Thursday, 31 October 2019

Solo Travelling

Yikes, I haven't posted on here for ages. I do have some excuses. At the end of September I spent a week in The Netherlands with my daughter and her children.

I flew out of Cork to Amsterdam and took the train from the airport to Leiden where I changed trains for Hillegom, the nearest train station to where we were staying. My daughter had booked a holiday village near Noordwijk, which is about 30 kms from Amsterdam. It was the perfect place for long walks on the nearby beaches. We dodged the rain, getting soaked now and again. The accommodation was really comfortable. It would have been nice to be able to eat outside on the patio but the weather put paid to that idea. This area is very popular from around March to May when the tulips are in full bloom and my daughter and I made plans to come back in the spring.
On my way home, I stopped off in Leiden, Rembrandt's birthplace and visited the museum there, Museum de Lakenhal, which has exhibitions of work by the Dutch masters and one or two from Rembrandt himself on the ground floor, which is all I had time to see. The other floors were devoted to Leiden's history. I had intended exploring the town but it rained (surprise, surprise) so after a leisurely coffee at the railways station, I took the train to the airport. Schiphol is huge but like most airports, once you know which section your flight is departing from and where the check in desk is, it is not difficult to negotiate.
If you are confident enough, travelling alone is very pleasant. You can please yourself what you want to do with your time. Of course, it is very advisable to check everything out in advance and know where you are going if you are in a foreign country. You don't want to end up in the wrong part of the city. The street where the Lakenhal Museum is located looked pretty shabby, I have to say, with a lot of rubbish - empty beer cans and takeaway wrappings - lying around. It didn't feel too safe to me, I have to admit, and I would not have wanted to walk that area at night.
The only downside to travelling alone, in my opinion, is that you have to eat out on your own and you don't have anyone to share those wonderful views or those paintings with. If you don't mind that, then solo travelling is for you.
I like both travelling in a group and also travelling on my own. I love the feeling of adventure which kicks in as soon as I reach the airport. I have only travelled on my own in Europe, up until now and I think that if I were to venture further abroad, I would go in a group.
At the end of the month I will be in Frankfurt to visit family and friends. The Christmas markets will open on 1st of Advent which is the Sunday and I look forward to my first gluehwein.
Meanwhile, I have published my latest Christmas novella A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER, available now from Amazon as an ebook or in print. If you read it, let me know what you think.
Oh, and Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Easy Travel - A not-so-serious look at fellow travellers

I beg to differ from William Shakespeare, it is not misery that acquaints us with strange bedfellows; it is travel, air travel to be exact.
Waiting at the gate in Dublin for my flight to Frankfurt, I take stock of my fellow voyagers. There are the hikers, struggling under the weight of bulging backpacks and bumping into everyone, there are the seasoned ones, who have done it all before and who remain calm and collected. And there are the get-the-best tourists, as I call them. The ones who keep a hawk eye out for any movement that suggests we might be boarding soon. As soon as the airline clerk appears, they are off at a gallop to stand in the queue, waving boarding cards and straining to get on board before everyone else.

Once on board, you get the “stow your hand luggage brigade”. You stand patiently waiting in the aircraft aisle to get past and claim your seat in the hope that the overhead locker isn’t going to crumble under the weight of what has already been forced in there. But just when you are about to ease past, they suddenly remember that they need something out of that backpack and so haul it back down, narrowly avoiding your head. Then, it’s rummage time, because whatever they are looking for, it’s going to be down at the bottom of that capacious bag. Behind you a few passengers murmur politely in protest and blame the delay on you. 

Finally, you are seated and you have found a niche for your carry on bag – not without difficulty and quite a bit away from your seat, but hey, who wants to be difficult? Now you can relax and watch the safety drill and fasten your seat belt. Once airborne, you’ll notice “the bouncer”: the passenger in the seat in front of you who tries very hard to convert his seat into a day bed (sorry, but it is usually a male in my experience). Any minute now you feel that his head is going to land in your lap.

If you are unlucky enough to have handed in your luggage to be stowed, you will experience the adventure of the luggage carousel and the “is this my suitcase?” brigade. A friend of mine recounts seeing a man walking off with her suitcase, even though it had a huge pink ribbon attached to the handles so that she could identify it more easily. When accosted, he looked very annoyed. “Where’s my suitcase, then?” he bellowed at her. She almost surrendered her piece of luggage to him in sheer fright.

Should you decide to have a snack and a coffee/tea, you will discover that, if you are sitting in the aisle seat (as I usually am), the passenger in the window seat will choose the exact moment you get your steaming cup of beverage to decide he/she needs to visit the toilet.  Then comes the excitement of folding up the little table while balancing your hot cup of tea/coffee and trying not to spill anything as they push past.

Just when I think I should stop smiling politely and show a touch of exasperation, I remind myself that it is our fellow passengers who make travelling such a unique experience, one I wouldn’t miss for the world.
Bon Voyage!

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Is the glass half-full or half-empty?

I have been reading that optimistis live longer than pessimists and I have also been reading that people who try to be upbeat about everything are endangering their mental health.
Who to believe?
I think that many people are a fine mixture. I am an optimist by nature but I am also a realist. If I miss the last bus home, I know that there will be no magic chariot descending from the clouds and I will have to get a taxi or walk. I know that if I wander about late at night in a district of the city known for its high crime rate, I am asking for trouble and there will be no knight in shining armour to help me.
I think that is known as common sense, except it is not so common these days.
However, I find people who run everything down, always expect the worst but never seem prepared for it, get on my nerves. Yes, we all know what it is to be depressed, to have things get you down, usually things you can't control. It is impossible to put a smile on your face all the time. But in general terms, things work themselves out. I think it was Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island) who wrote that "looking on the best side of things is worth forty pounds a year" or something like that. And it is true.
In the fourteen or fifteen years leading up to my retirement, the company I worked for was taken over at least five times. Each time the new owners told us that nothing would change and then within a few months proceeded to change everything. Colleagues lost their jobs all around me. Not being the desirable age for the working world - i.e. past 50 - I half expected to be made redundant. And there's a point in hand, some wonderful person said "of course you are not redundant, your job is."  Yuk! That is a form of turning the truth into a nice little skulking cliche which I cannot agree with (any more than objections to ending a sentence with a preposition, lol).
The thing is, although I badly needed to continue working, because I have this optimistic gene or lack of brain or whatever it is, I somehow believed that I would be OK. Something would turn up. And that is what did happen. Yes, my faith and prayers helped me a lot but I don't think I would have prayed if I didn't believe I would get help of some sort.
During one takeover I did not have a designated position for around four months, I was merely kept on because of my long years at the company and because I always got good reviews from my superiors. If they couldn't find a position for me within 6 months, I would be let go, they told me. It wasn't easy coming into the office every day without a particular reason - yes, of course I helped out where I could, but I had no boss and didn't belong to any department. In Jane Austen's Emma, Mr. Weston a lovable characters, says "I have observed in the course of my life that if things are going untowardly one month, they are sure to mend the next."
I think that is true of the majority of us. And yes, I am aware that if you are stuck in a refugee camp or in a war zone, for example, the chances of things improving are very slim indeed.
What I am trying to say here is that being optimistic is a gift that we are possibly born with. I am profoundly grateful that I possess it.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Woman Power

I was at the beach today and a woman wearing a t-shirt which said "power women" or something like that jogged past me. It made me think - yes, I know, beginner's luck, but seriously though, I asked myself what did that mean exactly?
Now, I grew up in an era (some time shortly after Noah had beached The Ark) when women were not paid the same rates as men, although to be honest, I think they didn't do the same work as their counterparts - mostly that is, I'm excluding teachers, doctors etc here. The main reason for this discrepancy was that men were the bread winners and women were expected to stay home, raise the kids, do the housework and wait on their husbands. Women simply didn't need to earn as much as men, that was the reasoning behind this, in my opinion. So far so logical - well, sort of. I have to say, though, that even back then, women had important jobs and it wasn't long until we had women running countries: Gold Meier, Indira Ghandi and Margaret Thatcher for example.
When I worked in the civil service there were several women who were staff officers or had other senior positions, although no one was actually at the top. No one remarked on this, either, because it was "normal". They were qualified and they could do the job and that was all that was asked. It was not a question of gender equality.
I remember one of the first jobs I had where the men got two weeks holidays and the women one. I worked there for about a week or so before going to see the Managing Director (I was his secretary) and asking him why the female employees didn't get the same length of holidays as the men. He looked at me in total surprise, I remember, before saying "do you want two weeks holidays?" To which I replied, not unsurprisingly, "yes, we do." "OK" he said and that was that. From then on we all had the same number of days off. He simply had not thought about it.
If women would only realise that a lot of "man power" ideas were the result of not thinking, were based on norms and customs from past centuries, I think we'd all loosen up more. We wouldn't feel the need to wear the t-shirt, to be forever harping on about "women novelists, women playing football, the first woman to kill a bear with her bare hands" - yes I am most definitely exaggerating now. What are we trying to prove, here? Men and women have always been equal. It has just taken men (and women) a long time to see that. We had to convince men that we could be trusted to vote, that we could open bank accounts ourselves - I could go on - and we have made a success of that without any fuss or roll of drums. Incidentally, many women were quite happy to go along with the "little woman" image in those days because it saved them a lot of hassle. Their husbands paid for everything, made all the decisions in many cases, although I suspect that clever women could always get what they wanted.
So let's just relax, ladies, we don't need to prove a thing. Toss that t-shirt into the laundry basket! 

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Light and Dark

Remember the good karma and the bad karma? It seems there are also light and dark triads. I guess some scientists and philosophers and those who reckon they are scientists and philosophers have nothing better to do than analyze us and keep on coming up with new ideas on The Human Condition.
What next? I ask myself. We all know lovable rogues, friends who get on our nerves because they always arrive late at the meet-up point, people who will help you at the drop of a hat, people who are genuinely caring, people who don't listen once they've asked you how you are. You don't have to be a scientist to understand human nature.
I think we should all be self-aware and I think most of us are. How many times have we thought "oh no, there I go again, putting my foot in it".
On the other hand, if you can't be separated from your mobile/social media, I reckon you don't get time to think about anything. On my walks to the beach I meet walkers, joggers, runners, who all have their ear plugs in and a blank look on their faces as they listen to a pod cast or whatever. Why bother getting out to the beach if you can't hear the sound of the waves slapping against the rocks or the sea gulls mewling or children shouting and laughing? Recently, I sat behind a young girl on the bus and during the 45 minute journey she kept taking selfies and viewing the result on her phone. How sad is that?
Yes, I know, there are tons of people out there, young and old who not only wake up and smell the coffee but also look around them and appreciate what they see. But there is a worrying trend and - let's face it - I am not the only one to have noticed it.

For a more professional report on the light and dark side of human nature, try this link:Discovery Magazine article on light and dark triads

Are you a loner or just lonely?

I watched an interesting video on the BBC website recently about the benefits of being alone. I don't suppose it told me anything I didn't know already. Some people are loners by nature, others like and need the company of others all the time. According to the BBC, surveys done on people around the world found that the main things people found relaxing were reading and being alone. Number 12 on the list was visiting friends and family.
When I shared a flat with four other girls, we were all happy to have the place to ourselves once in a while. We did enjoy each other's company but now and again, when everyone else was out for the evening, it was an absolute luxury to curl up and read or watch TV on one's own. I had one flatmate, though, who hated being on her own. On Sunday mornings when I was trying to sleep off a late night, she would come into my room and shuffle about until she had woken me up. She wasn't being cruel or insensitive, it was just that she needed company and wanted me to give her an account of how my date or the party the night before had gone.
Having watched the BBC video and talked to a few friends, I think I can say that I am a loner by nature. I have absolutely no problem travelling or going to a concert on my own. On the other hand, I do enjoy meeting up with friends, going out for a meal or a drink, and going to concerts with them, too.
Being a writer means that I spend time at my laptop away from everybody. One of the things the BBC discovered is that being on your own improves your creativity. That makes sense. We sometimes say "let me think", which is an indirect plea for the others to be quiet. Or we say: "I couldn't hear myself think" meaning there was too much going on around us.
Being lonely, on the other hand, is not being happy with solitude. We know that loneliness, the plague of our modern day and age, causes all sorts of diseases and illnesses. Not everyone has tons of friends and acquaintances. Studies of introverts show that although they have far fewer friends than their counterparts, these are close ties. Extroverts on the other hand, can have loads of acquaintances and friends without forming a very close alliance to any of them. They are usually the centre of attention and they like it that way.
It's an interesting subject. I suppose the bottom line is that we are who we are and if we are not unhappy about it, anything goes.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Goodbye to the Country Life

Only a few more days and I'll be back to being a townie again. I will miss hearing the pheasants call to each other. I occasionally get a glimpse of them. What beautiful birds they are! In the hedge outside the living room window, a song thrush has a nest as does a blackbird. On the other side of the garden, robins have found a safe haven. The starlings have all fledged. There is one solitary swallow who visits in the late afternoon, sweeping down into the garden before dashing off again. I could watch them all for hours. This morning, after several rainy days, the white clouds look near enough to touch. The mountains are a hazy blue. Now and again a patch of blue appears and the sun shines.
Ah, I'm going to miss it all.