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Thursday, 31 December 2015

Christmas on a November

I moved out of the share house with the girls as we each went to move on with our respective partners. I'm still smiling at my having to live in the big house with no furniture for two weeks when the other two had moved on and taken everything with them.

Now three months into moving in with Neilee and he's surviving the "mantrap" as he calls it. My efforts to gain the "Domestic Goddess" title were slightly strained after only Day 3 when I had already run out of healthy options to cook that he might eat! The struggle is real!! How do people do it?? This title has since been put on hold for when I am less stressed and have more time...

St. Kilda is the place to be in the summer and once you look past the syringes and human faeces outside our door in the lane way, it's great! Lovely neighbours who presented us with some muffins when we moved in and another who told us the "trick" about living in peace was to be nice to the drug addicts and homeless alcoholics and they would leave you alone... Noted.

We had a house-warming two months in, the day after my Christmas party, which was a struggle in itself. Please bear in mind that I had fallen in the door at 6am with tinsel wrapped round my neck, no bag, heels or pretty much ANY belongings (phone was with one mate, makeup with another and shoes with another!) just as Neilee was going out the door to work. I consistently make him so proud, I’m sure of it.

And so, after a three hour sleep, I was up and prepping the apartment for the house-party; whilst still wearing my sunglasses indoors, as it was “too bright”. Cut to a few hours later and we have a DJ at the apartment, the bath full to the brim with bottles of beer and it has the makings of another messy night ahead.

This one ended at 6am again, with my having to “cut the night short” as Neilee was asleep standing up against a pole in a less-than-classy establishment on Fitzroy street! Again, a few hours of sleep was squeezed in before we got up for the McGregor v Aldo UFC match that we had ordered on FOXTEL, and invited a few more people round to drink the remaining bottles of beer.

Neil was a shadow of his former self, left mute on the sofa whilst the rest of us got ready for the most anticipated 13 seconds in UFC history. We all barely had time to sit up on the sofa and pay attention before it was over.  McGregor shouting “IRELAND BABY WE DID IT!” was what resonated with me after the short-but-sweet fight. This 27-year-old guy from Crumlin had just become the UFC Featherweight Champion of the world by the fastest championship victory in UFC history and he was sharing it with his country and all of us who were Irish. In the frenzy of winning and the chaos of the minutes just after knocking Jose Aldo out, he thought of his nation when asked about his win. He was, in that moment, a King, with an army of millions behind him. The screams of the Irish were heard for miles – Maire had come around afterwards and told us of how the Irish Pub she had been in had turned into a mosh pit, with drinks being thrown around the place and people jumping on tables. We may be a small country and don’t have very many world-class athletes; but one thing is for sure – if you are up there amongst the best, you’ll have the backing of pretty much every Irish person at every single step of the way. And of course, we’ll celebrate if you win and act as though we’ve each individually won the lotto.

Ireland lost to Argentina in the Rugby World Cup, which wasn’t ideal considering the Head of Platform is an Argentinian and a huge rugby fan (fully equipped with cauliflower ears). If that didn’t end my career, him telling the Global Head of Fertiliser that a work colleague and I were calling said Senior Manager “Fabio” because he “looked like a Fabio” probably put the nail in the coffin. Especially since he announced it on a Global call; naming me in person. I might as well start updating my Linked In…

Bhany and my niece Izzy come down to visit Luke, who has been stationed in Victoria for a bit, for a weekend in July and Neilee and I went to spend Christmas with them. They are moving back to Ireland next year and it’s beginning to dawn on me how much this will impact on me now. I know she’s a three-hour plane ride away, but even having my sister on the same time-zone (give or take an hour at Daylight Savings time) makes things easier. Being the only one left in Australia will change things I’m sure. 

Finally, I’m not able to go into details about why yet, but I had to fly home at short notice to attend a hearing. The stay at home was short and sweet, making the 24 hour journey for only a week, but I was determined to turn it into a positive experience and enjoy my time there once that was out of the way; especially seeing as though the whole thing was unexpected.
Bhány and I headed together, surprised Kev with Bhany’s turning up at the airport and then headed home to do the same to Mam and Dad; both of whom didn’t know we were coming. It happened to also be Mam’s 60th birthday that week, so the timing was good. We left 34 degrees to arrive at minus 2 and froze ourselves for the week. Upon arrival at the house, we decided the plan would be to run around the back, go in the back door and sit on the couch in the kitchen so that we could surprise Mam when she came in. Mam and Dad were always in the front room at this time and we were sure this was a fool-proof plan. It would have been if Dad hadn’t decided to go into the kitchen about five times whilst we froze our a*ses off outside the door, waiting for the opportunity to come indoors. In the end, Dad turned on the outside light, so we scarpered around to the front of the house for fear of giving him an actual heart attack should he come out and see us outside. We rang the doorbell and Dad answered, a confused and slightly annoyed look on his face.

We signalled at him to not say anything, so when Mam asked who it was he said “It’s not for it, it’s for next door” and went to close the door on us in a panic! We managed to grapple with him to get in, and then I sent Bhány in ahead of me. Kev was filming as Bhány said “Well, are you going to swing the kettle or not?!” to Mam who looked up at her for a split second before screaming “JESUS!” when she realised there was something not quite right with this picture. Poor Dad copped it with “you little sh*t” as she thought he was in on it and there were tears and laughter before she had to sit down with the fright. I have to say that the 24 hours of hell on a plane was worth it for only that reaction. The wine came out, Facebook was updated and the phone-calls started coming for Mam.

We headed to Gorey with the family for the weekend and Bhány and I headed to meet Ita’s family and visit her grave in Rosegreen, Cashel on the way home. It was surreal to be standing over a grave and think of it as being Ita. I didn’t quite know how to deal with it as I hadn’t been a part of any of it; so the mind took a while to process. It was only upon meeting her beautiful family that it sunk in, but I held it together only wavering slightly when I met her father. What a strong and amazing family – I really think they are a testament to Ita and after meeting them it’s no wonder she couldn’t have been anything but a beautiful person with such a nice and welcoming family. We chatted for a couple of hours before hitting the road again for the trip home. I missed her mother with one of her sisters, but promised to return on my next trip home; whenever that would be.

I was having a bit of a clear-out while I was at home, when my brother came across this photo… I don’t even think there are suitable words in the English language to describe this; but it had my family in stitches, Facebook loved it as did my staff members and other colleagues when they got their hands on it! Some comments were “you’ve come a long way” and “You have improved…a lot” – both of which are nice ways of saying “OMFG you were UUUUUGGGGGLLLLLLY!”. All I can say it thank God for makeup. And braces. And hair dye, fake tan, false eyelashes and in fact anything at all which means that I don’t have to look like my actual self! If you can't make it, fake it is my motto - now all I need to do is earn enough money to employ the nutritionist, makeup artist, hairdresser etc on a full time basis...!
Finding this photo then started hours’ worth of conversation threads on Whatsapp with some friends who dug up their own old photos of us all and kindly shared them. To think we were allowed out in public like that is terrifying and down-right bad parenting in my opinion. They should have known better – clearly my friends couldn’t see straight enough seeing as though they themselves were equally as bad!! The fact that I even had friends in that state is a miracle in itself; probably best not to push it!

The rest of the week was spent trekking around Ireland trying to get in all the relations and also having visitors over to the house who came to say hi and goodbye at the same time before we took the 26 hour trip home. The rush of emotions getting on the plane back to Melbourne this time was so different. Seeing my best friends and family and given that it was FREEZING made it all very Christmassy and I was genuinely sad to be leaving what I would always call home. Saying "When are you coming home?" is probably the worst thing you can ask someone living on the other side of the world. The guilt of being away, the inability to describe what it's like to someone who is still in Ireland and even the not-knowing the answer to the question is enough to hurt. With Bhany returning home, I knew the focus was on her and Izzy, but I was still asked about six or seven different times in the 7 days at home. When would I be going home? Or would I even ever go home? I find it best not to think about these tough decisions and see how things pan out for fear of having to answer the question. Plenty of time, I kid myself.

It was lovely to have the unexpected Christmas for this year, even if it was a month early. To the Aussies who don't understand when we say their December 25th isn't Christmassy: Christmas to me is a time and a feeling. It’s about friends and family and cold winter nights. It's that feeling you get when everyone is together, it's the sitting beside the fire to keep warm, the silly Christmas Carols in the background, it's the Die Hard and Home Alone on the TV and watching them for the 50th time together. It's “The Late Late Toy Show” on TV, the boxes and boxes of chocolates, the big dinners followed by dessert as a treat. It's a time to appreciate what you have and who you have with you to share it with. December 25th in Australia is the same as any other day in Summer for me; hot, spent drinking beers on the beach or having a BBQ. It couldn't actually be any further from my family and many of my friends if it tried and this distant “second life” I have keeps me in a bubble that doesn't allow me to share it with those at home in Eireann nor does it allow me to fully appreciate what I have either.

Saying this, Christmas also has the power to be the loneliest time of the year, or the saddest. A time when others who are alone are made more aware of it, or those who have lost someone in their lives are left with that empty seat at the table; the one dinner less to make, fewer gifts to buy. I thought of how hard it would be for Ita’s husband Francis and her beautiful family and friends without her. How it would hurt each time they took family photos and she wasn’t there and how they would see something in the shops that she would love, but they had nobody to buy it for anymore. I took a moment to drink in the scene at home, with my family all in the festive spirit and together again; acknowledging that I am more fortunate than others and making sure I was appreciative of that fact.

And so, we took the opportunity to have a full-spread Christmas dinner at home because the whole family was together again – what a treat to have since I had written off having a Christmas this year! Michael Buble playing in the background, the heating on to counter the  outside sub-zero temperatures, the “good cutlery” being used, Mam stressing over the turkey being “too dry” when it was always perfect, the Christmas hat ripping on Dad’s head as it was too small, being so full that you feel like you are ready to burst (yet you still manage to eat half a tin of Roses) – now THIS is Christmas!!

If any of the neighbours had come in to see us eating turkey and ham, wearing silly hats and Christmas jumpers and pulling Christmas crackers on a random Tuesday in November they would have thought we were insane...although looking at the photo below I would probably have problems trying to defend ourselves against that judgment...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone! 

What a year! 2015 has been and gone and I don’t even know how.
I have changed jobs, moved apartments, watched my little sister get married in Thailand and spent time working in Singapore. I have been home, have had some good injuries and witnessed my country step forward and lead the way in Marriage Equality.
And how it flew by – a year gone in what feels like a moment! Looking back on it, this year taught me that I should cherish the moments you have with each other and make the most of everything that you do. I can make the trivial New Years’ Resolutions we all make, but I should remember to live, laugh, love and learn from the mistakes that I am inevitably bound to make. But I know at times I will forget; I'll complain about things, I'll bitch and moan about my bad day and I'll wish the weeks away as I look forward to a particular date in time. But sure if I didn't, then I'd have nothing to write about...?! :)

Next stop; 2016…

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Let them eat cake!

The first months after Ita's passing were a bit of a blur to be honest; a lot of guilt-ridden days of not being able to go home for her. There are now days that I forget and then I go through the emotions of it all again when I remember; topped with the guilt of forgetting in the first place. It's difficult to describe long distance grief to someone who doesn't live away. I’ve said this before, but your life is so separate from everyone's at home that it's like you have two lives. You forget that things at home change, that kids grow up, that friends have babies and that some people die. You feel like everything will be exactly as it was when you left, waiting to continue upon your return. And then, when someone does pass away, and you’re now so used to not seeing them every day anyway, your mind cons you into thinking that they are just at home; especially after all the emotions of shock settle.
I think of her when I put on my boots in the morning as they're the ones she sneakily bought after seeing them on me. I think of her when I see the gift she bought me when I left for Oz, hanging on the wall in the sitting room. I have twice accidentally hit her number on FaceTime in my "Favourites" when I went to call someone and the sense of panic it instilled in me made me feel sick. Earlier this month, as I sat on the tram to go to work, I was left frozen to the spot - the hairs on the back of my neck standing up - as a lady got on and sat across me that could have been her twin. Equipped with gorgeous clothes and Ita's same glasses, I was stuck between being unable to stop half-smiling and staring at the poor girl whilst feeling nauseous at the thought of the trick I knew my eyes were playing with my mind.

My friend Maire tried to cheer me up after Ita's passing and so said she was taking me out to see "The Blues Brothers" musical. It was only the day before when she looked at the tickets that she realised it was actually "BLOOD Brothers"; a story which ends in death. I had to laugh at how much she failed on that one, poor thing! We went to see the play and then out for "a drink" afterwards. Somehow “a drink” lead to us rolling in the door at 6am, her wrapped in a blanket and my holding a bottle of vodka after walking down one of the main Melbourne roads. This wasn't before having to drag her away from a conversation with the men doing road-works on the main road outside our house when the cops drove by, and her pretending to be Batman with the blanket as her cloak outside the petrol station. A much needed release.

And so we continue with our lives.

I managed to get an even more stressful position within the Louis Dreyfus group, working longer hours and gaining nothing but more stress-weight and grey hair. The doctor pulled me in to get a handle on my thyroid meds after a 10kg weight gain in 4 months finally convinced them of my trying to tell them they were not working was actually the case. Why couldn't I be one of those people who lost weight with stress?? Imagine?! I'd be the skinniest person around with the amount of things I stress about!! :) First world problems, eh?? It didn’t help that they messed up when they took my bloods and then text me a week later to say all way fine. 8 weeks after this I contacted the GP to ask for a repeat prescription, only to have them tell me that I have to come in and see them as my results were way off. My response to the receptionist when she asked if I would like an appointment that day? “Trust me, you don’t want me to come in today”. It takes 6 weeks in between blood tests to see if the meds are working and they have just stalled me another 8 weeks. I was NOT a happy fat girl.

I now had to find an Endocrinologist seeing as though the doctors can’t get the world-class-fat-creating thyroid gland under control…although I’m hoping I won’t have died from obesity by then. Speaking of which, I was feeling so low about my having gained an extra person in weight in the last 6-months, that I was sitting there comparing myself to the man who died on Christmas Day and who had weighed in at over 450kgs no longer being able to wash himself.
It was a bad day.

An attempt at dressing up as Cindy Lauper for an 80s birthday party left me with permanently pink hair, despite the fact that it's meant to be a ONE-WASH-OUT product. 200 washes and $240 later I've still got tinges of orange and pink in my hair; which people love to draw my attention to, obviously thinking that perhaps I mightn't have picked up on the fact. Yvonne, I'm waiting for the final total spent before invoicing you for it all! :)

One night in July, after finishing work at 9pm, I was walking the usual 2km home, catching up on all the texts and Whatsapps as I made my way. This was my usual routine, most of the time meaning that I'd get home and not remember the journey as it was spent with my head in my phone and blind-walking the route home. This time, as I walk along the busy Punt Road in the dark texting Doireann from home, my ankle twists over where a tree is planted at the edge of the pavement. The path stops and dips and the tree is there just waiting to attack some unsuspecting creature like myself. I scream as I fall into the evil tree, grabbing hold of it to stop myself falling into traffic; branches tangling into my hair. The pain shot through my foot, but my concern was more if anyone saw me (obviously), so I leapt up and fixed myself, looking left and right to see if there were any witnesses. Lucky me - nobody about apart from the traffic whizzing by! So, I hobbled home, immediately returning to my phone to text Doireann what happened; clearly not having learned my lesson. I got home and put my foot up, sure of having twisted my ankle, informing Una of my plight. I was still picking leaves out of my hair the next morning.

Three weeks later my foot was still sore and walking on it hurt a lot, so I took myself to the Sports Health Clinic; only to leave 2 hours later, $500 lighter and fully equipped with a 6-week Moon Boot and a telling off by the doctor for my troubles. "Exactly how blonde are you?" I believe was what she asked me, before informing me that I had been walking around on a broken foot and torn ligaments for the past few weeks. Oops. I’ll take her rather harsh rhetorical question to be out of concern then.

The first weekend I was able to walk normally without limping in the huge contraption that had by then become a part of me; I got the heels out and headed to The Caulfield Cup Races. I lasted about an hour before taking them off.
Great day, although it wasn't a late one. We smuggled alcohol into the Race Grounds, putting Malibu into some pineapple juice cartons. Una and I were left to shame when another couple with us got the scalpel out, sliced the side of the cartons, poured out half the juice and poured in the alcohol, sealing the hole with a glue gun once they were finished, keeping the carton seal intact....
That's CSI material right there!

Luckily our "rookie" efforts weren't checked at the entrance and we had some refreshing "juice" to drink during the day! It was my first time at the Races and I had no idea what I was doing when betting, therefore deciding the best way was to bet on the names of the horses that I liked. Neilee - equipped with betting book - was horrified, but I managed to come out even!

Without going into detail about work, the old team environment wasn’t great and I was continually trying to improve it and up morale. One of the first things that was suggested was for newbie Katie and I to make a cake. Now, before I begin with this damning account of my “cooking skills” or lack thereof, let me first say that I can neither cook nor bake and have never eluded to the fact that I can, so don’t ask me why this came about as a suggestion.
Katie had just moved from WA and so had no friends yet (cue me) and no utensils for cooking, so we decided it best if we just buy a cake mixer and make things easier. So, fully equipped with me, said mixer, all the ingredients needed and two bottles of wine (to help the cooks of course), we headed to her apartment. We’re chatting away to each other as Katie instructs me what to do and how I can help (as the only thing I was currently helping with was drinking the wine). Katie tells me I can break up the biscuits and do the base of the cake. We had no utensil to break them up with, so I just put them in two plastic bags and used the – now empty – bottle of wine to smash them into pieces. Quite happy with my stroke of ingenuity, I’m still smiling when she hands me a piece of wrapping from the butter. I kindly put in the bin for her, all the while thinking she was a bit lazy to have handed it to me when she was standing right next to the bin. After taking all the day’s anger out on the biscuits, Katie goes to tell me how to put them in the tin but stops mid-sentence. “Why isn’t this greased? What did you do with the paper I gave you?
Apparently everyone knows that you grease the tin with the paper from the butter when it’s handed to you?! This is when she discovers that I’m serious when I say I can’t bake and her instructions immediately become a lot more specific as if speaking to a child…

When the preparation was all done (and the two bottles of wine inhaled), the oven was turned on and we had to wait an hour for the cheesecake to bake. It was already late, at 11:30pm, but I didn’t mind sitting and chatting for a bit longer. The two of us sat on the sofa talking until her alarm went off on her phone to remind her to take the cake out. Katie gets up, heads to the oven and stands in front of it – staring strangely through the glass. She must have been there about 20 seconds before she starts looking up and down and then opens the door of the oven again just staring into it. I said “What’s wrong? Is it burned?”, to which she replied “No….it’s not there!” Confused, I said “What do you mean it’s not there?!” “I can’t find the cake!!” she explained, as though it was the most normal sentence in the world.
Another 10 seconds before we realised that the cheesecake was still left on the table, right where we left it and directly in front of my line of vision for the last hour.

It was almost 2am by the time the cheesecake came out of the oven and poor Katie had to set her alarm again at 3:30am to remember to put it in the fridge. At least the cake looked a lot fresher than we did when we brought it, and its story, into work the next day. Masterchefs in the making...

Friday, 2 October 2015

I used to recognise myself, it’s funny how reflections change...

Thinking back on things, June marks the time of year that I excuse anything I do to the fact that it's my birthday month. I can buy what I want, eat what I want, go out as much as I want; all because of a made-up excuse that I use so that I don't feel guilty. On my actual birthday night, carnage ensues. Standard. In the run up to it, I have people texting me during the day telling me how much they’re looking forward to my birthday more than their own! Do you think I put too much emphasis on it?! Think MTV Awards night meets St. Patrick's Day...
We head out to Hoo Haa (since I’m still boycotting The Imperial since Feb) and the drinks are flowing. I love my friends. Every friend that I have in my life is special and I cannot put into words how important each of them are to me and how they get me through it all, no matter where they are.
Surprise turn-up of the night is Kiwi, who was waiting for me when I got to the bar – the guy who never goes out unless it’s with work was out and in fact, waiting on me?! Wonders will never cease!
From here we headed to Temperance, where the good clean fun continues. That is until everyone goes home and I’m left with only a few of us and that’s when it happens.
We had left our jackets and bags in the usual place in the bar and were standing beside them when Neil obviously sees something and tells me to keep an eye on my jacket. I go to see if I can find it on the table, only to see a random girl is wearing one which funnily enough looks exactly like mine…. Hmm.
Drunk Ciara looks at the jacket this (even drunker) girl has on and confirms it’s the same jacket as hers. Drunk Ciara is still in the frame of mind to check to see if her jacket is missing before unleashing all Hell on said girl.

My jacket isn’t there and so I turn to the girl and say; “Can you take my jacket off please?”. “What?” she says, while staring at / through me. I kept calm while repeating myself numerous times and with her continuously staring at me like I was the one with the problem, I started tugging at the jacket saying “Take my jacket off – NOW!” Her friend gets involved and is trying to pull me away, but I’m not letting her away with it. Eventually I manage to pull the jacket off her and as I put it back with the rest of my mates’ jackets I turn around to walk back onto the dance-floor when she says “F*ck you, ya fat b*tch”.


This is when any little bit of angst, anger, anxiousness or indeed frustration for the past 2 years was unleashed on the drunk girl swaying on her chair.
Try to steal my jacket. OK.
Call me fat. Not OK.

I turn around and go for her (obviously not touching her, just close enough to give her a full dental examination), shouting at her this and that and doing all the finger pointing and head-moving you see on those American TV shows. Everyone else who is with me thinks I’ve completely lost it as none of them heard her say anything. I’m separated from her and reluctantly go back to dancing. No more than two minutes later I look over and I can see her friend looking through the jackets and pulling my jacket out of the pile! I storm over, grab it out of her hand, take all of the jackets and move away from them. She follows me asking to see the jacket saying that one of the jackets are her friends. I go through them all, mine, Emma’s and then someone else’s. She claims the third for about five minutes before coming back with it saying it’s not hers. She is so drunk she has no idea what's going on, but I'm still fuming over her name calling. I hand my jacket to Neilee shouting “MIND THIS – I’M GETTING A DRINK”. The poor guy turns up at the bar about five minutes later asking me where I bought my jacket and what size it was etc. Clearly the friend wasn’t giving up on taking my TopShop Size 12 leather jacket and so he was trying to politely diffuse WWIII which was about to kick off. Another five minutes later I’m back and it turns out – what do you know – my jacket wasn’t, in fact, hers, and she found hers on the other side of the bar, before promptly leaving. Awkward.
This ruined the end of my night. I was left with Neil and Trickles who I felt weren’t seeing it from my side of things (since they never heard her say anything to me and then saw me go mental, they clearly just thought I was insane). It was late, so we went home.

The next day I was going over the whole saga and telling my sister about the situation, looking for reassurance and backup. “Oh my God! What the Hell?” she said. “I know!” I was saying, before she interrupted me with “Well; she was a fat b*tch too if she fit into your jacket”.

Not the type of encouragement I was looking for, but thanks Bhany, I think….?

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Shine bright like a diamond

I don't know what to say. I'm in denial one minute and crying my eyes out the next. What the hell is happening right now??!

How was I speaking to you only 3 weeks ago and now I'm sitting in my house watching the clock as I know they're about to lay you to rest right now as I type this?!. How is it that 3 weeks ago you were texting me to say thanks for some birthday champagne that I'd surprised you with, and now I'll never get to speak to you again? How is it fair that I'll never get to say goodbye to you or ever get over the guilt of it? 

You know that person that you hear about on TV or on Facebook or something; the one who is like a walking saint, always putting the needs of others before themselves? The one who is suffering immensely but doesn't show it in front of others? The one who has a smile on their face even though they are in pain on the inside? 

You know the friend or relative you have who you only need to think about and you have a smile on your face? The one who cannot be described in words but rather from the feelings you get from that person? The one who hasn't got an enemy in the world? 

What about that person you hear about who doesn't let anything get them down? The one who is consistently positive despite the massive obstacles that life puts in their way? Or the person who completes more in their forty years that you could in one hundred?

Well that person was my friend Ita.

Ita Minogue, my little pixie. I can still hear your cheeky giggle in my ears. The hospital wanted her in last Friday week and she refused, saying she'll be in on the Monday as she was still partying! That's my girl - the life and soul of the party despite the fact that she was drowning on the inside. Irrespective of the fact that she was on a transplant list, on dialysis every second day, was constantly in and out of hospital for weeks on end, took about thirty tablets the size of horse tranquilisers a day - this beautiful little star would ask how your day was and would want to talk about you

You know, we never spoke about it. Never let it be what defined her. Never gave it a name. And to be honest, most of the time I would forget about it. Even when she was hooked up to her nebuliser or the dialysis machine (which took up half of her room), we chatted about how I had a cold and was feeling sorry for myself, or how work was stressing me out or about some man-drama I was having. Which was clearly more important...and perhaps a good distraction from what was slowly trying to take over her. Maybe she wanted it that way, or maybe it was because she was so good at fighting that I forgot she was suffering.

I knew it was serious. I knew that if you had it, the odds weren't good. Ireland has some of the most severe strains of it and also has the highest incidence (per head of population) of it in the world; with three times the rate of the US and the rest of the EU.

I knew the impact of it can vary from one person to another. I had seen that some people with it live only until their teens and there are others that live in to their 50's. 

It had already taken three people I knew by the time I was twenty-nine. This was number four. Ita had just turned forty.

My last physical memories of Ita were sitting on her couch in Co. Clare last Christmas when I went home, eating way too many wine gums before dinner and chatting on the times gone by. We were laughing about the trip to Turkey where we met in 2011, how things have changed since then and wondering about what things would be like in another three or four years. Little did we know seven months later was all it would be before things would change forever.

Ita liked the new boots I had bought, so she quickly bought a pair online before Francis, her husband, could see! She gave me a pair of beautiful earrings and we took a selfie to go in my "Day-by-Day" Facebook Status account of what I did when I went home. It was a very stormy day that day and Ita was quick to try and rush me home to Meath as soon as I'd had my dinner, for fear something would happen to me on the way back. She was barely able to walk about the house, yet was worrying about me. The little minx was asking me what date I was flying back to Melbourne after Christmas. I knew her plan -  she was trying to find out a date so she could see me off at Dublin Airport; a four hour drive away! I wouldn't tell her and so I drove off beeping and waving goodbye to her as she stood in the front doorway of her house, waving frantically in her dressing gown, smiling from ear to ear.

So I'm in Townsville on the weekend visiting my sister, my Dad (who is over visiting her) and my niece. I get up and check Facebook and within five minutes of logging on I have messages from Ita's husband and four other friends. My sister immediately knows there's something wrong by the expression on my face before I hear anything. I have a sickening feeling in my stomach because I know, before anything is said, the main connection between these five people and me is Ita and this deadly disease. I know what they're going to say. And then I read it, and re-read it and again a third time before I start to accept what they're telling me. In that split second, I feel a part of my heart literally break.

How considerate some people are. In such an emotional and heartbreaking time, these people thought to notify me and let me know of the sad news. I am so grateful and it's another credit to Ita in the circle of friends and family that she had around her. In a haze, I immediately start looking up flights to go home, and it's right then that I am overwhelmed with an irrational sense of hatred towards Australia and how far away from home it is. Even if I were to board a flight back to Melbourne that day I wouldn't make it back to Ireland in time for the Wake, removal or funeral. I am too far away to get home in time to say goodbye to my friend who is being buried in her party dress from her 40th birthday only weeks ago.

Words can't express the pain in my heart right now. You put up a great fight Ita - at no stage did you let this unrelenting disease beat who you are. Even in death you will shine brighter, not allowing the disease that took your body destroy you. I admire you and your unfailing courage in the face of what would make most crumble. Beautiful, funny & positive to the end; I will always treasure the happy times & aim to live more of a life for you. You will be the brightest star up there. A part of me has gone with you my beautiful Ita. One of the strongest and bravest people I have ever met, your continuous humour and positivity in the face of the insurmountable mountain you had to try climb was inspiring. Constantly thinking about everyone else before yourself, you never ceased to amaze me. You fought hard my little star, now breathe easy and continue to mind us from above. I am absolutely devastated, but so thankful I was special enough to have you as part of my life. I love you Itóg.

And so, in an effort to try to process and deal with this, I decide to take a leaf out of Ita's book. A never-ending flow of positivity and inspiration, I will consciously live as good and full a life as I can for she who can no longer do so. I will try to remember to take every breath as a second chance and not to take anyone for granted. What better way to honour a friend than to make her proud as she shines from above? And in those instances where I forget and fall flat on my face and fail, I know she will be the first one to start laughing. Ita's legacy will continue to live on in the hearts of everyone she touched. So, excuse my language, but fuck you Cystic Fibrosis. Ita was, and always will be, so much bigger than you - you don't get to win this one.

Ita Minogue
July 3rd 1975 - July 25th 2015

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an inherited chronic disease that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system of about 1200 children and adults in the Ireland (70,000 worldwide). A defective gene and its protein product cause the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections; and obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food.
Visit for more information or to donate towards finding a cure.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Land of Sex and Smiles

And so the craziness began...

We arrived in Phuket and check in to Ban Thai Resort, where the concierge insists on only talking to Neil. Now, I don't care who pays for something in a couple, who earns more money or who stays at home with the kids if you have any. I do, however, have an issue with you PRESUMING that the man is the leader of the couple or the man is the one who earns more. When the concierge started talking to Neil about the details of the hotel, going to hand him the keys, talking to him about the bill and completely ignoring the fact that I was standing there, despite my name being the one on the credit card; that didn't go down well in Ciara-world. This guy was completely dismissing the fact that I was also human and of equal importance to everyone else in the room. And so, when he went to hand Neil the key to the room, I intercepted the exchange by grabbing it off him and saying "thank you, I'll take that"; staring at him with a look that would probably burn through lead.
Upon entering the hotel room, it was clear they thought that we were on our Honeymoon and had the room showered in rose petals and had the towels made into swans. I could actually see Neilee starting to actively sweat as though I had secretly organised it and was about to get down on one knee! The poor boy. The petals were quickly removed and swiftly thrown in the bin, for fear that they would evoke any sort of romantic nonsense and anyway; they were making it less comfortable to watch Match of The Day on, I'm not joking.

We went out to find somewhere to eat and I quickly remembered how much I hate the pushy culture of people pretty much trying to wrestle you into their shop or restaurant. I don't even like when you walk into a shop in Melbourne and they immediately ask "How you going?" (plus, what does that even mean? There is at least one word missing in that Aussie sentence), never mind have people constantly trying to get you to come in and buy in their shop. Not to mention the fact that they put on an Australian accent ("cheaper than Myer mate") if they think you're Aussie or an English one ("lovely jubbly, cheaper than Next") on the nights when Neil looked particularly English (polo shirt with the button done up to the top). They never guessed I was Irish, but I imagine that would bring on the onslaught of "Top of the morning to ya" or something along those lines.
I understand that this is the way they make their money, but it's too pushy for me and just intimidates me not to go into their place. Not to mention that they start off really friendly, but then when you don't do as they want or even when you say "no thanks" they immediately start slagging you off in Thai. Oh yes; now i really want to buy from you...?! Anyway, it probably took me half the week to get used to this and not either flinch when they approached or snap at them so that they would leave me alone. I couldn't get over how different the people in Koh Samui were to the people of Phuket. And the pushiness was only the beginning...

We decide that we're going to try and do a few things whilst on holiday. This was the first holiday Neilee had been on that wasn't a drunken haze of booze, stupid tattoos (no need to remind you of the "Billy the Fish" incident) and God knows what else, so we decided to do a few activities. As we loved the snorkelling so much, we decided to do some island tours and signed up for the Phi Phi Island and Raya Island tour, which also brought us onto the beach where "The Beach" was filmed. Our tour guide was great! We were on a boat full of Asians and a few Russians, but were the only native English speakers and so the guides took a shine to us.

Our guide took some photos for us, explained some history about the place specifically to us and even took the two of us out snorkelling on our own (as none of  the rest of them could really swim). At one stage we stopped the boat in the middle of the sea and were told we could go out to snorkel. The Chinese group get their life jackets on and get into the water. They were all out again before we even got our turn to get off the boat and into the sea! The big Russians (who fit EXACTLY into the stereotype of being brick-houses) were the same, saying there were jelly fish in the water and that they had gotten stung. So, then there was only Neil and I in the water, feeding the fish, who were in a frenzy around the banana that one of the guides had given me, It was amazing!!! I had the GoPro and was filming it happen, when I got stung on the lip by a jellyfish. You can hear my screams under water through the tube I was using to breathe! It was sore!!!! A couple more stings to the hands and legs, some underwater swearing and we needed to get out as the boat was waiting on us. I looked like I had botox done when I got out! At least it was free though!

A great day, with lots of new experiences. We snorkelled some more off The Beach, but the current was very strong and I didn't last long as my mask kept leaking and the seawater was stinging my eyes. The Chinese group were a total liability, clinging to the boat in their life jackets, or indeed anything they could get hold of - including me! At one stage I had to pry two fully-dressed girls off of me as I was trying to get onto the ladder of the boat and they were going to drown me; grabbing hold of my head and pushing me down for fear they would drown in their lifejackets...! Scary stuff as they literally were unaware of how dangerous they were being to the few of us without gear keeping us afloat. We held some baby monkeys and I saw a shark while snorkelling (which was thankfully both small and swimming away from us!) before heading back to Phuket.

Another day we went scuba-diving for an hour or so, where Neilee couldn't get the hand of standing still underwater or not kicking when the guide was pushing us around the place - it was funny! We literally had to do nothing but breathe but I came out with bruises on my legs from Neilee's flippers! I took loads of footage of him scuba-diving and then handed him the camera underwater and he went off doing his own thing and didn't take any of me! Eh...cheers mate. #flyingsolo

We went to Tiger Kingdom another day, where each of the keepers were obsessed with the fact that he was from Liverpool (although none of them were Everton fans and probably the same number could even understand him) and therefore gave us more time in the pens or took more photos for us. In the "small" tiger pen (where the tigers are 9 months old and not exactly small at all), I even got to feed one of them by bottle, which was unreal! I was standing in the middle of four or five tigers who were "play fighting" (there would be nothing fun about being caught in the middle of that!) with each other and wrestling for the bottle I was feeding them with. I will not lie and say I wasn't really excited but just as equally fearing for my life! What an experience. The tigers are free to roam about the enclosures as much as they like. The keepers are armed with small sticks...yes, STICKS, to keep the tigers from mauling anyone inside the enclosure. It wasn't exactly confidence-inspiring when one of the tigers decided he had enough of the attention and completely ignored the keepers and their sticks and bowled past them, moving to the other side of the enclosure. I kept close to the edge of the enclosure where there was an electric fence, having decided to throw myself against it in the hope of instant death through electrocution rather than mauling should the event arise.  

This same day we got to ride on the back of an elephant with a guide on her neck, until the guide got off and told me to sit where he was and then walked away. The elephant started moving and I was clearly in less-than-zero control of what she was doing, so I was just left sitting in fear and trying not to fall off, while it made it's own way home. Again another stroke of luck, as the other couple who had gone with us just sat on the back and didn't get to be involved at all on their elephant. Our guide took video footage of us and it was great - those animals are so big and move so slowly, but you can feel their power; it's quite scary. Neilee sat on the back like he was some sort of King being brought through the jungle.

After seeing a monkey show at this same place, I started to feel a little uncomfortable as I wasn't 100% happy with the way in which the animals were reacting to the people, so I was glad to call it a day. You leave money for the animals in the blind hope that they will at least treat them with something.

One night we are walking down Bangla Road and getting hounded to buy suits or go to a "Ping Pong Show", when we come across a group of Lady-Boys dressed up to the nines. Posing for some photos, they smile and do all the moves for the camera, but then stand towering 7ft over you to get you to give them money afterwards. It was only $4 each for the photos, so I didn't mind, and then we watched them from a bar across the road attack every unsuspecting passerby possible. I was in absolutely shock at one of them; who could have been one of the hottest "girls" I had ever seen, if I hadn't known "she" was actually really a "he"!! It was incredible how absolutely drop dead gorgeous this girl was!!! Some of them were completely obvious (and shouldn't have been wearing the little clothes that they were!), some less so; but this particular one was only obviously a Lady-Boy because she was wearing flamboyant feathers and a bikini top and was surrounded by other Lady-Boys. She became known as "my favourite" - I honestly couldn't get over how she was actually a guy! If I was a straight guy in Phuket, I wouldn't be getting with anyone, because you actually cannot tell sometimes. Well, apart form the dancing. You can tell when they try to dance sexily, as they can't. Imagine your brother/Dad/Uncle trying to dance sexily around a pole. This is what these Lady-Boys danced like - a bit like older people dance at weddings...
OK, the actual females were slightly bigger and probably not as good looking, but they could dance.

Neil tells me about this Lady-Boy show that travels the world and how he's seen signs for it at home and we decide that it'll be fun to go and see the show here as it HAS to be good. Surely it will be good, being one of the biggest homes of Lady-Boys?! How unbelievably wrong we were.

Cue an hour of pure and utter skin-crawling cringiness; you know when you're in a situation so cringy that you want to scrape your skin off or just dig a hole in the ground and crawl into it? This was it. For a entire hour. Firstly, we were the only ones in the show for the first bit, until we were thankfully able to share the awkwardness with another couple who had made the same mistake as us by entering. The Lady-Boys mimed their way through songs of which they didn't know the words, wearing clothes that didn't fit and were tied together with safety pins. One looked absolutely smashed and did an "It's Raining Men" number where the bouncer of the club joined in as one of the dancers (they were obviously short?!) and the whole dance was based around the fact that the drunk could do a one handed cartwheel. Which he did. Five times. I mean, if I had been able to rip out my eyeballs to stop seeing what I was seeing, I would have. The grand finale was where they all came out on stage and the boozed up Banglarian came out in a G-string and no top on. My eyes still can't unsee the sight.

One evening I say that I want to get a massage, but don't want to go on my own, so we pick a place and I make sure they don't take him off to another room when we go upstairs. As we walk in, Neilee says he wants a Sports Massage and I ask for a Swedish Massage. Immediately a particular "girl" is picked from the staff to do what Neilee has asked for and we head up the stairs. I'm immediately suspicious as she's tall and beautiful - a sure sign of a man in this town. It sounds weird, but it's true! I'm about twenty minutes into my massage when I look over at Neilee and can just see him writhing in pain and deep breathing below the elbows of the masseuse!! He was in absolute agony the entire hour while I tried to stifle the laughter at the sound of his breaths and "f*&king hell" comments. Mine wasn't exactly relaxing either, so I can only imagine what pain he was in! At one stage his masseuse was standing on him, digging her heels into his back. My masseuse was fascinated with my hair extensions and didn't have any issues with examining me like a baboon eating lice from another's head. There are no boundaries in Thailand.

Remember I was talking about my hatred of the "Billy The Fish" excuse for a tattoo on Neilee's wrist? Well as the Ed Sheeran tickets for Neilee's birthday didn't work out (I was in Singapore for it so I sold them to get the extortionate amount of money I paid for them back), I got him a cover up tattoo instead. I found something on Pinterest that he liked since he was looking for a skull and roses and so it was bye-bye ridiculous upside-down fishy. Neilee spent the last day getting that done, so I headed off to get a massage back at the place I'd been at the couple of days before. I decided to try out a foot massage this time and despite the fact that I hate people touching my feet, it was lovely! I was enjoying the whole experience when I saw Neilee's masseuse was given the German guy beside me a foot massage too. She was clearly flirting with the poor guy who was absolutely oblivious to it all, apart from catching the daggers his wife was giving her. THEN I notice something else - the masseuse had TWO THUMBS on the one hand!!!!! I was delighted with my find so I could tell Neilee, but couldn't get an opportunity to support my allegation with a photo as she kept looking at me. As a matter of fact they all were looking at me as my masseuse talked about me in Thai. I needed to start learning this language.
I went and got another massage from the same girl I had the massage from the few days previous. She started talking to me and confirmed my suspicions that Neilee's goddess was in fact a man. And let's not forget the two thumbs on one hand. Gold.
She continued to talk to me about her life and asked me questions about mine. It made me sad to hear that she was from Koh Samui and had to move to Phuket to make money as he husband left her with three kids. She hadn't seen her children in over 18 months and it would be another 18 before she had enough money to go home. Here was this girl working full days every day (one day off in a year and a half) trying to get enough money so she could support her children and here was I lying there paying her next-to-nothing to massage me for an hour. Even after I paid her three times the amount for the massage, it didn't eradicate the empty feeling of the injustice of it all.
I headed back to see the master cover-up tatt, and it was amazing! Neilee was delighted and the tattoo artist was impressed that he was able to do it in one sitting. Billy the Fish is still lingering under one of the roses if you look closely - hopefully as a reminder to not do stupid things when you're drunk...!

I obviously took great delight in inform
ing Neilee of the fact that he had a man with three thumbs rub and manhandle him the few days prior. Funnily enough he didn't seem to relish in my discovery as much as I was doing. Shame there wasn't time to get another "session" booked in...

We saw a few Muay-Thai fights, where the competitors just fight until one of them gives up. An elbow splitting the opponents head open stopped one fight, whereas another was an elbow to the eye, busting it open. These fighters were from about 15 to 30-years-old and although the boys looked wiry, they just kept going. It was savage; knees to the head, kicks to the shins and stomach; not something someone who doesn't even like to watch boxing would enjoy.

The last night consisted of going to see a Ping-Pong show; if only to shut the apparent-hundreds of people on Bangla Road who were trying to get us to go in and experience it up. So we did. And my God - what an experience. We walked upstairs into a dark bar, where we sat down and paid $60 for two drinks (one of them being a Diet Coke!). Sure, the show was free but you needed to take out a second mortgage to buy a drink, which was also compulsory mind you.
In front of us was a stage, with five poles on it and with one Asian girl standing beside each pole dancing expressionless. This was no Magic Mike stuff. They weren't wearing much to start off with anyway, but ended up with absolutely nothing on. Bless Neil, who was trying to look but also trying not to look as though he was looking TOO much since I was sitting beside him! That's quite a skill.
Now, some of these girls were GORGEOUS yet swayed around the pole with blank faces, taking off their clothes til their song ended and they could swap shifts with the next lot. More and more people came into the bar until the Ping-Pong show started.

Now, I knew what the idea of the show was about and so I was expecting one of the previous models to come out on stage to start the performance. Imagine my shock when the "artist" who clambered up on stage was in fact about sixty-years-old, wearing too little to hide the necessities, fully equipped with a knee support and no teeth! What a sight! She bundled up on stage, squatted and started pulling razor blades on a string out from "underneath". The show continued awkwardly where she removed needles, a live hamster and a live BIRD from there; she continued by pushing live FISH from herself into a fish bowl (there must have been about ten of them up there!), by playing the trumpet with it, by smoking with it and then eventually by getting members of the audience to hold up balloons while she fired darts from her nether-regions to pop them! Not exactly something you see every day, but I in fact was more shocked and disgusted about what was going on in the audience than what we had paid to see on stage.
To my left was an old Asian man of about sixty-plus years of age. He had two young Asian girls around him; both of which looked about sixteen. One was topless and sitting on his knee with her hand down his trousers as he manhandled her breasts, while the other was touching herself in front of him and then rubbing her hand on his face afterwards. Neil had to keep tell me to stop staring as I sat open-mouthed at the disgusting sight no more than 2 metres away from me. To my right a white man of about fifty years of age was drinking and licking alcohol from one of the girls' bodies as she bent over in front of him. As soon as the "show" was finished I grabbed my stuff and stormed out the door, fuming at it all.
Just upon getting down to Bangla Road again, some poor lady shoved a photo in my face and said "Ping Pong Show" and I lost it, shouting at her "NO! I'VE ALREADY SEEN IT!" before Neilee rescued her by dragging me away. I had been appalled and angered at the sight of the older white men with the Thai teenagers on their arm all week and this was the last straw.

Phuket has beautiful beaches and it has amazing scenery, but due to the focus being on bringing the money in, rather than looking after the environment to prolong the natural beauty for longer, the place is becoming littered and dirty. The tourists don't seem to care and the locals even less so. The Phuket authorities don't put enough resources into keeping the place clean as they're too busy concentrating on getting more people to visit. Phuket also sells sex as its way of getting the tourists and making money, all to the detriment of its own people. It made me so sad to see the lengths that the locals will go to in order to make money. The sex rooms in the massage parlours, the sex shows on every street, the Thai men on the beach looking for white females - it's everywhere. Again, how the (usually white) men honestly think the gorgeous teenage Thai girl on their arm is remotely attracted to them, never mind in love with them, is beyond me?! How do they not feel embarrassed as they walk around the streets holding the hand of someone who could be their daughter? How do they not feel sad for the girls? How do the girls do it?? It must be that the alternative in the girls' lives is so bad that this is an easier act to follow and an easier life to live. I couldn't get over how sad it all was and how OK so many people were with it. I don't think I'll be rushing back.

Thailand is amazing on the quiet side - Koh Samui absolutely lived up to the "Land of Smiles" name its country has been given, with friendly people who are always willing to help, smiling and bowing at you in thanks. But unfortunately what they don't tell you is that it also has a dark side; crime, drugs, sex trade and corruption in Phuket and Bangkok. Thailand had the highest number of deaths of Aussies overseas in 2012, with 111 fatalities, whereas there were 389 British National deaths in 2013. Britain says that it's the country where its citizens are second most likely to require consular assistance if they visit, behind the Philippines. Scary stuff when you know this and even scarier when you only learn about it after you've been there.

And so, in a flash it was over. My holiday for the year; done and dusted. What a great time, an amazing and beautiful wedding and so good to see my family again! Neilee didn't kill me either (which was an unexpected bonus) and we managed to have a great time, even if I'll be paying my bit off for the rest of the year! Now to plan the next one...