A House and A Home


I was only homeless once in my life. It lasted about a week. Technically we weren’t homeless at all, but we were living in a hostel and I hated it.

We’d landed in Sydney, Australia as part of a student exchange programme and had five months of study ahead of us. We needed to find a place to stay, near to college, with reasonable enough rent.

All of us had arrived with meagre savings, having spent most of our money on the long-haul flights. We were fully prepared to accept typical student accommodation, but, underprepared for the battle to find a roof over our heads.

The first place we looked at offered twin beds in a large, old dilapidated building. It was right next door to Redfern, the very place we had warned to go nowhere near. Outside there were old lean-tos full of junk and the bedroom windows had bars on them. I looked out through one of the windows onto a big square cage and enquired of the landlord what it was for. “That’s for the rats,” he replied clearly.

Much of the accommodation on offer was owned by Chinese people, usually women. The rooms were often small and awkward shaped. We viewed a few houses and while at least clean, there was something really stifling about them, that we just couldn’t accept.

As the days passed, we waited for the various newspapers to come out which would list accommodations. This was before the days of internet searching for houses and the delay began to lead to my despair. We couldn’t enjoy our first few days or even explore the city, because, we were homeless, and it permeated all our thinking and tasks.

On the fifth day of looking, I called a number for a house in an area we were interested in looking in. “It’s not quite ready for viewing,” said the landlady, “but if you want to come ahead that’s fine.” ‘Not quite ready’ did not prepare us. She opened the door into a building site. It literally didn’t have a kitchen sink. The back door was missing a large chunk, under which not only could rats and small dogs pass, but probably Shetland ponies too. And there was a large pile of rubble in the ‘sitting room’. “It does need work,” she said.

Later that evening, when it got dark, we went to an appointment to view another house, in the same street as Rubble Ville. Again another Asian lady was the landlord. She met us outside and opened the front door. Hearing our arrival, a young Chinese girl sprinted from the kitchen to her room, which was right beside us in the hall. She slammed it, locked it from the outside and shouted at the landlady in Chinese. I don’t know the Chinese words for “No way are you giving away my room, bitch!’ but I’m pretty sure that’s what she said.

After some mooching around, the landlady brought us into the kitchen, where the other tenant, a Chinese man, was taking rice from a deep fat fryer. She indicated for me to go through a door off the kitchen and when I opened it, I was confronted by the earlier met young Chinese girl, sitting on a toilet, with her trousers, quite naturally, around her ankles. She rose in anger and I saw everything. Far more than I expected on a simple house viewing. More Chinese expletives. I backed out furiously, fully committed to not taking this house.

Eventually we secured accommodation but with a few sacrifices. I found a beautiful house, but had to live with the landlord and his girlfriend under whom there were strict rules and regular furious scribbled notes such as, BIN NIGHT TONIGHT, MAYBE SOMEONE ELSE’S TURN??? and SOMEBODY LEFT FOUR CRUMBS OUT LAST NIGHT AND THERE WERE COCKROACHES THIS MORNING. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE!! My fellow travellers took a place that had no beds or appliances and slept on mattresses on the floor for five months and rented a fridge for $10 a week. But we made do. And of course, we had a roof over our heads.

The current accommodation crisis in Ireland, the result of a nasty recession and housing boom, has brought back some of these house searching memories. I think of the many variants of homelessness and housing crises. Families forced into accepting homes that are simply not suitable for children; tiny apartments, damp and old houses, hundreds of steps with a buggy. I think of people living in their cars, elderly mothers taking back their sons, mixed age children sharing beds and mothers and kids dragging suitcases to B&Bs.

Worst of all are those who have explored all other avenues, failed and spend their nights bedding down on the streets. Recently on RTE television they interviewed homeless men at a food centre over Christmas. They all told of their wonderful Christmas’ as children, running down the stairs to see what Santa had brought. Little did their parents think that those children, who were obviously loved, would be spending future Christmas’ begging, surviving on handouts and curling up in a damp sleeping bag for the night.

The whole story of Christmas is based on the homeless Mary and Joseph searching for a bed for the night. They are lucky to find a shed, some straw and a manger. As I sit in my cosy home, with a roaring fire and twinkling Christmas lights, it seems as though this never-ending story has been lost on many, myself included, as we compete with each other for the best wrapped, most expensive-looking gift under the tree. It’s obvious that the gift of a home, the one we are sitting in, secure in the roof over our heads, is of course, the best gift there can ever be.

Come in to my caravan – a trip to the fortune teller

gypsy 2

Come into my caravan, she beckoned. She fixed her dark eyes on me, looked into my soul and made me come forward. My fate was in her hands. Within the next few moments, all would be revealed. What would the future hold? Well for a fiver, I could find out.

Actually she didn’t beckon me into her caravan. In fact, when I walked by, she was texting on her mobile phone. But I loved the tiny caravan she was sitting in. It was a human sized replica of the Sylvanian Famillies toy I had when I was seven. It was painted green and red and two signs read that she was a true gypsy fortune teller, gifted by her Welsh grandmother and kids cost £2.50 and adults £5.

We made our way up the ladder steps, unsure of how to announce ourselves. ‘Two of us’, I said, as if asking for a table in a restaurant. She waved us to sit down and I sat, trying to force my bottom into a small crate with a cushion in it. There was no table. A tiny stove, alive with flames, flickered at our feet. ‘It’s very cosy,’ we commented, as she threw more sticks into it. She had no interest in small talk.

‘Do you want the half reading or a full reading. Full reading is £10.’ What?! The sign said £5. I was being ripped off already. Before I could negotiate she ordered me to hold out my left hand. And then she was off, a mad glint in her eye.

‘You’re stubborn. You’re a nag. You have to watch that because you can be too much of a nag. You’re possessive. And you don’t mind me saying so. There are two men in your life who love you. There’s a man who broke your heart, but he wasn’t the right one for you. One of them wouldn’t change a thing about you. He’s your soul mate. There are no more marriages for you. You’ll have a ring on your finger at 37. Have you one child or two?’

I looked at her, aghast. I was still thinking about the fiver versus tenner reading and here she was listing my faults and talking about my soul mate. Emm, I replied, trying to explain that I have a baby, but my husband also has a daughter. Confirmed, she continued.

‘You’ll have a son within two years. He’ll make you proud. You’ll have a career change in March. You’ll keep your hair long, because it suits you and you don’t mind me saying so. You don’t need alcohol to have a good time.’ She paused and repeated herself. ‘You don’t need alcohol to have a good time’. Shit, I thought. We were sitting so close she must be able to smell last night through my pores.

“There’s a silver car coming your way. There are two people close to you who have died. One was their time to go, they were old; the other was young. You will live to be old. You’re good with pen and paper and computers. Is there a question you’d like to ask me?’

I still had my left hand, hung half way in the air. She had filled me with my whole future in the space of a minute and half. She had stared at me for most of it, once or twice flicking her eyes to my hand -looking for a life line I expect. I was unnerved.

I didn’t really have a question to ask her. Do you see music in my future, I asked her. I thought this was a pretty safe question, as I didn’t want to know any bad news. You won’t be famous, like she want, she said smiling at me. I don’t want to be famous, I said. She seemed to think I did. And that was it. That was my reading.

She wasted no time in moving onto my friend perched beside me. Another list of predictions, delivered as predetermined fact. Love life troubles, health predictions, money, career, wealth. For each claim she got right, I exclaimed and gently whacked my friend on the arm – confirmation that the fortune teller was right!

Soon the second reading was over too. We were ready to go on our way, our fate laid out before us. We crossed her palm with paper and made our way out of the cosy caravan. Wow, we thought. That was great. She got so many things right. Did you hear what she said?

We walked along the quays of Newcastle, past the market stalls, excitedly listing all the information she had disclosed to us. We repeated her predictions, casting them into our minds, so that when they did happen we could look back and say: this was in the stars!

I started thinking back on what she had told us. I realised she had asked us to hold out our left hands – immediately giving away a lot. I had an engagement and wedding ring on, my friend did not, hence my predicted ‘one’ marriage and a more interesting love life for my sidekick. My friend was wearing an expensive watch; the fortune teller told her she liked to spend money. She said I had lost two people close to me, one young, one old. Sure who can’t relate to this scenario by the time they are 31?

Still, understanding that we couldn’t possibly take what she had told us too seriously, it was too much fun not to have given it a go. I rang the husband straight away to let him know there was a son on the way, and bloody hell, the fortune teller said exactly what he tells me all the time – I’m a nag! And as we made our way back to the hotel, I double checked the road as we crossed it. She’d predicted a silver car coming my way. And I wasn’t taking any chances.

Welcome to the World Baby – top ten tips for a hospital birth


She has auburn hair. It grows into a mullet at the back. I’d like to cut off a big lump of it and put it in her keepsake box I’ve made. Recently she’s started losing her hair at the front. One day she looked at us and we thought it was her granddad staring back. They both have receding hair lines.

When she sleeps her long eyelashes almost cover her cheeks. I wonder where she got them from. Mine are short and stumpy. Her skin is very pale; it matches her hair tones and there’s no doubt, she’s a celtic girl.

A girl. We were convinced it was a boy. We had our boy’s name decided and we barely discussed what we’d call the baby if it was female. The surgeon took her out and the husband said in a quiet, emotional voice; “It’s a girl.”

And there she was to the left of me. Held high by an Indian doctor. “She’s a good weight,” he said, pumping her up and down like a dumbbell. She looked perfect. I expected a crumpled, purply, red alien. Instead I got a glistening white, BEAUTIFUL baby.

She was wrapped in a tin foil blanket, our hat we’d brought popped on her head, and the husband held her propped close to me. I was strapped like Jesus on the cross to the surgery table. I can’t remember if I touched her; I don’t think I could. She stuck out her tongue at us, like a snake testing the air.

And then it was time for recovery. A porter and a nurse took me on a magical mystery ride. Windows and beds and other hospital staff zoomed by. I was travelling at a hundred miles an hour. I thought about the riverboat scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when Wonka scares the bejasus out of the cast. I itched all over from the morphine. I tried to talk to the recovery nurse but my speech was slurred. I thought about the baby. I longed to get back to her.

Later they wheeled me back. The day passed in a blur. I fed her. I took pictures of her with her Dad. I text my friends. I even called work to tell them. I had some visitors. I felt great. The nurses came round regularly and topped up my pain medication. I wasn’t even tired.

That night, when the visitors left and my husband reluctantly went to work, the crying started. She clung to me and I to her. I fed her over and over again. The hours crept by. Neither of us slept. I was sore. I was worried. I didn’t want to bother the nurses. I thought I was a bad mother.

When the grey morning rolled round, I was relieved at the growing bustle of the hospital. The utter loneliness began to dissipate. I had just spent my first day and night with my newborn. Welcome to motherhood, I thought.

I spent five days in hospital. On the third day a doctor came round and said I could possibly go home the next day. I got my hopes up and the husband cleaned the house. The fourth day passed slowly and by mid-afternoon no senior staff had come to see me. I found a nurse who admitted they had probably forgotten me and I’d have to stay another day. I was disappointed and relieved at the same time.

Then a demi-god appeared. She went by the name ‘Lactation Consultant.’ Everything she said made sense. She showed me how to handle the baby. I was a changed woman when she left.

The morning we were due to leave hospital, I packed carefully and cleaned around what felt like the mini-prison camp I’d been set up in. There was the heel prick test to do, birth forms to be filled out, doctors to be seen, prescriptions to be written and discharge forms to be signed. The last task was to remove our hospital bracelets. The whole process took hours.

Finally it was time to make the call to the husband to come collect his new family. We dressed her in her warm white suit and laid her carefully into the carry chair. Walking away from the ward we were met with smiles from passersby who realised we were taking our newborn home. I felt wobbly, like a snow globe that had just been turned upside down and walking took more energy than I ever knew it could.

Outside it was grey and cloudy – a winter’s day in August. We called her August; August Lily, and drove our summer baby home through the winter’s day; slowly around corners, timid at traffic lights, a first journey at the start of a brand new life.


Top Ten Tips For A Hospital Birth

I approached pregnancy and birth with a fairly relaxed ‘come what may’ attitude. I hoped for a certain experience but fully understood that there were a myriad of factors that would affect this. This was a good approach, because in the end, our little one was an undiagnosed breech and I had no choice but to have an elective c-section. Here are my top ten tips for a hospital birth, having had this experience.

1) Never mind the due date

The due date is a torturous number put in the calendar to taunt heavily pregnant women. I convinced myself that I was going to give birth a week early. Ha. Ha ha ha ha, laugh the birthing gods. Most women actually go over, especially on first babies, and so you should really change this date in your head to a ‘due fortnight’. Don’t listen to any of the old wives tales about getting labour started. None of them work. The baby won’t come out until it’s ready. And even then it might not be ready and will be surgically removed from you. Hey, they like it in there. That’s just the way it is.

 2) Bring a soft baby blanket

This wasn’t on my hospital list and for some reason I thought; sure they’ve loads of blankets in the hospital. They may do, but they’re scratchy and woollen. I got a gift of a blanket in hospital and would have been lost without it – great for swaddling during night feeds.

 3) Bring magazines, baby books and a kindle

I didn’t think I’d have any time to myself what with having a newborn, but the truth is babies tend to sleep a lot in hospital. Once the visitors had gone home, I found I was alone with a sleeping baby and no wifi or TV. I read my baby book which offered lots of advice on the first few day, and my kindle. In fact, come to think of it, that was the last time I read my kindle. (Babies don’t sleep so much when they come out of hospital)

 4) Multi-Mam breast compresses

Bring them. Bring stacks of them. There is nothing on the hospital list for breast feeding pain relief or preventative balms / shields and other paraphernalia. I’d heard it was painful, but didn’t quite realise how bad it would be. You might also want to bring extra pillows. You’ll need them for comfort and for supporting your arms while feeding.

5) Understand how breast feeding works

The whole breast feeding scenario was something I hoped I could do, but wasn’t really sure if it would work out for me. I’d heard about so many failure stories and nipple horror shows that I thought, hey, there is an easier answer and it wouldn’t be so bad if I put the baby on bottles. Luckily, it did work out for me, but not before I went through TWO NIGHTS OF HORROR with the suck monster. Nobody really told me to expect ‘cluster feeding’ which is where the baby feeds non-stop from you for the first two days after birth. The routine involves the baby screaming, trying to latch on, not really latching on, latching on a little bit, kind of feeding, crying again, followed by more screaming. I thought it would never end, and I didn’t really understand why I couldn’t soothe my baby. On the third day your milk will come in and your baby will be more satisfied and hopefully, happy. You just have to go through the hard bit first.

 6) Bring Bridget Jones knickers

The waistband of normal knickers land slap bang on your c-section scar. Worst. Design. Ever. Like it or not, you will need to resort to massive granny pants that come right up to your belly button. Even if you are not planning a c-section, there’s always the possibility that you will end up having one, so best to bring a few pairs just in case. Otherwise, you’ll be sending the hubby down to get lost in the lingerie department of Dunnes Stores Father Ted style, and he won’t be happy.

7) Fashion Focus

There are many temperatures to be experienced on the hospital ward. The mean temperature is stifling hot, particularly when you have visitors. At night though, it can get really cold. Bring cosy bed socks and a warm cardigan for the chill factor. The hospital list tells you to only bring nighties, but I invested in a really good pair of soft and loose pajamas and it was fine to wear these after a day or two. Make sure whatever you bring is easy to get on and off at a moment’s notice. You’ll want to cover up when your hubby’s best mate pops his head round the curtain to shout congratulations.

8) Ask about refreshments

I discovered half way through my hospital stay that tea and coffee facilities (with sambos) were set up on the wards at night. When you have a screaming new born, are sore, tired and feel like the night will never end, that cup of tea is the nicest tea you will ever taste. Just ask where they’re set up on your ward.

9) Be prepared for hospital food

And bring your own. I was shocked at how bad the food was. I had visitors bring me in fresh fruit, drinks and sandwiches so that I could eat when I needed to. The hospital schedule is 7am for breakfast, 12pm for dinner and 4pm for a sandwich. After that, nothing is served and if you’re only coming round from an operation in the afternoon, you’ll go hungry.

10) Take the time to bond

The days I spent with my baby in hospital led to an incredible bonding experience. I feel lucky that I got to spend so much time with her alone. I learned so much about her in those first few days, from her character, to her movements to her likes and dislikes. If you do have to stay in hospital longer than expected, look at the extra time as incredibly valuable. The nurses and staff, while overworked and at times stressed, are full of advice and will help as much as they can. They will help guide you. Before you’re turfed out into the real world, a world, changed beyond recognition, but in the best possible way.


The Final Countdown: The top ten things to know about the final stages of pregnancy

eviction noticeWell, we’ve made it this far. Still pregnant. Still currently carrying a rather large foetus inside the tummy area. And boy, are we ready to meet him or her.

Having had a very normal textbook pregnancy, with no complications or real discomforts to speak of, the final few weeks have been a bit of a shake-up to the system. I did not realise that it was possible to be this uncomfortable ALL the time. And I didn’t think I would be one of those expectant Mommys, who would turn into a whinging waddling mass, moaning all day long about how to ‘get this thing outta me’. But I did and I am. I’m such a stereotype.

Here are the Top Ten Things to Know About the Final Stages of Pregnancy. (Reader caution; there may be some complaining).

1. Discomfort

Get used to it. The baby will grow so gradually into your womb, tummy, ribs and back that one day you wake up and realise you can’t remember what it feels like not to have a tiny turkey stuffed in your insides. Sitting down is terrible. I took early maternity leave because of it. You will want to stretch out backwards in a C shape to counteract the pressure on your torso, but unless you have backwards C shaped furniture you’re out of luck. I’ve found a gym ball up against the couch can help. Just don’t bounce off!

2. Are those my feet?

About halfway through pregnancy, you will find that your stomach muscles have more or less separated. Technically known as diastasis recti, this normal pregnancy process allows the tummy to greatly expand. It also means you will not be able to sit up or bend down. Do you know how many times you need to sit up or bend down during the day? A lot. Forget socks. Forget shoes. Forget pretty painted dainty feet. You won’t be able to see them and you WILL NOT be able to reach down to them. You can get your partner to help, or in my case, just wear slippers all day. I do accept help to get up from the couch though. If you’re on your own, just roll.

3. Insomnia

I truly believe that the mind and body are wonderful things. There are aspects of our brain and subconscious that we just don’t understand. One aspect I have come to greatly understand however is the body’s preparation for infant induced sleep deprivation. In late pregnancy, you will not be able to sleep. You will wake, when tired and have to get up, maybe every two hours, maybe every four. A seven hour sleep was months ago. Little tricks the body uses are; toilet – you will need to go; hunger; you will need to snack and brain activity – the mind will not switch off and you will have to get up. All those people telling you to ‘get as much sleep in now as possible’ don’t know what they’re talking about. We are trying!

4. Heartburn

Some ladies don’t get heartburn or may only experience some mild fire breathing. In general however, most pregnant women will find they suffer, as the stomach gets pushed right up under our chins. Heartburn will make you avoid certain foods, (goodbye chillies and in my case; bread!), drink lots of Gaviscon / Maalox or chew chalk tablets and on some nights, sleep sitting up. I have a pregnancy nursing pillow which allows me to sleep at an angle, while still feel like I’m lying down. There is an old wives’ tale that bad heartburn is a sign of a baby with a good head of hair. Considering my baby has been head down for weeks now, I think my little one also has a hairy arse.

5. Michelin Man

Weight gain. Inevitable. But you know, after a while, you just don’t care. There’s a recommended amount of weight gain (two stone) which seems, depending on where you are on the weight richter scale; way off. I passed that milestone months ago. It’s important to look after yourself and ensure as much self-confidence as possible though. Showering helps. As does doing your hair. While it’s nice to have photos of your bump and pregnancy, some photos, may shock you and I have been avoiding them. Give yourself something to look forward to. I have booked a weekend away a few months after baby is due to give me a goal to work towards. I plan on walking a lot after the birth. No crazy weight loss diets; but hey, you do want your body back.

6. Prison term

When you got your due date all those months ago, the time stretched out in front of you like a long college year that might never end. Reaching the end stages however, brings a whole new set of time keeping. You will begin to scratch the walls, marking off days in bunches of fives, counting down the very minutes until your DUE DATE. You will begin to use a new time method. Today I am 39 + 3. Tomorrow I will be 39 + 4. Every twinge is a potential labour pain. But; only 5% of babies are born on their due date and most first time mums go over their due date. This doesn’t stop you convincing yourself you will go early however and when you don’t; well, everything sucks. When will this pregnancy sentence end?

7, Maternity Leave

In Ireland, you must legally take stop work two weeks before your due date for health and safety reasons. Having had a problem-free pregnancy I expected I would work right up until the end. Afterall I have a desk job with no heavy lifting. You may pass a point however, where the tiredness, insomnia and incessant rib kicking cracks get too much and you will opt to take some extra time off, or some holidays, as I did. Your first week of maternity leave will be great. You will make a list of all the things you have to do. Pack hospital bag, get baby’s room ready, clean house, finish off odd jobs, food shopping, comfort clothes, clear out cupboards, maybe even a spot of home décor. Then you will finish the list. And you have this time off. And nothing to do, but wait for baby. For a busy professional, this time can be angst-ridden and boring. You need to plan appropriately and enjoy the extra days you have been given. If you don’t, your moods will fall and you will turn into narky pregnant bitch. (Not good).

8. Expectation

Every innocent phonecall you make will be answered with a scramble dash to the phone at the other end and a nervous HELLO ANY NEWS??! You will feel guilty having to explain to your parent, colleague or friend, that you were just calling about that appointment or article you saw or some other mundane reason to make a phonecall and no, there is still no sign of baby. Carrying the weight of expectation along with your own frustration and weight of expectation is part and parcel of being heavily pregnant. But, if I go way over, I’m disconnecting the phones.

9. Labour inducing

I always thought those TV or movie scenes of women trying to bring on labour were comical. Women didn’t really go to those lengths to kick start baby, did they? Wrong. Even way before your due date, your mind switches from being scared about the birth, to wishing you were in the throes of it, because you are so ready to meet baby and to not be pregnant anymore. So far we have tried bouncing ball, raspberry leaf tea, hot curries, long walks and soothing baths. They don’t work. There are just one or two things left to try. Watch this space!

10. Private v Public

How’s your cervix? Be expected to talk about these things. Complete strangers will ask you the most intimate questions. They will take your big bump as carte blanche to discuss their own horrific birth stories and lacerated private bits. Childbirth used to be a personal matter; now with TV shows like One Born Every Minute and access to the internet, people are more educated and open to discussing the ins and outs of the process. I don’t want to talk to people about these things. In fact, I’d be quite happy to go back to 1950s style and just appear home with baby and no questions asked. Besides, babies are found in cabbage patches. Aren’t they?




The Wheels Of Life: a short car history

car salesmanWhat was your first car and how did you come to be the proud owner of said vehicle? Did you form an attachment rather like a first pet; it caused some problems in the end, but you were heartbroken to see it go?

I’ve recently been through a long drawn out episode of car trauma. There were no crashes, no accidents and no real damage done to any vehicle. What was severely punished was my psyche; so much so, that I intend to never go car shopping again. I will hold on to current car until I can a) afford to buy a brand new car and thus select from a magazine or website b) pay someone to do all the necessary dirty work and arrive home with a beautiful car of my stated preferences c) trade it in a for a hoverboard.

My first car was a navy Renault Megane Coupe, a far cry from what I had been shopping for. I was just finished college and had gotten a job outside of our local town, so needed transport. I wanted to be on the road and it didn’t really matter what in.

As a female, it’s natural for the father figure in your life to advise or even take over the whole first car buying process. For one thing, you are carless and so need a lift to every car you want to go and view. Also, you’re so inexperienced; you know very little about engines, or timing belts, or clocking or power steering.

My Dad was only too delighted to help me with the process and even involved other family members who were mechanical experts. We spent much time visiting private sellers and garages looking for a little car that would suit a young one who could not drive yet. Copious car calls were made. Test drives were taken. Nothing seemed to fit.

Then one day Dad called to say a colleague of his was selling a car before his wedding and needed a quick sale. And along came my lovely little Megane. Much bigger than I had been shopping for, but a little dinger and my own set of wheels. All I needed to do now was learn how to drive.

I chose a driving instructor from the phonebook. She was small, blonde and chattered incessantly. She was so busy talking, she forgot to tell you how to drive and you felt rude interrupting her asking her where exactly you should put your hands or feet at that moment. Cars beeped and overtook at our lack of progress and she waved her hand at them, and said ‘don’t mind them, they all had to learn to drive once,’ without changing the flow of her story.

I had four and a half driving lessons and then I set off on my own. I spluttered down to an empty car park one evening, terrified, but determined, and suddenly it clicked; how you changed the gears as you changed your speed, how you clutch and brake to stop, how you start off in first gear, how you let the engine rise a little before you take off and how after a while, this driving thing isn’t really so scary at all.

I had my first accident about a week later. I merrily took off from behind a parked van and whacked the bumper. There was no damage done, but being the honest person I am, I turned the car, parked awkwardly and went to find the owner of the bruised vehicle. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said all smiles from behind the butcher’s counter. ‘These things happen, you’re a learner, it could have been worse.’

After turning the car again, I drove by the butcher’s shop and van to find the aproned owner who had been all smiles, scrubbing furiously at the bumper, with a face like thunder. I have never hit another vehicle since then.

With wheels came independence. Fancy a trip to the shop for an ice-cream? No problem. Anyone need lift from a to b? Don’t worry, I’ll pick you up. Petrol was affordable. I never felt so free.

I decided to apply for my driving test pretty quickly. It would do away with angst of being caught out alone without a fully licenced driver, and remembering to put the L plates back up after driving off the motorway (illegal). Of course, a full licence would make me feel like a total and utter grown up.

By luck, Ireland was suffering a massive backlog of driving tests at the time and had decided to establish a temporary test driving centre in my home town. This meant I could do the test on my home ground and save on lessons (and fear) in a town I was not used to driving in.

My test was set for 8.30am on a school morning. The tester took me in and asked me a range of questions, showing me colourful pictures of road signs with zig zags and round red circles with white middles. What does this mean? She asked. Blank. No parking?? I got them nearly all wrong. Not a good start. And I had studied for that part.

Out on the road, it was chaos. I had to wait and wait at junctions to get by as hoards of parents dropped their little ones to school. What’s wrong with fecking walking, I thought. I kept calm – with the confidence of a young 22 year old go getter and we arrived back at the test centre.

Congratulations. You have passed. Barely. A few more slight marks and I was a fail. Woohoo! Delirious, I left the centre and drove right over the pedestrian footpath at the entrance to the centre. Three driving test instructors stood at the corner, watching in horror. An automatic fail in a test. But I had the paperwork now. So long suckers!

I drove for the next few years without much incidence. The Renault was a super little car and I loved it. Slowly though, little problems began to arise. Like an aging parent, it began to annoy me. A leak appeared. The leak spread. Soon the mats were sogging wet and the windows were steamed up due to the moisture content in the car. My Dad, ever the home mechanic, power hosed the car while I sat in it trying to identify streaming droplets. No joy.

It started to cut out. I would drive to the shop, come back with my bread and milk and sit for ages trying to restart it. It was embarrassing. The NCT was due. It could take hundreds to get it all fixed up and passed. The future was clear. I needed a new car.

Due to recent work I had gained, I was in a position to buy something fancy. I identified a new Renault model, a convertible if you don’t mind and I drove to a garage in Dublin one day, to find my next car sitting in the courtyard, all sparkles and no roof. Sold! I haggled with the ancient old man who came out to sell it to me – a salesman who agreed his price, then upped it and promised to valet it but didn’t.

On the day of the sale itself, after all the normal mechanical checks and loan clearances, I handed him my now banger Megane and €8000. “Will you be going through the toll on the way home,” asked old man salesman. “Well, yes,” I said, a little terrified of driving off in a car I was not familiar with. I was practically a car virgin after all, having only ever experienced one other Megane. “€2 please,” he said, sticking his hand out.

The car was still registered to the garage. They would not by paying the electronic toll thank you very much. Shocked, I explained that it was the M1 toll, not the M50, and you could pay this yourself as you passed through. Ok then, he said and let me drive off. The tank was empty. I had to pull into a garage about a mile from the showrooms or I would have been left at the side of the road. Bastards – if only I was older and wiser at the time and could have told him what to do with his toll and empty petrol tank.

So what of this latest car saga? What happened to cause such trauma in my driving life? Well the bump of course. It was clear, even when it was only a tiny blip that a baby car seat would not fit in the convertible. Determined I carried on, refusing to look at ugly family saloons with their practical leg room and boot space. But the clock was closing in. Baby would be here in a few short weeks and like the reality that my figure was gone, the convertible too now needed to disappear.

Having no money doesn’t go too far when car shopping. Garages don’t want to know. You can trade in all right but only if you are waving your cheque book. And even then they’re not too keen on convertibles (hard to shift apparently – it’s all about the practicality in these hard –pressed times).

The clutch was going on my car. It broke down one evening on my way home from Dublin and I had to hire a tow truck to get me home. Climbing into the tow truck to sit with a strange rescue man at seven and half months pregnant was not the most pleasant experience of my life. It wasn’t the clutch, but it still cost me €500 to get it back on the road. The car was a ticking time bomb.

I spent hours on line trying to find a decent car at a decent price. I got car depression. We started visiting garages further afield. Faded cars, with no hub cabs and the possibility of free moss with the carpets, were all that fell within our budget. There was no hope in sight.

And then I got a private message on Adverts, the Irish version of eBay. “Would you like to swap your car for my Peugeot?” Well… yes. The car looked good. It was a year younger than mine. It was large and practical and… kind of free.

Email exchanges began; information on mechanical issues and NCTs and electronics. I did a car check on line – €30 and you get the full history behind the car. No outstanding issues. Three days later, we met in a KFC car park and respectively test drove each other’s vehicles. Happy enough, we signed the paper work and I arrived back from my lunch break with the new family saloon.

No loans, no missing hub cabs, no old salesmen demanding €2 tolls. I had taken a chance. There were no mechanics or Dads to take a look at what I had just bartered for. If something went wrong, I had only myself to blame.

Pulling into the driveway I proudly went to get Baby Daddy out to view the new wheels. I was nervous – like showing a sculpture or piece of art, I’d just spent six months working on.

“Well, what do you think?” I asked.

“You have a flat tyre,” he said.

And I did.

The Ten Most Surprising Things About Pregnancy



Pregnant. Knocked up. Up the duff. Expecting. Bun in the oven. Up the pole. Stuffed. All beautiful terms to explain the current condition I find myself in. The news came as a bit of shock. A welcome shock, but a big surprise all the same.

There was the sickness. And the tiredness. And the fact that we were getting married in seven days and there was a real chance I would puke on the priest. And Christmas was in there too. Greedily, I kept the news to myself for four nights and five days. My husband-to-be oblivious to my cell-dividing womb asked what was up with me as I again covered my mouth in an effort not to vomit mid sentence. Pre-wedding nerves he thought. But there were no nerves.

I went to town the day after I found out. Ecstatic, I walked around, catching shoppers’ eyes, willing them to ask – what is your secret? Any news? I bought a soft white babygro and tiny booties and fought back tears at the shop counter. I had tea, and a large pastry in a coffee shop, and thought about the six week old foetus now growing inside me.

On Christmas Eve we exchanged gifts. All day, I had asked, ‘When are we opening our presents?’, but there was no rush he said. We waited till dark, and opened a bottle of red wine under the Christmas tree lights. I poured a large glass; acting in a pregnancy play. And we opened our gifts.

Calendar. Books. Jewellery. Regular Christmas gifts. And then to the last present. A squat, padded parcel – a t-shirt he thought. The soft white material was a bit off, he felt, as he pulled it from its wrapping. What sort of design was it….? And then… the babygro fell onto his lap, and my face said it all.

And so, we have since Christmas, been getting used to the idea and preparing for being parents. There is much to read and learn and fret and worry about, but pregnancy is a long process and many things can happen.

I have been wanting to write about being pregnant for a long time. But it all seems so private. And who really wants to know about your heartburn? So, at almost six months pregnant, I have prepared a list of the Top Ten Most Surprising Things About Pregnancy. This covers trimester one and two. We’ll save trimester three and the birth for a scare at Halloween!


1) The Thin Blue Line
Getting a positive pregnancy test is probably one of the most defining moments of a woman’s life. Whether a planned bambino or a tiny set of cells sent to shock Mommy into crisis, the biggest surprise is the news itself. I had a negative test at first and spent give glorious days dreaming about honeymoon cocktails. But, as nausea symptoms appeared, I felt a crazy sub-conscious inkling that I was indeed pregnant. And when that thin blue line finally raced up the white paper stick, I thought, well there go the cocktails.

2) Is that an elephant on my chest, or is baby just pleased to breathe me
I would never have considered myself an unfit person. A bit lazy yes. Carrying some extra pounds now and then, no doubt. But not being able to breathe after climbing a tiny set of stairs? Please. From very early on, I lost huge amounts of lung capacity. When gardening at around 16 weeks, I almost fainted and had to spend the day on the couch after mowing our very small lawn. Some days I feel as if there just isn’t enough air and shout at my colleagues to stop breathing in the office AND WASTING ALL THE OXYGEN! Breathlessness can be a sign of anaemia, but in this case, I think baby is just being a greedy little foetus and pushing my diaphragm up into my lungs. I can’t ever imagine running again.

3) New curves, new problems
All the pregnancy mush you read in books and online describes how your partner will find your new curves and ‘vivacious’ body utterly irresistible. Bullcrappio. I have never seen my partner so turned off in my life. And that’s despite trying really hard over the years. [But I have kebab stuck to my face and you still fancy me?] This can be hard for a lady to take – afterall we can’t control how our body changes or our new pregnancy shape. But, as the baby grows, so too does the love. Get ready for plenty of cuddles!

4) No more sit ups, get ready to roll
Another gradual process is losing the ability to sit up or bend down. Like other ailments, I thought this was something that happened towards the end – whale territory – but for me, it happened very early on too. With the baby weight, you can’t physically bend your tummy muscles. I have now developed a soft roll off the couch, a hand spring from the bed and a giraffe knee bend. All very elegant, but a right pain in the arse.

5) Peer bonding
Some people are hard to talk to. You may have very little in common and it’s difficult to stretch the daily pleasantries beyond a few sentences. BUT – when you are pregnant… stem the tide! Before you know it, a whole ten minutes have passed and you’ve already discussed breast-feeding, ante-natal appointments, maternity leave and do’s and don’ts of finding out baby’s sex. And that’s just with the guys in the office.

6) Backache without the drugs
Some people sail through without so much as a twinge in their back. Others, like myself, develop severe pain and have to learn alternative coping methods that doesn’t involve reaching for the Solpadeine. Oh did you not know that? That you can’t take ANY drugs? Or decongestants? Or generally anything you buy in a pharmacist that isn’t Gaviscon? So far baths have been leading the field in pain relief. Switching to lower heels and sleeping with a wedge pillow also help. But, from what I’ve heard, as your whole posture changes and your spine is pushed forward, combined with hormones that loosen all your ligaments, backache is part and parcel of this wonderful journey.

7) Is that my waters or…. wait a minute!!
Try not to sneeze hard. And if you do have to sneeze hard, don’t stand up. Why? Because pee comes out. Unbelievable. Tena Lady anyone?

8) Feeling the love
Bringing a child into the world isn’t just all about you, you know. There’s extended family involved too. Grandparents and aunties and uncles and in-laws. And they ALL want to know how you are doing, and how well you are cooking their newest relative. It’s a very warm feeling and you will no doubt, feel closer to all of your family due to your new condition. Bonding!

9) Pregnant Princess
Never again will you have to stand. Chairs are produced from behind children’s ears. Walking is a no-no. You will be dropped door to door. And as for the hoovering… well don’t push it; you’ll still have to do that. But forget about carrying anything. Passers by will help lift your handbag, if they feel its weighing you down.

10) Feeling your baby move
I was told it could take many weeks to feel my baby move due to its position and I waited longingly to feel even a twitch. What does it feel like, I asked all mothers I came across. Like a bubble. Like a pop. Flutters. Well, there I was sprawled on the couch one evening, hand on tummy when it happened. A pulse of pop. Like everyone had described. And I felt so happy, I almost cried.

Evil step mothers and test tubes; Happy Mother’s Day




Everybody has a mother. Some people have two mothers. Or three, or four, very special women in their lives who help lead, look after and wipe up after them. Others may have lost their mother while young, or she may have left and never returned, or they could have been born of a test tube and implanted in a new mammy. Regardless of how one comes into the world, everybody has 50% of their chromosomes belonging to a lady out there in the universe.

Personally I have been very lucky. I was the first born of a great mother, who very much wanted me, gave up work to care for me and was both kind and strict in the right measures that led to a solid and happy upbringing. We can talk about the not letting me out to discos until I had grey hair later.

When I was young my mother used to mention that there were people who did not have such a happy home life. This was usually after I turned my nose up at second day roast beef on a Monday. ‘There are people out there who would love to have a hot dinner handed to them,’ she would cry in exasperation. ‘Who Mammy?’ I would demand, keen to know this fact which certainly sounded like gossip. ‘Never you mind,’ she would answer. And then I would think about the kids in school who were always in trouble and fighting and had many children in their family and wondered was it them. It was.

It took some years to realise that not everybody lived in a happy family with Mammy and Daddy. Every picture story we read depicted Mammy Bear, Daddy Bear and Baby Bear. Disney tried to show us that some people did not have Mammys. Bambi. Pinocchio. Snow White and her evil Step Mother. But they all lived happily ever after. Their stories didn’t end in teenage pregnancy and drug abuse and poverty so bad that they lived on cereal for a week.

Since then of course I have encountered relationships through friends and acquaintances where a mother has been lost, or chose to leave or is not in a position to maintain a loving relationship with their child. And the scars run deep.

Hoarders, the modern day freak shows which grace our screens every night (thanks Channel 4) collect garbage and thrash and build their homes into cocoons of comforting stuff. The psychologists roll out and find a picture of Mum among the rubble and ask the hoarder about their relationship. And then the tears start. Turns out the hoarding is related to having lost their mother young. And the hoard is a womb.

In the novel We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver examines the difficult, strained and complex relationship between Eva and her son Kevin. Is Eva to blame for the child and adult that Kevin becomes? Can you change a personality once it is born? If you try very hard and fail, are you a bad mother or do you have a bad child?

Psycho babble aside, I can’t help but think today about all the people across the UK and Ireland (Mothering Sunday takes place at different times throughout the world) who don’t have a Mum to bring out to dinner today. Today must be the most bitter of days. And there is no getting away from it. I also think about those women who are trying desperately to become Mums, who are dealing with the fact that they have left it too late or their body is not capable or who have brought a child into the world only to lose them again.

It’s easy to dismiss today as a capitalist money grab, designed to feed the card and flower companies. And it partly is. But, it’s also a day to take time out and think about, appreciate and let your mother know that you love her. And for the love and good feeling it creates, I am happy to take part.

In just over four months, I will become a mother. I am half way to creating a new life. Up until now, it’s been easy to not think about things in detail. So many things can go wrong that you don’t quite believe there is a baby being formed in there. But the bump is growing. And we’ve started looking at buggies.

I am looking forward to Mother’s Day next year, when hopefully I can celebrate with my own little one. And then the real journey will start. Will I turn out like Eva with a child from hell, or will I be more like my own Mam; loving and caring with the driest sense of humour known to womankind? I know which one I”m hoping for.



The Trauma of Travel: Happy Honeymoon


The honeymoon didn’t start off great. We got to the airport on time, bags bulging, a faint whiff of ‘are we overweight,’ about us. We were. The blonde cheeky chappy checking us in said nothing about my 5 kilo overload, popped the bags gingerly onto the conveyor belt and explained that for some reason the system had separated us on our ten and a half hour flight to Vegas. “I can’t put you sitting together,” he said, his Aer Lingus badge glowing. “You’ll have to talk to British Airways when you get to London.”

I was worried. Why would they separate newlyweds who had clearly booked together? We had been been hoping for an upgrade to first class, not an upgrade to seats together. Don’t worry, pressed the new hubby. Everything will be fine. I wished I had his optimism.

We got to London and queued in the connections terminal. BA in all their British glory had a large row of customer service desks ready and open. ‘Not her, not her, ‘ growled my new husband as we reached an open window with a lank-haired poe-faced young woman behind it. “Com-pew-ur says nooooo,” she purred and handed our boarding passes back to us. We tried pleading. She stared back.

Tiny tear pricked my eyes. Don’t cry, I thought. You’re a married woman now. Blubbing mess at the airport does not get you anywhere. Hadn’t I seen those orange airline reality shows? Tantrums at the airport were entertaining, not problem solving.

Deflated we made our way to security. “What a bitch,” we said in loud hearing of the security check-in agent. “Yeah, she was such a cow.” We were so caught up in self-pity we failed to smile or even acknowledge the woman in front of us. She handed us new boarding passes. “I noticed you weren’t sitting together,” she said. “You are now.”

The first hurdle in our journey down. We were so happy to have won the battle to sit together that we didn’t mind taking off our belts or shoes or getting our benign belongings out of our bags. We had no idea what lay ahead of us.


Despite having already passed through security in Dublin, landing in a connections hall where got off our plane and straight into a queue for another, we were herded through security again. Except this was no ordinary security. This was finger swabbing, saliva collecting, ask and you shall be deported, SUPER security. I think they had guns.

I thought I had done a pretty good job with the handbag. Hand creams, foundations, moisturiser, even my contact lens lenses with their 3ml of eye juice, were primed in the plastic freezer bag we’d last minute remembered on the way out the door at dawn. I proudly displayed it for their attention. No liquid bombs here.

But, London’s Heathrow Airport has magic security machines. If a bag has a suspect item in it, it doesn’t come through the other side. Instead, a new conveyor belt comes along, takes your bag out of the queue and plops it into a new queue only accessible to THE AGENTS OF POWER.

My bag had a suspect item in it.

We joined a small crowd of travellers who had, like me, watched their bag being kidnapped. We crowded round the criminal’s conveyor belt where thorough security checks were being carried out.

A Frenchman, agitated and acting, well, all French, was getting exasperated. “I av bin ere for over alf an our,” he said. Still his bag had not reached the top of the queue.

Swabs were taken. A supervisor was consulted. Finally it was Frenchie’s turn. He stepped up to the glass panel. The security guy walked off. Le Bleu went red.

The Frenchman was very angry. When the security agent finally got back to her 15 minute shift, there was a bit of a rude off. Neither were talking to each other. We watched in agitated silence, our two hour window to catch our flight now reduced to twenty minutes.

In desperation, I left the conveyor belt in search of a supervisor. I found a pleasant man who accepted my pleas and hand-wringing and rescued our bag from the queue for another.

Turns out it was the lipgloss’ fault. There it was tucked away in a pocket, all pink and innocent looking, when really, it could have been nitroglycerin, or worse, exploding toothpaste. Offending forgotten lipgloss put back in its rightful plastic bag and with the loss of one small bodywash, we raced to our gate and planted ourselves on the airplane. Five minutes later, we taxied down the runway for Las Vegas.

We finally relaxed into our flight, putting our panic stricken beating hearts back to rest with the champagne offered by the friendly air hostess. When the lights dimmed we drifted in and out of groggy sleep, waking with scratchy eyes and air conditioned throat. Ten and a half long hours later, we got off our flight and straight to our hotel in search of bed. 

We had been warned about the post wedding tiredness. We were now experiencing it. All the highs of the build-up and the ceremony and the day itself, had taken our energy resources and disposed of them. We were knackered.

Like many American hotels, the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas didn’t look too impressive from the front. The main entrance was in the middle of a car park, allowing valets to whisk your large motor machine away. Our taxi pulled up and let us out and we made our way into the hotel to be confronted with a casino.

This offered a clue of Vegas. No signage. Want to make your way out of the casino? Tough. Get lost, spend some money, why leave? Gaining our bearings we located the check-in desk and joined a long queue. There was only one agent on and a lot of people looking to stay.

Our agent, when we reached him, was unable to tell us how much of a deposit would be taking off our credit card. “It’s a little bit extra,” he said nonchalantly, waving a handheld machine at us. We duly signed our honeymoon nest egg away, desperate to reach our pool view room with king size bed, which we’d paid extra for.

It was a twin room. Two beds lay blinking at us, in another two finger salute, to what had been a rather problematic day. I peeled back the curtains to look at our upgraded pool view. A large, grey, carpark stared back.

‘I’m not happy,’ I huffed, sitting on one of the beds, my eyes searching for the non-existent happy honeymoon bottle of champagne. I called reservations and attempted to sort it out. Apparently when you book and pay for one type of room, this is not a ‘guarantee’. As the hotel was so full, we were lucky to have a room.

We finally agreed on a compromise new room and I was told to collect my new keys at reception.”I’m not queuing again though,” I told the agent on the phone. “No, no, you won’t have to.”

Back at reception I made my way to the top of the queue. I waited while the new lady at the desk, finished dealing with two guys in front of her. I stepped up when they walked off. “You’ll have to join the back of the queue Ma’am,” said the lady. “No,” I started, “I was told I wouldn’t have to.” “I’m sorry,” she replied, “but there’s a line.”

And that’s when the little explosion happened. The threatened separation on the Vegas flight; the power obsessed Nazi agents at Heathrow and now this crappy hotel who had messed up our reservation, erupted in what can only be described as ‘an exorcist moment’.


I think my head spun around a little. There may have been some spittle. And I could definitely taste bile.

The agent was staring calmly at me. She looked like she moved back a little. “That’s fine Ma’am,” she said. “But my computer’s gone done and I can’t cut any keys.”

I looked around, unsure what to do and still high from my out of character outburst. I sidled up to the agent beside her. “Can you cut room keys?” I asked meekly. Without a word, he typed a few things on the computer, never taking his eyes off me. The keys were zapped. He handed them over.

You are a customer from hell, he thought. And so did I.

We were in Vegas. We had arrived. We  climbed into bed and began anxious dreams of white airports and long queues and luggage and conveyor belts and security checks and plastic bags and boarding passes and tiny meal trays with bread rolls and tinfoil and in between a grotty casino where naked girls swung round a greasy pole. We wondered what tomorrow would bring.


A Taste of Keywest


We took a taxi to the bus station. The station was located in an industrial park between large industrial warehouses. There was a dirt track running outside the station and a small burger van had pulled up selling hot dogs and meat sandwiches. Beside it, an open pick-up truck was packed with fruit and we bought a large chunk of watermelon off the old Latino lady.

We were travelling to Keywest, Florida. We had just spent a few days in Miami, staying in a modern hotel suite with a large pool and a view over the gritty sand of South Beach. Miami had not lived up to expectations. We were disappointed by Ocean Drive, which ironically, had no view of the ocean. Instead, it had a large sand bank, behind which lay the Atlantic Ocean. We had met a former stripper called Hollywood, who promised us a night of VIP treatment in a top Miami nightclub. We took him at his word and he brought us to a dilapidated fluorescent-lit bar, supplying cocaine to a strung out Canadian couple and later, pilfering trough my handbag for cash.

The bus station had leather airport seats and a large coca cola drinks machine. We longed for the bus to arrive in the sticky heat. The other travellers were mostly black and carried single shopping bags. Eventually an old grey-haired driver pulled up and we lifted our two suitcases packed with holiday clothes into the cabinet of the bus.

The journey to Keywest took four hours. Halfway there, the bus driver pulled into a Burger King and we sat outside with our fast food wrapping around us. The houses we passed were colourful solitary dwellings, built right on the road with large cars or pick-up trucks outside. Some had criss-crossed frames for green plants to grow.

Soon the roads narrowed and a single lane stretched out before us across the Straits of Florida. Crystal blue ocean shone on either side and we stared in silence at the drops of islands scattered across the sea. We wondered how they had decided to build a road across essentially nothing.

It was early evening when we reached Keywest and we took a waiting taxi from the airport to our B&B. We worried from the Taxi Man’s chatter and the beige front of hotels that we had brought ourselves to a retirement paradise.

The B&B was covered in white wooden panels, had a large porch with rocking chairs and a beautiful oak wood floor. The round man who welcomed us was full of camp cheer and gave us a large key with a wooden block attached  for our double room located at the top of the house, accessible from the outside only. We climbed the stairs to our room brushing away jagged palm tree leaves from our faces. The room was quaint and silent and we absorbed the pleasant eeriness of the two hundred year old house.

We decided to take  a walk up the street. The houses were beautiful. They towered over the pavements, wooden panelled with white picket fences and silver mail boxes on the street. We walked towards a low mumbling noise, which grew louder as we reached the main centre streets. In front of us were hundreds of people gathered together in brightly coloured shirts. They were whooping and smiing and dancing in the street. We had stumbled upon a Jimmy Buffet concert.

Jimmy Buffet is Keywest; a balding middle-aged musician who plays guitar in a Hawaiian shirt, opened to his white vest. He wears sandals and sings folk songs. From every window at the crossroads where he was playing fell gaudy plastic beads. Thrown from a height, pink, green and blue beads flew through the air, landing on heads and shoulders and on the street itself. We picked them up and wore them and bought two cans of beer from the open off-licence. We walked through the crowds in wonderment, taking in the shops and noise and ambience. Soon the crowds dispersed and we wished we had arrived earlier.

Later that night we came back for dinner dressed in our smart clothes. We loved the many bars and restaurants and shops. There was live music everywhere. Most people were older, but they wanted fun. I watched a big haired lady in leather pants snuggle into the ear of an aged musician who had just finished playing guitar. She hooked her arm around his neck and pushed her breasts under his chin. He looked slightly bewildered and amused and they soon left.

The next day we had breakfast in the shared kitchen of the B&B. There was a Belfast sink and an island in the middle of the kitchen covered in an array of pastries. We were joined by a New York cop of Irish descent and his wife. The morning chat turned quickly to the rumoured local haunting. Our B&B had a sister property a few blocks away. It had a well documented ghost of a child and sightings were common. The cop’s wife mentioned that she didn’t feel that comfortable in this house on her own. I wondered if I felt comfortable too.

We headed off for the day and decided to take a boat trip. We had a few drinks in the large bar beside the boat dock before we left. It was buzzing, with live music and more older people drinking. The boat was like a small yacht and as soon as we put our life jackets on the crew opened a large cool box full of ice and small beer cans.

After an hour or two, the good swimmers on the boat, dived into the ocean and had a swim. When they climbed back on the boat, sloshing sea water on the white deck,  they reported seeing a large barracuda and having to swim through a swarm of jellyfish.

We sailed to an island of undergrowth, not accessible to humans. Large root branches rose from the salty sea to form intertwined trees. We kayaked around the outskirts of the tree island, ducking under branches and enjoying the shallow water. Our kayak leader pulled up a horse shoe crab from the sand to show us and brought us to a land bank where we could get out of our kayaks and stand ankle deep in the water. There was no land to be seen on the horizon. The cool box came out again and the beers were shared out. I clutched the can and watching the ocean rise to our knees and thought about jellyfish and horseshoe crabs.

That evening we returned to shore sunburnt and hungry. We got a table at a Cuban restaurant where salsa dancers were strutting around the paved stones. We ordered large Mojitos and tried plantains and chatted about how we wished to visit Cuba one day.

That night we returned to the B&B with the intention of changing to head out again. Instead we lay on the bed and drifted into a thirsty light sleep. I awoke to find a figure standing at the end of my bed.

It was a man, with long straggly grey hair tied back, steel rimmed spectacles and a red solider jacket with gold buttons. He stared at me, with interest. I was terrified.

He had little expression on his face. Through the figure I could see the white electric radiator attached to the wall. I concentrated on this and watched how it came in and out of focus forming part of the frame of the man.

I didn’t want to look away in case he disappeared. Yet I was afraid to keep looking, in case he didn’t.

I pulled the white sheet over my head. Too petrified to move, I buried my head on my partner’s shoulder and swore never to tell anyone what I had seen.

‘I saw a ghost last night,’ I blurted as soon as my partner woke the next morning. His brows narrowed as he tried to make sense of what I was saying. ‘I believe you,’ he eventually said after listening to me. At breakfast I told the cop and his wife about the experience. ‘I knew it,’ said the blonde New Yorker. ‘I can feel it,’ she said.

We borrowed bikes from the B&B and cycled through the quaint streets to a memorial park and beach. We cycled by Ernest Hemingway’s house and I felt guilty for my writing teacher for not stopping to go in. Now I understood why the author was drawn to this place so many years ago.

Cats ran in front of us. We cycled down a poorer part of the neighbourhood and I felt uneasy as the large wooden houses changed into smaller ramshackle dwellings. We cycled to a building-sand beach and I watched a large pelican swallow down a silver fish. On the water power boats raced in competition. We reached the most southern tip of America, marked by a giant colourful buoy. We felt happier than we had ever felt in our lives.