Behind high walls

There’s a streak of curiosity that runs through me, activated to varying degrees depending on the stimulus present. When I was passed from class to class in primary school, the teacher who was getting rid of me would warn the one that would have the pleasure of teaching me for the next twelve months that I asked questions. Lots of questions. And it was said in such a tone that it wasn’t the brilliantly amazing phenomenon I thought it was.

So if, in the Creed, God says that He will come to judge the living and the dead, does that mean that there will be some people alive at the end of the world? And if the priest is a pioneer (a teetotaler in Ireland), why is he allowed drink wine during mass? And if Jesus came back from the dead, why is the Catholic Church so against reincarnation? And this was just religion.

My curiosity peaks at the sight of a high wall. I simply have to see what’s on the other side. And even if I’ve seen photos of whatever lies beyond, I have to see it for myself.

I’d passed through Strokestown in Co. Roscommon on a number of occasions. And I’d noticed the high wall and the stone-arched gateway in the middle of the town. But I’d never ventured inside. Someone else had always been driving – and driving with a mission – so I’d never felt that I could ask to make a detour. On Sunday, I didn’t have to ask. All I had to do was wonder aloud what lay behind the wall. Enough said.

20140413_125143_resized20140413_125403_resizedSometimes, when I venture past these walls, I’m disappointed. Other times, I’m gobsmacked. I’m convinced that in a previous life, I was Elizabeth Bennett or of her ilk. I have such an affinity with these big country houses that I’m sure I spent time in one – upstairs rather than downstairs. I have little difficulty imagining life as it was and even less imagining life as it might be.

Strokestown House was far from disappointing. Built in second half of the seventeenth century by one Thomas Mahon, it remained the family home until 1979. Back in 1847, at the height of the Great Famine, the landlord,  Major Denis Mahon, was assassinated so perhaps there’s a certain poetry to the Famine museum that was established here in 1994. Worth a visit if you’re in the neighbourhood.

20140413_150914_resizedAnother detour and this time confronted by a high hedge, we stopped so I could get a look beyond and see Slane Castle. The last time I was here, I was burnt to bits. In the heat of the sun, having lost my mates, I sat for hours without sunscreen at a Bruce Springsteen concert. That night, they coated me in a mixture of camomile lotion and yoghurt. When I woke the next morning, I was mummified. It was as if I was in a full body cast – and a pink one at that. My eyes still water at the remembered pain.

Little wonder then that I had no recollection of what Slane Castle looked like. The place can host up to 80 000 people in the grounds, and is often used as a wedding venue by those in the dough. Owned by Henry Mount Charles, 8th Marquess Conyngham, it, too, is worth a gander.  I believe that U2 are playing there later this year… not that this would entice me back … but it might be of interest to you.

And loosely connected though perhaps not at all relevant to this post, I remember reading somewhere that we often put up walls not to keep people out but to see who cares enough to break them down. I doubt that’s what the masters of Strokestown House had in mind, and they did have the good grace to leave the gates open.




Henry Mount Charles, 8th Marquess Conyngham
Henry Mount Charles, 8th Marquess Conyngham
Henry Mount Charles, 8th Marquess Conyngham



Joshua Tree

I met Bono, the Edge, and Adam Clayton back in 1983. We had a chat for 10 minutes or so in what was then the TV Club in Harcourt Street in Dublin. I had no clue who they were and I’m sure none of them remember meeting me. I was singularly unimpressed with yer man then and not much has changed in the intervening years. When I think of U2 now and play a word association game in my head, the ones I care to mention that come to mind are Boy, War, and Joshua Tree.

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Yet if the 64 million dollar question had asked me to describe a Joshua Tree, I’d have gone home penniless. I didn’t know it was an evergreen that could grow as high as 40 feet,  2 to 3 inches a year, and take 50 to 60 years to mature.  So if their ’21’ is 60, it’s not surprising that they can live 150 years. Growing only in the Mojave desert, they have an exclusive pollination agreement with the Yucca Moth, who has evolved special organs to collect and distribute the pollen onto the surface of the flower. She lays her eggs in the flowers’ ovaries, and when the larvae hatch, they feed on the yucca seeds.  Adds a whole new slant to the chicken and the egg debate.

Curious, I couldn’t resist a detour through Joshua Tree National Park, an area in California that covers about 1,234 square miles. But the song that buzzed in my head wasn’t anything from the album of the same name but rather The Fall, by the Black Lillies and that line where he talks about flowers being so rare in the desert.  And yet, all around us, the Mojave desert was blooming. Admittedly the colour palate was pretty short on pastels, but it was beautiful for all its sameness.

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Declared a National Monument in 1936, the Joshua Tree National Park wasn’t designated as such until 1994. When stopped to buy our pass, the ranger on duty, hearing that we weren’t exactly from around those parts, gave us a lecture on the dangers of dehydration and the record-breaking temperatures expected. Now, I believe that I’ve been in a state of constant dehydration since I was born, a fact reinforced by every beautician who has ever given me a facial. Cream of any sort soaks into my skin in a matter of milliseconds, no matter how much water I drink, yet even I was surprised at how many litres we put away on the two-hour detour on the road from Sedona to Palm Springs.

Dehydration aside, though, I was once again mesmerised by the desert landscape and the variety of what’s on offer. Apparently 250 different species of birds have been spotted here, including the Roadrunner, but he must have had a casting call that day.


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Just two hours from the California coast, it’s pretty hard to imagine the size of this desert unless you see it for yourself. That a cool ocean breeze could be blowing so relatively near while the desert air was stifling hot boggles my sense of climatic diversity. This intrastate variety is one of the many reasons that California is so ‘special’, and I use that word advisedly. I had  CA driver’s license for two years. I’ve served my time in a state where 80% of your personality depends on the type of vehicle you drive and the word ‘like’ is a form of running punctuation (Ok, so, admittedly, I was down South.)

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If ever you want to feel how insignificant we homo sapiens really are, spend a few hours in the desert. It simultaneously reinforces both the tenacity and the fragility of the human spirit. And if you’re a solitary soul, the sense you get of being alone on this planet is one to treasure.

Sugar Daddy

When Tom Jones opened his concert in Budapest, with the U2-penned song, Sugar Daddy, I cringed. The very words – Sugar Daddy – make me want to throw up. So when I came across a piece in the Irish Independent when I was at home last weekend, I thought it time to start wondering why two simple words, each on their own rather innocuous, can conjure up such feelings of revulsion.

sugar daddyThe article featured an online site called Seeking which is billed as the No. 1 Sugar Daddy site. It classifies an arrangement as a mutually beneficial relationship/arrangement between two people. In other words, both parties give as much as they take. According to the site, most ‘regular’ relationships are not mutually beneficial in nature (here I stop, and think, and do a quick evaluation, and breathe a sigh of relief – I think I’m okay on this score). Many of us are, apparently, in a relationship where we ‘feel used, or taken advantage of’ and give more than we receive (again, I stop, and give thanks that this isn’t me).

The founder of the site, Brandon Wade, believes that ‘successful relationships are formed out of two people being brutally honest with each other – about who they are, what they want and what they can offer’ [mmmm…interesting juxtaposition of ‘brutal’ and ‘honesty’].

So no matter what you are seeking whether it is love, companionship, friendship or some financial help, and whether it will be for a short-term, long-term or life-long arrangement, he hopes users will find the perfect match on his site. 

sugar-daddyNow all this looks like a good marketing ploy and in the finicky field of Internet Dating, not a bad prospect at all, particularly if you happen to favour the more mature man (or woman).  What caught my eye was the growing number of Irish university students using the site as a way to get through college. According to the Indo, some 4,464 female undergraduates in Ireland have joined the site. Four of the ten universities with students subscribed to the site are in Dublin: UCD tops the list, with 399 members, followed by Trinity College Dublin at 395.

The thoughts of young attractive girls (and boys) in their late teens, early twenties actively searching for mature people as a means of supporting their studies is, on the face of it, admittedly a solution that is a little more appealing than saddling themselves with debt, particularly as the hope of getting a decent-paying job on graduation is a hope that is shrinking by the second. And yet, a survey by the site itself shows that 80% of these ‘arrangements’ involve sex.

Why am I not surprised.

I’ve had many conversations here in Hungary about the merits of marrying for love vs the need to marry for money and admittedly my illusions of a sisterhood united in favour of love over money have taken a battering. It would seem that I’m living in the movies and need to get a grip on reality. And yes, I’m fortunate that my reality (while occasionally giving me cause to worry about pensions and providing for my old age) is such that marrying for love is still a viable option with thoughts of securing tomorrow overridden by concern for making the most of today.

On due reflection, it’s not the concept per se that breaks me out in a cold sweat, it’s the terminology. Mention Sugar Daddy, and I think of fat, foolish and perhaps even flaithiúileach (generous) men who have long since passed their best-before date. And I think of them accessorizing with women young enough to be their granddaughters. A sort of Beauty and the Beast, without the romance or the emotion. But hey, that’s my stereotyping at work. I’m sure there is many a 22-year-old who dotes on her octogenarian boyfriend  – I just wish I had faith enough in human nature to believe it to be true.

And, on second thoughts, who am I to judge. Each to their own. And if these mutually beneficial arrangements are really mutually beneficial and no one is under any illusion as to what they represent, then have at it, Brandon.