Electric Essentials – Five Revolutionary Camping Necessities To Pack In Your Picnic Basket

Twas the week before Picnic, and all through the shops, not a camper was thinking, ‘I’ll bring my flip-flops’…”

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With only a week to go to Electric Picnic 2015, here are five revolutionary camping necessities to pack in your picnic basket:

  1. The Baby Wipe.
    An invaluable source of cleanliness and refreshment at any time of the day, Johnson’s would do well to produce a festival-special pack where the pudgy, cute baby pictures on the packaging are replaced with muddy, drunken and denim-clad festival hunzos; flower crowns askew as they search desperately for something to get the muck off their brand spanking new Penney’s boots that haven’t stopped leaking since they fell in that puddle 2 days ago.
    Johnsons wipes
  1. The Extra Layer.
    Layers are key – like a cake. – Do not kid yourselves. It may be a festival. There may be flowers and twinkly-lights and colourful hubs of facepainting, dancing, and streamers twirling and music and general happiness everywhere you cast your gaze (oh-my-God-I’m-so-excited) – but this is still Ireland. It is cold here. There is still every chance that the closest we’ll get to this so-called impending ‘Indian Summer’ is a good ‘ol chicken curry from one of the festival stalls. Here’s hoping Met Éireann pull through, but I’m still packing that extra hoodie just in case.
  1. The Banana.
    Cheap, cheerful, and full of genuine unprocessed, uninstagrammed and natural goodness, there is genuinely no better food to re-energize after an uncomfortable nights’ sleep (or lack thereof) on the ground. In a field. In the rain. In Ireland. Oh God why do we continue to do this to ourselves?!? One precaution to take when packing the sunshine fruit-of-the-Gods is fairly obvious – they go on top. Nothing worse than wasted energy being squashed all over the eight or nine other outfits you’re not going to wear.
    banana
  1. The Power Block For Your Power Block.
    Despite electricity being part of the name of this particular festival, don’t get your hopes up when it comes to keeping your smart phones on a satisfactory percentage of charge – and that goes without saying about any festival. While last year there were charging facilities and lockers with cables available at EP, it came at a fairly steep price. If you were prepared to sacrifice a good chunk of hard-earned cash for a few hours’ battery life on a phone you’ll be continually checking is still in your pocket and hasn’t been nicked (see #5), then at least the poor workers in the stalls having to go without sleep so you can check your emails at 2am are getting well-paid. While phones are handy to locate lost or drunken friends who’ve gone astray in search of the rave in the forest, chances of their phone being on them and still functioning are equally as slim as yours. It’s a lot easier to just get a backup festival phone and leave the iPhones at home. My trusty black €20 Samsung flip-phone still has it’s charge from last year. I’ll meet you at the inflatable wobbly-men.
  1. Basically, Anything You Don’t Mind Getting Nicked.
    When it comes to personal belongings and valuables at festivals, it literally could not be any more of a case of ‘enter at owners own risk’, and I don’t blame security getting cranky when people come wailing about a stolen FCUK bag. If you bring your designer gear or Macbook Pro to a festival, heroicly guarded and protected by the thin lining and single zip of your Aldi-bought tents (which by the way are surprisingly sturdy when assembled correctly) – you don’t deserve any pity. The unfortunate craze of ‘festival fashion’ creating unecessary pressure to render oneself presentable after spending the night in a field is honestly just damn unfair, and no amount of designer rainjackets or wellies are going to fix frizzy or scraggly wet hair, or dry-up any of the puddles. Embrace the festival-face and Penneys’ shorts, and work the bedhead look.
    Festival. Ireland. Rain. Remember!? Gadgets are no use in this kind of environment; the less you pack, the less chance you have of losing, breaking, or having to worry about it. Simples.

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European Vs Irish Music Festival – What We’re Missing Out On

Okay, so it’s not as if I’m pretending to be an expert or hardcore attendee of music festivals all over the world, but I like my music, I like my festivals, and I just thought I’d express some opinions and realisations I’ve had here after attending Sziget festival in Budapest last week.
As someone whose general vision and experience of music festivals has up until now included multiple layers of clothing, umbrellas, ponchos, muck, and copious amounts of alcohol, the differences between this European festival and the likes of Electric Picnic or Forbidden Fruit at home were something that hit me at every single colourfully signposted and culturally unique corner.

 First of all, and probably most obviously; the weather. Having gone from being a total newbie to the interrailing lifestyle, my opinion of European climates ranging from varying extremities of heat to cold and ‘home’ as a default becoming all jumbled up in my head all meant I hadn’t given the temperature much thought before I left. Luckily my instincts overpowered at this point as the word ‘holiday’ seems to have been engrained upon my brain, triggering an unconscious reaction to pack only Summer clothes.
The weather in Budapest at Sziget this year rarely dropped below 30 degrees, something which makes or breaks a pale ginger Irish fresh-air junkie such as myself, especially considering the lack of air conditioning available whilst camping (I’ll give you a guess – there’s none!!). Not to mention the constant battle with our neighbouring ant colony to keep the tents clean and cool enough to actually provide some sort of respite from the blaring midday heat. I’ve gotten to the stage now where I know better than to even try to withstand a sun like that for longer than a few minutes at a time, and dreams of attaining an actual tan from it are frankly laughable, so my bottle of factor 40 came with me everywhere I went.
My one main complaint with festivals at home has always been simply that it has been too cold. There’s only so many times you can justify standing waiting for one of your favourite bands, shivering beneath layers of soaked plastic ‘waterproof’ jackets and squelching along miserably back to a tent that may or may not yet have been flooded, trampled on, or worse – inhabited by unknown drunkards mistakenly thinking they’ve found their own resting hovels. Of course, this may be where the tendency to over-indulge in alcohol comes into play at Irish festivals – any excuse to keep warm and be able to sleep somewhere you usually wouldn’t put your dog to rest is surely going to sound like a good option after dutifully standing in wait for hours in unpredictable and rowdy crowds at varying levels of intoxication.
But this is what I mean. The good weather lent itself to every aspect of the festival abroad. Not only did it allow us to enjoy the daytime activities and decorative features for what they really were – a makeshift ‘beach’ and volleyball courts adding hugely to the ‘holiday’ feel of the place – but the sun and warm weather put everyone around in a good mood, and generally just brought out the best in everything. In that heat, tolerance for alcohol is down, so one or two drinks is all that was necessary to obtain a good buzz; even at that there were days where I completely avoided the bars, not by choice, just by sheer preoccupation with the amount of things there were to do and see around me. This in itself is a huge contrast to any festival at home, where the general consensus once entry has been successfully gained and tents hurridly pitched is to ‘head for the bar’ or ‘meet back here for pints’. Starting as you mean to go on only really works when the festival itself only lasts a day or two – a week of that kind of debauchery would be enough to cripple even the most seasoned festival-drinker.
Even so, it was amazing to see all those different walks of life and nationalities merging together in one place like a giant Noah’s Ark, as representatives of each country arrived and set up camp in twos and threes. All this in the love of music, life, and having a good time really succeeded in cementing in my head that life is for living, enjoyment, and sharing that love through a balance of art, music, and a general understanding of one another.

If there is one thing human beings from all corners of the globe love more than anything, it’s having a good fucking time and enjoying the fuck out of what little time we have here.

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The experience of the likes of a week-long festival such as Sziget being condensed down into a 3-day pissup in a field in Laois is something which really opened my eyes to the state of Irish festivals and our attitude towards them in general. Although Sziget is very much a limbo kind of paradise in that many travellers attend as a stop-off on an interrailing trip, it still manages to stand alone as an ‘Island of Freedom’, as they call it, and I spent a few content mornings alone wandering the island as the sun came up and many of the hardcore stragglers stumbled home or collapsed under various trees and bushes dotted in the mainstage area – none of the bars or DJs in the arena stopped until 5.30am, something we sadly discovered after setting up camp less than 50 metres away from one.
This closing time is something that in Ireland would only tempt fate and end badly, yet here it somehow worked with such a culturally diverse crowd of attendees merely looking to meet new people and share in the delights of such a positive and interesting atmosphere. Again, this idea of music and the arts bringing people together is more successfully executed and appreciated due to a better attitude towards alcohol comsumption and social norms – people actually talked to one another in these ‘clubs’, and I found the best place to make new friends was literally – anywhere you wanted to do so. All you had to do was look around, smile, and ask someone where they were from. Of course, this might just have been the incredible holiday-atmosphere and general happiness of everyone in attendance, but it’s difficult to imagine getting a similar reaction everytime at a festival in Ireland – people would think you’re either extremely drunk or just really creepy.

Of course a lot of this is all a massive generalization, as I’m still 100% going to attend Electric Picnic again this year, and more than likely enjoy it immensely. The main difference will be that this time I’ll be making sure to keep a broader mind when it comes to evaluating my understanding and appreciation for it, and hopefully experience more of the cultural and artistic side of things than I have before. Maybe this time I’ll also try to be aware of the various nationalities that (I’m sure) are always in attendance. Sziget has opened my eyes to the world through musical and creative displays of individuality, yet contrastingly has also helped me draw many parallels between myself and other human beings; this European melting pot (in 39 degree heat, this sometimes became literal!) and hub of life, activity, and 200,000 people roaming about a field in their own filth and excessive food and drink consumption, all just silently in search of love or some other form of connection with someone else – because in the end that is what we all seek, is it not? Not necessarily love, or a partner, or a means of procreation – it is merely companionship; likeminded souls who share a similar disposition and understanding of our situations, regardless of background, heritage, culture, or previous successes or failures. These are all just things which become wrapped up in negative and unecessary tension. They do not really matter. For a week on end I shared a common location, contentment, and various experiences with walks of life I never could have dreamed of encountering were it not for this fantastic festival.

As eye-opening as most travel can be in this respect, there was something extra special about the context in which people came together at Sziget. It wasn’t just to satisfy a niggling wanderlust, or to escape from a hometown or a job for the weekend, or even just an exuse to get drunk – it was out of a genuine love for music, life, and a celebration of all the good things there are to be had from this combination if we just do it right and balance it out. While it differed immensely from my experiences of music festivals at home, I’m certain now that when I next attend an Irish festival, I will do so with a completely different attitude, between expectations, enjoyment, and ability to sit back and enjoy the show, the acts, and the surroundings – even if the Irish weather is promised to put a dampener on everything!

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48 Hours in Bratislava

 

This day last week I was in the middle of a 48-hour stay in the city of Bratislava, a pitt-stop on the way to Sziget music festival in Budapest (more on that in the next post!).
As a ginger who hasn’t been on a proper sun holiday since the cringy days of family package deals to Majorca where any hotel without a kids’ club wasn’t worth batting my glitter-glued eyelashes together at, I’ll admit I may have slightly underestimated the European heat – this was only the beginning of my knowledge of Slovakia proving itself to be extremely limited. The heat struck like a wall of dead, sweaty air when you walk into a heavily populated gym, and I immediately thanked myself for having left my warm jacket at home.

After stumbling our way through the barrier of sweat, hastily-applied suncream, and unhelpful Slovakian bus drivers, we eventually made it to the tram station which would take us in the direction of our hostel. What I hadn’t anticipated was the large amount of dodgy-looking characters who roamed the streets – drunks, cripples, barely-clothed scrawny faces who revelled in approaching young unaccompanied travellers at the stations. I’m not saying it was extremely dangerous, just slightly less civilised and more suburban than many of the other European cities I’ve visited – and this was only in the first few hours or so. Still, we had to avert our gaze as a man covered in dried blood boarded the tram and sat staring at us, making no obvious inclination or cry for help, and seemingly oblivious to the extremity of his unknown injuries.

On finding our hostel (Patio Hostel, Bratislava), a wave of relief swept over me at being briefly removed from the sun’s preying rays, and also at finally being able to remove our backpacks. Shoulders aching, we attended a welcome BBQ downstairs in the garden, accompanied by several hen and stag parties, complete with inflatable and edible items of memorabilia…apparantly Bratislava is a serious hotspot for European pre-nuptial celebrations, who knew!

After locating the local Tesco and stocking up on some essentials, we went wandering in search of ‘Rock OK’ , a lively and dimly-lit underground bar, advertised as the starting point of a nightly pub crawl aimed at integrating the many socially-awkward and party-seeking backpackers who pass through the city during the Summer months. (Rock OK)

Considering it was a Saturday night, the streets were fairly quiet and we found ourselves wondering did such a pub crawl even exist. The streets were buckled under roadworks, with cones, railings, and upturned earth blocking off the streets which Google Maps had set out ahead of us. I got the impression that the entire city was very much a work-in-progress, as the roadworks were central to much of the scenery and background of the busiest areas we encountered.

After a rather sexist drink allowance of ‘Free glasses of beer, or wine for the women’, we got talking to our fellow travellers in the Rock Bar, and did our best to mingle – I’ve found that in situations such as these it is one of the best things you can do to be open, friendly and inviting – we were all in the same boat, after all, and so there was no point in being shy.
Many of the other travellers, some from Spain, New Zealand, England, and Italy, to name but a few, were also stopping off in Bratislava on their way down to Sziget, so a common topic of conversation was easily established.
Making friends with a group of Australians proved to be one of the highlights of the night, as well as typically rejoicing together as we realised there were two other Irish lads on the crawl – although unfortunately they lived up to the ‘drunken Irish’ label the other nationalities muttered to one another. We didn’t stay for the entire crawl however, as after the third ‘pub’ proved to be more of a nightclub than anything else, we decided it was time to navigate our way back through the dilapidated streets, sleeping JCBs and makeshift gravel footpaths.

After wonderful cold showers and a brief annoying realisation that someone in the hostel downstairs had stolen and eaten the bread we’d bought, we set out for a day of exploration in the city. We decided to decline the appeal of a walking-tour of the city purely because of the heat, our timeframe, and also because we much preferred the idea of discovering things independent of tour guides and plans.

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Using some of the roadworks as points of reference, we meandered down the main streets which proved a lot busier during the daytime, a large quarter of the city around the church and fountain being pedestrianised to accommodate travellers. The Old Town proved to be extremely inviting, the ‘Alstadt’ area full of great picture opportunities, innumerable bars, cafes and restaurants that looked good enough to stay in all day. The former Palace of the Hungarian Estates surrounded by the many little cobbled streets proved extremely enjoyable to wander about, despite the midday heat!

We voted in favour of a Pad Thai style lunch instead of sampling some of the local cuisine, and were thoroughly impressed by the service and food of The Green Buddha, close to the main square.

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After impulse-buying another pair of ‘Uganda-pants’, as I call them, (my first ever pair having been purchased in Uganda) in one of the many little craft shops along the street, we took the 83 bus to the end of the line, and got off at Temantínska, and followed the beach-ready stream of locals and tourists alike down a short distance to Drazdiak Lake. This freshwater lake was the first experience I’ve had of an inland lake in Europe, and it didn’t disappoint! Although there were hoards of overly-exposed sun-worshippers and naked children throwing rocks at the (extremely patient) swans, the atmosphere and simplicity of the place really appealed to me. We secured ourselves a beer after hopping the language barrier of the bar, and for the first time since the trip had started we felt really at ease as we chilled in the sun (or in my case, the shade and beneath a light throw cardigan).

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That evening we wandered back through the city and had an early night, as the prospect of a busy day navigating our way to Budapest loomed ahead of us.

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My Dad Grew Grapes in Ireland….

….And we made wine. What other way would there be to celebrate this extraordinary feat of cultivation??

Summer 2014 was in many ways and for many people an extremely fruitful season, and we’re still almost unknowingly reaping the benefits.
My father’s early retirement sparked a number of temporary and occasionally irrational notions to which he would dedicate entire days of unwavering attention. Things like the learning of a language, an instrument, or DIY project in the house he would undertake passionately for hours at a time, only to give up and abandon the project before nearing any sort of satisfactory mastery of the craft. Patience and rationality were never strong points of his – nor are they mine, for that matter.

One venture which served as cathartic as it was time-consuming was his expansion into the realm of gardening and home-grown produce. Up until last year, his success was measured on the size of the courgettes which appeared almost overnight (to my untrained and disinterested eyes) within the small space of overcrowded and sweaty condensation, among the dependable crowds of cherry tomatoes and carrot leaves all jostling for space and a sliver of the ever-evasive Irish sunshine. The nature of gardening left room for the sporadic lapses of attention in his greenhouse, meaning that the few days my Dad’s attention got caught up in installing another new boiler, re-painting a perfectly finished room, or searching the web for old census-clippings actually added to the cultivation of the young shoots, giving them the breathing space necessary to acclimatize to their unusally contrasting environment.

The grapes began as one such notion, a day spent wandering the garden centre fertilizing and giving strength to the idea that the growth of anything is possible if the conditions are correctly met and enough space given to acclimatize. And so the guts of one weekend was spent planting grapes in a greenhouse in the back garden of a run-of-the-mill suburban housing estate in Leixlip, and ensuring everybody within earshot knew he was doing so. What could go wrong?

To be honest we all forgot about the mini-vineyard growing in the back garden, not expecting anything to come of the notion and instead adapting to his erratic ideas and shifting our attention to encourage his next venture. It was only as the Summer wore on and he began to notice the small green spheres appearing on the twigs that it began to actually become a source of interest again. I began to receive weekly updates on their progress, which turned to daily phonecalls as my job in Galway kept me from witnessing the miracle for myself.
On returning home I was greeted with a smile and a proud bucket full of genuine grapes as green as they were homegrown and one of the proudest achievements of my father to date.

The very fact that they existed was proof that anything can be cultivated within the confines of an unlikely environment, if the right factors are present, and so his next announcement that he intended to experiment with wine-making was hardly surprising. Again, we left him to it, happily ensuring he had a store of empty wine bottles in which to ferment his concoction at hand and ready to fill should he succeed.

Which he did.
The wine which was ready by Easter was bitter, strong, and thinking back on it was definitely the product of an amateur attempting to fulfill some sort of self-validation by convincing himself it was possible to make his own, yet it did the job, and succeeded in getting myself and a friend slightly drunk at a party having been given the bottle leaving my house, unaware that it had come from the ‘home-brewed’ corner of the wine rack. How many people can say they have one of those? Especially in Ireland!

The greenhouse has since become a source of pride for him, and in a way has aided greatly in allowing himself and the rest of the family to come to terms with the fact that with retirement comes a certain slowing-down of many things, patience now being an easier value to tap into when the need presents itself. He still gets irrational notions and spends days on end obsessing over minor details of the floor tiles in the kitchen being off-center, but it’s almost as if the retreat of the greenhouse and the potential of the ever-encroaching Summer season gives him a new lease on life. It’s a kind of dependance which became particularly noticeable in his despondancy and detachment during the Winter months of frosty weather, the physical limitations of the cold preventing him from even visiting his glass house seemingly stunting any kind of positivity towards progression.

Now that the Summer is well on it’s way again, both the garden and my Dad have been filled with a new energy and positivity towards life, the successes of last Summer proving a positive foundation on which this year can be built.
While I hope we have a good Summer weather-wise for all the usual reasons – roadtrips, days on the beach and beer-garden Saturdays spent with friends and new freckles, there’s also the hope that my Dad will continue building upon his previous successes and maybe even begin to enjoy his retirement. And who knows, if that means more wine, all the better for everyone else!!

Mumford ar mo Shon

Mumford ar mo Shon
-An t-aireachas (mindfulness) sa saol linn inniu

Ní rún atá ann go bhfuil bá faoi leith agam don ghrúpa ceoil Mumford and Sons. Is le linn an tsamhraidh i 2013 a cheannaigh mé ticéad ar DoneDeal.com do cheolchoirm dá gcuid a bhí ar siúl i bPáirc an Fhionnuisce ar an turas ‘Gentlemen of the Road’ in éineacht le Ben Howard, Ham Sandwich, agus Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, agus níl mórán nach raibh ar an eolas ag an am go raibh mé ar bís faoi.

Faraor, buíochas le hansmacht uilíoch an idirlíon, agus easpa taithí ar mo shonsa i dtaobh úsáid leithéid shuíomhanna, diúltaíodh isteach mé ag na ngeataí bonnoibrithe toisc nár thicéad cuí a bhí agam. Ag siúl ar ais in aghaidh an easa, na mílte daoine ar a mbealach isteach don cheolchoirm is mé liom fhéin ina gcoinne, bheartaigh mé gan mhuinín a chuir in aon suíomh idirlíne nó grúpa taobh amuigh den chóras oifigiúla ariamh arís. Ag mallachtú an saol agus an fear slítheanta ar cheannaigh mé an ticéad uaidh, d’éist mé leis an gceol ag taiscéal tríd an aer do m’chluasa is mé ag fanacht ar bhus abhaile.

Ó shin, níl rud ar bith ceannaithe agam ar líne a bhain le tríú páirtí nó ‘fear sa lár’, mar a deirtear. Scaití is in ionad na táillí breise a íocadh a gceannaítear na ticéadaí seo, nó chun brábus a dhéanamh nuair atá ceolchoirmeacha díolta amach, ach i ndáiríre is minic a bhíonn costas níos mó ag baint leis an sealbhú a dhéanamh thar cheann de na suíomhanna seo chun go ndéanfar brábús ar an táirge. Ní ar an tomhaltóir atá na mangairí seo ag díriú, ach orthu féin agus ar na féidireachtaí atá ann dóibh – an t-airgead atá le baint ó lucht leanúna na ngrúpaí ceoil seo ag iarraidh ticéad a fháil ar aon chostas. Go pointe, is dúshaothrú ar an ngnáthduine atá ar siúl acu, agus dar ndóigh ní ceart go mbeadh an féidirtheacht sin ann dóibh. Dom fhéin, tuigim nár cheart dom dul sa tseans mar sin arís agus muinín a chur le rud nach bhfuil aon bharántas nó chinnteacht ag baint leis, ach ag an am níor éist mé le m’instinn agus réasún, comh fíanta sin a bhí an fonn ionam an grúpa a fheicéail.

An uair sin bhí an locht orm nár fhiosraigh mé tuilleadh eolais ón bhfear a bhí á dhíol. Chas mé leis i Leamhcán, thug mé an t-airgead dó, thug sé an píosa páipéir dom (droch-chomhartha dá bhfeicfeá ceann riamh) agus as go brách leis ina Fiat Punto beag glas. Bhí mé comh sásta liom fhéin gur éirigh liom ticéad a fháil nár lig mé liom fhéin smaoineamh a dhéanamh ar na laigí atá soléir dom anois ag cuimhneadh siar. Ach mairimid uilig ó ard go haird, agus ba chúis sealadach an ticéad sin dom a bheith ar bís agus ag súil le rud eicínt faoi leith – cé gur ceannaíodh é gan mhórán pleanála a dhéanamh ar.
Ní dhearna na ‘Gentleman of the Road’ turas an bhliain seo chaite, agus i mbliana níl siad ag síneadh comh fada le hÉireann leis an bhfiontar. Ach ón méid atá cloiste agam d’albam nua Mumford and Sons go dtí seo, is cosúil go bhfuil draíocht d’shaghas eicínt eile ag druidim linn, agus má’s fíor sin táim go breá le bheith ag feitheamh ar an gcéad ghig eile. In amhrán amháin nua, ‘Snake Eyes’ s’acu, tá líne amháin a mhíníonn go mbeidh baol i gcónaí ag baint le rudaí den tsórt seo – ‘I can tell, you will always be danger’. Is orainn atá an brú a bheith ar an airdeall maidir leis na nithe beaga ag baint leo, agus gan dul amú is muid sa tóir orthu.

An t-aireachas atá tábhachtach sa chás seo – a bheith aireach ar an saol agus ar ár n-aigne agus inchinn féin, ár gcosa ar an talamh fúinn agus ár n-aird dírithe ar an nóiméad atá ann i láthair na huaire. B’fhéidir dá mbeadh an meon seo agam is mé ag dul leis an ticéad a bhailiú an lá sin, dá mbéinn ar an airdeall maidir leis an nóiméad sin ar thug mé an t-airgead dó, seans ann nach mbeadh gá leis an tubáiste ag na geataí iontrála. B’fhéidir. Scaití bíonn orainn botúin a dhéanamh agus ceachtanna a fhoghlaim ar an gcaoi seo ionas nach ndéanfar arís iad, agus le fírinne glacaim anois go raibh orm an botún sin a dhéanamh. Níor éirigh liom dul isteach sa cheolchoirm, ach bualadh go láidir mé le ciall agus soléireacht maidir leis an méid a bhí tárlaithe is mé ar an tsiúlóid sin amach ó na geataí. Bhí mé ann ag siúl, seachas a bheith ag smaoineamh ró-fhada romham nó i mo dhiaidh, agus cé go raibh brón orm ag cailliúnt amach ar an gceolchoirm, bhí mé lonnaithe sa nóiméad sin ag smaoineamh faoi, agus bheartaigh mé gan dul chomh fada sin ó m’inchinn fhéin leis an idéalachas riamh arís.

‘Cíbe áit ina bhfuil tú, is ann atá tú”.