Week four begins with Christmas Eve and my love of Christmas is bubbling over with the many traditions we have at this time of year. One of the traditions is to have Christmas Eve dinner with The Tobin family from Maynooth; long-term family friends. However, due to the number of children sprouted in the two families in the last three years, it was decided that we would have a Christmas Lunch instead, allowing for said kids to be in bed early for when Santa would come. The whole build-up of December amounts to today and tomorrow and it's hard to believe it when lunch is over and everyone goes home. It was great to see everyone and Orlaith, Elaine and I organise to meet up separately so that we can catch up before I go. The rest of the day is spent chilling at home with family, until the evening when we bundle into the car and head to Maynooth. I have to make two trips since I am the "Designated Driver" and Dave has promised that I'll pick up some of the lads, so I double back and we get everyone into The Roost in Maynooth for a Christmas drink. It's great to see the lads that I grew up through my teens with; Pip, Rob, Dave, Leddy and Noel and we talk about the fast-approaching Wedding-Of-The-Year with Rob and Heather in April. It's too close to my trip home and even my sister's wedding for me to make it, but I'm delighted to have been invited. We're eventually kicked out of the pub at midnight and I drive everyone home. One of the lads sends me a lovely text later on and I know that even though things have changed, they're always there for me.
So, with my luck number Christmas Day arrived! We get up early to see that Santa has remembered that Izzy isn't in Townsville for Christmas and has delivered her many presents to the house! Such excitement to see her open the presents and play...with the wrapping paper and the boxes before heading back to bed!! We all got ready for Mass with Bhany and Luke getting a "Get out of jail free card" due to having Izzy. As usual it's all about who you can spot and I got talking to loads of people outside, so that was lovely. I couldn't stick around in the cold, so we headed home and straight into next-door for the annual "Post-Mass Drinks" in Hatch's to catch up with all the neighbours for an hour or two. I got to see Ciara, Dave and Jennifer (who was expecting a baby in 3 weeks) and only noticed that my family had deserted me when Kev told me they had already gone to Maynooth! So the two of us bail in his car and head into see Noel, Teresa and the "Half-Brother" and "Half-Sister" Donal and Ellen as tradition number one million and eight. Donal decides it'll be a great idea to play this "Jellybean Roulette" game, where you randomly select Jelly Beans and they can taste of anything like strawberries to toothpaste, mint to vomit. Needless to say I went first and was told the one I selected was either Popcorn or Rotten Egg. I put it in my mouth and after two or three chews figured it must have been popcorn as it didn't taste of anything really. How wrong I was. Within two seconds of this thought, the most vile-tasting, stomach-turning taste hits me and I don't need another millisecond to guess which one I got. I spit it out but spent the next half an hour dry-retching as the taste wouldn't leave me. Other classics were Teresa getting "Vomit" and Dad getting the same as I did, but defiantly swallowing it. Even the thoughts of it as I'm typing this is making me feel sick again. Be warned people - kids are evil and that game is not to be taken lightly!!!
We head home and set the table ready for the feast that was being prepared. One of my favourite meals of the year; and not because of the food but because of what it represents for me; family and loved ones all sitting down together laughing and joking, having a good time and being thankful for what we have. We eat our fill and then some and retire to the sitting room where the final tradition is to open the presents under the tree then. Bhany hands them out as Dad films and Izzy plays with the paper. Each one of us are spoilt and Mam is super impressed with Dad's sneaky and ninja-like ability to pick Christmas presents for her. And in typical Mam-fashion, she's more impressed with the $10 phone cover we bought her over everything else. I can see where Izzy gets the box and paper playing trait!
After the long day and with the build-up all over, I head to bed thinking about how much I love Christmas, how happy it makes me and also how sad it is that others don't have the same experience or thoughts on it.
Well what a miserable, wet and cold day St. Stephen's Day turned out to be! Kev had talked me into doing a 3km charity run in Maynooth called "Run for Mum" (https://www.facebook.com/runfor.mum?fref=ts), which I was regretting as I looked at the pouring rain. The event itself was well organised and had a great turnout despite the weather. A dusty looking Noel turned up telling me about his night's escapades and I saw Paul McKenna, my best friend from years ago, arrive to do the run with his new "Running Man" or "Pistorius" leg! I leave Kev to set off towards the front and I mingle somewhere around the middle and give it a go. I notice Paul running alongside me at the last 750m or so, and we cross the finish-line together; my being happy that I didn't die of lack of fitness and overeating, and Paul elated and emotional as it was his first run since he lost his leg about 10 years ago. My admiration for this guy is immense. He gets the new "running leg" 6 days before the run and "to test it out" he runs 3km in it?! Unreal. I am delighted for him - here's me barely holding it together from the amount of chocolate cake I ate the night before!!
I bump into Ciara Baxter as we take shelter from the rain inside and then another ex-Melbourne mate Emma Bruton; all of whom laugh at my "waterproof" mascara which is now all down my face. At this stage I would like to point out that I didn't put mascara on for the race, I literally am that lazy that I had it on from the day before (or more likely a collection of the week's mascara!). Bhany and Luke pick me up and Kev goes to The Roost to meet some friends. It's here that he bumps into a guy at the bar who asks if he's "Ciara Sweeney's brother". He says he is and John Higgins, whom I used to work with in Northern Rock, tells Kev that he's never met him, but recognised him from my Facebook photos! Ha - how random is that? Probably scary for everyone else that I'm taking photos of and putting on my Facebook...but I think you should look at is as though I'm promoting you and making you famous! :) Again, proof that I'm a stalker / murderer's dream. Home for dinner and then eventually make myself get ready to go out with Bhany. We only lasted about three hours; I was driving so wasn't drinking, didn't recognise anyone and felt about sixty-years-old with all the "kids" that were out, so retreated home after midnight!
Off to the gym to do some conditioning to try and get rid of some of the Christmas food eaten...I often think to myself that if I didn't love food quite so much, I could be thin with all this exercise..! With Kev and I in one car and Mam, Dad, Bhany, Luke and Izzy in the other, we head off to my Aunty Bridie and Uncle Henry's in Co. Laois to celebrate Nanny's birthday with family. Again, another tradition I love, where my cousin Jennifer comes down from Mayo and we spend the day eating, chatting and playing games. The tradition of playing "Charades" or "Who am I?" always brings many laughs with it. This year's highlight for me was when I was playing "Who am I?"; where the rest of the players give me clues and I have to guess. Bridie's clue came in as "The little man with his hand in his pocket!!!" I stare blankly at her thinking "A Leprechaun?!" Clearly I need to brush up on my history - the apparently OBVIOUS answer was Napoleon Bonaparte?! Right...
Another friend-and-fun-filled day today. Had to say goodbye to Shell, Sarah and Ciara; so met them in Jamie Oliver's restaurant in Dundrum for a beautiful meal and the usual laughs. I'm going to miss these girls so much - their normality and ability to just know how to make you feel better (usually by either making fun of you or telling you an even more horrific story about themselves) is brilliant and I always leave smiling about something or other. From here I met Leno for some Ice-Skating and a browse around the shops. You can't go through a Christmas without going Ice-Skating...although I'm not sure if the way in which I "grace" the rink would be deemed appropriate to call it Ice-Skating!! I managed not to fall though - it's the little victories! Leno was able to give me a realistic idea of what life was like in Ireland, after having lived in Melbourne for a few years. She told me how things are different when you come back for good; that it's not the same as when you come back for a visit and how you feel like a part of you is missing. It was sad saying goodbye to her as I really feel like we're the same person on so many levels!
I literally thought I would die from the cold when I was waiting at the bus stop at Liffey Valley. I mean, I seriously thought that if I breathed too deeply that I would freeze on the inside - it was minus six degrees Celcius and despite the hat, scarf, gloves and jacket I thought the end was near. I got the bus to Maynooth where Doireann picked me up and we headed into Celbridge to meet Bhany, Luke, Kev, Donal and Ellen and go bowling. I ordered some pizzas in for the gang and we had a laugh for an hour; I sucked just about as much as I do at Ice-Skating, but at least I didn't need the bumpers, like Ellen did. (I'm leaving out the point that she's a 12-years-old, as I feel that it takes away from my glory a bit). We skidded back to Donal and Ellens afterwards and stayed for an hour or so as I chatted to their Mam Teresa and put the world to rights before saying my goodbyes here and heading home. The goodbyes are getting harder now as the time grows closer to going back to Melbourne. Even as I type this I am putting in "Home" for Ireland and "Home" for Melbourne and then having to go back on myself to be clearer for you as you read it.
This day was spent eating. OK, so I spend most days doing nothing but eating, but this day was even more than normal! Another minus 6 degrees Celcius day meant skidding to the gym before going back to Maynooth to meet up with some of the crowd from Enfield. Ciara, Amers, Debbie and Conor met me for brekkie and a chat and I have to admit I was probably most nervous about this meeting than many of the others. I guess because these guys only knew me as "Ciara and Paul" and never just as me on my own, that I didn't know wha
t reaction they would have, what reception I would get or if anyone would be inclined to "take sides". Don't get me wrong, I knew in reality that they wouldn't, but I guess it was just something I had in my head and I couldn't get passed the fear to go visit Enfield where we used to live or to see anyone from there just in case. The minute I saw them I knew I had been silly to think they would have reacted any other way than being happy to see me and indeed happy to see me happy. We sat and chatted about the previous three years in Enfield; where I discovered they got a new supermarket (cue gasping of breath in shock), and in Melbourne where I tried to give a quick update on my life. It was great to see them and all of them look great! Not that I was looking for anyone's approval, but I didn't want anyone's judgement I guess and I was delighted that the girls had reached out to meet up with me and also for Conor for having taken the time out to come too!
I left eating breakfast to go eat lunch in "The Avenue" (again) with Bhany, Luke, Kev and Izzy as a goodbye for them although it's never bad with Kev as he's so laid back and we all knew we'd see each other again in May for their wedding in Thailand. Mam and Dad had gone to a wedding down the country, so it was a good excuse to avoid a teary goodbye.
I brought them all to the airport as Kev was going out for the night, and I washed my hair beforehand thinking that I'd dry it when I got home. I dropped the Townsville-bound crew off and headed home to Kilcloon to get ready to go meet Orla for dinner in Maynooth (told you it was all about the food today). I went into Mam's room to get the hairdryer and couldn't find it. I looked everyehwere and then realised she must have taken it with her as they were staying overnight (even though I don't know why you need to bring it for one night!) at the wedding. Panicking at having to go out in public looking like I’d been dragged through a bush backwards, I frantically tear through the house in search for a travel hairdryer or something that resembles it might dry the unruly mop on my head. I rejoice triumphantly as I find a hairdryer in the back of Mam’s wardrobe, but my joy was short-lived when I soon realized it was an American hairdryer and I needed an adaptor to use it. Again I high-five myself at the revelation that Dad had loaned me a multi-way adaptor that was surely OK for The States, so I laugh victoriously to myself when I discover that it does indeed fit! I don’t think I had time to blink between turning on the dryer and the loud BANG that ensued after this, signifying that I had blown the sockets of the house. Now in semi-darkness and with a smell of burning in the room, I have 25 mins before I’m meant to meet Orla for our dinner date. I won’t even talk about the lengths of the corridor I ran in an effort to get the air to dry my hair, or the “head-banging” imitations I took part in when the original running-up-and-down-the-hall-like-a-lunatic plan failed. Eventually I gave up and just kept running my hands through it in order to grease it into place. Dinner was lovely and it was so good to get some more down-time with Orls. Having thought I was only going to see some of my besties once or twice, anything more than that was such a bonus that I was delighted with every moment. “Bistro 53” was lovely and we stayed and chatted for hours. I couldn’t say goodbye to her so I said that I’d call over and say bye when I got back from my trip to England as she was only in Celbridge. I head home through the frozen tundra and remember that I need to print out my boarding passes for the flight tomorrow morning at 6.30am. DO you think I could find the laptop when I got home?? No…as my father had taken it with him to the wedding. Who does that?! So, Mam had taken the hairdryer and Dad had taken the laptop – it was like a conspiracy! Then I remember that I'm actually pretty much in the dark and none of the sockets work, so it doesn't even matter. As a Plan B, I needed to try and see if I could download the Ryanair App on my phone. Of course, that could never be as smooth as it sounds and I ended up not having enough room on my iPhone, so I had to go and start deleting Apps so that I could download it. It’s a wonder I had any hair left, never mind an unruly mane in need of some straightening. EVENTUALLY about 2am I manage to get it working and I head to bed ready for the next adventure...
I get about three hours sleep and Doireann comes to get me to drop me at the airport. She’s such a sweetheart getting up that early in the morning to do that trip for nothing. So I guess it’s about this time that I let those of you who don’t already know into a bit more of my life. Let me introduce Neil. This boy of mine is funny, caring and sweet, he’s a football (soccer) OBSESSED Scouse (person from Liverpool, England) and can be a handful with his 34-years-of-independence ways. He’s been my saving grace these past months; giving me a shoulder to cry on or an outlet to distress through laughter – even if I’m probably the biggest inconvenience to his previous carefree bachelor life! The poor thing manages to get through 34 years of single, easy life and then meets me with all my wonderful “high-maintenance” ways! Not to mention I drive him crazy when I apparently use “Bring” instead of “Take”. So – this has been coming a while. Apparently this is a thing that pretty much all Irish people do. How I’ve managed to go 32 years without anyone ever mentioning to me that I should use the word “Take” when I’m bringing someone somewhere; hang on, is it…? Or maybe it’s when I’m already there and tell someone else to bring it? Or when I’m saying that I brought something with me in the past tense? I dunno…clearly his CONSTANT efforts to teach me weren’t very successful – but I (along with the majority of the rest of the Irish population), use “bring” for pretty much every “bring” or “take” scenario. Who knew? “Who cares?” I hear you say. Well evidently Neil… and Bertie, Una’s English boyfriend, who both go bezerk when we say “bring” – and maybe you, who have been sitting there reading my blog the past year shouting “IT’S TAKE, GODDAMMIT!” at the screen every time I fail to use it?? :)
Anyway, so there you have it. Again, as always, I was worried about what other people would think; stupidly forgetting that it's my business, my happiness and my life. I met Neil in Melbourne some months back and am going to spend a few days over New Year’s in his hometown of Liverpool as he has gone home for Christmas and isn’t back in Melbourne until Australia Day (end of Jan). I am beyond excited to go and see him, but equally nervous about meeting his friends and family. The world is against me as usual as the plane is delayed. We are then told we can board and are sent out to the plane, but the crew change their minds and leave us for 20 minutes in the freezing cold standing on the concrete. This is when I notice that the Irish flag painted on the Aer Lingus plane is BACKWARDS. Shivering with embarrassment we’re eventually allowed on the plane and we head off on the short trip across the sea. Landing in Liverpool, I was in aisle 5, so was happy to be getting off the plane rather quickly. Of course, just because it was me, the Air Steward announces over the tannoy that the back of the plane will have to disembark first through the front stairs as they didn’t have a second set of stairs from the back and to avoid the plane tipping over, they needed to get off first. I’m sorry, WHAT? We all stare at the Air Steward with a “do you think we’re stupid?” look on our faces as he announces again what we’re going to do to stop the plane from tipping over. Well, I’ve heard it all now. All of us at the front must weigh a hell of a lot to be keeping the plane stable with all the cargo and other people on-board, not to mention the weight of the plane itself?? In a little spark of humour, one old lady (who is clearly madly insane) sprints (in a way that only an 80-year-old can sprint) from the back of the plane to the front, bashing people out of her way shouting at the top of her lungs (in a thick Dublin accent) “I don’t know about you loonballs, but I’m getting the f*ck off – the bleedin’ plane’s about to topple over!!!”.
Eventually reunited after the morning’s saga (and finally with dry hair that was more or less straight), we head out into freezing Liverpool and take a quick tour about his home-town before heading to “meet the mother and sister”. Since I’d already had the pleasure of meeting these by Skype, the official introduction was a lot easier; even with his sister starting off with “Top of the morning to ya” in as Leprechaun an accent as she could manage! :)
From here we went into the city and did the tourist thing, visiting Albert Dock, Pier Head, The Beatles Museum, L1, The Cavern, The Liver Buildings and the likes. I really liked the city and the buzz about it. We went for something to eat and from there to meet some of his friends before heading home. A long day, but a good one and I’m all set for the final week ahead.
And so a month has passed. It took the month for me to figure out what was strange about home. It was when I was talking to Leno that I realised what was different about Ireland; what I couldn't put my finger on for the last three weeks. It was ME. I was different. I had changed, not Ireland, and felt like I didn't fit-in anymore. Having this realization was quite sad actually, thinking that I didn’t feel that I fit-in in my own homeland. Would that mean that I never would again? Would that mean that I would never really come home? Too many big questions – who knows what path awaits me and what lays ahead of the decisions to be made!