I’m back in Liverpool and everything seems the same same… but different.

Just as beautiful of South East Asia... but a tad chillier.

Aughabrack, just as beautiful as South East Asia… but a tad chillier.

Yes I have returned from South East Asia, and yes I have been dying to use that little wordplay since I first left.

But don’t let the title fool you, I’m not in Liverpool, I’m staving off the post-travelling blues by travelling to the slightly less exotic destination of Aughabrack for some home comforts.

I did return to Liverpool, and reality, with a bump (quite literally) nearly one whole month ago and must confess since then I have been suffering with the dreaded post-holiday blues. Reality, the mess of a bedroom, lengthy To Do List, mountain of washing and financial ruin which I returned to, really did hit me with a bump, as waking early (thank you jet lag) feeling rejuvenated, invigorated and determined to start off on the right foot I decided to kick-start with a morning run.

And it all started so well, powering up Parliament Street I had a whirlwind of ideas in my head, all sorts of plans and good intention to put things back in order. Writing ideas were tripping over each other in a bid to grab my attention, I was suddenly full of confidence and determination to get back on the job hunt, and most importantly, I was intent not to dwell on the fact that I wasn’t spending my morning lying on a beach. Sadly, that all that power cut out halfway back down the other side of the Anglican Cathedral and that right foot that I was sure I’d gotten off on caught on a loose paving stone and turned me and all my good intentions upside down.

It was one of those slow motion falls, you know what’s going to happen, you can see it unfolding as though you were a third person detached from the actual movement, stifling a giggle. It’s only as the ground makes angry contact with your hands and knees that you remember this isn’t some comedy fall you’re watching from the comfort of the sofa, that’s you right there going crash bang wallop outside one the city’s biggest tourist attractions, right across the street from your place of work. Not so funny now is it?

Lying flat on my back, staring up at the clouds I decided to focus on the silver lining – at least it’s early, too early for tourists, at least it’s the summer, no LIPA students around to revel in my literal downfall, and at least my only witness was a very kind-hearted taxi driver who offered to drop me home for free.

I gratefully declined, and hobbled home with blood-soaked hands and knees to curl up on the sofa and feel sorry for myself.

My mind might have thought itself fighting fit, but my body obviously wasn’t ready to get off the sun lounger and go back to porridge. I was tired, severely sorry to be home, and criminally skint. Fuck good intentions, I’m going back to bed.

Take me back to the islands!

Take me back to the islands!

Of course the wallowing passed with just the right amount of comfort food, a few convalescence trips to the pub with dear friends, and a brave venture back into the ugly world of freelancing.

Just as I was getting back on track, the tracks were yet again ripped from under my feet with the very sudden upheaval of my living circumstances and another financial punch in the face. But that is a rant for another day (watch this space).

Thankfully, the jet lag wore off after about a week, the home comforts have done wonders for the post-holiday blues, and my knees have just about healed, though they’ve left some unsightly patches in my tan. With a dreaded return to porridge and working life this weekend, it’s about time I gave a second attempt at knuckling down, starting afresh and getting off on the right foot… with eyes peeled for any bumps in the road, and maybe I’ll invest in some knee pads.

Before...

Before…

and After

and After

 

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The Fear.

The Fear.

The Fear.

The morning after the night before.

You tentatively open one eye against the piercing drill of natural light, pat yourself down, checking that all limbs and digital extensions of yourself are intact, and then you wait. Slowly and carefully, your brain collates the full extent of the damage, your body anticipating the full force of two bottles of wine to crack you around the back of the head any minute now, there you float in hangover limbo, awaiting the imminent self-inflicted punishment like a soldier before the firing squad.

And then it hits, in all manner of physical attacks, depending on the particular poison on which you’ve overindulged: headache, dry-mouth, unexplained bruises, dodgy tummy, or if you’re very lucky, just an insatiable hunger to consume every carbohydrate this side of the M1.

But there is another hangover symptom which seems more and more common as we creep ever-closer to our mid-twenties, it is perhaps the most dreaded symptom of all, The Fear.

Like the calm before the stomach-churning storm when you first wake, while your body realises the full extent of the hang, The Fear is an emotional and psychological manifestation of that dread which lurks in the recesses of your mind for hours, sometimes days, long after the cement-mixer in your stomach and the pneumatic drill in your head have been laid to rest.

Urban Dictionary, perhaps the most important and relevant reference database of our era, defines The Fear as:

– a sense that people or organisations are out to get you;

– angst that you may have offended, inappropriately touched or physically attacked someone the night before;

– foreboding about the next time you meet those people or return to the bar where you degraded yourself the previous night;

– and a feeling that you are going to die.

And that is it in a nutshell, you find yourself shoulder deep in a black panic and paranoia that you have embarrassed yourself or offended another beyond repair, that you will have to face up to consequences of your own dishonourable behaviour. You scour through sent messages and dialled numbers, social media streams, awaiting the dreaded tags on Facebook photos, the well-humoured text messages from friends teasing you, mocking your pitiful state, torturing you with what you can only hope are exaggerated tales of your own self-disgrace.

As the day progresses, slipping past you, out of reach from where you lie on the sofa in the foetal position, you suffer palpitations and anxiety attacks as flashbacks of dance moves and tumbles out of taxis come flooding back at unpredictable intervals during the day.

You desperately try to fill in those Desperado induced gaps in the memory, reassuring yourself that the reality couldn’t be half as bad as the eventualities you’ve cooked up in your infested mind.

Unless it is.

In which case it might be better not to know.

 

And nothing is sacred when you’re hanging with The Fear, areas of your well-balanced and fulfilling life which had never caused you a second’s concern before now are suddenly bearing down on you with heavy, urgent, self-reproach.

Look at the state of yourself!

What are you doing with your life?

Call yourself a writer?!

Even the cat looks disgusted by your mere existence.

You are Peter Pan, plummeting ever-closer to earth as Hook picks away at all the happy thoughts which have kept you afloat all these years. You are doomed, destined to fail, to fall, to plummet to earth with no one there to catch you.

When this happens, you should have a bacon sandwich and immerse yourself in something suitably warm and fuzzy, anything Disney, although you may need to fast-forward through the first fifteen minutes of UP! That romantic sad story is surefire suicide when you’re grappling with The Fear.

This is the only advice I can give you.

Lock the windows and doors, turn off your phone and settle down with your calorie-heavy food of choice and enough sugar-coated romantic comedies to suffocate even the most hard-hearted pessimist. Talk to no one that you do not trust beyond doubt, who in your present state, will be no one, not even the cat. Do not dwell on the possible sins of the night before, but repent anyway for anything you might have ever done wrong.

You will feel like you might actually die, but this state is temporary, do not, I repeat, DO NOT ask anyone to phone an ambulance/priest/your mum for you – you will be ridiculed both by your friends, and whichever caregiver you have chosen to bother with your heightened ideas of mortality.

Don’t panic.

This too shall pass.

There Will Be Sequins…

My hometown, like most economically stunted border towns in Northern Ireland, isn’t much to talk of. We’ve got an ASDA, a dozen or so pubs struggling through the recession, and the historical accolade of being the most bombed town outside of mainland Europe.

In 2005, Strabane was named the 8th worst town to live in within the UK according to the experts at Channel 4, fortunately since then the recession has dragged the rest of the UK down to our level, and I believe we are now floating somewhere outside the top 20.

We may not have much economic success to boast about but there is one area where we really shine. And that is on the Eurovision stage.

This Saturday, one of our local sons, Ryan Dolan, will represent Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö with (the actually quite good) ‘Only Love Survives‘. A great achievement for our humble little town, but this is not the first time the Eurovision spotlight has shone on our corner of the emerald isle. Twenty-one years ago, Linda Martin, from our neighbouring Omagh, took the Eurovision crown in the very same city with ‘Why Me’ and ten years ago, our very own Mickey-Joe Harte made a brave effort at Riga with ‘We’ve Got The World’, a song that quickly became the anthem of my sixth form year group.

Two local Eurovision stars in the space of a decade, there must be something in the water. Something distinctly cheesy, tacky and riddled with sequins.

Where it hasn’t infected residents with the same pop star elixir, it has unleashed Eurovision fever. But then, we relish every opportunity to drink, wave flags and dress up in brutally tacky outfits. A penchant we’ve brought with us across the Irish Sea to Liverpool, where we make the annual pilgrimage to St. John’s Market for something suitably outrageous to wear and end up pounding out a very enthusiastic but entirely amateur performance of Riverdance at 2am, much to the annoyance of the downstairs neighbours.

After a few years playing the Eurovision fool with piss-take entries from Dustin the Turkey and Jedward, Ireland finally seem to be taking this shit seriously. A real person, a real song, damn the European politics and back-rubbing votes that’s tainted the competition’s purity over the last decade, we’re in this to win it!

Personally I was relieved when Ireland put Jedward into Eurovision retirement, mercifully deciding not to tempt fate with third time lucky, I’m not sure my hair could have taken the back-brushing again.

Backbrushed to within an inch of its life.

Backbrushed to within an inch of its life.

Please God, if I don’t die from Tonsillitis, I promise to…

My latest lengthy absence can be explained quite simply. I have been very busy burning the candle at both ends.

Having booked an expensive, but thoroughly worth it, summer adventure in South East Asia and committing myself to building both savings and bikini body, I have unsurprisingly spent a great deal of time catching up on some painting, specifically, of the town, in red.

Between work and socialising and festivalling last week I successfully burnt myself out and came down with the worst bout of tonsillitis to date. I knew it was coming, I could feel it as I supped cider at a barbecue last Sunday when I realised that I hadn’t supped a glass of water in approximately 42 hours. I could feel it in my bones on Saturday as I dined on a breakfast of Corona and Korean barbecue having had four hours sleep, about to embark on a 12 hour (plus) day of reviewing at Sound City.

I could sense it.

My body knows when these things are coming, but it powered through, God bless it, until the adrenaline wore out somewhere between Sunday night tipsy and Monday morning inflamed throat, unable to eat/talk/stay conscious for longer than a HBO sitcom.

Naturally this affliction hit just when the British summer peeked, adding nicely to the light-sensitive headaches and feverish sweats I was enjoying indoors under my duvet.

But having spent a week in bed, drinking nothing but water, thinking constantly of rich, indulgent food I couldn’t hope to consume, watching anything that Sky On Demand had to offer and having some of the most vividly weird dreams ever, well I’ve had time to dwell on things.

Now as far as resolutions, personal development and good intentions go, faithful readers will know all too well, I rule supreme, but having spent a week in joggers, under a duvet, looking every bit the homeless meff, you can understand my need to resolve. And after a healthy dose of antibiotics and Jane Austen I listed some of my life’s great ambitions.

Exhibit B: Two instagramming sins with one shot.

Exhibit B: Two instagramming sins with one shot.

 

1. To have in my wardrobe, items only which I know to suit and flatter me, or which are too incredibly comfortable/sentimental/cool to throw away.

2. To never grow tired of consuming books, pretty stationary, cake or Italian food.

3. To one day regain the svelte figure, tireless energy and general fitness level I maintained up until the age of eighteen.

4. To establish myself in a career for which I have real passion and interest, and which pays handsomely in both monetary and personal terms.

5. To somehow successfully exercise the virtues of good judgement, self-restraint and patience when it comes to stupid people/loved ones/men who are no good for me.

6. To one day be too cool and busy to Instagram trivial little delights such as culinary achievements, the cat/dog, and good hair days.

7. To live, day-to-day, with the utmost serenity, diligence and integrity, or generally to not have a can of Strongbow on my chest of drawers and the contents of my laundry basket on the floor.

8. To someday repay my debt to society by buying the physical equivalent of all the films and albums I have illegally downloaded over the years. Or at least the ones that I consider worth paying good money for.

9. To read all the books which I claim to have already read/people have lent or suggested to me/should have read at university/are considered “classic” by right-thinking society.

10. To travel the world, become rich beyond my wildest dreams, live lavishly and in perfect happiness, and to never grow up.

 

I’m also reminded of a life ambition I had in my earlier years, to be brutally murdered as an extra in a Quintin Tarantino movie. Having since decided to be a pacifist I’m not sure where I stand on the brutal, if theatrical, murder thing… but if the opportunity were to arise, I wouldn’t turn it down.

I’m just putting that out there in the webisphere.

I myself am made entirely of Good Intentions…

Slowly but surely, things are getting back to normal.

A few weeks ago, on the promise of mum’s roast dinner, chocolate and a good old fashioned session with some very dear friends, I went home for Easter. But I got a little more than I bargained for. I endured what will be entitled in my memoirs, The Worst Week of my Life, in which all deluded ideas of my own wonderful life were beaten to a pulp.

Bustling through day to day life in Liverpool, my beloved home from home, my thoughts never seem to dwell too long on the ‘big things’, those serious, long term goals that must be made and worked towards. Scary grown up things like getting on the career ladder and taking proper care of your health and fitness, learning how to do those very grown up things like how to drive, how to budget your finances, successfully operate a tin opener, walk in high heels without looking like a newly born Bambi – in the city, none of that nonsense matters.

You can walk anywhere worth going, and they all consider trainers acceptable footwear, living on the cheap is made easy by respectable outlets such as Aldi and Eurowines, and there is almost always a more dexterous flatmate within whinging distance to open your Aldi own brand baked beans for you.

Who needs the future? There is far too much going on in the present to concern yourself with, tomorrow can look after itself, Carpe Diem, YOLO, and other such cliches!

That’s what Liverpool cheers joyously.

But back in the homeland, twenty miles from the nearest bar, club or streetlight, in an area densely populated by parents and other such caring and good willing figures who ask the questions every twenty-something dreads… ‘So what are you doing with yourself these days?’, ‘Any job prospects?’ and the even more alarming ‘Any men on the scene?’ … None worth talking about, thanks Dad.

Suddenly my future (or lack off) was being rammed down my throat and I can tell you, it didn’t taste good.

I mean, yes, I think about the future, a great deal of my time is spent in serious contemplation of what I’m going to have for my next meal. But standing in my mother’s kitchen still shaking off the near-death experience of a Ryanair landing at Derry Airport, the kettle yet to reach the boil, I was already being forced to consider my future earnings and reproductive prospects before I’d even gotten a cup of tea. How can I provide you with an examined and studied opinion of where I am going to be financially and socially in ten years when just two and half hours ago I was throwing up a bellyful of rum in a bin at John Lennon Airport?

I understand that parents and the family who have watched over you and helped you reach the grand old age of twenty-four still in one piece, physically at least, naturally, these people want to see you succeed. They want to be reassured that you are happy, healthy, successful, not hooked on meth – and I am always delighted to reassure them on these concerns – I am indeed very happy, I am relatively healthy though please don’t ask me to do a bleep test to confirm this, by my own personal measures of success (blog hits, high profile Twitter followers, self restraint in not kissing boys with girlfriends) yes I am very successful, and as for meth, well I haven’t gotten around to watching Breaking Bad yet so I’m not going to rule it out entirely but it certainly isn’t on my To Do List as yet.

I know my parents, half of them at least, worry about what exactly I’m going to do with my life, as parents, it’s kind of their job after all, and it is one of my most effective methods of motivation in the almost daily practice of ‘Sorting my Life Out’.

Because the truth is I do know, generally, what I’m going to do with my life.

I have career plans A through to D, which, granted, heavily rely on my as yet unwritten first novel being a bestseller in at least thirty countries, but hell, it’s a plan!

I have plans! If history, and the growing collection of notebooks and journals accumulated since the age of fourteen, tell us anything it’s that I am most excellent at making plans. I could plan the shit out of anything, anytime, anywhere.

It’s implementing them where I begin to struggle.

I know, I know… I can hear my mother’s exasperated sigh from here.

Humorous deflections aside, I will reassure my mother, that will change. I will go forth and implement!

So since returning to Liverpool, to my hustley bustley city full of lovely, immediately gratifying distractions, I have been putting myself back together, tentatively taking my first steps in the next wave of ‘growing up’, making big, serious long term goals and implementing the actions which will achieve them.

I promise I have.

Incidentally, in the midst of all this ‘Sorting my Life Out’, I came across a scrap of paper folded into the back of a notebook full of important CV things, perhaps the last set of long term plans I wrote back in my third year of university when the future held such promise and potential. I had scribbled, no doubt sitting at the back of a lecture, a one, five and ten year plan, ranging from the really ‘big stuff’ to the more trivial (like Rescue a Donkey – this, I am proud to say, is still on my list of longer term goals, along with Read Finnegan’s Wake).

The items on the one year plan, to be completed in my twenty-first year, I am pleased to say I did complete and tick off with zeal. Of course, by the tender age of twenty-two my life plan had changed so dramatically that looking over the five year plan I wrote for myself only four years ago, now, the items on that list might as well have been written by a different person. The things that I was so sure about at the age of twenty seem utterly ridiculous now in hindsight. The list serves as a harrowing window through to the alternative universe in which all these goals might have been played out, where I would be living a very small, very disappointing life. Half a life.

The ten year plan, full of more generic life goals such as “Own my own home” are still bonafide aims, but are now regarded with the realistic skepticism that comes with age.

My point is, I think, that it doesn’t matter how many big plans you make for your life, they never go the way you’d hope. There is an advert promoting some savings scheme on telly at the minute which will tell you basically the same thing. You make your big life plan, shit happens, you change your plan.

But from what my measly twenty-four years on earth, and that sunscreen song, have taught me its that one, you should wear sunscreen, and two “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”

That’s reassuring.

If Benjamin Franklin said it, it must be true…

So despite all my good intentions, I’ve done it again, I’ve left my beloved little blog unattended and neglected, cold and unloved for far too long yet again. Here I come, crawling back to my one true love after flirting and sowing my writing seed elsewhere (here at Yuppee and here at Get Into This if you’d care to indulge).

I am quite used to making up this kind of ground. I am chronically late to meet friends for lunch, the clock at work runs five minutes fast, mine runs twenty minutes late, I always forget to ring my mum back, I push deadlines to the absolute limit, I get distracted by shiny things and You Tube videos of cats, I plan on being late for my own funeral just so friends and family believe that is actually me in the coffin.

Of course I could reel off the twenty-seven thousand excuses I have to hand, most of them fairly substantial, as to where I’ve been recently, but rather than relying on embellishment like a true writer I will be perfectly honest in a brief history of the last few weeks. Since the beginning of March I have been operating as a one woman Mothers Day Card production line, getting coerced into drinking into the early hours by a dear friend back from the desert for a gin-soaked weekend, going to loads of gigs, rejoicing in the misfortune of others (cruel but infinitely satisfying), finally finishing Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, catching up with old friends, mourning Ireland’s performance during the Six Nations, doing St Patrick absolute justice by partying for as long as my body could physically stand it (my voice gave up after three days), and then suffering with unimaginable fear, having my ego rubbed and then beaten to a pulp, and going against my better judgement to play, as always, the romantic fool.

You may not believe it, but in the pursuit of a career as an actual, real, grown up writer, I consider all of the above research.

For my birthday last year I received a notebook in a huge bird-themed group of presents from some very dear friends, and in this notebook all my pearls of wisdom get scribbled down, usually, frantically, by the light of my phone thirty seconds after lying down to sleep. Full of good intentions I romantically noted one of my favourite quotes on the opening page, from Benjamin Franklin:

“Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing”.

You see, like I said, research.

At the raw age of twenty-four I will not pretend to have anything of universal importance to write about just yet, although documenting my life and times as a bar wench may prove otherwise. But in the meantime I must go out, be merry, grab life by the proverbial balls and live it up, which is why another favourite quote of mine is ‘no good story every started with a salad’. So in Lena Dunham fashion I have been dedicating every hangover and heartache to the pursuit of my writing career. Eventually it will all pay off.

In the meantime, I promise not to neglect you my darling little blog.

At least not until the next drink-fueled religious holiday.

Stories of Growing up and Romantic Misadventures

I have always been a firm believer in Peter Pan’s mantra: “If growing up means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree, I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up! Not me!”

While I doubt I shall ever feel too old or dignified to climb (or fall out of) a tree, there are certain things about growing up which I dread – the responsibilities, the expectations, the ever-present reminder that time is running out for you and your loved ones.

How nice it would be to stay this age forever – old enough to move away from home, young and helpless enough to be welcomed back to the nest when need be. Old enough to be trusted to make the right choices, young enough to make the wrong ones now and again.

But we all know things won’t stay the same, we know that the whole ‘I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up’ thing won’t stay cute forever, that our grace period for romantic misadventures will only last so long and really, we’re thankful for it – who wants to stay in shared digs and low-paid employment forever? I have a childish, bouncing up and down in one spot shouting “When I grow up I’m living alone” Macauley Culkin moment at least once a month. To stay 23 forever and exist in a constant stream of nights out and hangovers, how would our bodies, or our parents, stand it?

I turn 24 in the New Year, and with the first echoes of a quarter-life crisis ringing in my ears, I’ve been weighing things up – all the things I’ve achieved, but mostly, all the things I have yet to do. Pass my driving test. Travel. Find a career path can stick to.

All the grown up things my friends have been doing recently seem completely alien to me – getting a mortgage, getting engaged, having a baby, buying a bed… I can’t imagine ever being financially stable or responsible enough to own a home or devote my life to another person, never mind investing in a divan. The prospect of these adventures seems a world away.

But at least, where romantic misadventures are concerned, I feel I have come of age. I have been helplessly, blindly in love and fallen back out of it again; felt the sudden, blunt thud of hitting the ground, and realising, actually, you are strong enough to get back on your own two feet and carry on. I’ve played the games, tried on things that don’t necessarily suit me, made the same mistake more than once, I’ve run away from feeling and stayed where there was none, I’ve indulged in no strings attached, only to find myself tangled up in ribbons, tried to struggle free only to find the knots tighter round my skin. I have no regrets, but I’ve learnt a few lessons.

Wilde told us ‘Wisdom comes with age’ but mostly it comes with misadventure and I have at least learnt to take that wisdom into account when misadventure comes a-knocking. Being grown up has nothing to do with receipts of purchase or contracts binding, being grown up is entirely a matter of the heart. The most grown up I have ever felt was on the rare occasion when my head has managed to steer my heart clear of harm even when it most wants the thrill of the chance.

It’s the same old story – you know that Champagne gives you a sore head the next morning, but you never turn it down when it’s offered. You can say no to that exciting little glass of bubbles and reassure yourself that you will wake up headache free, but there’s still the niggling little wonder ‘Oh, what harm can it do?’ My brain has finally learned how to answer loud enough so that my heart will listen “It will do a great deal of bloody harm! It will feel like your little brain is being passed through a sieve and then repeatedly attacked with a potato masher while Alvin and the Chipmunks sing a never-ending chorus of ‘It’s a Small World After All’. That is exactly how it will feel.”  While we might risk this punishment for our heads when someone pops a champagne cork, it is a much greater deterrent when it comes to matters of the heart.*

So perhaps I may not be grown up or financially stable enough to invest in life’s important things, bed frames, family homes or lasting relationships, but at least I have learned how to tell the difference between a relationship that will last, and one which will simply give me a sore head in the morning.

(*Disclaimer: I have never learnt how to turn down a glass of champagne.)