Allow me to set the scene. I don’t believe I’ve done that before. What a terrible narrator I am. It is 20:51, I sit alone at my desk in the activewear I’ve been wearing since what feels like 2003 but is really just whatever day I arrived home, hungover – god, remember hangovers?! – to self-isolate in the wilds of West Cork. I am wolfing down a meal of quick-fried leftovers topped with an egg. Veganism doesn’t exist in West Cork. Also, you didn’t ask – probably because everyone on your social media feed has decided that two days in isolation endows them with Michelin-star level cooking skills and a culinary gravitas that permits them to share their food experiments with their 700 followers – but here’s my theory on cooking. It only takes three conditions to make a delightful meal: for one or more ingredient to make contact with a frying pan; tahini, or, as I call it, nectar of the gods; and sriracha. That’s it. Bellissimo town has a new resident.
I’ve lit my candles (more on those sad travesties later) and a playlist entitled “Classical Intimate Dinner” is playing sweetly in the background. I am eating alone. It is from this state of faintly pathetic, mildly smug contentment that I am transcribing the events of yesterday. Today, let me share with you the inside of my brain when it meets the outside world. Let’s just say, it’s the opposite of classical music.
I went on a hike. What a boring sentence but how else to say it? Day six of recording isolation (that is so factually inaccurate I would be fired if I was a journalist) saw me taking a day of annual and familial leave to trek to Kerry and climb a mountain. It was my birthday. More on why I chose to spend my birthday mainly alone, panting up a fairly bleak hillside upcoming.
I am childlike (not unusual) in my glee for unbridled nature and a whole afternoon of blissful, airplane-mode solitude. Let’s be abundantly clear, mainly because several family members read this; I love and adore my family and we’re all very close and Brady Bunch-y etc etc but going from living an independent and largely selfish life in Dublin to returning to my teenage bedroom with all but one of my five siblings in tow is not easy. There. I said it. Living with your family in times of a global pandemic, even when you’re family are pretty close to frigging perfect, IS NOT EASY.
So my body is beyond excited for movement. Like, honestly singing with the anticipation of feeling my heart rattle around inside my chest, the belting sensation of it kicking itself to life in there, like an enthusiastic lawnmower left too long in a dank shed. That’s not a correct simile.
As for my legs, they’re only GIDDY daydreaming of the strain waiting for them – that delicious tautness in your thighs, that spasming tension in your calves as you heave yourself up yet another steep slope is the shit I CRAVE. I love anything physically difficult (mountain biking is the sole exception to this. I do not, and will never, understand the purpose, motivation, or pleasure behind this – as anyone who’s ever driven behind these deranged cyclists can attest, their calves are literally SCREAMING for help by reenacting Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’). Please see attached photo for hilariously accurate proof of this.
Apart from that, I find it immensely difficult to pass any kind of hill without the immediate urge to climb it. You know that scene in Ladybird when she just rolls out of a moving car? That is a genuine thought process I have every time we mount an incline in our last-leg Golf – could I just make a break for it? Would it be weird if I asked them to let me out and wait for me as I ran up to the top?
That moment when we plummet towards a valley and watch the road rise before us is almost orgasmic for me. I don’t know why I felt compelled to write that sentence but it’s there, I’ve said it, and it’s staying.
I know, I am a complete sicko. It’s disgusting. And I have no idea where this insatiable itch came from because I was very clearly not sporty in school. Except for ‘badminton day’ – that one glorious PE class every other blue moon when Ms O’Flynn would ask me to act as class demonstrator and all of the actual sporty girls would be at turns jealous and outraged and make it their sole life’s mission to beat me in single sets (which they obviously never did because I am nothing if not a cheater in organised sports) – sport was not my thing. But now, in my full bloom of quick-dwindling youth, I am becoming obsessed with trudging up things, down things, and generally seeing how quickly I can bounce up and down in a variety of positions.
Ew. That sounded gross and completely at odds with what I meant (which was shite things like burpees by the way). Anyway, imagine my dismay when, with such a fetish – FOR CLIMBING HILLS AND EXERCISE YOU CRETINS – I do not have the body of a six-packed, thigh-gapped athlete. Instead, I am rather lumped – both figuratively and literally – with the silhouette of someone who is far too fond of midweek pints, hasn’t yet learned that second helpings aren’t mandatory and still lives by the fervent belief that, when their parents told them they were “good” for licking their plate clean, that obviously meant she needed to try harder to win the commendation of “great” by licking everyone’s else’s plate clean.
I mean, is that an accurate description of my life? Maybe. Do I think it should define my body? Absolutely not. Which is quite ironic, when you think about it, because the one thing my body lacks is definition.
So, five million years later, I make it to Torc in Kerry. And dear Jesus, I am a pig very firmly in their favourite kind of shite. I’ve got my backpack with my lovingly-crafted packed lunch, headphones, podcast selection, trusted tunes. I snap a photo of a nursery of trees with a sign that reads “family trees” and start crying. Clearly, corona lockdown has been impacting me more than I realised.
I begin, a lone, luminescent, short-legged traveller on a physical, spiritual, emotional journey. After five minutes, I take off my headphones – why am I so quick to tune out the sprightly birdsong of nature? I listen to the crunch of my feet on gravel, snap of twigs in trees corralling me towards the mountain base, the far-off sounds of running water.
I am about to be profound and understand myself on a much deeper level, I note in my sanguine, meditative state. I am about to think big, pounding thoughts that will surely be written and enshrined in beautiful, cursive script some day.
A collection of the most note-worthy thoughts that passed through my brain as I trudged upwards:
I had an argument with an imaginary person about online shopping as a means of coping with this pandemic. As in, I managed to get myself FULLY riled up to the point where I was shouting “POINT OF INFORMATION” in my head (ok, fine, I shouted it out loud once) any time this imaginary – but also a real live person I saw on Instagram – human tried to tell me why online shopping from Boohoo could ever be conceived as a good idea now or ever. On that note, if you are reading this and have disposable income to burn that you are currently handing over to a fast-fashion outlet, please DM me and I will give you a million ways to spend that money that will make you, the world, and disenfranchised workers the world over, much happier in the long run. Please do not buy clothes when every social occasion for the foreseeable eternity has been cancelled.
I picked up the mantle of the age-old question I grapple with every time I go hiking. It goes something like this: I’m left-sided (Yes, it is the better side). So, when I hike, I automatically lead with my left leg, which means it gets much more of a workout than my right leg because its either pulling me up or bracing to help me down. So, basically, I always am gripped by the fear that after one hour of hiking my left leg is going to turn into a limb more befitting the Hulk or the leg equivalent of Pop-Eye’s forearms while my right leg shrivels to become this bony, sinewy, useless mass of tendons. Can someone tell me if I am right to be scared of this?
I think a lot about evenly distributing the weight between both legs to ensure the aforementioned situation doesn’t happen. This requires so much concentration I do not and cannot think of anything else for the best part of an hour. I may fall and lose my balance more times than is believable.
Having stated my Pop-Eye forearm/Hulk leg hypothesis to a gaggle of neighbouring sheep, I then spend fifteen minutes pondering my use of the word ‘forearm’ and realise I have absolutely no idea what it means. Which part of the arm does it relate to? That jelly bit near the shoulder that’s half bicep, half wobbly, flappy trifle? Or the stump that connects your wrist and elbow? Please send messages of enlightenment.
At some stage I get around to thinking how truly glorious nature is and how it holds within it everything we could ever possibly need for contentment, fulfillment and ambition.
I get a little bit drunk on the sight of people-less hills and verdant, rolling valleys. And probably restricted intake of oxygen is playing its part too.
At some point I launch into yet another imaginary lecture with a sister’s ex-boyfriend and, indeed, all ex-boyfriend’s and tell him, in no uncertain terms, the many and myriad ways he is unworthy of her love, time, or energy. But in a nice way though.
I remember, on reaching the misted summit, how much I HATE walking downhill.
I postulate that my love of physically scaling mountains is very similar to my approach to life and an insatiable ambition I am starting to believe is more of an Achilles heel. No achievement is ever enough, no road or mountain long or steep enough to satisfy me, even when exhausted, even when unfit for the task. My disregard for the climb down, for the time to recuperate, recover, take stock, slow down worries me sometimes. I am so dismissive of the human need to relax. This diary is a proof of that.
Finally, while eating my packed lunch atop a kidney infection-guaranteed rock, I wonder – as I do every time I eat outdoors, why food always tastes better outside? Is it the sheer novelty? Is it some chemical reaction that happens when food meets fresh air? Is it sheer and utter hunger? As I breathe in the gorse and heather that fall away before my dangling feet to the lakes of Killarney below, I wonder why our ancestors ever moved this ritual indoors. After all, hunter-gatherers would have taken all their meals outside – probably standing up. What and when and why was this abandoned? Is the same novelty we feel when dining al fresco what our predecessors felt at the thought of eating in fresco? I understand why other activities naturally migrated into the crevices of caves – sleeping, sex, watching Netflix – but this remains a permanent mystery to me.
So deep am I in thought that I lose half my sandwich to the ground. I drive home sad to leave. The family of trees wave goodbye in the misted dusk.
It has just occurred to me I should do a preamble explainer each time I do my “tree tings” thang. So, to sum up, this is where I list three things that have brought me untold joy today and which I hope might inspire the same in you, should you find your serotonin levels dipping.
- Soda Bread. I honestly think that, apart from a rustic sourdough situation or maybe a doughy-on-the-inside-crunchy-on-the-outside, still-warm-from-the-oven French baguette, there is no better altar to worship a slab of fast-melting butter on than a good slab of soda bread. Every problem can be solved with a fat slice and fatter slathering of butter with a cup of strong, sweet tea. Best of all, for truly terrible bakers like me, soda bread is a seemingly foolproof operation. I used gone-off soya yogurt and decided to ad-lib measurements and my vegan creation still turned out shockingly edible and even more surprisingly delicious. It was so good, in fact, that I had to cancel veganism and celebrate my baking success with a solid half-pound of salted KerryGold. Magic.
- The “End of the World” Guilty Feminist episode. For anyone who follows my Instagram (if not, why not?) you’ll know that I’ve been finding the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers truly abominable of late (and of always). This episode is brilliant, not only because it features Sindhu Vee who I love and adore, but because of the beautiful words of Nadine Tunasi, a survivor of torture and a reminder why keeping our hearts and borders open – crisis or no crisis – is a human IMPERATIVE. Also, I really do just think Deborah Frances-White is an incredible human and I don’t ever want to know a Monday where this podcast is not hooked up to my veins.
- My mum has a raised bed at the bottom of our garden and every year she plants daffodils in it. This means, as my bedroom now work room, is at the top and back of the house, every time I look up – always veeeeeeery deep in professional thought and supremely focused on the task at hand for any employer reading – I am greeted by the ebullient wave of nodding daffodils. It is an unprecedented joy in my day and never fails to make me feel there is still purpose, meaning, and beauty to be found in this ramshackle business of staying alive.