Escape to the Country

I’ve moved out to stay with my granny for the time being, and am living in the bedroom I used to sleep in when I stayed there regularly as a child. It didn’t occur to me at the time (perhaps because I was about 4 feet tall), but the room is approximately the size of a walk-in wardrobe.

It’s cosy, though, and I have this weird, almost magical feeling – not of being in Narnia, but of having returned to my childhood. The familiar creaks of the floorboards. The gurgle of the hot press in the next room. The sound of sheep and cows in the fields. The birds singing outside. My grandparents and their hilarious conversations.

There was the first of many amusing grandparent kerfuffles last night as I was getting ready for bed. It appeared that Granda bought Granny a big box of chocolates for Christmas, which she immediately lost, and had now discovered concealed beside his chair – empty.

“You bought me chocolates and ate them all!” came the indignant roar from downstairs, followed by a 5-minute rant from Granny during which Granda maintained that it was a box someone else had bought him, and not the one he had given her.

The rant was punctuated by a series of thuds which I could only imagine involved Granny either hitting him with the empty box or throwing it around the room in outrage. I was just wondering if I should go down and intervene when Granny came thumping up the stairs to get ready for bed. I listened sympathetically as she told me her tale of woe while changing into her nightclothes. The selfishness! The greed! Unbelievable!

I was just getting into bed when there was another roar (my Granny likes to roar). I opened my door again to see her emerging from under the dressing table with a large box of chocolates and a rather sheepish expression.

Sent her down to apologise to the bewildered grandfather. Heard her offering him a chocolate as a peace offering.

Another roar – this time of laughter, from both of them, as they discovered that the new box was, in fact, full of newspaper cuttings and cards as opposed to Thornton’s finest.

The whereabouts of Granny’s chocolates remain unknown. Was it Granda? Has Granny hidden them from him and forgotten? Did she eat them? The mystery continues.

It’s going to be one big exciting adventure story living here…

Christmas Gifts

I gave myself a present this year: I broke contact with people whose beliefs, comments, and opinions made me feel sick, ashamed, and angry. Thankfully, none of them were in my close circle of friends, so it was simply a matter of clicking “unfriend”, such is the world we live in.

You see, I’ve always believed in tolerance. No confrontation, live in harmony, let’s not fight. That’s not quite right, though, is it? If the world had continued to tolerate the Nazis and let them enforce their beliefs on innocent people…

I think I’ll always be a peaceful person, one who is reluctant to argue. However, the gift I’ve given myself this year is the gift of confidence. Confidence in my own beliefs and morals, confidence in my capability to discern right from wrong, confidence in my right to stand up for good, confidence in my ability to take a stand and make a difference, however small. For the first time in my life, I am choosing to be confident that my opinion matters.

evil vs good

In my country right now, a political party is trying to pass a “conscience clause” that will allow anyone to bypass certain equality laws if they claim it violates their religious beliefs. At the start, my attitude (as someone who was once a devout Christian, and was taught that God loves every person just the same) was one of disbelief. A clause that would legally allow a Christian-owned restaurant to refuse service to a gay couple? Really?! Certain that only a few right-wing bigots would ever for a moment think that this was acceptable, I posted a link to the petition against this outrage to human rights, simply to make everyone aware of it.

It did not for a moment occur to me that anyone on my friends list, Christian or otherwise, would actually be in favour of this law. An utterly mind-boggling debate erupted on my Facebook post, and a day later I got a message from a former teacher of mine, someone who I would have listed in my top ten of people who have encouraged and inspired me.


Christian or atheist, this is the sort of belief that I can’t tolerate. I have tolerated it, for the aforementioned reasons (non-confrontational, peace, harmony, blah blah), but I can’t any more. That’s my gift. To myself, and to the world! If people with these beliefs are free (which they are) to express such beliefs, then I am equally free to express my contempt, disgust, sadness, and horror at the fact that they believe such groundless, offensive, judgmental things. I am also free to hit “unfriend”. And then to take a stand against such prejudiced, damaging, potentially extremely dangerous thinking. If everyone adopted these beliefs, Hitler’s vision of a pure breed of people via a drastic solution would once again be a possibility.

The argument seems to be that they should not be forced to ‘endorse homosexuality’ – i.e., even though it’s completely their decision what to believe, and everyone knows that they believe it, they can’t be seen to be tolerating what they believe to be sinful behaviour.

Fair enough. As I said to the lesbian restaurant owner who politely refused to let my boyfriend and me eat there because it would be endorsing heterosexual relationships, oh wait, no, that NEVER HAPPENS.

What business is it of any of us how anyone else lives their life? Who cares if I fall in love with a man or a woman? Does it affect you in the slightest?

There are plenty of troubling, disturbing things in this world. Love is not one of them.

And so that’s my Christmas gift to myself. I am going to fight for good and take a stand against bigotry and discrimination. I am not going to tolerate homophobia, racism, xenophobia, or any other groundless prejudice, simply because everyone has a right to their beliefs and I don’t want to argue with anybody. Sometimes, you do have to argue.


And this post, I suppose, is a gift to the faithful readers who regularly ask me where I’ve gone and when I’m going to write again. I have my reasons for the long absence, and I’ll hopefully be back again before too much longer. In the meantime, Merry Christmas, and please accept this humble blog-post-shaped gift!

I’m so sorry to interrupt, but there seems to be a spider in my bra.

I’ve fallen out of the habit of blogging lately, for a number of reasons. Life has been a bit hard for the past year or so, let’s just leave it at that!

And now it happens that I am in a new (part time, sadly, but you accept whatever work you can get over here!) job which offers an endless supply of amusing blog material… but I can’t blog about it! I’m working as an Activity Therapist in a care home, so confidentiality rules are obviously in place. I will try to work my way around this in order to write about my day in general, without discussing individuals, but I can’t write many of the stories I already have without fear of causing offence and/or losing my job.

I can, however, tell you about my first day of training today, under the supervision of the girl who does my job at a different care home. We were sitting on a sofa in the lobby when I felt a spider or something land on my shoulder. You know, that ticklish feeling where you instinctively bat at yourself without knowing what dastardly overly-legged villain you’re fighting off.

After a frantic inspection of my shoulderal area, during which I managed to maintain my calm, professional, listening expression, I concluded that the intruder had fallen off or scuttled away to pastures greener, and decided – with an admirable power of self control – to dismiss it from my mind.

Have you ever tried to do that, by the way? Dismiss the fact that a fecking SPIDER has just landed on you and you don’t know where it’s gone? It’s a skill in itself. And I mastered that skill. You would never have known what had happened.

And so it came to pass that at least 20 minutes elapsed before I was standing in a resident’s room, with my guide showing me a memory box she’d helped him to create as part of his therapy. The spider was gone from my mind, I’ll have you know, until that horrific moment when I suddenly felt it crawling around INSIDE MY BRA.

That is not a feeling you want to get on your first day in a new workplace. Something crawling around in your bra. Honestly, if you’ve never considered it until now, let me just assure you that you don’t want it to happen.

My memory of the spider-on-shoulder incident immediately came to the front of my mind, and I froze in an awkward mixture of horror and desire to maintain a professional exterior.

“So you should involve the relatives,” said my guide, “and most will help you to fill it with photos and letters, you know, anything that will trigger a memory or -”

“I’m so sorry to interrupt,” I said in my politest, most terrified voice, “but there seems to be a spider in my bra.”

I can honestly say I have never uttered that sentence before; nor have I ever interrupted a professional training session to turn away, stick my hand into my cleavage, and grope about frantically before triumphantly producing a small, wriggling arachnid. The trainer uttered an expletive and excitedly stomped on the unfortunate stowaway as it landed on the floor.

I’m not going to lie, it felt like the tone of the occasion changed quite significantly after that.

That’s day one of the induction done, anyway.

A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

Sorting through boxes of old stuff, I found (amongst many other gems) some of my speeches from our Sixth Form debates at school. Not having had much to write about of late, I thought I’d type them up and put them on my blog to let old school friends see them, and to have them preserved for my own nostalgia.

As much as some parts make me cringe in embarrassment, I’ve resisted the urge to edit them; they are exactly as I presented them to my class back in 1999, aged about 17 years old. 

The debates were conducted in an official way, with a teacher as the chairperson, two teams with three speakers, a period of open debate, and a concluding speech from each side before the chairperson delivered the verdict. Despite this, they were informal and generally quite good fun, since we all knew each other and half the time didn’t remotely agree with the view we’d been assigned to argue. 

Debate 1: “This house believes that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”


Happily, I was assigned proposition. Phew! And note, for this one, that I went to an all-girls school. The poor chairman was the only man in the room, and was also my A-level French teacher and form teacher. We won the debate in spite of this. ;)

Mr. Chairman, members of the opposition, members of the house; I propose the motion “This house believes that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”.

Mr. Chairman, quite frankly I am appalled by the fact that we are seeing here today three modern young women who, for various reasons I can’t fathom for the life of me, are about to stand up and oppose the said motion. Now, no doubt they have their “reasons” for believing that we, young women ourselves, can’t possibly survive in this big, bad world without a man to look after us. Of course they have beliefs that without the companionship of a caring, generous, romantic, sensitive, mature, good-looking, considerate, thoughtful male – stop sniggering, girls, I’ve heard that they exist! – life simply has no meaning or purpose. Perhaps some members of our opposition here today would just… pine away without a man in their life?! After all, they feel that we “need” a man, don’t they?

And to those poor, misguided souls, may I just say: what century are you living in?!!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t lead a man-free life, and haven’t gone out of my way to avoid members of the opposite sex. Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, boy and girl fall in love… it happens all the time. “All you need is love”, declared the Beatles, and I quite agree. We do need love.

But glancing around at everyone here today, I’m not seeing any particularly attention-starved, unloved wee darlings desperately in need of affection. Still, in case you’re having a particularly bad day, here comes the pep talk: YOU ARE LOVED. Your parents love you. Your friends love you. Your family loves you. Your pet dog/cat/terrapin loves you. Great Aunt Jemima who sends you a pound coin in your Christmas card every year loves you. And in the case of some people I’ve met, YOU might even love you!

So yes, I need love. And you know what? I’ve got love.

Yet they think a woman needs a man. We think they need to get out of the Dark Ages! Don’t they realise what they’re doing by saying that a woman can’t possibly get by in life without a man by her side? They’re undoing decades of hard work by people trying to demonstrate that females are every bit as capable of fending for themselves as males are.

Let’s bring back the days when fathers chose suitable young men for their daughters! Let’s go back to the times when a wife was a man’s possession rather than his equal! Because if you say that you NEED a man, you are saying that you aren’t capable of coping with life by yourself. And if you’re saying that, then either you agree with those unbelievably chauvinistic views, or you’re clinically a complete and utter nervous wreck in need of looking after. And honestly, I’m not sure which is worse!

Seriously, though. We’ve all been brought up in a society where the natural order of things is that you get married, have children, and live happily ever after. Maybe, then, we can forgive these – sorry to say it – naive girls for thinking we all “need” a man in our life. It’s been drilled into our minds since we were 4 years old and taking our Barbie dolls out on dates with Ken.

But we here in the proposition say it’s time for you to stop doing things out of tradition and start to think for yourselves. You’re about to leave school, and probably home too, to take control of your own life. Now, I’m afraid to say that if you’re planning on doing that while thinking at the back of your mind “need man – must find man – got to have man”, I really don’t think you’re going to get very far!

As Rebecca will discuss later, “need” and “want” are two very different things – yet I think that the opposition may have got them mixed up. I know that I, for one, like the thought of maybe meeting the man of my dreams some day. I like the idea of romance, the pleasure of sharing your life with a partner. But I can tell you now, I’m not going to spend my life in a desperate search for one. If it doesn’t happen, so be it. My life won’t fall to pieces.

Like most girls my age, I’m looking forward to my future. I’m looking forward to going to university, to travelling to other countries and seeing a bit of the world, to finding an interesting and worthwhile job, and to forming friendships with people I’m going to meet along the way. Does any of that sound to you like I need a man to make it happen?

Maybe, somewhere in the course of all that, I will meet a man I want to settle down with. But maybe I won’t. It’s just something that might happen, not something that has to happen. My life will hardly be empty if it doesn’t.

So, Mr. Chairman, a woman does indeed need a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Members of the house, I urge you not to let these poor, misguided people here convince you that you are worth any less without a man, or that your life won’t be complete until there’s a wedding ring on your finger. Being single is not a crime, and I can assure you that society will not fall apart if you reject the idea that you “need a man”. You can live your life the way you want to, whether that means you want a man in it or not… and – with apologies for ending on a cliché - you go, girls!

Childhood memories: best served with a side of hanging and disembowelment

I grew up in an area called Harryville, which is in the south of my home town, Ballymena. Not exactly the top of the list of places to see if you’re a tourist in Northern Ireland – but we do have one of the best surviving examples of a Norman motte-and-bailey fortification in this country. With my recent developing interest in the history of my country, I decided to go for a stroll around the 12th-Century monument that stands a 5-minute walk from my parents’ house. Because, seriously – how cool is that?!


It was like stepping back in time… not to the 12th Century, but to my childhood.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of going to the Moat Park. The swings and slides in the play park; the trees where we made our forts; the hills that were just steep and rubbly enough to seem like dangerous mountains to 8-year-olds; the rope swings and the rickety steps; the endless games of hide and seek around the “big hill” and the “wee hill”; the Easter Mondays spent rolling our eggs down the slopes and having picnics on the grass; the grazed knees and muddy clothes from taking a tumble down the “big hill”.

harryville motte and bailey

How it looked in my childhood: bailey on left, motte on right, both surrounded by trench. PHOTO CREDIT: Northern Ireland D.O.E.

We never really thought, in the midst of all that, about the historic site we were playing on, and all that had taken place there centuries before. I mean, you wouldn’t. Especially as an iron cage with an executed outlaw’s body in it probably sat on the exact spot where we sat for a breather after climbing the “big hill”…

The motte and bailey is a type of early castle, where an artificial hill (“motte”) was built by digging a deep trench and throwing all the earth into the middle. There would be a wooden tower or a stone “keep” at the top of the motte, and a separate enclosed courtyard next to it, known as a bailey. Both the motte and bailey were surrounded by a trench.

The Harryville motte-and-bailey was built by the Normans, who conquered most of County Antrim in the 12th Century and created lots of mottes in high places, as defensive structures. The “Moat Hill” (as it’s called locally) is better known round these parts for its more recent history: the story of Thomas Archer, leader of a band of social outcasts – who ran around Ballymena robbing and plundering and maiming and murdering and the like – at the time of the 1798 Irish Rebellion.

An armed, dangerous, and wanted criminal, Archer went into hiding at a friend’s house, never suspecting that the “friend” had a plan already in place to earn a hefty cash reward by betraying him to the police. What a Judas. It was all very complicated, involving a laundry woman and a shopkeeper and a marked half crown (the old coin as opposed to a broken headdress!), but anyway, it worked, and they came for him in the night as he lay in bed.

The friend’s son warned him that the police were approaching, and he took off, but they hunted him down. He fought till the end, attempting to shoot them, but his “friend” had properly stitched him up, wetting the powder in his gun and disabling the weapon using a nail.

Archer was publicly hanged from a tree next to the Harryville motte-and-bailey, and his body was taken to the local castle to be disembowelled or something equally unsettling. His remains were then put in an iron cage and hung in chains on the top of the motte, where local people would see him every day, to serve as a warning. “Don’t run round robbing and murdering!”? “Don’t rebel against the government!”? “Don’t trust your friend to hide you if there’s a cash reward for your capture!”? 

Anyway, that’s what happened previously on the “big hill” we used to climb up and build forts on. It doesn’t look all that scary in the day time, but I wouldn’t want to be there on a dark and spooky night, all the same. When I went for my wander last night, I found it all very overgrown, and couldn’t climb to the top because the waist-high grass and weeds meant clouds of midgies that have me half eaten to death as it is. My mum gave me this photo of how it used to look (although I don’t know who actually took it):


This is how I remember it, although it was taken a bit before my time judging by the car and lamppost! The house was a play park by the time I was born, and remains so today. The motte, behind it, is how it was when we used to climb it. The bailey is next to it (the flat, lower hill on the far right). Today, the trees have been cut down to stop them blowing over and pulling down the entire structure, and the hills are almost hidden under long grass, weeds, and wildflowers.

They hold a lot of history, though… and a lot of memories.

old moat

And although no one has any information about this photo, I think it is the coolest one I will ever see of the “big hill” where I got the permanent scar from tripping on a tree root and skidding down through the dried mud and stones on my knees!

Keep bailing!

I’m home.

Whether or not I’m home to stay very much depends on whether or not there are any decent jobs going here for someone who is basically qualified to work as a teacher in any other country in the world but this one, but we’ll see what life turns up.

I haven’t been blogging. I haven’t been doing very much of anything, actually. The past year or so has been kind of an uphill struggle, and I won’t go into details – I’m just tired of it. All I wanted was to go home, and so – very suddenly – I did. It was the right decision. I have my family, my cat, my familiar surroundings. And although I find myself back in the unemployed and directionless position I was in way back in 2009 after my European travels and a soul-crushing break-up, I have more hope this time – because it was that failure that led to me ending up in South Korea, having the best time of my life. Peaks and troughs; mountains and valleys; swings and roundabouts.

And fun. On Saturday, out with my family and friends at the local monthly Blues Club, I felt like myself again. Spontaneous singsongs in the bar long after the band had finished playing, reminiscing with old friends, chatting for hours with new ones.

Then yesterday, as I lay in bed all day fully regretting all the parts of the above that involved the words “to the bar!” and “just try it, whiskey and Bailey’s is a great combination, honestly!”, a sudden thunderstorm saw me standing in pyjamas and knee-high boots, trying not to puke and frantically bailing water out of the kitchen as the council vans belatedly distributed sandbags to all the flooded houses of our neighbourhood. I’m telling you, of all the things I have ever done while suffering from a hangover (and I include being surrounded by a class of shrieking 5-year-olds), that tops the list as the most painful.

After the flood

After the flood…

But you do realise, in a most profound and quite literally “deep” way, as you flounder around in the suddenly kitchen-localised Braid River, with random household objects floating past you, that the only way is up. Bail out the floodwater, reach the muddy surface, scrub away the debris, and start afresh.

I still don’t know what’s next, but I’m ready to start looking again.

What now?!

I came to Istanbul in a desperate attempt to escape Prague, telling myself that even if I hated it, I had nothing to lose.

As it turned out, I didn’t hate it. I loved it! It’s probably one of the coolest, most interesting and beautiful cities I’ve ever been in.

However, to quote the cheerful straw-hatted dude from Taiwan who prevented me from committing murder at a police station this morning: Turkey is a fantastic country to travel to and be a tourist in. Not to live in.

I have never felt so consistently stressed and worried in my life. Every morning, I wake up with a sudden jump, a dozen worries flooding my mind all at once. It’s exhausting. I’ve had a headache for the past 5 days, which I’m fairly certain is caused by worry and is going to make my head explode before very much longer.

Everything is difficult here, as I mentioned before during the whole Impossible Phone Registration saga. Nothing is easy. Simple things like paying my electricity bill or my rent are huge, complicated procedures packed full of setbacks and frustrating bureaucratic hindrances.

I am tired. I don’t have the energy for this any more.

I want to go home.

However, even that is going to cost me money. My 90-day visa will expire soon, even though I have done everything required of me to get a residence permit. I made the appointment as soon as I got a job. I waited a month for the appointment date, and went along with all the necessary paperwork only to be told after several hours of faffing around that I would have to go to a different police station because of my address. That meant a new appointment, another month of waiting, and an even more weary me showing up this morning at a police station in the middle of nowhere.

My translator, a guy from the employment agency, failed to show up. Obviously I had no way of contacting him (since I never managed to register my phone in the end, and the one I ended up buying turned out to be a dud sold to the stupid foreigner.) I dithered for a while and then decided to brave it on my own, with my very limited Turkish and a heightened sense of I really don’t give a shit any more. After all, I had my completed form, my passport, my money, my photos, my documents, and my photocopies. Surely it would be enough just to give those all to the person at the counter, and say what I wanted?

You would think.

So anyway, as I was just about to punch a police officer in the face, a friendly Taiwanese guy stepped up from further back in the queue. I speak some Turkish, he said with a smile. Can I help you?

And help me he did, from translation to taking me out to a random little corner shop where a surly-looking fellow with a computer made an adjustment to my form and printed it out for 10 liras.

Of course, it was all in vain, which honestly didn’t surprise me in the slightest. I can extend your visa for three months, said the woman, but it will take three months. This made precisely zero sense to me at first, but I eventually understood that it would take three months to process the document I would need to present at the airport upon my departure. As I intend to leave as soon as my contract finishes at the end of June, however, this is completely useless. Can’t you give me a document to show them to prove I’ve paid to extend my visa? I asked, the vein in my forehead threatening to pop. No, she said flatly.

So my choices are (a) stay here until mid-summer, in a non-air-conditioned flat, with no job, waiting for the document that will let me leave the country, or (b) leave the country at the end of June as planned and pay an extortionate fine for over-staying my visa, despite the fact that I have done everything (and more than) they asked me to do and have done my best to purchase the required residency permit.

I give up. I’ll leave and pay the fine.

Leaving Korea was apparently a big mistake. I left with a decent amount of savings, and have lost nearly all of that as a result of ridiculously low wages in Prague, and bureaucracy/scam fees left, right and centre in Istanbul. I am homesick in equal measures for Korea and NI.

So, what next? I want to go home… I think. I may just be tired and frustrated and homesick, though. But I have no job options at home, and would be starting from scratch – no job, no prospects, no house, no car, no money.

Feeling understandably glum and worried about all this, I left the police station and hailed a taxi to go to work, as I had no idea where I was. My taxi driver was, in a word, insane – and, in another word, drunk. He veered around all over the road like a mental case, even stopping the car at one point to flag down a passing pedestrian and scrounge a cigarette off him. His attempts to engage me in conversation were funny at first, but took an unpleasant turn when I lost patience with him going on and on and on at me in slurred Turkish that I hadn’t a hope of understanding. I have no idea what you’re saying, I kept saying in English, exasperated and exhausted. Please. I just want to go to work. He was so determined to make me answer questions I didn’t understand that at one point he was literally twisted around in his seat, yelling into my face, with apparently no awareness of the fact that he was hurtling down a busy main road at the time.

Enough! Stop! STOP! I eventually yelled, losing my cool completely. I threw some money at him and leapt out, slamming the door and walking the rest of the way to work. It was awfully symbolic, in retrospect.

Yeah. I want to go home.

But what now?