Archive for the 'beaches' Category

Don’t steal our sun

Ireland kicks ass. On a sunny day that is.

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Swallowed in the sea


Getting from one place to the other in the quickest possible time is not nearly as much fun as going the really roundabout way. I’m shocked that I’ve been living here for 26 years and still there remains parts of this country I’ve never seen. My parents were good and I’ve been dragged over most of it in a touring caravan as a child at one point or another. But still the discoveries are all the more fun when you make them for yourself.

Having Saturday night free (I like Saturday nights free to sit in by myself and read books – another blog in itself) and no obligations till the following night I packed the Volvo with all the essentials (tunes, coffee, book, guitar, mac, camera, series 1 of Spaced) and headed for the north coast on a mini road trip.

Happiness is a car, some tunes, some decent weather and a full tank. Though a full tank in the Volvo will cost you the same as a return flight to NZ, and will only get you as far as Tescos and back once a week but hey who’s counting?. The joy of the Volvo being that when the oil runs out I’ll just park it in a field, put an awning on it and live in it for the rest of my days.

The weather is key. Simple glorious blue skies are nice but beaten hands down by sunny skies with intermittent rain or hail showers and with a gale force wind to drive the clouds like wild horses across the sky. This gives the sky the best cloud formations short of James and the Giant Peach. Time of day makes a difference too, coastal road trips are much more fun (and make for better photos) if you get to squint into the sun at some point, and the shadows it makes are immense.

So I got to Ballymena and turned right for Cushendall (one of these places yo see on Angie‘s map on Newsline 6.30 and makes you wonder who lives there), and end up on a windy wee rising road through such places as Martinstown. (a Kiwi name if ever i heard one. Incidentally for the Kiwi’s reading – both of you – there’s a place in NI called Carnalridge.)

All this of course reminds me of NZ (which reminded me of Ireland in the first place). The Antrim plateau has always been sold to me as somewhere bleak and barren and miserable and somehow I took that in a negative way. The road down to Cushendall and beyond is now one of my new favorite places.

I parked in the car park to get out and take photos of the beach and the cliffs and received sympathetic stares from the locals in the pub overlooking the harbour. The standard ‘blooming tourists’ type look. it of course being inappropriate for Irish people to be amazed by their own scenery.

The Antrim coast road is in no way a closely guarded secret, indeed it’s well renowned as one of our better tourist spots. It’s just that somehow I’ve never made it here.

The Torr head road is sensibly singed that it is unsuitable for coaches and buses. Though having driven it I’m pretty sure it’s unsuitable for cars as well, the lanes apparently having been marked out as a cycle path and certinly not wide enough to take a car. But I’m glad it’s still there all the same. I ended up doing  my usual and stopping the car every 5 minutes to get out and take photos and then realise 2 minutes up the road that there’s a much nicer photo to be had. I have now tested every remote car park along the way and driven down every dead end track.

I was confused for a while in how Rathlin Island looked so big and indeed appeared to have mountains further down the coast, till I realised that it was actually the Mull of Kintyre and Scotland beyond.

Beaches and oceans get me every time. As they say in Chile – winner.


Day 2 – Go West

Sharing a bed with a grown man is a strange experience. Especially when you’re a repressed homophobe (though I try not to be…) at heart. You always find yourself rolling over at the edge of the bed, to the point of possibly falling out of bed. All to avoid the an involuntary leg touch during the night… Sorry. Enough of that.

last-roll-177.jpgSpent the morning in Mullaghmore, feasting on fried sausages and eggs looking out at a grim and dark looking Atlantic ocean.

There was a brief break in the cloud over the beach giving us a chance to brave the wind and get a trot along the beach. The endless ocean is a leveler. Love it.

 

On our way south to Sligo we stopped at Glencar lough, keen to see last-roll-027.jpgeither a Nessy or a Timotei ad moment under the waterfall. Disappointed on both fronts, best we got was Jonny in a shower cap. And despite a quick game of ‘if we give you a tenner would you…’ we couldn’t convince him to debag and wear a shower cap under the waterfall. In 20 years time in therapy I’ll be glad he didn’t do it.

We stopped briefly down the coast to look at the waves coming in off the Atlantic. A huge swell with a lovely left to right break looked perfect for a wee surf. Though the closer i got the more it became clear I’d just get dumped upon by a swell like that.

Every other car we passed had a board or two on the roof. Made me extremely nostalgic and jealous for the old drive out to Ocean Beach at 7am with some of the murses. Made me wish I’d brought the board back with me. Maybe some day… Anyhow focus. You’re in Ireland now, remember.

last-roll-038.jpgWe were heading for Achill island. Which is almost (but not quite) a fake island, there being only a 10m gap or so separating it from the mainland. We’d read in the (never again to be trusted) Lonely Planet that there was a quality hostel with great food, a nice pub and a warm fire on the island. Our plan was an afternoon in front of the fire with a book and the papers and possibly an endless game of higher-lower with the pack of cards.

This was quickly scuppered on our arrival to Achill sound (if you have an image of Milford sound in your head then forget it) where we found the hostel had been converted to a nursing home.

We followed this with a 2 hour drive round the island looking for accommodation.

We found ourselves turned away from at least 5 places, but only when they found out who we were.last-roll-044.jpg As soon as they realized it was a group of blokes from the north then they weren’t interested and made up clear and blatant fibs that they were either fully booked (when they weren’t) or had a booking already (when they didn’t). Usually I’m not one to see the worst in people in things like this but by the fifth time it was getting ridiculous.

We divided possible reasons into the following:

1) a group of blokes traveling and wanting a room together must be poofters out to pollute the minds of their youngsters and sodomize the local livestock (don’t start me on that one please…)

2) a group of blokes traveling together will no doubt drink the place dry and throw the television out of the first floor window before spray painting the words ‘bazza wuz ere’ on all the local livestock.

3) a group of blokes from the north are here to take part in a paramilitary training exercise in a Connemara bog before using incendiary devices to blow up the local livestock.

Please don’t be three. I know we have a bit of work to do on dispelling number one but please tell me we’ve got past number three.

In the end we got a couple of rooms above a pub in Newport (where?…) where I presume they thought we’d be far enough away from the local livestock to cause no harm.

We took a (very) brief walk around the village taking in all the main sights, the bridge, the pub (voted best pub in Connemara 2006), the other pubs and even the newsagent. I love this country.

Meeting us in the Newport hotel (fighting off vicious local competition for the title) was the office, who’d pulled his usual trick of driving staggeringly long distances (4 and a half hours on his own from Portadown) to get to a place just for one night and then repeat the journey in reverse the next day. And there wasn’t even a bird involved. He amazes me. With his brilliance or stupidity I’m never entirely sure.

When he arrived we got down to some grub and a quick game of naming all the fifty states in America (damn you Vermont…) and listening to some genuine Irish fiddly-dee music in the pub.

We all went to bed, sensibly putting our clocks back an hour to prepare for the end of British summertime (though i think Connemara declared the end of British summertime shortly after the 1916 easter rising and the declaration of independence…). We all woke in the morning to find that the wonders of technology in out phones had taken time into their own hands and sliced another hour from the clock on top of what we’d already taken.

Technology is smart but also kind of dumb eh?

Once upon a time there was an ocean

Of the many, and increasingly sizeable, list of things I miss about NZ is living by the sea. Of being able to dander out the front door and round the marina to westshore and sit on the big concrete blocks above the gravel beach in the dark and think about the quickest way home.

And so armed with the excuse of needing to get a part fitted to Dad’s car (that he’ll not be driving for a few months yet) I’m now back on the north coast. Having dropped off the car and got a wonderful old Saab automatic as a courtesy car.

My first stop was unsurprisingly Portstewart strand. Scene of many a dark and windy walk, either on my own or with mates. I love beaches, not so much for sun and surf but for the time just before it gets dark (indeed I think they actually call it dusk these days, they’ve a word for everything…) when the sun is so low that it starts casting cool shadows on the undersurface of the clouds. When the temperature has just dropped and you can wear a hat and feel fully justified with it on a practical as opposed to fashion grounds.

Even the mini waves of sand cast up by the wind into my eyes do not deter me. Nor the softness of the sand left by the departing tide that stretches your calves with each step.

I like the barrenness and the isolation. It is here I can think straight. I can rejoice in the innumerable joys of simply being alive and begin to reconcile that to all the horrible things that happen to people I love. Mostly by humming old hymns to myself, with the odd Bright Eyes tune thrown in for good measure.

My mind races with all my longing but can’t keep up with what I’ve got…


I was here at the weekend with a mate who asked the intriguingly insightful question ‘what type of a boyfriend do you think you’d make at the age of 26?’

My immediate thought was ‘a pretty shitty one’. My second thought was simply, ‘kind of hard work’. Then I thought that through and thought that the first one probably covered both.

I live in a fantasy world when it comes to relationships where we (there is no we, just an imaginary we) only speak to each other in song lyrics and say nothing but profound meaningful things to each other all the time. This is all bollocks I know but it is what it is.

Managing to get from mere acquaintance and indeed friendship towards what I think love is (don’t get me started…) is a complete mystery to me. I just want to wake up some day in my own marital bliss (ha!), or even just begin where Fight Club ends and not have to deal with all the craziness that gets you there.

Rugged coastline and empty beaches

I have another week off, with no specific plans or obligations. This to compensate for the 14 days straight I swapped into following this.

The east coast of the north island, once you get north of Gisborne, is largely a deserted rural, coastal community, populated by less than 5000 people. Nothing but rugged coastline and empty beaches. Bit like Donegal but with better weather and marginally better roads.

I’ve yet to make it north of Gisborne, each time being distracted to lake Waikaremoana or some other picturesque spot. This time I’m determined. Though day one completed and I’m still an hour south of Gisborne, so maybe it’s not going so well.

It is of course, the equivalent of late November here. Which means it gets dark at 5.30 pm but not that it’s cold. It’s still sunny and I’m still wearing shorts. I managed to leave the flat at 5.15 pm, after a hasty pack following the olive picking.

Previously on my little solo expeditions I’ve stayed in campsites or hostels, this time I’m trying something different. I’ve realised that my car would make a lovely one person camper van. The seats go completely flat and I’d have a secure, lit structure to sleep in.

I have the surf board (must give he/she a name) on the roof, the guitar, the gas stove and the bike. Some grub, and a bag of books and I’m off.

I’ve made it to Mahia, a former island, now a peninsula north of Napier (about 3 hours of winding roads). It’s apparently a legendary surf spot so I’m expecting great things.

The bit that took the time was finding the appropriate spot in the dark to park the car. My first bet was right out on the peninsula, miles from anything. And, while scenic (even in the dark) it was flippin windy and the sheer darkness (no moon at all) was a little bit scary. I still have this childish fear and paranoia when I’m camping and travelling by myself, that around every dark shadow is a gang of thugs willing to do vile murder upon me. Though the fear has perhaps kept me safe from harm on a few occasions.

But after a bit more searching I’ve now found the ideal spot. About 10 m from the road, about 5m from the beach in a wee hamlet of about 20 beach front houses. There’s the odd streetlight, but not enough to keep me awake. I’m parked about 10m from the ‘no camping/overnight stay’ sign. There’s symbols on it banning tents, caravans and campervans, but none of stupid Irishmen willing to sleep in their car, so I think I’ve found a loop hole.

Since arriving I’ve spent an hour on the beach in my shorts (and three layers and a woolly hat but shorts none the less!) staring at the southern stars and just able to see the white caps of the breakers in front of me. Glorious moment.

The next few hours I’ve spent eating bananas and crisps and writing and reading. So much writing in fact my eyes are dry and tired and I’m worried I’m running the battery in the car flat. It’s 11pm and the sun rises at 6.15 am when I’m sure the police will be waking me and painting an image of an Irishman in a car on the sign and putting a line through it.

A day in the life

Originally thought I could do an April Fool’s blog and fool you into thinking that I’ve done something mad or crazy, but then realized I didn’t quite have the imagination for that kind of thing. And I have this nagging inability to lie convincingly. Especially when I know I’ll have to admit it. When it comes to lying over petty things with no chance of discovery, or lying in the face of plainly obvious facts then I’m your man.

So instead you’ll get a ‘day in the life’ thing, but not quite like the Beatle’s song, if only cause I didn’t ‘roll out of bed and drag a comb across my head’ – there not being enough hair, and me not owning a comb.

Got up at 8am. Standard morning time at the weekends. I tend to get up at 6am on the weekdays, but I go to bed at like 10.30pm here so it’s no sacrifice.

Made it to church for the first time in two months. And before I’m cast down as a heathen I was in the south island for the first month and have worked 3 out of the past 4 weekends.

It was cool to be back. In no way have I made relationships in the place that I could in any way compare to home. Maybe I expected more but perhaps I was unreasonable. In some ways it’s weird, cause there’s only about two other people my age who go there. It’s mostly older couples and their kids. But they’re a good bunch.

I was playing bass, which got me out of having to actually talk to people. I still find stuff like that a bit tough. I think I find church easier when I have a role, something to do. Now of course chatting to folk and enjoying their presence and sharing their burdens is, I imagine, immeasurably more useful than playing bass but hey…

Coffee and hot dogs after church, in church in fact. We (I?) could definitely learn a few things. The homeless guys who come to the church regularly always get served. Perhaps another lesson we could learn.

From church I made it home to sit on the sofa and write a few emails and check if there was any one on Skype. Though it was 1 am back home by that stage and the only one I saw on was Bart and I’d spoke to him the day before and I thought he might be a bit tired!

I had to be in Havelock North for a footy match for 2.30 pm, which I made it to for 3pm! I started at centre-back and was instantly knackered. This, despite running three times a week for a few weeks. The fact that I’m only 25 for a while longer is hitting me. Somehow that one extra year seems to make all the difference when I think about it.

I’m part of the Division 1 team for Havelock North Wanderers and we were playing the Premiership team for the same club. Makes it all sound very professional. But when you realize that I’ve been brought in as an outfield player as some kind of ‘star player’ then you’ll know the type of level we’re at.

We got thoroughly trounced, mostly due to fitness but also due to a lack of basic understanding in how to move the ball about the park. Every ball was a panicked long, over the top ball, straight to their feet. I managed to get a couple of triangles going at one point of the game, which was a wonderful idea but poorly executed due to my complete lack of ability. They were not so much triangles as straight lines. Barely straight, at that.

I always wonder how much of stamina and endurance is actual physiology or is it all just psychology. If I’m optimistic I favor the former, but if I’m honest I’ll concede it’s probably more the latter, and all this running about seems like a lot of hard work to me.

So, spurning the offer of an after match beer in the club house (apparently free – what a bizarre concept, would certainly have the punters piling in at home), I headed home to quietly expire on the floor.

However it was a sunny day, and everyone knows I’m a sucker for a sunbeam. So instead of heading north I went west, over the hills to the beaches, with John Piper on the stereo. The drive remains one of the loveliest round here. Through vineyards, orchards, over the Tuki-Tuki (following the Maori tradition of naming things twice, eg Onga-onga and Auckland-Auckland…) river and with views of Te Mata (pronounced ‘tomato’ in Belfast accent) peak and over the brown hills of hawke’s bay.

Ended up at my favorite beach (Ocean Beach) that I’ve waxed lyrical about before. Unfortunately it was a nice day, which meant it was full of humpy, flippin people enjoying themselves. Always ruins my self-obsessed melancholy…

Dandered up the beach and lay down (or rather collapsed) in the sand dunes with the setting sun over the hills keeping me warm. Simply glorious. In fact I’ll withdraw the self-obsessed melancholy comment, it was more of a sense of perspective and gratitude that I get to live here, that I’ve been given the life I have, that I’m in possession of a righteousness and heir to promises that I neither earned nor deserve.

Stopped on the way home for fish and chips – the joy of exercise is that it justifies fried food and sat in the flat loving it and watching the BBC news podcast.

All this left me with this moment. The time to write this. The time to get another few cups of coffee down my throat. And I’m at peace. Which is a tricky bird to catch. And I’m not sure it’s the point anyhow, though it does seem very attractive as an end in itself. And I’m not even sure that I could reproduce the same peace given the same set of circumstances.

For example. I could say that the following has given me this contentment: a full belly, some coffee, my usual Sunday evening run through of the Duke Special catalogue (mercy me and mercy you, you’re still in love in spite of me… I’ve forgotten how to feel, it’s easier to fake it… I could go on…), my emails before me, the flat freshly vacuumed (yes I’m that anal…) and a new book in my hands (another bloody love letter, by Anthony Lloyd, the reporter recently kidnapped in Palestine, a great story of catharsis, addiction, self-loathing and life at the extremes. No surprise I like it really…)

Though the above list sounds a little bit of a ‘happiest when’ section from Bebo or Myspace or something. I could make a lot of lists like that but I don’t think I could follow them. I mean I don’t think they’re reproducible as a quick fix, five step plan to contentment for ‘my so called life’. And I’m pretty sure it’s not the point. So I’ll take it with a pinch of salt (whatever that means), enjoying the moment for what it is but being careful not to get too comfy.

The Big Trip – Day 18

Weird kind of day. Si and ruth’s flight was in the evening. So we had a day to fill and little idea of how to do it. It was sunny which gives you a few more options. So we ended up at the beach and me and si trying to turn the kayak into a surf board again.

It got a little bit messy. Si isn’t too hot at knowing where is head is in relation to the kayak wheb he comes off. This means he gets whacked on the head by it quite a bit. Today he caught the corner of the kayak on his jaw, sending him underwater for longer than I would have liked, and brought him up with a curse or two on his lips. Well I suppose they would have been curses if he could have moved his jaw to form the words. He’ll live i’m sure.

This manage to fritter away the time till 2pm. Only another 3 hrs till I could safely dump them at the airport and be rid of them. Kidding, honestly…

It frustrated me that I had these people with me who I love so dearly and we were struggling to fill our remaining few hours together. Maybe I was just annoyed that they were going home and i’d miss them. I’m not particularly good at expressing any kind of emotions towards most people, particularly my family. My fondness for them comes across as a sulky, sullen, form of grumpiness, which is only subtely different from my routine sulky, sullen, grumpiness.

I’m not good with goodbyes. I’ve watched too many movies and maybe I expect them to be more like that. All the ones I go through just seem a bit awkward. We sat in the airport café and drank our coffees (morsies on the hot chocolate) and passed the time as best we could.

And so i’ll not see them for another four months. Which is no time at all really, in the grand sheme of things. But i’ve spent 6 months here already getting used to the idea of not having my family with me and now I have to do that again. If it sounds like i’m moaning, then i’m not. Si said – you can always come home. And it’s true, i’m in the wondeful position of being able to do pretty much anything. I could come home at the drop of a hat.

I’m still not going to though.

And so I went back to the car park and got in the RVR and realised how bad it smelled, and that it was mostly my shoes so even with them gone it wasn’t going to change. I bought the paper, turned on the miserable old git music that I love, that i’d been banned from playing and drove back to town. Parked the car and spent the whole evening, walking the length and breadth of chistchurch and lying in the park watching the ducks and sizing them up for bowler hats.


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