delighted to be Crazy Cat Lady, living in a cave and cackling to myself. I’d probably do it for free if I didn’t need to gather up some travel funds.

From what I can see, they’re going to hold open interviews (something akin to an X Factor audition, I imagine, only with cauldrons instead of microphones) at the end of the month, where applicants will be assessed in terms of costume, character, and, erm, the ability to perform witch tests. I have sent an email asking for clarification on the witch tests, just in case I go over there and realise that I’m expected to know how to turn a bat into a bar of gold, because I would need to practise that sort of thing in advance.

I have no doubt, however, that I am the perfect candidate for the job. Maybe I could even take Kat the Cat!

Heheheheheheheh! (<– Witchy cackle)

Going Green

People have been asking where I’ve gone.

Nowhere! I’m right here. In Ballymena, in the house where I grew up. So technically, I suppose I’ve gone backwards.

I will also have great difficulty in going anywhere for a while, since I can barely walk. This is due to the fact that I decided to put my copious free time to good use yesterday, and went to paint my grandparents’ garden fence for them. It turns out that I am not at all suited to physical labour of any kind, because this morning I woke up to find that all my limbs ache as they would if I’d suddenly launched into a full-on intensive exercise regime.

As I neared the end of the first half of the front of said fence, I realised to my dismay that it was going to take three coats before it became the nice shade of Rustic Green shown on the tin. Still, what else did I have to do?! So back I went and put on a second coat, and a third, and then went round and did the other side.

Five hours, and I had managed to paint two thirds of the total fence surface that would have been required for me to claim that I had painted half the fence.

On the plus side, when I stood back for a moment of contemplation, I discovered that I had also painted some nasturtiums, a bit of the path, the non-shoe-covered portion of my feet (in a charming stencil effect), my arms, my fingernails, my hair, my nose, and an impressive percentage of the lawn. Not bad for a day’s work! I match my grandparents’ garden so perfectly that they could hire me to be a Rustic Green garden ornament.

I collapsed into bed and fell into an exhausted sleep, from which I emerged this morning feeling rested and ready to paint. I leapt energetically out of bed, and promptly howled in agony as I discovered the hard way that painting, and crawling around to get the tricky bits, and stooping, and bending, and stretching, and reaching, and repeatedly moving your arm up and down for several hours in a row is not without its consequences for the chronically unfit. I have aching muscles in places where I did not know that I had muscles. I can’t move without making the sort of noise that old men make when they spend five minutes trying to get out of a chair.

On reflection, I don’t think I’d cope all that well with working for food and accommodation on a farm in Bulgaria, or picking grapes 8 hours a day, 7 days a week in the South of France. There goes that idea…