What Happens in Singapore…Stays in Singapore

….until I blog about it.

There’s something I haven’t yet admitted to anyone ever about my ‘trip’ to Singapore. Something I’ve kind of just neglected to include in the recounting of the time I spent there. It’s nothing bad, nothing you wouldn’t expect from an easily distracted and excitable first-time solo-traveller…but it’s just a little bit embarassing.

To give us context, I’ll make it clear that I visited the city as part of a tour group which left from Changi airport (the most amazing airport known to man) during a ridiculous 20-hour stopover, promising to have us back in time to make each person’s individual connecting flight, regardless of which of the 3 massive and maze-like terminals they were departing from.

Beginning to see any flaws in the plan yet?

I hopped on the bus all the same, excited at the extra stamp in my passport and at the prospect of seeing a city which had not been on my original itinerary at all. I spent most of the traffic jam on the way to the main highway (look at me using fancy words for a big road!) deep in conversation with the mother and daughter of a delightful Chinese family, on holiday from Beijing and, like me, passing time on their stopover as they headed towards Kuala Lumpur.

Singapore’s orderly and functional traffic, rules of the road, basic rights of way and cleanliness were immediately obvious and an absolute blessing to experience after the madness of Cambodia and Vietnam. I gasped in wonder as a line of cars ACTUALLY STOPPED when a traffic light turned red, and flat-out gawped as a traffic warden, no less, was heeded as he stood bravely in the middle of the junction a little further on, hi-vis jacket almost rendered unecessary as the vehicles slotted in forwards and backwards and around him with their Sim-like precision and politness.

In fact, Sim-like is exactly how I’d describe Singapore. Sim-like and HOT. Swelteringly, stiflingly, breath-catching-in-your-throat kind of hot that no degree of near-nakedness can relieve. I’d gone from shivering uncomfortably in my flimsy white kafkan shirt and tiny denim short-shorts through several air-conditioned airports, to continuosly fanning myself and exhaling with puffed-out cheeks like a pregnant or menopausal lady caught mid-contraction or hot-flush – kind of ironic how those two things work in comparison to one another. Either way, one degree away from the equator is not where I’d expected to find myself spending the evening, nevermind in a city so vastly populated with sparkly lights and high-rise buildings shaped like Star Wars battleships.

It’s no wonder I got distracted.

Our enthusiastic guide, another soul native to Beijing who dubbed himself Mr. T., (‘Call me Mista’ T”!), epitomized the practicality and simple cheerful nature of many of the other Chinese, Malaysian and Singaporean people I had met already and was yet to encounter. His efforts to animate the slightly sterile air-conditioned interior of the unecessarily enormous tour bus genuinely made me laugh and added hugely to my enjoyment of the tour, as he randomly exclaimed things like ‘Oho!!!” and ‘Olé Olé Olé!!” after each description of and proud introduction to the locations we visited – completely out of context to the information he was narrating, and at times entirely sporadic.

starwards

This is what I loved about Asia. There were a lot of things I did not understand, and a lot of what I did understand was so randomly unrelated to the actual context of where I was or what I was doing at the time that it would catch me unawares and throw me completely off-course and away from whatever I was actually focusing your attention on. Like right now. Where was I? Oh yes.

Singapore.

Mr. T’s energy reminded me of a cartoon character, and I found myself the only group-member participating in his guessing games as he posed impossible questions about the city to gage our knowledge of it – or possibly just to recite lines he had learned in ‘tour-guide training’ – it was difficult to tell for sure.
‘Who can tell me what percentage of Singaporeans are property owners?! Anybody? Nobody? Going once…olé! Going twice…olé! Goi-…Yes?”
‘65%?!!”
My random contribution was met with an emotionless stare from a French lady sitting opposite me as I looked to her jokingly for support, and an expressionless Dutch-looking guy with a camera behind cleared his throat awkwardly.
‘Oho!!! ‘berry close, ‘berry close! But, another guess?”
At least Mr. T had my back.
‘90%!?”
This time the smiley mother from the Chinese family chirped up, and gave me a slightly robotic yet jolly high-five when Mr T.’s immediate reaction to her answer made us all jump.
‘Olé olé olé!! We have a winna’!!! Hupp’ah!!’

Ignoring the distinct lack of enthusiasm from every other passenger on board, myself and the Chinese lady laughed and clapped along with him, our delight and amusement at our guides’ ‘acting’ skills and excellent English evidently either not shared or completely lost on our fellow passengers. The lady even gestured over to her husband and daughter, who were sat on the opposite sides of the bus to her in their own individual seats, cameras pressed to the glass of the bus as we passed several impressive looking buildings outside. I turned my attention outwards, as the bus lurched around a corner, and stopped rather suddenly in an orderly queue of traffic.
Comedy on pause, Mr. T suddenly became very serious.
‘Please be kind and do not stand up in the bus. I do not wish to stop at hospital.’
The Chinese father sat down after a few seconds as his wife translated solemnly.

The Singaporean adherence to safety measures and rules of the road became evident then as every slight movement was monitored and commented on in an almost joking manner, yet with an element of seriousness behind it. As we passed several other landmarks and more cameras were unfolded from the depths of hand-luggage, Mr. T was forced to repeat his request that we not move from our seats, and ‘please to be careful as in Singapore we have no insurance over who comes on tour and you must pay yourself if something happens.’ That put me in my place.

 It was getting dark as we neared Gardens By The Bay, visible from a distance as a futuristic mini-city of 50-foot high ‘Supertrees’ laden with multicoloured fairy lights and interspersed with connective bridges akin to something from Lorien, or the world of Avatar. Only a few days previously I’d visited the natural beauty of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, and so this dream-like area of man-made ‘forest’ seemed even more alien to observe. Singapore is so organised it has even orchestrated the construction of its own forest! I thought, half in awe and half dubious at how artificial it all seemed. Still, what I could see from the bus was extremely beautiful and I was itching to escape the chilly air-conditioned interior and get exploring for myself.

gardens

 Before we could do so however, Mr. T. laid out some strict rules of thumb.
‘Follow me to the entrance. At the entrance, I will point you in the direction of the gardens. From there, you will have freetime. Freetime will depend on our time of arrival. I will give time to meet back at the information desk and if you are not there at this time we will leave without you.’
Straight up and honest, I thought. I like this place.
‘In Singapore, we are punctual. We stick to time schedule and do not deviate.’
Fair enough, I thought again. I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t a relief to finally have some sort of order and reliable structure after becoming accustomed to the mere arrival of any form of public transport in Vietnam or Cambodia being a luxury – an hour after OR before the ‘expected time’ being almost customary. You just had to go with it.

 Singapore, however, is extremely different. Rigid rules, strict instructions, simple, basic guidelines to follow, and the entire city seems to function simply and effectivly. Mr T.’s description of the eco-friendly power-generating systems and recycling features were refreshing; so futuristic and straightforward that I genuinely did feel like I’d landed in Simville and was now a contributing member of a society so organised that stepping a foot out of line would be punishable by incredulous stares and unabashed Asian mutterings. Which it was.

Gardens by the Bay was incredible. As it was nearing Christmas, we got lucky in that the night we attended the park was the night they turned on the Christmas lights and had a special display for visitors. I entered the maze of towering Supertrees, Christmas lights merely adding to the fantastical display of colours and twinkling around me. The Supertrees were akin to giant versions of the dandelions we used to pick as kids to blow away their seeds. Only the seeds were still there. Each seed contributed to the constellations of multicoloured sparkling taking place above my head, and the low murmur of tourists all gazing skywards was interspersed with the first Christmas music I’d heard all year, along with everyone apologising for stepping on one anothers’ toes as we all gawped at the roof of the ‘forest’ above.

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I was taking pictures without looking at what I took. I was closing my eyes as each new song came on, brought back to a childhood where sparkly lights and Christmas music were enough to cure any kind of bad feelings or negative emotions. I was floating amidst the starry darkness, silently balancing upon the platforms of language barriers existing between the multitudes of tourist nationalities standing and wandering blindly around me, all murmuring incomprehensibly, yet focused upwards as one mass of human energy, in awe of pretty lights and the ironic juxtaposition of nature with our own technological advancment. The lights flashed in time to the music playing, and regardless of the artificiality of it, I was completely under the spell of the beauty of the Supertrees. It was like a movie. It was like a dream, even more so when I considered how not one single person was familiar to me here – I was completely alone, wandering through this sea of people and lights and music and life

 It’s no wonder I lost the group.

 I hadn’t seen them since entering the park, that much I knew for sure.
Not to worry, I thought, still in my blissfull, floaty state of contentment; I just have to find the information desk. There’s still loads of time.
So I wandered some more.
I wandered and took pictures and guessed the languages people were speaking, basking in the independence and strength I felt at having taken myself this far. The park was surprisingly large, and even though the lights were everywhere, it was difficult to identify specific buildings, turns, or pathways.
I went back the way I’d come (or thought I had), turned a few corners around trees I thought were familiar, using the battleship-skyscraper as a landmark; followed other tour groups down turns that seemed they’d lead to an exit of sorts but which actually brought us on to further ‘gardens’ and yet more inviting lights and music.
In short, I ended up completely and utterly lost.
At first it didn’t dawn on me just how alone I was – my larger backpack had gone on to Bali, bypassing Singapore completely. Here I was, one small backpack of hand-luggage and a duty-free bag of Cambodian Christmas tree decorations, wandering completely alone through an unfamiliar city, no physical money to speak of save a couple of thousand Vietnamese Dong which was utterly worthless here, and no knowledge of the language around me – no card or bus number of the tour I’d been with, no actual concrete evidence to place me in Singapore at all save a crappy ‘visitors’ visa’ stamp on my passport and my fellow tour mates’ eyewitness accounts…and they didn’t even know my name.

 I slowly began to panic, my brain irrationally jumping to the worst conclusions; picturing the reports of ‘Irish girl missing in Asia, last-known location in a fictional fantasy-land of flashing lights and trees and purpley-green dandelions…’
A few deep breaths calmed me.
No. Everything would be fine. Just find the information desk.
So I did. Wrong one.
Find the other information desk.

I tried. I really did. I found what I thought was the desk we’d agreed upon. No sign of anyone recognisable. No Mr. T.. No rude Dutch man with his camera larger than my head. No happy Chinese lady with her quiet husband. By now it was five minutes past the time we’d agreed to meet to return to the bus. A whole five minutes.
‘Hey!!!”
A shout came from behind. ‘You! Curly hair!”
It was the rude French lady from the bus. She hurried over to me and grasped my hand, and instead of being relieved to see her, her anxious stance made me actuely aware of how late it was. I could immediately tell she was equally as lost as I had been. She glanced around behind her and I recognised a young Vietnamese girl also from our bus hurriedly following her, looking even more lost than I had just felt and apparantly scared shitless; her English proved just about as advanced as my Vietnamese.
‘She’s lost too.’ Said the French lady in a thick accent. ‘She is very scared. She has never been away from home before’. Not even a ‘Hello! Thank god I found you too!”
Ah God. Okay. Time to sort this.
As I smiled at the girl and asked her name in a friendly manner, her eyes filled with tears as she glanced around the mass of incomprehensible tourists wandering the gardens in the dark. I empathized somewhat, but suddenly the fear of being ‘lost’ was replaced by irritation.
‘We’re only 10 minutes late!” I exclaimed, secretly relieved to no longer be alone, yet really just a bit put out that they’d actually left without us. How could Mr. T. have done this to me!?
‘Maybe we…wait? Maybe they return for us?” the French lady said hopefully.
Even as she said it I raised my eyebrows in disbelief.
“Yeh…yeh maybe.”

So we waited a couple of feet away from the information desk we all agreed was the one we’d separated at.
Ten minutes ticked into fifteen. Twenty. I didn’t want to be the one to point out the obvious, but someone had to.
‘I don’t think they’re coming back for us’.

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I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation, though Vietnamese girl and French lady could not have looked less entertained. How typical of me, I thought. Surprisingly ok with where I found myself, I raised my eyebrows and turned to face the exit.
Sure look, at least I’m not by myself.
‘Have you any money?” I enquired of my two unlikely and mismatched companions, one standing frowning at the world around her, and the other clutching tightly on to a schoolbag laden with badges of the red and yellow Vietnamese flag.
Vietnamese girl smiled awkwardly and shrugged.
‘I’ll take that as a maybe’.
“I have card.”
French lady to the rescue.
“Ok so, I guess we’ll just have to find our way back to the airport. I don’t know what the next stop on the tour was!”

Somehow I found myself the leader of the group, following signs in English out towards the entrance we’d come through only hours previously as part of an ignorant group of tourists. I felt less like a tourist now, and more of a character in a video-game – ‘Find-the-Taxi-rank” being my predominant quest to complete.
The heat was becoming unbearable at this stage, even though night time was well underway. Our proximity to the equator meant that the temperature was not likely to drop below 25 degrees, even in the middle of the night. It was a dead-heat that would be exhausting to experience even in a less-stressful situation. I managed to find a taxi-rank alright, but finding a driver who would take a French bankcard and drop us to three separate airport terminals happily proved another difficult feat.

Eventually after long wait and dealing with a lot of stares at our mismatched group-appeareance, we sat in silence in an organised traffic jam with a Malaysian driver; four completely different nationalies and backgrounds all brought together somehow in this impossible metropolis of lights and bizarrely strict regulations. I actually didn’t mind the French lady too much, who relaxed somewhat as we assured we were safely en route back to the airport and she told me she’d definitely be having a drink on her flight to relieve the tension.
I was merely proud of myself for having resolved the situation without panicking too much, and secretly extremely satisfied when Maria (French lady’s name) refused to take the 5 dollars of expendable currency I had found in my purse from me.
“I’d have been lost without you. Keep it!”
Well, that was nice of her.

As we went our separate ways back at Changi airport, each of us having returned in time to make our flights well in advance, I settled down to spend the remainder of my wait safely in the familiarity of a comfortable Starbucks’ armchair. Some things never change.

singapore

Part One – Homecoming

Sunday mornings smell like freshly burnt toast and overdue library books. They always have. The silent vigil of condensated windows seperates the temperate chill outside with the unattended coolness of relations within, and a sort of hushed mutual understanding that any noise made before 9am is enough to warrant a decrease in the amount of spuds on your plate for the weekly roast later on. Not to mention a series of questions enquiring as to what you could possibly have been up to before the crows, and a shrill reminder to close the door when you burn the toast, we don’t want it getting to the fire alarm. Every movement feels watched.
– I’ll have you know, Mother, that in Asia the cockerels start crowing at 5am, and don’t stop until the din of a million motorbikes playing real-life MarioKart on the next street over by 6am has drowned them out.
I digress.
 As time has passed, the bitter tang of black coffee has also wound it’s way between the thin pages of my tastebuds, each cup drawing me ever-closer to the elusive answers and unmentioned distraction we seek in the pages of novels. Lowering my choice of re-gifted paperback for that particular Sunday morning the day after St. Stephen’s Day, I stepped and then stumbled quickly away from a rogue thumbtack which had fallen from it’s position fastening somewhere in the vicinity of SouthEast Asia to the wall above my bed, on a map of the world I’d been given for my 1st birthday by a grandmother who’d been suffering from a massive nervous breakdown at the time. Or so it was described later on. In the early nineties there were no such thing as nervous breakdowns that were casually thrown into sentences about grandchildren’s birthday parties. It’s just the cold, they said. She’ll be grand when the fine weather comes in. She wasn’t. My birthday is in May.
The map of the world as it existed the year I was born has been unfolded and folded and stored away and studied so many times since then that I’d felt no remorse or guilt whatsoever in puncturing the tiny black dots of places in all the countries I’ve stepped foot in to date with microcosmic lunar flags in the form of coloured thumbtacks. Even if the pastel-coloured and oddly-shaped portions of land seen as square inches on the map no longer identify with the names or states they once existed as, instead governed by other square inches to the far stage-right or left of the blue backdrop, I wedged the pins through the expanses of their capital cities and into the clammy yellow wall behind nonetheless.
In doing so I chose to actively ignore the chippings of wall and paint which spilled out from the holes as I mercilessly forced the pins firstly through the points on the map, and then onwards through years of shoddy redecoration and DIY work, evident from the ease with which the current paint came away and revealed teenage phases and forgotten childhoods that once graced the walls with bold colours and a Batman and Robin patterned wallpaper. Before we start getting emotional here, the wallpaper had never belonged to us, but (I’m assuming) to a now grown-up child who lived and played in the room before my parents moved here and had even considered myself or my sister as potential contributions to the world I now smoothed out evenly against the wall. The irony lay in the fact that somewhere on the wall underneath all those layers, faded colours and half-removed strips of wallpaper remained preserved a decade in which Yugoslavia and the USSR were still in existance, and in which I as a one-year-old baby would have had about as much appreciation for a map of the world as I would have a Kerouac novel and cup of strong black coffee on a Sunday morning.
But that was then.
In a tizzy I was suddenly pulled from my contemplation of Slovakia’s bordering countries and research of potential inter-railing routes by the slow, heavy shuffle-shuffle and subsequent tap-tap-tap which signalled a visit from Dad to my room. This had become such an infrequent occurrence in recent times due in part to my travels, yet also to his worsening arthritis and ability to climb the stairs that for once I didn’t immediately jump to the rude reflex-cry of “Don’t come in!!”, and instead posed a bored and weary question in the hope it would deflect any interest about to be invested in my current occupation away;
‘…yes?”
‘I just thought I’d tell you, Gay Byrne has had a heart attack”.
“…Oh. Great.”
“He’s doing well and is hoping to be let home from Vincent’s soon”.
“Um…thanks for that, Brian Dobson…”
“Just thought you’d like to know. Will I put the kettle on?”
Ignoring this blatant cry out for a reaction and refraining from telling him I’d already read about the famed TV presenter’s ill-health on the internet, I also somehow managed to bite back a nasty retort and replied instead with a simple ‘Not for me, thanks”, in the hope that would conclude my audience with Dad for the time being and allow me to return to my travel-planning. No such luck.
 “Where are you off to next?”
Oh, I don’t know, anywhere far away from the Winter in Ireland and constant feeling of guilt when I step foot outside the door because I’m leaving two parents behind who’s world has been limited by their own resignation and refusal to see any potential for enjoyment in their remaining years.
“Erm…not sure yet.”
“I always wanted to see Australia”.
“Well…it’s still there you know. You could still go.”
“Me? Nah. Too far. Who’d feed the dog? You can send me pictures when you get there.”
This I didn’t even dignify with an answer.
“Right.”
“Ok so. See you at dinner.”
And I was alone with my map again. I sighed. Talk about reasons to leave. The Christmas turkey hadn’t even been made into a curry yet and I was already itching to move again. Sunday was always a slow day, but this one in particular seemed to be dragging on like an 18-hour layover in the world’s shittest airport ( Phnom Penh, Cambodia) which contains nothing but a single duty free shop and a café serving crab meat and noodles.
Once Christmas is over it’s like a week of Sundays all rolled into one until New Years’, which is not entirely bad I suppose – if you like that sort of thing. I’ve always found Sundays to be slightly too lengthy, especially when they’re spent hungover. I’m pretty sure this was the case the morning I finally decided to make the initial booking for my Asia trip, a coffee balanced precariously beside the trackpad of the laptop and my bank card trembling accordingly beside it, ready to divulge it’s private parts (or in this case, number sequence) to the anonymity of the world wide web, securing a ticket across the surface of the earth which its’ details traversed back and forth in a matter of seconds, but which would take me an entire 48 hours of travel to match, given humans’ inability yet to engage in satellite – transport. Part of me is intensly excited to see what happens to the tourism industry when and if that ever actually occurs, but for now I’ll just sit back and put my life in the hands of strange pilots who don’t speak my language and sit in large tonne-weight metal tubes which I cannot control for hours on end, thanks.
Some thoughts are better off left un-entertained.
 I was still struggling to re-adjust to the static lifestyle, after a homecoming overshadowed by the advent of ‘The Christmas’ period proved to be exactly what I’d needed as an excuse to blend hot-topically back into the colourless backdrop and surroundings of Ireland during wintertime, without too much of a fuss being made over the fact that I’d just traversed a large portion of Asia and Indonesia completely alone and for no reason at all really other than the fact that I’d needed to get away for a while. It sounds like an extreme way to come to terms with oneself and space in the world, but I can’t deny it was effective. Even now the internal pillar of strength and individuality is still standing, newly erected in honour of myself and validity amidst the rubble of personality and lost preferences that have slowly been chipped away at to suit the will and humour of others, submitting to ‘what makes everyone happy’ and ‘whatever goes’ as easily as you would the crashing of a rogue wave in the wild strength of the surf in Indonesia. These waves that swiped the sunglasses from my head and caused several days of squinting and discomfort because I was too stingey and proud to spend 3 dollars on a new pair.
Instead of maybe trying out a surf lesson or two in order to better navigate the waters, delving a path of one’s own out on the cappucino-foamed waves that never actually stop even when you think you’ve time for a breather. I finally realised how I’d been standing on the shorelines of my life for far too long, staring out through protected eyes, so close to and aware of the potential which lay before me, but just afraid to take the steps forwards and put myself out there, as they say.
The coffee maybe had something to do with the recklessness of it all, but at the time it made perfect sense to just leave, and for days after booking the buzz was prolonged in a haze of excited and mischievous delight that I’d finally made a move and done something worthwhile to help myself. This was it. I was finally moving forwards.

Making Banana Matoke in Uganda

Matoke, or ‘banana-mush’ as I christened it during our short trip there in October 2013, is one of Uganda’s staple dishes. The consistency of mashed potato with a distinct flavour of banana, this complex carbohydrate serves as the main source of sustenance for many poverty-stricken families in Kayunga, Uganda, and is regularly eaten straight from the leaves in which it is cooked.
As we carried the newly chopped branch of banana-tree back through the shanty village of rusting huts and makeshift washing lines sporting colorful arrays of materials, a gathering a of local semi-naked children gathered pied-piper like behind us. Jumping and hollering and swatting one another out of the way to allow themselves a better view to stand briefly in front of the giant metal contraption they somehow knew was recording them, the din of their excitement and swarm-like congestion around us almost caused me to drop the 2-metre long waxy leaves of the banana tree I had been entrusted with. My charge, a 17-year-old girl named Jan, looked back over her shoulder and laughed heartily at my struggle, as she had only minutes earlier when I had failed to muster the strength required to chop through the 2-foot width of trunk, even after repeated hacking and several grumbles of frustration. She had simply taken the machet from my hand, tipped the spot on the tree where she planned to chop, and in one large swooping motion far more powerful than any of us could have anticipated from her, amputated the thick branch from it’s bark.
“Like that!” she proclaimed proudly.
The brief respite from shame which followed my failure was broken as I tried to move the large bunch of bananas that had fallen with the branch. A sensation akin to taking that extra step in the dark at the top of the stairs when there is none, I found I had severely underestimated the weight of the cluster of 30 or 40 bananas. It wouldn’t budge.
Again Jan chuckled happily to herself and, having fashioned a circular crown-like base for herself out of the thick leaves on the ground, hoisted the bunch of almost-yellow fruit atop her head, and proceeded to walk steadily back through the trees the way we’d come. I was left, cheeks burning, to wrap several long waxy leaves in strips and bind them securely together, following my guide like a lost puppy as I struggled with the substantially lighter option of the leaves of the tree upon my head.
Once we’d made it back through the herd of local children, we set to work on the front porch of the shed-sized dwelling where Jan lived and supported her widowed mother, and 5 younger siblings. Skinning each banana, and placing it inside a pot-shaped weave formed from several of the branch-leaves, the process itself was fairly straightforward, yet it was the pace at which Jan worked which shocked me. I had barely finished skinning my third banana, and she had already moved on to her second bunch.
When all had been successfully added to the pot, I was put on clean-up duty while Jan skillfully lit a small fire inside the doorway of the homestead, and placed the ball of leaves containing the raw bananas upon it. Straightening herself up and casting a pitying glance as I scrambled to collect all the stray banana-skins, she announced with a sigh;
‘And now we wait’.

Distilled Dexterity – Part 1

Part 1.
Lily.

A young, pale, and thin yet attractive male nurses a pint alone, at a table in the starboard bar near the railings.
Frequent traveller. Definite thrill seeker. Possible homosexual.

I amble up to the bar, and order my Jameson and ginger-ale – an old college favourite
that has since made it’s subtle return to my life, this time regulated in more ‘mature’ and sociable drinking habits (if that is at all possible). Making a point to sit opposite him, I perch on the edge of my neighbouring starboard deckchair, body language echoing the uncertainty and impulsive purchase of this boat ticket – I have one hundred euro to my name.

He nods furtively, a definite Irishness to the pursing of the lips and subsequent sup of Heineken as he glances to the ground and shifts in his chair.
Maybe he’s not gay.
Secretly chuffed at the attention, yet wary of the fact that we are clearly both for want of a better phrase, in the same boat, and merely looking for some company with whom to pass this 2 hour ferry journey into the unknown, I smile meekly at him, before also averting my attention to my silent glass of distilled dexterity.

I’m painting a wonderful picture of my nationality already. We’re not all alcoholics, I swear – just overly sensitive with an extreme lack of self—belief and direction…hence the whim of solo travel being heeded.
A old man shuffles past on a walking stick, marvelling aloud at the ‘wonderful European weather’, to nobody in particular.
We exchange glances again, like ignorant schoolkids whose teacher has just been overheard talking about having an actual social life.
The man passes on.
I sip again to fill the lapse of thought, and busy myself with the never ending friendly fire of blue-on-blue that is the horizon before me, and the journey ahead.

Somewhere in between going to get my third Jameson and braving my way down the steep, narrow steps from the bathroom, I stub my toe on a rogue floorboard and stumble forwards slightly, catching myself and straightening up just in time to pass his table.
He didn’t see. He couldn’t have.
Fat chance.
‘You alright?’
A conversation is struck up. He too is travelling alone. He too is escaping Ireland and a fruitless Summer in the hopes of procuring a job on the continent. He too has only a limited budget on which he intends to get there. He too has had a few drinks.

As our ramblings progress, the exaggerative sides come out, and laughs  accompanied by large gestures, heads thrown back and hands on stomachs turn into long-winded and in-depth personal stories and reasons for our need to get out of this country.
‘Want another?’
“Sure”.
He stands to make for the bar, hands digging into his combatted pocket as he goes. For some reason I’m a bit giddy, not because I fancy him, but because sharing my story and actually speaking aloud my unplanned intentions for this Summer has once again made me realise the extent of the possibility there is for it. I could do anything I like. Go anywhere. Within reason, obviously, but there is a certain element of excitement here that I’ve never experienced the like of before, and I currently want nothing more than to keep it there.

A waitor is clearing away tables around me, and turns to me, his hands full of empty drinking vessels and an exasperated look on his face.
‘Sorry miss, we have to clear this side of the bar. Downstairs only after 8pm.’
‘I-oh-ok!!’
I comply a little too eagerly, grabbing my purse, backpack, and glass while jumping up quickly. I’m just about to make for the bar when I notice that Sam (blondy’s name) has left a set of keys on the table, along with a shiny sports jacket on the chair. I make the decision there and then that my new drinking buddy is moving seats with me, and tug at the jacket whilst fumbling with the keys in my other hand. It comes loose, yet my heart skips a beat when I hear a gentle ‘flump’ as something from one of the pockets slips to the ground. I jump forward, dropping everything else in a futile attempt to save it.
Too late.
His wallet has just gone over the railing.
In the split second it takes for the ‘splash’ to reach my ears, a million thoughts rush through my mind and I end up spilling my last drop of ginger-ale all over the floor in an attempt to grasp the exhalation of smoke that is the wallet– it’s gone as quickly as it escaped the jacket-pocket. Stock still, the realization of what has just happened takes a moment to settle.

I have just thrown a stranger’s wallet over the side of a boat and into the sea. The finality and futility of the moment it took for the small rectangle of Sam’s leather identity to become lost forever hits me like a slap from a wet fish.
‘Oh. Shit.’
What else can I do? I giggle.
‘Oops’.
“What’s so funny?”
He’s back, two dilapidated cocktails in hand and a dopey look on his face that reflects the last hour spent consuming alcohol and watching the Irish clouds become slightly less-gloomy versions of themselves as we neared France.
‘I-um….I have your stuff! We have to move downstairs!”
“Oh cheers, thanks a million!”

As he turns to lead the way to the other bar, I hesitate.
I figure I have two choices. One: I come clean, own up that in my tipsy turvy rush to gather up all of our things to bring downstairs, the wallet had accidentally come loose from his pocket and slipped into the unknown depths of the Irish Sea, now sitting alongside lost Viking relics and various other tourist memorabilia swallowed up over the years. This option (i.e, the truth) terrifies me. And so I rather irrationally choose to select option two: I play dumb.

Adventures of the Sistine Cocktails

Once upon a grander time – an odd sort of scary free yet directionless time in between my thesis completion and induction into a full-time job – during a trip to Rome, I made the decision to visit the Sistine Chapel whilst still feeling the hazy after-effects of some very interestingly coloured (and flavoured) Italian cocktails from the night before. I’ve a feeling it was sometime close to the beginning of the holiday, as the use of the phrase ‘When in Rome’ had yet to be deemed excessive, although this night might well have been it’s undoing. In any case, in our absent-minded state, myself and a friend from college had found ourselves wandering the long and extensive entrance to the chapel, which actually doubles as a kind of walk-through museum, designed to cater for the miles of wide-eyed and sunburned wannabe pilgrims that turn up every morning in the hopes of skipping the ‘queue’, and getting in first.

I laughed at the eager beavers attempting to push ahead, and muttered cynically under my breath as a group of straw-hat clad old men gestured animatedly at the prices of the tickets at the desk. The place had been there for 500 years, I thought, it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon!!
Once inside, Emma busied herself taking pictures of the walls and the floors and windows and everything around us, while I nodded encouragingly, not fully comprehending where we were going or what exactly we were looking at. To be honest I remember blindly following the shuffling sock-and-sandel clad feet of an overweight American woman, half-annoyed at the fact that she was slowing me down, and half-grateful that her sloth-like pace and despicable pink polo-shirt required so little imagination or brain power on my part to follow whatsoever, as everything else around me seemed to demand. Don’t get me wrong, the artwork and intricate details of the ancient artefacts around me were visually stunning, and I appreciate even now their beauty and unique intrigue, but there was only so much one was going to achieve in staring at them for a prolonged period of time without starting to think too much, and my head wasn’t in a great place to be engaging in such deep thought just then.

When we finally made it through the maze of the museum-walk (a good hour and a half of ‘entrance’, may I add, presumably to draw attention away from the fact the whole building and ploy goes under the name “Sistine Chapel Tour’ when there is no actual tour as such, more of a signpost-guided stroll), and we entered into the actual ‘chapel’ part, the only thing that drew my attention was the fact that everyone was looking up. Maybe it was inappropriate, but I found myself preoccupied not with the ancient cherubs, half-naked men and women and chariots on the ceiling and walls, but with the faces gazing upwards around me, the people of today, and their wide-eyed, open-mouthed curiosity as they stared upon the ceiling and turned their heads this way and that in an effort to achieve an owl’s 360 perception of the gigantic hall. I have to say, despite the cynicism in these words, it is pretty impressive. Yet I still amused myself by assigning the humans around me to categories based on age, nationality, marital status, and enthusiasm for their current proximity to history – I don’t even feel bad about it now, it’s just amusing to think back on.

There were people with cameras taking cautious pictures (no flash allowed). There were elderly couples clutching one another in feigned (or genuine, who knows) awe at the images on the walls and ceiling, attempting to express some sort of artistic appreciation, even if they had none. There were students mildly appreciative of the artwork, yet thoughts clearly preoccupied with their impending lunch or dinner or tapas tonight; and there were also some children dotted here and there, confused and resentful of having been dragged along on a day-trip and robbed of games consoles in their parents’ feeble attempt at exposing them to some culture. Meanwhile we all stepped on one anothers’ toes in a fruitless effort to see more in those wall and ceiling murals than any of the millions of visitors who have come to view their magnificence since it’s creation have succeeded in seeing ever before.

The moment called for it, I felt, and I tried to snap a few sneaky pictures of the spectators gazing at the room around them – something which, had I succeeded, would surely have captured the true impact of the ancient artwork on the walls, far better at least than a fuzzy picture of the elaborate cocktail I barely remembered buying the previous night, yet had at the time declared a ‘work of art’ in itself.

As I raised my phone however, not to the ceiling, but vertically in front of my face so as to feign a Sistine-selfie, a lady wearing some sort of sharp heel trod down hard on my foot as she craned her neck to view the nearest depiction of Jesus tring to hide his modesty with a tattered piece of cloth. ‘Ow!!’ I couldn’t help but exclaim, and she jumped back, bumping into a bespectacled man beside her, who in turn lost his balance and grabbed hold of the shoulder of a young girl in front of him, her expression depicting this move as ‘extremely creepy’ on his part and sparking off a titter of judgemental giggles and stares between herself and her schoolfriends.
‘Screw this’, I thought, lowering the phone, ‘too many people’.

I wondered how much it would cost and how far in advance you’d have to book to get a private viewing of the chapel. Tom Hanks would have experienced it, I thought bitterly, an irrational jealousy for the actor blossoming in me as I thought of artwork and landmarks I’d seen already that day which had reminded me of scenes from Angels and Demons. It had been fascinating to see the sights and even better to be able to recognise them from many famous films I’d seen, and so my irritation did not linger as I allowed myself be herded along with the rest of the crowd, subconsciously yet obediently edging ever closer to the door, leading through to a souveneir shop and short exit-passage out into the promise of present-day sunshine.

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