Own it!

I have another word on the subject of travelling on your own. It’s regarding eating out and walking home.

I believe in eating well and dining in nice places. I eat in nice restaurants. They don’t have to be expensive, but they have to have a nice ambience. When you’re directed to a table where you feel like you’ve been put in the ‘naughty corner,’ ie. an isolated spot like an alcove, ask if they have room to seat you in an area where you can feel included in the ‘community of diners’ or in a position to people-watch. Tell the waiter/waitress that you don’t like to feel isolated. They’ll understand and be happy to oblige. Experienced staff will already know this.

If they seat you in the body of the restaurant but position you on the side facing the wall, fix it. Seat yourself facing into the room. Looking at the wall is bad for your soul, even if you have something to read or write. Look into the room. Look around. Own your space.

Ask the staff to bring you a glass of wine straight away. This helps. Maybe it’s a crutch but it makes me feel I’m relaxed and in a strong position to sit back and observe.

Speaking of owning it, if you find yourself walking down an unpopulated street, especially at night (even crazy Ireland sunshine-night), walk tall, walk confidently. You can stroll, be relaxed, but own your immediate space. That means don’t shrink, don’t look around furtively, don’t slouch and look down. Look ahead, look about, look in windows. Be mindful, aware of your own movements and your surroundings. But do not worry! Worry affects your demeanour and wastes your time on earth.

Neither a dog nor a weirdo is likely to attack a self-possessed person. And being self-possessed means being self-aware. I’m not encouraging you to be blasé or oblivious. Be mindful but not fearful.  If a dog barks or a drunk says hello (and in Ireland says something like ‘have good craic’), smile, say hi and keep walking. Or in my case, and it’s a dog, relax and talk in dog-baby talk until you’ve won it over and you can give it a pat.

 

 

On Your Own

To anyone who claims, “I could never travel on my own!” I’d like to say, if you’ve got no-one to go with, just try. Travelling on your own is great. It may be scary, relying purely on your own judgement, decisions and actions. But assuming you survive, that’s a rewarding feeling. It may even be lonely, occasionally. Briefly connecting with friends and family through WhatsApp or social media will give you that loved, brave feeling again. We live in an age of easy communication and sharing. Use it.

But being on your own means your time is your own. You can leap out of bed at 6am or drink tea until 9am. You can stop to eat as many times as you like or as soon after breakfast as you can manage. You can walk quickly or sit leisurely. You can linger in the art gallery and skip the museum.

If you’re driving, there’s no one to blame you or get cranky when you take a wrong turn, take the shortcut that’s a big fail, or just get completely lost. There’s also no-one to navigate which means, especially in Ireland, that you need to ask a lot of directions from locals. (Their signage is so confusing you just have to ask.) Having a reason to talk to locals is always a plus. When walking, I’ve had people walk me to within sight of my destination. People are generally friendly and sociable. Just be careful not to ask the person who looks like they’re running late for a meeting.

You can people-watch as much as decency allows. This is great if you’re a writer, especially if you can hear their conversations as well. Watching people be happy makes me happy. Seeing people smile makes me smile. I’ve heard some great lines while sitting in café’s and occasionally I’ve heard a conversation that’s really made me appreciate being on my own. Lack of conversation between a couple can have the same effect.

People will talk to you as a single. There’s other singles (don’t be shy, just open with something obvious and you can quickly tell if you want to keep chatting or not) and a huge number of couples. Those that have run out of conversation delight in talking with the new person. One will usually make a comment or ask a question. And then it starts. I’ve had conversations with a farmer, business owners, English tourists, Irish locals and yesterday, a woman from Byron Bay, Australia, who also loves travelling alone. Some of these conversations even lead to email exchanges. An Irish woman, dining in a restaurant with her father, started talking to me as she sipped her after-dinner hot port. We were almost best friends by the end of it and I asked her to look me up if she ever got to Australia. She wrote her email address down with the description, “the mad kelpie lady.”

There are many more advantages, but sharing how I like my own space, own bathroom, own bed is probably too much personal information.

The highlights of travelling on your own are: you set the agenda, the timing, the place, the conversation, the solitude and the choices.

What’s not to like?

 

Research

Researching components of the novel is important and tricky. The main reason I’m here in Ireland is so that I can write the Irish component authentically. I did my preparation before I left home – wrote out my questions, things I needed to find out, places to go etc. Google was helpful in giving preliminary details and opening up more questions.

So yesterday, I set off in the car from Galway to find out where my character’s brother lives. I found the perfect spot, took photographs, screen shot the location and drove on to the next point. This was an airport over an hour north. Braving the perpetual rain, I parked and ran inside. I got out my phone camera and it was dead. It wasn’t just battery dead, it was dead-dead! The dive into the toilet the night before had done its damage, water insidiously working its way through to the mother-board while I remained ignorant of the impending destruction. (“Feck” as the Irish say.)

Once I reached Donegal, the hope I’d maintained vanished as the mobile-phone repairer opened it up for surgery. Feeling inexplicably desperate, I bought a new phone and hoped the cloud would find my photos. Nope – hadn’t backed them up to the cloud! Fellow researchers – do this!

Drowning my sorrows in wine and chocolate, I slept on it and started today with renewed vigour. I had to find the nursing home I’d selected in Donegal for my character’s mother. Coughing up to pay for data roaming was a decision not taken lightly, but I couldn’t find a specific address or location on a map. This seems to be typical of Ireland. Apple map sent me off to a weird place and spoke to me in Irish. Google map sent me on a wild trip up a pot-holed tiny laneway. I kept saying to myself, this can’t be right. I stopped at the closed gate with the patrolling donkeys. Getting out to pat them made me feel marginally better.

Giving up, I decided to sight- see for a while. Getting back on the highway (all roads have a speed limit of 100km/hour) I sped past a sign that my shrunken brainwaves recognised as the name of the nursing home. Calmly, I pulled over and went back to follow the sign, finding that it was another narrow, tree-covered, gravel road. Nevertheless, I persevered and found myself at the nursing home. This was a great reward.

Finally, I had to find where my character’s mother lived. The young chap in the tourist information centre was so into helping me, I’ll name him in the novel. He Google-mapped and street-viewed and came up with a solution which I was able to check out in the afternoon. Perfect!

What great fun! This is sight-seeing with purpose and even the deviations and frustrations lead up other laneways. I’ve now found out a new word too – boreen – little road. How many can I explore?

Good Craic

The Doolin Folk Festival is a highlight on the Irish music calendar and I was lucky enough to be here. The atmosphere in this old rural- seaside town was buzzing with Irish music fans and the Barn at the Hotel Doolin was packed with happy people. On the first night, The Fiddle Case with special guest Luka Bloom, was the highlight. Every one of those guys could play their instrument and sing, sad songs and bright jigs, brilliantly. The next night, Mary Coughlan rocked the stage with her big, bouncy character and bold voice. Three lovely Aussie ladies, The Maes, showed off their talent with multiple string instruments and strong voices, the next night. The whole event was well worth the trip and Doolin itself is a great place to see some other Irish highlights.

The Aran Islands are only a ferry ride away. I braved the huge swell for twenty minutes to visit the closest island, Inisheer. This island was settled back in the 1500’s and is small enough to explore in a day. Ancient, slate dry-walls border the laneways and make compartments of paddocks. Horses poke their noses over the walls for a pat while cows look on. Tourists get around either by horse and cart, bikes or on foot like me. There’s a shipwreck and lighthouse to reach and, apparently, a seal colony on a large rock platform. I didn’t see any seals. They must have been at work, fishing. The café I went to was run by a very International, young couple that were enthusiastic and served modern food like walnut bread and carrot and ginger soup. Both delicious. An Irish/Red Setter practically sat on my lap on the boat trip back, which was a welcome diversion from the wild sea.

You also get to see the Cliffs of Moher from Doolin. These cliffs are striking, the sheer drop and height making you feel quite vulnerable; health and safety hasn’t caught on here. One area is safe and paved and the other is a muddy, slippery, puddle-filled track along the edge. This way is, of course, the best way. The view is stunning but you want to be careful taking that special photo.

So if you can get to Doolin in June and time it with the festival, it’s good craic!

 

First day in Ireland

I’ve travelled to Ireland to immerse myself in Irish contemporary life: the culture, climate, feeling of place and rhythm of the people. The novel I’m writing has only a small section of it set in Ireland but for it to be authentic, and for my Irish-born, Australian character to be authentic, I had to come and feel it, see it, smell it, hear it. I hope that I can absorb enough of it to pass on the detail in my story.

So today, I’m filling the creative well. I went to The Portrait Gallery in the National Gallery of Ireland to see the portrait of  Graham Norton (Irish broadcaster, comedian, actor and writer) painted by the winner of Sky’s Portrait Artist of the Year last year, Gareth Reid. I enjoyed watching this art competition so much I just had to follow up. I was secretly hoping the artist might be there too as I’m slightly in love with him (those dreamy artist eyes and all that Irish talent).

I thought a bit of history and architecture might help too, so I checked out the Christ Church Cathedral. Wow, there’s an amazing amount of royal history there, which I won’t go into but did you know that Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus was first performed here back in 1741, or thereabouts, by the top choir in the land? I felt like I was really touching history with this fact as I could imagine the emotional charge in the sound of all those voices and the organ filling the vast space.

The rest of the day was pretty much a walk in the park and along the busy streets full of cafes, pubs and boutiques. The city of Dublin is a thriving modern hub set in predominantly old buildings with short doorways. It’s city of charm and character.

Stepping Out

I’m lucky enough to call coastal Sydney, Australia, home. There are few cities in the world as lovely – so I’ve heard.

My daily experience involves a walk along the cliffs and beach promenades.

The ocean spray can be cold, salty and wet. A summer north-easterly wind can cool the hottest of days. A cold front of thick grey clouds, thunder and chilly wind from the south will send most people running indoors, but I love a good storm. The ocean can be dark, blue-grey topped with messy white splashes obscuring what’s beneath the surface. Or, on the perfect days, when there’s only a light, sea-breeze, the waves roll gently, the clear aqua-green revealing the sand, seaweed or perhaps, dolphins, beneath.

I never tire of this experience. On the warm days when the water temperature is 21-24 degrees, I make time to swim. It makes me feel alert, fresh and appreciative – alive! Diving into the sea is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Walking along the beach in my cossie, relishing the sun, the sound of the waves and the wet sand under my feet, benefits my soul.

The sea is one aspect of Sydney that makes it great. There are many others but I’ll share them another time.

Feelings

It’s been said that when together, men talk about things, women talk about feelings. I agree with this generalisation but when you combine men and women, things and feelings also combine.

This blog will talk about a lot of things but there will be a lot of feelings involved. Whether I talk about creativity or relationships or roaming through the bush looking at trees, there will always be the unspoken question, How do I/you feel about this?

Under the title Matters of the Heart, I’ll cover topics that interest me as a middle-aged woman. I tell you this not to deter you but to help you understand my viewpoint.

Clarification: I don’t wish to imply that this blog will only be interesting to middle-aged women. I can have an engaging and credible conversation with a middle-aged man (whom many of my friends are) or a young man (whom my sons are) or a woman of any age including the ninety-six year old neighbour and twenty year old niece. But the point of view I express comes from age, experience, education and observation as seen through the eyes of a woman. And that means with feeling.

Under the category Matters of the Heart, there’s going to be more feelings than the other categories. I’ll discuss relationships, grief, joy, duty and other women’s issues. I’ll be as authentic as I can without being shocking, at least for now.

I believe women (and probably men) frequently go through a change of life at this age, and I don’t mean menopause, although that can help. (I wonder if the Chief of the Universe actually created menopause to shake women out of their complacency and get them motivated to begin a new stage. I suspect there’s a male version of menopause too!) Restlessness, risk-taking, activism, addiction and reinvention are all common side-effects.

I want to discuss it all. So please share your thoughts with me when I post a new piece. I want this to be a hub for discussion and interaction. Agree and disagree. Be female, male or neutral. It’s all good! Just put some feeling into it!