I’m back in France, and fat as a fool. I am squelched into my work clothes and I feel like I’m wearing a fat suit. Je me degoute. I only have myself to blame, I know. I drank all of the drink, I ate all of the cheese and chocolate and not one finger did I lift for eleven days. It was borderline criminal. But as every good criminal knows, committing crimes is fantastic fun. A lark.
The Christmas season got off to a slightly rocky start, with me missing the first bus out of the airport. Now admittedly I was being an awful chancer by booking this bus fifteen minutes after the flight was due to land, and feigning shocked dismay when I missed it, but with some jostling, I engaged the core and muscled my way on to the next bus an hour later. I knew the physio exercises would be good for something. I will send a thank you card to my physio, and some flowers to the old lady who is probably still recovering from the aggressive trampling.
I got on top of my communications in the interim hour, and discovered that my best friend’s car windows had been smashed by some neighbouring ne’erdowells, meaning that her stress levels were through the roof, putting her mental health, our night out and my lift home in jeopardy. But more on this later.
I crept into said best friend’s bed as previously agreed at about 2am, with a quiet wave, exercising great restraint not to edge too close to her to steal her body heat. She was like a little baked potato, radiating waves of it, while I shivered on the other side of the bed. But ‘encroaching’ behaviour gives her nightmares and is apparently a social no-no, so I restrained myself. She snuck off to work at an excruciating hour the next morning, while I immediately leapt into her baked potato space.
I caused considerable stress some hours later by asking a pregnant woman (another friend) to drive to a nearby restaurant to meet me, what with me now being a transportless hobo. I had forgotten of course that asking anyone to drive anywhere around Christmas time in Irish cities is a completely unreasonable request. She showed up an hour late, with stress in her hair (you could actually see it) and I felt much guilty for jeopardising her baby-growing process, charging it with stress hormones.
Irish cities at Christmas. Jesus. If I was the religious type, I might comment that said Jesus was nowhere to be found, with the manic worshipping of false idols that was going on. Fortunately for you, I am not the religious type, but that doesn’t stop me objecting to worshipping of false idols. Especially when I am caught in the middle of it with an umbrella and a shopping list. It took me thirty minutes to cover a distance of about 300 meters. The hustle, the stress, the lunacy, the consumerism -it was all awful. It the relative serenity of where I live in France -a city of about the same size, I might add -I had forgotten about this side of new-Irish culture -the image focus obsession with attaining not only things, but all sorts of status symbols. In fact, the minute I arrived into Dublin airport, the madness of trying to ‘have it all’ hit me hard. It was just an ad for working for Aldi, but the poster implied that this guy had it all, because he was working like a mad thing and going for a ten kilometer run every day beforehand. The consumerism is only one part of it, but I hadn’t previously registered the constant pressure here to be amazing at all things as well as look like a catwalk model. It was only after a few months of a reprieve from this type of propaganda that I realised how off the head it is. The expectations we have of ourselves here are completely unrealistic, and feel somewhat unprecedented. We are constantly being bombarded by the idea that we need to be multitasking maniacs, who are only acceptable human beings if we are pushing ourselves to the point of mental and physical exhaustion, AND looking great while we’re doing it. If listening to the schedule of a normal person here makes you want to take a nap, then maybe there is something wrong. It feels a little bit like oppression by any other name. Convince all of the people that they are not good enough and they will voluntarily break their backs overworking themselves and over-obsessing about looking young, fit and rich, rendering them unable to question their attitudes and choices. And being fit is no longer enough mind -you now have to be SUPER fit. Going for the odd jog no longer even counts -you have to be running ultra-marathons. Up mountains, if you’re any way motivated really. Six inches deep in mud. THIS IS MADNESS! Now admittedly we are a culture given to excesses, but we seem to have replaced the drink with obsessive achievement. Less damaging, for sure, but definitely still damaging. It’s time to wake up to the fact that we need to take a step back.
I will stop ranting soon, but I clearly felt strongly enough about this over the holidays that in my encounters with the neighbours at Christmas morning mass, I managed to possibly ruin Mary Bennett’s Christmas and James O’Hara’s career! My take on consumerism had poor Mary white in the face -she came back to me after mass to say she had been thinking about it all through the mass instead of saying her prayers, and she looked genuinely upset about the whole thing. As for James O’Hara, well the poor divil was dressed up to the nines in the pew behind me with his mother and his very expensive suit. He revealed that he living is in London working 14 hour days in some kind of financial institution (further proof of the world having gone mad) and naturally I recommended a spell in a French crêperie. His mother panicked and swept in with the uplifting Christmas message that nobody is happy in their careers anyway and there is no such thing as a job you like. Poor James. Is he really working those hours to dress up like the dinner of a dog and come to mass with his mammy on his half a day off a year? So having gone on a sufficient social rampage, I sat back next to my grandmother and enjoyed the singing.
So suffice to say, the city three days before Christmas horrified me. However, by night, the city three days before Christmas was an absolute delight! Having engaged in mild napping to recover from the grey-faced pallor induced by town, myself and her good self put on our glad rags. Well actually I put on most of her glad rags, and we headed for a local spot of ours, one of the nicest little pubs you ever will find. They have an amazing heated beer garden, from which they serve pizzas, yes, pizzas, so I threw caution to the wind and took a gluten-digesting enzyme. One of my better decisions, as it happens. There were even carol singers there and it was all magic. Our friend Damien joined us later, and the three of us spent the rest of the evening falling over laughing at our own hilarity. It was a great night.
However, it was followed by a somewhat less great morning. During the previous night’s revels, we conveniently forgot that the car windows were still bashed in, and the only solution was to rise as early as possible and get to Mr. Windscreen in a nearby industrial estate, in the hope that he would hook us up with something to assist with the ventilation problem. The morning started with hungover fumbling around the bedroom to gather our affairs for the trip home (after which I am still missing one white lacy bra). This was followed by me clambering inelegantly from the drivers side into the passenger seat, and getting shards of glass lodged in places I never expected shards of glass to be. The passenger window was covered with duct tape and bin bags, and I watched bemusedly as a kitchen knife came cutting through it near the mirror, to enhance the visual driving experience, while minimising the sensory assault caused by the near storm outside. Thus prepared, herself put the key in the ignition. Nothing, not a fecking peep out of it. The car would not start, and a hungover Damien in Boxer Shorts had to be roused from his drunken slumber. The car was in the drive, and there was talk of pushing it to facilitate some jump-starting, but some very nifty rally driving out of Damien avoided this necessity. Thus jump-started, we waved thanks and happy Christmas to Damien through the hole in the bin bag, and set off on our search for Mr. Windscreen and his associates. To make a long story short, Mr. Windscreen and his associates managed to knacker the back door, and we drove the two hours home with it duct taped on, and with the no-seatbelt alarm screaming blue murder about having glass stuck in the clasp. Still, we got there, and we were very glad of the windows.
By this point, the had been some sort of a storm related panic chez mom, and she had driven my brother’s girlfriend to Dublin to catch a flight to Germany for Christmas. So before anyone said hello to anyone, everyone had a nap on their respective returns home. We made up for this incivility later on though, with a very lovely evening of drinking fizzy wine and eating too much. This was the start of Christmas at home for me, and also the start of the story which starts with Sarah drinking wine every day and which ends with Sarah not fitting into her work pants.
I won’t go through every day of the holidays, but overall it comprised catching up with friends and family, relaxing, eating and drinking. Some of the highlights included a night of playing cards with the family and her good self, watching Oliver Twist in my dressing gown, high-risk set dancing in my aunt’s house (high-heels plus slippy floors being quite the menacing combination), singing embarrassingly badly in her good self’s house for The Wedding that Wasn’t, and spending lots of time at home making jigsaws. I actually miss my jigsaw at the moment, and the thought of it at home alone in its uncompleted state is giving me physical pain. The Diffney quiz was another salient feature of the holidays, and civilised conversations were regularly interrupted by people randomly leaping from their seats thinking they had found answers -“HOPS 13!!!!” “ROGUE 1!!!” Finishing the Diffney quiz has become a source of familial pride, and in typical mom style, she has the head lost with it. She was found on more than one occasion frantically searching online for another fix. I know that if she could subscribe to an app that would let her do four hundred Diffney quizzes in a row until she is the Master of All Things Diffney that there would be no stopping her. We were also embroiled in a secret competition with her good self’s family to finish this quiz faster than them, but we had the edge because they did not know they were in this competition. So we won. Ha. There were several visits to the nursing home to my bould father, my favourite of which involved him warning me off French men because they only want to get straight to the action. Noted, Dad. Thanks for the heads up.
So as I said, the arrival back to France was tough. I found myself completely allergic to speaking French. My friend the Hungarian explained that she had such similar sentiments that she had to change the language of her phone back to English, as when she saw the French she immediately thought of it as a personal affront and a form of telecommunicative treason. Karim is in a most almighty pick, as his ex girlfriend has shown up. Given how badly he is reacting to this, I can only assume that this was unannounced, and he is mooching around the apartment glowering and moaning about her to me in tones that are frankly not low enough. She seems nice enough, but he is NOT impressed. However, no amount of glowering is budging her, and she is stoically planning to stick it out here until Wednesday. As for me, getting back into routine is seeming like a whole lot of no fun, but after eleven days of having pretty much nothing but fun, I will not complain. On y va!