Why I Run

Mostly for the misery of it, partly for the simplicity and beauty of it. Running for me is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. It’s a good way to manage pain, to visit the more emotional corners of my brain, to connect with people and to explore my immediate surroundings without getting in a car. 

Pain and running go hand in hand. Running hurts and if you’re going to get into running, you’ll have to embrace that. Miles before your first runner’s high you’ll go through blisters, cramps, aches, stiffness, and nausea. Getting into running builds a certain resilience to pain. A resilience that gets stronger the more you test it. I find that after a particularly tough run, where I’ve pushed through physical pain, and come out and finished on the other end of it, I feel empowered to take on other challenges, and to be a bit braver in my day to day. I feel less controlled by the fear of the pain that life can throw at me.

 You can use this pain resilience in all areas of your life to push through things which are painful but necessary, and then spring back to your normal self once the hard thing is done. You can also bring pain from other parts of your life into running and beat them out on the road. When I’m stressed, or upset about something, running more is my first line of defence.

The second reason I run is to keep in touch with my inner self. The rhythm of running regulates the speed of my thoughts, slowing them to a steady beat. And the music I’m listening to is like scaffolding on which I hang the canvas of my mind, and examine it. Different songs, draw attention to different thoughts. I especially love connecting with the sad side of myself in this way. I’ve found that sad songs with added heavy rain makes me run the fastest. Tom Odell’s Another Love and Girl in Red’s 4am will get me every time. I usually feel much better about things after a good run in the rain.

A very good run in the rain last year.

For the same reason that running is a good thinking activity, I find that running with other people is a great way to have profound conversations and to connect with them. The act of running distracts you from what your talking about, and what you’re talking about distracts you from the running. I hardly feel the miles going by when I’m with someone else. I’m also a lot more likely to show up happy to a 6am run if my buddy is waiting for me in the crisp twilit morning.

The last reason I like to run is how simple and beautiful it is. I don’t need a gym or any equipment, I don’t need good weather, some people don’t even need shoes to do it. Running gives you the power to move through the world and explore your surroundings under your own steam. There’s a beautiful run in Tramore, Ireland, which goes down the length of the beach there. Because the beach is a one dimensional spit of land sticking out into the bay for about 4km, with the town of Tramore on a hill at it’s root, and a wide head of sandunes at the tip, it feels like you’re running away from civilization to the end of the world. Getting lost in the sandunes, the sound of the sea disappears and there’s only sand, beach grass and sky. On the tallest dunes in the long summer evenings, you can see the sun go going down behind the silhouette of the town and the whole bay is bathed in golden light. You can’t see this from a car, or a bike, only running can take you there and back in time for tea.

The sandunes of Tramore

So I run because it helps me deal with pain, and because it allows me to keep in touch with myself and to connect with others, and I get to take in views I never could have seen any other way. I highly recommend running to everyone.

Why I’m Learning French and German

Last summer, I came up against a wall. A wall I could see through and touch through, but could hear nothing on the other side. This wall was between me, and the old friends of my flatmate Alec. It was between me and his world. The Francosphere.

We sat around a garden table in the hot sun, eating barbecued meat and drinking beer. They were laughing and joking among themselves and with Alec. But I couldn’t get a word in or out. I sat there smiling, and laughing when they laughed. Occasionally, Alec would look through the wall and render some of the sounds from the other side into English, but not often enough to get me in.

And oh how I wanted to be in it to be among them. Here were the characters from the countless stories he told of his life in France. Here was a history of friendship at least as rich or richer as the four years I’ve known Alec, which I could not participate, which I was simply locked out of.

It’s the fall now. I’ve moved to France for Grad school, and I see an opportunity. This is my shot to make myself a set of keys to another planet, and to step cleanly out of the Anglosphere for a while.

“I want to meet them on their own turf one day”

My relationship to German is a little different. If French is a world to be explored, then German is a world into which I feel invited I lived in Zurich this summer and I felt as if I was being pulled into saying a few more words each time.

I’m lucky to have some amazing friends there. Friends who had no problem stepping out of their comfortable mother tongue to talk to me in my English. I want to meet them on their own turf one day and speak their language. To make things as comfortable for them as they made it for me.

I also feel that learning German also allows me to step outside of the Anglophone world into another domain, different to the one I’ve lived in, and feel a little trapped in sometimes.

Location Induced Creativity

There is a place which sets the typewriter in my mind clicking like ticker tape. That place is in the Valley of the Suir.

The hills there roll and fall like smooth waves on a sea of green grass and myrtle and pine coloured forests. There is an order to them. Like all things here, they face the river. They face it gracefully, and shoulder it gently on its patient and meandering journey to the sea.

When I see the river from the top of the forested hills in the rain, I think of all the things which follow the river. The water for one. the relief for another. The roads and the train tracks and bridges weave about it like Virginia Creeper on a great tree.

It flows along a great length from the heart of the country near Templemore, southwards through Thurles, where the rules of hurling and football were written down. It bubbles down through Cahir over the big weir and under the walls of Cahir castle. She continues southeastwards until she is met by the Knockmealdown Mountains and she is reflected northwards towards Clonmel. From there, she skirts along the edge of the Comeragh mountains. They loom over Clonmel and the river. Barring a short southward run to the sea.

She heads to the east Through Kilshealan, and Carrick-on-Suir. Swelling now to a rolling silty body of water that rumbles beneath stone arch-bridges and props tree trunks up against them. It’s in Carrick that the first echos of the sea are observable. The tide is pushing in far downstream, and it causes the river to slow for a while at certain times of the day.

Just downstream from Carrick-on-Suir.

Her run to Waterford city is most spectacular of all. Flat calm she widens right out and slows right down. Her banks become muddy and then fields of reeds grow on them. Gently sloping, pine forested hills guide her, and the beautiful gardens of Mt. Congreve are watered by her. The valley becomes a huge half tube on which the canvas of grass and fields is stretched tightly. She is crossed by bridges only twice downstream in nearly thirty miles.

The great and elegant serpent that is the Suir between Carrick and Waterford.

The city of Waterford faces her proudly as the source of the city’s life. The railway tracks which have followed her from Cahir, terminate here at Plunket Station. Here, the closeness of the sea is clear to sea for half of every day. The water flows in reverse.

But She continues on in search of the sea. At Cheekpoint she is warmly welcomed by her sisters, the Barrow and the Nore. Two great rivers themselves with their own vallies of peculiar character. It is only after meeting them, does she finally find the opening she has been looking for. At Dunmore-East – A fishing village with fancy holiday homes, a great chipper, Dublin accents in the summer and old naval guns – the sea and the river meet for the first time. Fresh and salt water mingle. The flow obeys the tide. The river becomes the sea.

Dunmore East from the air.

The Perfect Snowflake

It was something unexpected. An invitation to join a road trip after only three weeks at Georgia Tech, with people I didn’t quite know yet and to a town I knew just one thing about. Where to begin the story of that great journey to place far away? A journey out of Georgia and across Tennessee on MLK weekend, to Nashville with 9 wonderful people who I would call my friends forever after. The best place to start dear reader, is in the middle.

The Air-BnB was huge. Just right for a party of ten who didn’t mind sleeping on the sofas. Alec was making his famous chili in the kitchen as the sun went down on the rooftop decking and the back garden. We milled around exploring the house and the garden, chatting, and taking pictures of each other in the golden light and drinking beer. There was an air of contentment and excitement in this new place among new friends.

I went to the off-license several times that first evening on resupply missions. One shop was across the road from an old grain storage building. A tall concrete thing with a giant mural of an old man looking up towards the sky. We wondered who was so important. He looked a bit like Jimmy Carter to me.

One gray man rises above Dollar General. 7 men in gray wait for one to come out.

When the sun went down and it got cold outside, dinner was ready, and Alec instructed us on how to best serve ourselves his chili in burrito wraps. It was imperative that after you added the chili, guacamole, lettuce, sour cream and doritos (in that order) that your burrito was de-juiced over the chili pot and that further seasoning was added on top before wrapping it all up whatever way you liked. The chef was roundly complimented by all at the table. (and by table, I mean in the kitchen/open plan living space. There was no big dining table.)

Left: Chili a la Byrne. 35mm; Right: Hannah and Mel chowing down. Both with a Canon AE-1

After we had filled ourselves up with that delicious meal and with more beer, we ubered into town. The Broadway Strip was our destination. I didn’t expect every bar in Nashville to have a live country music act, but it was so. Every bar did have a live country music act. Our bar was ‘The Ol’ Red.’ Because it was the only place letting people under 21 inside before 9pm. We managed to stay there for the evening to hear Skylar Anderson sing Tennessee Whiskey and Can’t drink you away girl. I don’t know why, but those two songs in particular became the anthems of the trip after that. I listened to those songs standing beside Mel, and maybe that was the reason that they had such an effect on me. We had some common experiences with women at that time which those two songs spoke to. I tried to ask him about that and about our lives with some stupidly cryptic question that only annoyed him briefly before he returned to cheering over the balcony.

I saw Linda was standing further along the bannister I went to her for some company. I asked her what I had asked Mel. “Where are you, and where are you going?” We had some fun discussing that while Skylar Anderson went around with the tip bucket, singing and talking with the wireless microphone. “I’ve been doing the for 5 years and I call it a job!” At the end of the night when he was finished up and getting ready to leave. Linda, Mel and I saw fit to go down and talk with the man himself. “You sang how I was feeling!” I said to him as I shook his hand, Mel and Linda made similar acclamations. We even got a picture with him.

Sometimes, you’ve got to tell someone how you feel. We were big fans. Photo credit, Alec (I think)

We left the Ol’ Red soon after he did and walked up and down Broadway looking for bars that would let us all in. We found none, but we did find a cowboy boots and hats shop. A cultural experience. You could walk in at 11pm as we did and try on all of the party boots that you wanted for free. Many of them were very flamboyant indeed. $400 for a pair though. No thanks. We just took pictures

Somewhere in Tennessee, 1888. Colourised.

On Sunday, after a good breakfast of Danish style porridge, we went to see some of the sights in Nashville. The super bowl semi final was playing on screens in the city center. Nashville vs. Kansas I think. But it was cold outside and we had another plan for the early afternoon. Line dancing. We were in the capital of country music after all. Classes were on every half an hour in a bar off Broadway, given by a teacher who had to stop waiting tables and give us tourists a class in what she must have thought was the most boring dance in the world. Once we got to know the dance, we found that its 4-beat rhythm makes it fit into just about any song you can think of. For the rest of the semester, at every big party in Atlanta, a line dance could break out at any time to almost any song.

That smile says it all. Line dancing became iconic for us after this trip. Photo credit: Linda.

On our second night, after a day of seeing some sights and going to the grocery and liqueur store for more supplies, Hannah made a delicious congee for ten with spring onion, crushed nuts and a lime on top. We taste tested whiskey from a taster’s kit that Julien had bought. There were three varieties. It seemed to me that each was more bitter than the last. We talked over beer and Jack Daniels until quite late at night.

The lovely congee. photo credit: Linda.
Whiskey tasting with the connoisseur himself, Julein. 35mm with a Canon AE-1

We played a wonderful game then when we were all sitting on the couches and brought the chairs over. The game was to tell your life story in sixty seconds. The ten of us had known each other for just three weeks at this early stage, but this was a great way to get a proper introduction to how everyone viewed their lives. The conversation continued down several veins and got quite intimate at times. I think when you’re in a confined space with like-minded people, you tend to get very close very quickly. And so, it was  a pleasantly long night in.

Left: The “Who’s the most likely to…” game in action; Right: Linda, Shauna and I pointing at you, dear reader. Both are 35mm with a Canon AE-1. photo credit on the right to unknown

The next morning, I woke up to Viggy shouting, ‘It’s Christmas!’ Sure enough, it was snowing outside. Viggy had brought his frisbee and Mel and I played outside in the snow. Linda came out and played too. It was cold and we got hungry and no one else had gotten up yet so the four of us decided that the most marvellous thing to do when we got back inside was to play Christmas songs throughout the house, while we made ‘Christmas pancakes.’ That roused the troops well enough.

As we prepared to leave, Viggy continued frisbeeing outside with Alec. Of course, it had to land on our neighbours’ roof and Viggy had to knock on the door to ask for it back. Our neighbours were an elderly couple. The man came out and lent Viggy a ladder to retrieve his frisbee. How the conversation turned in the direction it did, I do not know, but the man revealed to Alec and Viggy that the huge mural of an old man on the side of a tall concrete grain store just down the street was in fact an image of him! Viggy and Alec were dumbfounded, and they told the rest of us when they got inside. We didn’t believe them at first but they were adamant. They were too polite to ask for a picture, so here’s Mel standing in front of the mural instead.

The resemblance was uncanny. Photo credit: Linda

We came home in the two cars via Lynchburg Tennessee where, upon Julien’s suggestion we visited the Jack Daniels distillery. The place was not visually impressive, but the different smells that were in each room and the scale of the production of whiskey going on there (every bottle of JD in the world is made there) and the connection it seems to maintain with its history were striking.

The trees around the factory were covered in a strange jet-black coat of what looked like paint or ink. When asked, the tour guide explained that ‘the black stuff on the trees is a kind of micro-flora which feeds on the alcohol vapours that’s in the air around here. In fact, during prohibition times, one of the ways that a bootleggers forest distillery could be found out was the police looking for the tell-tale “black frost” which was growing on the trees around their distilleries.’ Fascinating.

It was on the factory tour that the perfect snowflake landed in Viggy’s hair. I didn’t thing that they really existed, but there one was in front of me. A fitting omen for the outstanding weekend that was just coming to a close.

The perfect snowflake. suitable that it landed in Viggy’s hair too.

In Lynchburg, after the tour, we had our lunch in a quiet, just-about-to-close-at-5pm diner. The food wasn’t great and the interior over-decorated, but it was something to keep us going and I spotted some local honey for sale at the register. (I’ve an interest in honeys like that because there is a beekeeper around where I’m from in Portlaw who makes honey from just a few hives so you know that the honey is from the flowers around my hometown. There’s something in that that appeals to me. )

The food was sorely needed, for the car ride home was long. 3 hours through rural Tennessee past Chattanooga and into north Georgia. On the way, I was delighted when we decided to read a short story aloud in the car. The story was ‘The Lady and the Dog’ by Anton Chekhov. It was on my kindle and I had read it last year. We took turns voicing the characters. We finished it in an hour, and then talked about it for some more time after that. A rare pleasure with friends, to talk at length about obscure books that you have all just heard read aloud.

Before we knew it, we were parked outside the I-house helping everyone carry their luggage in from the rental car before we returned it that evening. Linda, my star navigator throughout the trip came with me for the last mile of the journey. I was glad she did, or else I may have fallen asleep or gotten lost more than twice as I did anyway. I was sad turning in the keys at the hotel that it had all so soon glided by. That marvellous time with those marvellous people already a memory.

But I was so glad that it had happened. It showed me what was possible. You don’t have to know anything about where you’re going, or what you’ll do there. It’s the people you go with that count, and you don’t even have to know them very well. What made this trip to Nashville the perfect snowflake, was the unexpected bond we formed together over food, whiskey, beer and country music.

Four Fiestas in Fulton County

January 5th to 12th

This first week in Atlanta had four parties in it. I will remember these nights for a long time. Each one was bigger, more extravagant, and more fun than the last. Unfortunately for the readers, but I think fortunately for myself when I was in these stories, I didn’t take so many photos, and I didn’t risk bringing my camera out on nights like these. Word pictures will have to do.

* * *

The First Party on the 5th
We started small at the I-House. On my second night in America, I had a beer (or was it Korean vodka) in my hand and was talking happily in the dorm corridor outside Akib’s room to Australians, Italians, Kiwis, Koreans, and many people from all over the world with whom I had the good fortune to be living with for the next four months. Everyone was in a cracking mood Mel, Alec, Ellen, and I were well introduced. Alec left the party early to meet Shauna at the airport.

* * *

The Second Party on the 8th
Hosted by Skylar and Piers and supplied by a trip to Mac’s Liquor Store was the craziest I-house party night. At Mac’s, while I was picking a drink for myself carrying a box of Alec’s craft beer request in my hand, Piers – the honourable and mischievous Kiwi studying engineering design – came up to me and calmly said: “Conall. You are having a Four Loco with me tonight.” I looked down at the multicoloured half-litre can of beer in his outstretched hand. Between the jigs and the reels and his explanation of what Four Loco was, I obliged him. It was the best mistake I’d made on exchange thus far. Four Loco is blue sugar beer with the caffeine of red bull and the alcohol concentration of wine. A downer and an upper in one.

The night proceeded splendidly. Skylar’s room was lit with fairy lights, and the bathroom between the two rooms was a great dark space where the music was loudest. Someone had put the speakers in the shower. Since we were all roaring drunk, a select few of us decided that getting into the shower and pulling the curtain closed for an intimate chat was the perfect thing to do.

Two Four Locos and many normal beers later, we all danced in Piers’ room to Abba and Viggy was giving Orange Justice Lessons in the hall, I was his most enthusiastic student. I even taught Linda how to do the famous dance. After a little while though, Shauna and I became concerned with the whereabouts of Mel. Some more conversationally inclined persons, who I would later come to know very well, had spirited him away to an unknown location in the building and were surely interrogating him. It became our mission to find him. We shamelessly knocked on doors, woke people up to ask them “Have you seen Mel?” (Very sorry about that Katie.)

In the end, we found him. Talking to Akib, Cheryl and some others in Cheryl’s room. I don’t understand to this day why we were so determined to find him, but we had fun along the way.

The night ended with me unable to get my room key in my door and someone laughing hysterically with me at my predicament.

* * *

The Third Party on the 9th was our first foray out into the wider Gatech social scene. Skylar – the well-connected native of excellent character – was our guide on this night. We went to a block of apartments on the west side of campus past the C.R.C. Huge high-rise things more than ten stories tall. On the walk there, he told me that he was from California.

Inside, the party was on a floor halfway up the building in a plush apartment with a balcony and a view of the massive Mercedes stadium. There were drinks and snacks for all the guests and the thirty or so I-House residents who Skylar brought with him to this party. I couldn’t believe the amount of people who were crammed into that place. We circulated around the kitchen to the balcony and back into the kitchen again. talking at length with Julien, Juan, Javier, Alec, Shauna, Mel, Ellen, Piers and Skylar.

After a few hours there, we ubered to the Spanish club. It was not nearby. 20 minutes later, we got there in several taxis. It was like a nightclub in the middle of nowhere. Inside, the music was sometimes Hispanic I suppose. Drinks were extraordinarily expensive but the fun on the dancefloor was outrageous. I’m not a dancer at clubs but on that night, I danced with enthusiasm until I was so thirsty that I paid the five dollars for a bottle of water at the bar.

I got tired then and looked for some fellow tired souls to go home with. Mel was the only one. We got garlic fries and bacon from the food truck outside at 2am where we met Linda and Maggie who were also quite tired and we shared food while sitting on the asphalt outside the club waited for an uber in the cold early January morning.

* * *

The Fourth Party on the 11th was the one that took the biscuit. The tour de force of Atlantan undergrad life. The casus belli was Hannah The Dane’s and Yeseo’s 21st birthdays. I have never been to a party with a pool before. Nor have I ever heard of student accommodation having a huge lounge and pool halfway up the city skyline. But on this night, Skylar with his excellent connections once again had some friends in ‘The Standard’ apartment block. And boy did this party set the bar high for all parties that came after.

First, the size of the communal lounge was immense. There was a huge high ceiling with a mezzanine area half the size of the main floor again. There were pool tables, sofas, and even a bar (with no alcohol but we brought plenty of our own.)

Then the pool. I have never wanted to jump into a pool as much as I did on that night. Partly it was because of the stories that the Spanish, and especially Javier, had told me about the last semester when impromptu pool parties were a whale of time, and because I had never seen a pool like it before.

There must have been over a hundred people in attendance. I played stack cups or whatever the game is called with over a dozen people. It involved bouncing a ping pong ball into cups of beer. If you miss – You drink. You had to drink for many other reasons too which I didn’t understand and perhaps for that very reason it was tremendous fun. Later, I remember the Irish gang had run out of beer and Shauna and I, the only 21-year olds of the group were commissioned to carry out a resupply mission. I remember simply searching ‘alcohol’ in google maps to figure out where the nearest source was. A service station, half a mile away. Someone else came with me and Shauna but I’m afraid I don’t remember who it was. It was raining and we were in awe of the city lights and that we were drunk and at huge party three thousand miles and a week removed from home.

We returned with beer. There were more people than when we left. Mel was down dancing outside in the cold and rain by the pool. Some fellows had gotten into the small hot tub closest to the door. I needed a leader to jump into that pool. Someone to do it with. I was scared of getting thrown out. The volunteer was Beaux. A fellow with a history of getting thrown out of parties (he told us himself) and so he had no qualms about it. He told Mel. “Ok we’re jumping in the pool now.” Mel said ‘OK.’ But he didn’t want to take his bracelet in with him, so he came and gave it to me for safe keeping. I held it in my hand, hesitating, this was the moment.

 I ran down to the pool bank after him, but Beaux and Mel were in their boxers and already airborne. Into the pool they jumped, and straight out they came. It didn’t look it. But the pool was freezing cold. I had to do it then. I stripped down to my boxers, and left Mel’s bracelet in my pile of clothes and ran to the pool. I tried to do a backflip and I landed gloriously and ungracefully on my back.

I think when I was in the air, falling towards the water and looking up into the rainclouds illuminated by the orange city lights, was the peak moment of that party for me. I hit the water. It was very cold. I got straight out like my predecessors. I got dressed quick, but I couldn’t find Mel’s bracelet. This scared me because it was of extreme sentimental value to him and he had given it to me for safe keeping. Thankfully, I found it and we returned to the party a little chilly but satisfied with our swim.

On the way home at two in the morning, we all went to Waffle House. A 24-hour…waffle house. It was exactly what it said on the tin. We ate like kings in that place. Pancakes with maple syrup and bacon. Waffles with chocolate honey and cream. Onion hash browns all washed down with sprite and coca cola.

And that was the first week. I’ve never partied like that before, but I’m delighted that I did. Putting in the hard miles at the start with people who you know you will spend a lot of time with during the semester was well worth it. It really set a great tone for the rest of the term.

20,000 Leagues Over the Sea.

The most wonderful time that I ever had in my life, was when I went on a university exchange to America. I have never known such a deep and rich experience as that, and I hope that I will someday feel that way again. To understand what made me feel this way, it’s not necessary to know the minute details of the day to day happenings of my life there. I believe that the essence of the time can be conveyed in handful of stories which exemplify all that was great and good about that time and place. I have some 35mm film photographs to show here as well which will help show you what it was like.

This account is retrospective. I am writing now in May, 6 weeks after I left. What happened at the end of the trip and since, will colour my view of what came before it. Instead of trying to write an accurate objective account, using my journal as a reference, I think it will be better to recognise the perspective from which I am writing and let it into the story.

This account is personal. I will be writing from my point of view in the past. It would be wrong of me to publish an account in which I try to write like a fly on the wall, when I was not. I was there, participating in the stories you will read here.

I’d like to say too that none of the fun that I had would have been possible without the friends I went with and the friends I made there. It was the people that made the place what it was.

20,000 Leagues Over the Sea.
3rd and 4th of January

It had only been 13 days since I was drinking beer in the Neiderdorf and saying goodbye in Zurich, but today I was going again, further away, and for longer this time.

On the morning of the 3rd, I awoke from my bed and went downstairs to have breakfast. The sun had not risen yet but my father had. My mother came down soon after and was eager to be off. We couldn’t be late. She was followed by my two sisters who were sleepy eyed and reluctant to be going to Dublin so early in the morning.

The drive felt short because I slept most of the way up. At the airport, we parked the car and all went inside. I checked in my huge heavy bags with a nice lady in at business check-in, while my family got themselves breakfast. On my way up to the cafe I met Mel with his whole family and then some, coming down the elevator to do the same as me. A happy reunion. I said I’d meet him at security after breakfast.
                They had finished eating when I came up and I had only a croissant and a damp cup of coffee. My mother kept asking for the time. I don’t remember what we talked about. They were eager to send me on my way. My mother was anxious, my sisters were tired and apathetic, but I could tell that my father was happy that I was going. Even a little proud. We hugged and said goodbye at the start of security where they could follow me no further. They were all smiling at me when I looked back to give one last wave.
                Inside, at the start of the duty-free, I met Mel and Alec. Looking back, I consider this as the start of the trip. It was then that I joined with the two friends who I would rarely be without in Atlanta. We went straight to the US pre-clearance centre, got through (with some difficulty) and headed for the business class lounge. We flashed our tickets to the ladies at the front desk and we were in. A set of huge floor to ceiling windows gave us a panoramic view of the taxing planes. The rising sun was bright and was beaming down through the east window onto the food. We set down our bags and scooped ourselves a huge fry with coffee and ate it watching the airplanes go by. I took this first picture on my camera then.

The Frenchman’s idea of an Irish breakfast. Look at all that cheese.

We didn’t talk about what was to come. Only how delicious the food was and about the planes outside. It was an ideal breakfast to start the long journey.

                On the plane, an Aerlingus A330, we were shown to our business class seats. I’ve mentioned this a couple of times. But only because it’s special. We left the booking of our tickets quite late. The fares were volatile and it just so happened that the business class fare was cheaper than economy on the day that we booked it. We simply had to. I still cant believe we could have paid more for a seat in economy than what we got.
                The seats were huge, and they lay down totally flat for for sleeping. I took my second good picture of the day then. A little dark, but you can see them smiling,

All comfortable on board. You can see Alec’s first glass of white on his table.

The first glass of wine was offered before they even finished boarding. Alec accepted. Mel and I remained temperant until after take off.
                The whole flight was an experience. The food, the wine, – Alec had five glasses by the time we landed in Boston – The conversation with some rich Americans sitting nearby, the comfort. Being able to lie flat and sleep after my roast beef and two glasses of red was simply marvelous.

The food on this flight was better than many meals I’ve had on the ground.

I had the pleasure of a window seat too. I saw Ireland pass under me from Dublin to Galway, then over Inis Mór and Inis Méan. the last piece of western Galway receded to the right and we were over the great blue expanse of the Atlantic. After some hours of food drink and relaxation, Newfoundland started appearing through gaps in the clouds.
                We arrived in Boston after 8 hours over hurtling through the air. I was a little sad that the flight was over. It was a gray day, around 1 pm local time when we touched down. Mel and Alec were good friends in UL with a girl in Electrical Engineering called Theresa who happens to live in Boston. She came over to UL for the cheaper price of college. She was our cicerone for the day. And what a wonderful 5 hours of walking around Boston we had. She took us to Fanueil Hall, Boston Common, the freedom trail, the grave of Benjamin Franklin. Boston is a city which wears its history on its sleeve. A history which is longer and grander than that of any other American city. And Theresa knew the place well. I took a good few nice photographs then.

Mel and Alec acting the fool on the Greenway
Boston reflects.
History and modernity both well behaved on the same street
One from my phone. (Pixel 3a). Late evening in central Boston.

Because of its density, and older age, Boston feels like a European city. Although the buildings are tall, I felt like its scale was still human. It reminds me a little of London.

                Theresa was a fantastic guide and lovely to talk to. I don’t know why I had never really spoken to her before then. My favourite part of the tour was Boston Common. A huge public park, one of the oldest in the world. It had fountains, statues, well kept grass, big old trees, many grey squirrels, and an ice rink. We considered getting on for a skate, but the evening was getting on and we were getting hungry.

We had dinner in a Thai restaurant. I don’t remember much about it, except that the food was OK and filled me quite well and when I we emerged from the place, the streetlights were on, and two boys were playing with a baseball on the steps. I wanted to keep walking around. The city was beautiful at night, and I savoured the sights as they came to me on our walk back to the bus station. A man playing jazz on a street corner, a woman feeding the pigeons from a bench. Crowded intersections of people crossing the street under the lights of the city. At the airport we all hugged and said goodbye to the Theresa. She had been great company on our flying visit. We made our way to the gate for the flight to Atlanta. Tiredness was beginning to set in. I don’t remember what time it was, but I know that I must have been awake for at least 20 hours by the time they called our boarding group.

A person sitting in a chair

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“Delirium. The new fragrance for jet-lagged fuckers.”- Alec

The flight to Atlanta was three hours. Pittance compared to the eight hours we had spent crossing an ocean. But that was in business class. And oh! How I missed those comforts on this second flight. I couldn’t sleep a wink, the lights were kept on the whole time, and no free food. We landed in Atlanta at one in the morning. It was pouring rain outside.

                Finding bags and making our way through the rain to the uber pickup was a challenge after having gone so long without sleep. We found the uber and drove to the I-house on Techwood drive. Driving through Atlanta late at night in the rain while sleep deprived gave me a certain type of first impression of the place. More big lights, a six lane highway through the city center, People sleeping rough in the underpass tunnels. As a city, not as impressive as the London of the west we had come through. We reached the I house and noted how the bank of America building whose orange-lit spire was half obscured by the rain clouds, looked a bit like Sauron’s Tower.

A city street at night

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Is the what Mordor looks like? We would soon find out.

We called a resident’s assistant number and waited outside in the rain for someone to let us in. We were shown our rooms and we collapsed into bed. Mel had to walk a half mile to his accommodation at North-Ave in the rain. I did not envy him. We had been travelling for twenty-five hours and thousands of miles to get to our beds in this place. They had no sheets, so we slept in our clothes. The long journey was at an end, a new age would begin the very next day.

New Years Day 2020

This photograph was taken on a Canon AE-1 film camera. something I bought from a man off the street in Zurich last year. A fine thing to carry with you on days like this one. I took several pictures of that fox and this was the best of them. He seemed purposeful and sure footed while trotting down the mountainside toward the coniferous forest further down.

It was chilly that day, and I had come with some friends to celebrate the new year with a dip in the lake. The water is famously cold but I was looking forward to it. There’s something about swimming in extremely cold water, especially with friends which just seems right to do.

When we got to the top however, I found that of the 8 of us, I was the only one to remember their togs. No one apologized, and no one needed to. I didn’t mind getting in alone. in a way it was nicer because when I did get in, and I did feel the cold grip my feet and then my shins and my legs and then embrace my whole body when I leaned forward and started swimming, It was nice to know that I was the only soul in the whole lake, the only one feeling the cold, the only one looking down at the mossy rocks at the bottom and then up at the grey sky, the only one seeing things from this perspective.

My friends watched me from the shore. After I got out and got dressed, we ate lunch sitting on some rocks. stale croissants and chocolate. Then we threw stones into the lake, as far we could. Cormac, who is a hurler threw them the farthest. Luke and I hurt our shoulders trying to match him. We talked about the future. Jessica was going to Copenhagen, I was off to America. Aysia, Cormac, Charlotte and Luke were returning to college that term. We spoke about the past too, about secondary school and swimming and people we knew. All in all, a lovely way to spend new years day.

Peter’s Brigade

The Spanish night was hot when the 9th Galway Cavalry Brigade started across the river. Peter leaned down from his horse and scooped some cool water into his mouth and let the hooves of the other horses splash his face. Pulling himself upright again, he waited his turn in the shallow water to walk up the steep bank on the other side. On that side of the river the ground was dry and supported only dust and some modest shrubs. Dawn’s rosy fingers were just beginning to appear on the hilltop and the brigade made its way slowly and in silence up the hill. This was the morning of Peter’s first battle.

Although Peter’s family were staunch, well-meaning Christian’s, He wasn’t sure if he believed in God, or the afterlife, or heaven or hell. But he did believe it was a good and worthwhile thing to be remembered. And he was horrified by the prospect of a forgetful life such as his mother and father lived. Toiling away on the farm or in the house. Growing older every day and achieving nothing of note in their lives except begetting another forgetful generation of 7 children. They would be erased by history, just as their parents had been, and their grandparents before them.

“Why Peter?” his father had asked him in a despairing sort of way, after reading his enlistment papers. His mother had cried. “We don’t need the money son, if that’s why you’ve joined. We want you to live here with us. And what about your brothers and sisters. Won’t you miss them?”
“It’s ten years of service Peter. Ten years!” His mother pleaded with him through teary eyes. Although she knew nothing could be done about it. The papers were signed. Peter Cunningham.

“I don’t want to stay here forever. I don’t want to be forgotten, Dad.”

When Peter said that to his father, he paused for a moment with a look on his face as if he had just recognised something in his son which he used want himself long ago. John Cunningham loved old stories. The older the better and had wanted to be a writer. He dreamed of making his mark on the literary world, but he had to take over the farm when his father was killed. So, he contented himself with marking the soil with his plough every spring. After seeing this manifestation of his younger self in his son, Peter’s father was behind him even if his mother would never forgive him.

His father paid for his smart cavalryman’s uniform and the good horse on which he rode to the top of the hill on that hot Spanish night just before dawn. Peter looked down to the French camp at the sleeping enemy. The camp was a loosely organised small town of white prism tents which started around 400 yards from him and  stretched along the left bank on a strip of flat ground between the river and a steep cliff and terminated around 900 yards away at the bottom of a modest hill..

The artillery was encamped on top of the hill and aimed over the river into the rising sun. A smoky haze was languishing over it from the previous night’s cooking fires. He looked to his left at two thirds of the brigade. The uniform silhouettes of cavalrymen cut a sinister figure against the twilight sky. He looked right to the other third, over the river and to his neighbour, Marc.

“Magnifique eh?” said Marc in a tone which betrayed some fear. Peter didn’t notice.
“absolutely. They haven’t even got any earth works up. The day is ours already.”
“We’ll see. They’ve some artillery on the far side. I don’t know.”
“Yeah, pointing the other way.” Said Peter smiling. “They have no idea Marc.”
“We’ll see.”
“Tell you what. A guinea for the first one to the Flag.” The Flag being the French Tricolour languishing on this windless morning over a particularly large tent. Maybe Napoleon himself, that upstart demagogue was asleep inside at that very moment. Marc looked at him to see if his younger friend was serious. Peter had already taken off his riding glove and his hand was outstretched, waiting for Marc to shake it. Marc to off his riding glove and as their hands came together the bugle sounded.

Peter and Marc put their gloves back on. The bugle barked the order to advance at a trot. The many hooves made a low rumble like the thunder of an approaching. When the brigade reached the bottom of the hill, 300 yards on flat shrubby ground from the French camp and just as the sky was brightening up and all but the brightest stars going out, the bugle cried out again. Canter. They were closing the distance. Peter could see some French men standing still in front of their tents. Awestruck no doubt at the sight of the 9th Galway Cavalry Brigade bearing down upon them. 200 yards. Still the Frenchmen stared. 150 yards They did not move from their scattered positions. The Lieutenant drew his sabre, the glorious  call for charge was heard and Peter kicked his horse to gallop and drew his sword, with the rest of the Brigade he cried out a primal scream. Uttered since time immemorial by human beings before attacking one another. Peter would never forget that moment. 100 yards, and the Frenchmen did not flinch. 50 yards. Peter leaned over on his galloping horse to slay this continental coward where he stood. Contact. He swept his arm downward and in one lethal stroke his sword bore down through the skull of a melon and cut it clean in half.

Peter galloped on along with the rest of the brigade. He knew immediately that something was wrong. He looked around but could see no enemy movement at all. He slowed his horse to a canter. Some of the men had stopped and dismounted to slash the tents in case the French were cowering inside. The bugle sounded for halt. And the battlefield was still and looked peaceful though the hazy smog of the camp and the morning sun. The Tricolour stood limp and defenceless in the centre of the camp

Peter saw Marc trotting toward it slowly along with some others. The sun was now illuminating the tops of the hills on either side of the camp. “Given up your guinea, eh Marc?” Peter called as galloped past him. Before Marc could respond there was a tremendous noise. A great boom! It was the loudest sound that Peter had ever heard. It was followed by a thousand swishes and ripping noise in the air around Peters head. Another boom, and then several more all within a second of each other. The air was being torn apart. Peter stopped his horse and turned his head back to Marc and the other officers for some direction on what to do. Marc and his horse were obliterated in a Tsunami of lead and blood, a man behind him was thrown from his horse in several pieces and his blood painted the white enemy tents. “Grapeshot!” bellowed an officer somewhere behind Peter. “Find cover!” shouted the same officer. Where? thought Peter. The camp was on flat ground by a river, and the artillery was looking straight down at them.

Another boom and the ripping sound of grapeshot tearing through the air and then piercing his horse and his own body. The pain was immediate and excruciating. Seven lead grapes had seared through his body. He fell to ground with his horse and the wind was knocked out of him and he breathed in a mouthful of dust when his face hit the dry hard ground. He tried to move but his horse was still alive. Agonisingly trying to get up and to get away, far away from here, but it was in vain and it only managed to shift its weight more onto Peter. He was trapped. He coughed and spat blood from his mouth. The artillery stopped firing and its deafening sound was replaced with something quieter. Peter could here it through the ground. A low sort of sound that travels well through hard ground. The sound of heavy hooves of approaching cavalry.

The French dragoons with their billowing horse-hair helmets and their own sabres drawn approached the scattered Galway Brigade. Peter saw the whole shameful affair from a sideways point of view. The bugle ordered the retreat and his comrades began withdrawing from the camp and back up the hill as fast as they could. A few rode straight past Peter stuck underneath his wheezing, dying horse, but they avoided his pleading eyes and galloped on. ‘Cowards’ thought Peter. The high regard in which he held fighting men – Especially those who fought on horseback – evaporated in a couple of minutes there by the River Guadiana. The rumbling of hooves grew louder.

The first man to pay him any attention, was French. The hooves of his horse stomped near his face. Looking up at the Dragoon on his horse, Peter was angry. Enraged at the anonymity of it all. This dragoon was about to do him the dishonour of killing him on his back or taking him prisoner. There was no honour in it. Nothing memorable about it.

The Dragoon looked down at Peter and saw a non-commissioned officer who had nothing worth looting and moved on to more lucrative and less fresh carrion. Peter bled to death under his horse by midday. He was buried in a small mass grave hastily dug by the French who never bothered to mark it He was listed as missing in the regimental records until the regiment was disbanded and the records lost a few weeks later partly due to the terrible losses it had suffered on that day. His Mother and Father got no letter, no notice of death no acknowledgement of his service. Just a silence of the historical record. A silence which was too painful for them to endure so they filled it with distraction and with their other children. And in the end because remembering their lost son was too much for their grieved hearts, they forgot about him.


Saturday the 16th of November 2019. The snow settled softly on the pine trees and the rock high above the valley floor. Down there, the rain poured across the train window as it snaked between the mountains of Ticino.

Pedro and Giacomo were to greet me at Varenna at 14:30. I didn’t have such a big breakfast and drank no coffee that morning, so my mood should have been foul. But I was excited to meet them again. especially Pedro. It had been five months since I had seen him last, with just one letter in between. His girlfriend would be there too. Caterina was her name.

It was a chilly but wonderfully calm day in Varenna. The rain had stopped, the breeze was gentle, and the town was dead quiet. I smiled when I spotted Pedro waiting for me across the tracks. He was smiling as well. I walked over to him, crossing the tracks and we were jovially reunited. He introduced me to the lovely Caterina but there occurred the terrible awkwardness when an Irishman is confronted with les bises. But all was laughed off and forgotten about when we spotted Giacomo coming up the platform as the green train slipped away through the pitch-black tunnel into the soaked rock of the cliff face. He waved to us from far off with something in his hand.

How can I explain Giacomo? Kind and honest are not sufficient. He is especially kind and especially honest in all things he does and says. He brought mini pizzas for us to eat in case we were hungry. I was famished and so were Pedro and Caterina. He gave us an apology that they were cold, but we refused to accept it. I could have eaten a horse after the long journey.

We walked down into town towards the lake. Taking a flurry of photographs of each other in front of the beautiful scenery while we still had the daylight. The weather was temperate and grey, and the mountains seemed to shoot straight up out of the lake. Up and up until the green of the trees and speckling of houses were replaced by a white blanket of snow and obscured by cloud. It looked so mysterious from down where we were. The tops of the mountains were another world of white. Seeming so near to the eye but being impossibly far away and different at the same time. I took some nice photographs with my film camera.

In front of Lake Como in Varenna. Left to right: Caterina, Pedro, Me, Giacomo
My self and Giacomo in front of the sun setting on Lake Como.

We ate at a regular Italian pizza place. One of the only open restaurants in town. We talked about our pasts presents and futures. About Belgium, about exams and about where to do a masters. About speeches, and friendship and political trivialities. We noticed the brazen sparrows and the outsized swans walking among the outside tables of the restaurant begging for food.

The walk back to the train station at the top of the town was a lovely stroll through a town which has an air about it that says it has not changed in hundreds of years. Slim staircases and narrow streets where the buildings lean across to each other over your head which in the summer would have been thronged with tourists, were on that day, deserted and we were alone. Giacomo told us some local folklore about a house on this side of Lake Como with a large balcony which the owner used to look out across the lake to their lover’s house on the other side. They were forbidden from marrying by their families or something. Sounds like Romeo and Juliet to me.

We took the train towards Milan back to a town about the size of Waterford called Lecco. Gaia, Giacomo’s girlfriend met us there, and were six at the café to which Giacomo took us for some hot chocolate. I didn’t know this, but hot chocolate has a more literal meaning in Italy than it does in Ireland. A cup of melted chocolate was handed to me and everyone else. Pedro and Caterina underestimated the richness of the chocolate they were about to drink and had ordered a Belgian waffle covered in cream and more chocolate as well. It went unfinished. Over this delicious chocolate we got to know Gaia and Giacomo’s story. Well the start of it anyway. They met in high school 5 years ago. We tried to call Simone. Another esa Alumni in the area who I had met with Giacomo over the summer and was great craic. Alas, he was refereeing a soccer game for his club.

The more I saw of Lecco the more it reminded me of Waterford. Same size, same middle town issues and middle-sized monuments. One thing I’m assured that Lecco has going for it is the view, although I could only see the outline of the mountains against the dark sky from the lake shore. I’ll have to return to Lecco and to Varenna to fully appreciate those places.

In Lecco was where we had to leave Giacomo and Gaia. He walked with us to the train station where we bought our tickets, but then he took us on one last walk to the city walls of Lecco. When I saw them, I was reminded again of Waterford. They looked just like the walls of the Viking triangle and Reginald’s Tower. Gaia said to me that there is a public library on top of and inside the walls which really impressed me. That sounds like a lovely place to read.

Giacomo was holding back tears when we were on the platform. “I’m so glad I got to see you again.” he said. It was a sad goodbye. We knew we would not see each other again for a long time. Perhaps never. He even ran next to the train waving to us as we pulled out of the station. He will be friend of mine for a long time that Giacomo. He has a heart of gold and I’d love to see him again.

In Milan, Pedro, Caterina and I found that the bar in my hostel, the Ostello Bello Grande was the best place for us to go. It was packed and some musically minded fellows had taken the hostel’s guitars down from the wall and were playing some lively folk tunes. There, I was amazed to see that the bar had not only Guinness but Tuborg on tap. Tuborg. I’ve never seen that outside of Tramore. For me, Tuborg has a golden nostalgic taste to it which simply overpowers the otherwise bitter flavour. Seeing my surprise and thirst for Tuborg, Caterina decided to have one too. And for the sake of Ireland, Pedro got a Guinness.

Over these beers, I found out that Caterina is studying journalism and wants to become a television reporter or news anchor. She certainly has the face and voice for it. I said this and Pedro chimed in that she had even done face modelling for some ads in Portugal. I did not believe him until he showed me the photos. I told Pedro he was a lucky man. The talk swung around the table, from politics, to plans later in the night, to more reminiscing about Belgium. A second round was bought and Tuborg number 2 for me tasted even better than the first. Eventually, Pedro said something wise. Very wise in fact. We were on the subject of how happy we were in Belgium and how we wished we could relive that week, when he said: “We have a phrase in Portuguese. You shouldn’t return to the places where you were happy.” Caterina and I agreed that happy memories of a place are about so much more than the place. It’s about the people. It’s about the time. And that return to the place without the people or the context will only disappoint you.

It was pushing on midnight and the metro shut down at 12:30. I walked with Pedro and Caterina through the drizzle and said farewell to them at the underground in Milano. As we were leaving Pedro told me how much he enjoyed reading my letter that I sent him. Caterina also said she loved it and that my English is lovely. Pedro makes me happy to have chanced upon a person so much like myself. And I hope that he and Caterina remain together. From what I saw that day, how they smiled at each other and sat next to one another. Comfortable but excited at the same time in one another’s company.

I retreated in the rain back to the hostel and went to bed happy with the day I spent with the new old friends I had made.

The next morning, it was still raining softly and incessantly when I got up. I ate my breakfast at the hostel, left my bag behind the desk and took my camera out to Duomo cathedral. I bought an umbrella and took some nice photos of the life sized statues which are perched high above the ground on the Cathedral’s spires against the sky. It occurred to me then that no one has gotten a close look at the faces of these figures for a long time. Perhaps for centuries. They are as inaccessible up there as if they were buried underground. I also caught the last song of a beautiful choir in the Galleries Vittorio Emanuel where the Christmas markets were being set up to open the next week. I took in this small slice of the city and savoured it. The rain was nice.

I wonder what the talk about all day.

At 1pm, Milano Centrale swallowed me up, placed me on a long slender train which slipped out of the rainy city. Heading north through the mountains to Zurich. I don’t know when, but I will return to this city and to Lake Como and I will meet these wonderful people again.

One Day by the Lake

The door squeaked to a close behind me. I wheeled my bike on the path to the main street. The trees kept me in the shade until I reached the car-lined residential road, where the sun was still melting the tarmac. It was a hot August evening in Zurich, and I was going swimming in the lake.

                The only refuge from the heat, was the breeze that come from riding a bike at sufficient speed, but not too quickly so that you heat up yourself. on this day, that speed was a gentle pace in 3rd gear. I pedalled up the street, turning right onto Tulpenstrasse, the tower block there offered some more shade for some way before I was in the harsh sun again. I turned left at that block and began the climb up the hill. the hill is called Zurichberg and the route to the lake goes right over it on a road called Frohburgstrasse. Cycling up this is not particularly hard, but it’s best not to think too much about it if you’re not feeling one hundred percent. At this stage, since you’re working much harder, the breeze is no longer enough to cool you, and coming up by the University of Zurich-Irchel just before the steepest part, I was sweating and up off the saddle. The house and the cars in front of them get nicer and nicer the higher you go up. The reason is obvious when you reach the top. I stopped to appreciate the view. Starting from the northeast and sweeping across to the southwest, there is the Airport, Oerlikon with its tall office blocks and apartment buildings, Seebach, and the portion of the city centre to the west which follows the Limmat river northwards toward its confluence with the Rhine.

                This was the highest point of the route. my favourite part of the journey was next. It was all downhill from here to the lake. I hardly touched the breaks coming down Frohburgstrasse until I reached where it meets some main road. Still I glided at speed down towards the lake, smiling, the wind hugging me coolly, steeling my hat and sweeping my hair back. I thought how wonderful that lake water will feel against my skin. I did not pedal once all the way to Bellevue. All the traffic lights were green for me, and there was very little of that particularly troublesome traffic of affluent people in outlandish cars.

                Bellevue and Opernhaus Plaza is one of my favourite places to be. The Limmat begins its sluggish journey north from exactly there; the tram station is just as respecable as a train station; and the lake glitters in the evening sunlight. I made my way to the shore and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not so crowded, and that the platform was still there (They take it away sometime in August).

                The ten-meter-tall diving platform – which stands in the water a good throw of a stone offshore, beside the bridge which spans the very beginning of the Limmat – is manned by a singular lifeguard until 8pm. It was 7:53. I locked up my bike to a lamp post, walked down the steps to the promenade, took off my shirt and shoes (I was already wearing my swimming togs) and gestured to the man on duty on the platform. He said something in German and gestured to come over. I jumped into the water. The cold stung only for a second before I was properly greeted by my friend, the lake. The sweat which had clung to my body the whole way here was washed away and I was suddenly in an environment in which I felt much better about life than up there on the land. I swam over to the platform, climbed up to the bottom portion and said hello to the man. He said in English “you have time for one or maybe two.” Once was all I wanted.

                I swung onto the ladder and began excitedly climbing the ladder to the diving platform ten meters above me. The ladder was metal and slippery and a little small for my feet. As I climbed higher, my confidence grew lower, and a good portion of my excitement became fear. falling from the ladder would hurt, both on the way down and at the bottom. So, I was careful, and I climbed up slowly. My knees were shaking. at the top, I looked around at the unique view of my environment from up here. In a book I read recently, Quicksilver by Neil Stephenson, Mr. Leibniz is walking around 17th century London with the main character, Daniel Waterhouse and is talking about perspective. He believes that if God is omniscient and sees everything from every point of view at once, then to get closer to how God sees the world, one should see it from as many different perspectives as possible. Although I’m not sure if I believe in God, I do agree that there is something very special about seeing the same thing from different perspectives. Try standing on your kitchen table and see how different the room looks from up there.

                Because it was on a hill, Bellevue was just a little bit below me 20 meters away. I was slightly above the level of the bridge too. I realised then that people were watching me, a very pale young man on a sunny day standing up there about to jump of course attracted attention. I looked down to the water and was not comfortable with how far down it looked. If I was alone up there, I would have probably climbed down. But the people were watching, expecting me to jump. It was a question of honour.

                I put one foot forward, curling my toes over the edge, took a few seconds to gather up the courage and stepped off. floating in the air, falling. I let out a non-descript sound that one typically makes when they get that many butterflies. The water rapidly approached. I spread my arms, and then closed my eyes at the final instant. I hit the water. I love that sequence of sounds right then. the first instant of the splash made by your feet, and then your legs and your waist and shoulders until your ears go under, cutting that sound and replacing it with the deep perturbations of the bubbles floating upwards all around you. I popped up  a few seconds later. I let out a triumphant whoop for all to hear and I laughed. I felt fantastic. I swam back to the platform.

                “Are you going up for one more?” asked the guy as I climbed up. I wasn’t. I just wanted to tell someone about how I felt. Someone who  was here. We spoke for a while. His name was Ralph, and he had been to Ireland. I told him about life guarding. He found my story about training hour really being a breakfast club especially funny. We said goodbye and I dived into the water to swim back to my stuff.

                The sun was beginning to set, and I decided to buy a big hotdog and go for a walk down the length of the prom to Zurich-horn. The swans were begging for scraps, the ducks were minding their ducklings, the people were sitting with their feet dangling over the edge of the water or lying in the grass, soaking up the last of the days sun.

Mother of eight. No bother to her.

                This city is beautiful, especially when the sun is going down. On my way back at the top of Zurichberg I saw watched the last of the sunlight run through a wonderful sequence of yellows, oranges, and reds with an old man who struck up a conversation with me on the bench underneath the oak trees. In broken German and then in French, we talked about Zurich, football, and the sunset. It felt really good to just talk to a random stranger. Maybe that’s how my grandmother felt when she used to do it.

                I freewheeled happily all the way down Frohburgstrasse to get home in the fading twilight. A day well lived. My loneliness eased by my commune with the water and conversation with strangers. I realised that my life until now was not just my own experience, but that of others around me too. In my normal life there is more to me than just me and I think loneliness comes from missing the parts of yourself which you have left behind. The upside of it is, you get to see how capable you are as the captain of your own ship. I was on the phone to a friend about this and he said that even though our selves are made up of more than just us, “The biggest part of you is always you.” He’s absolutely right about that.