Luke again, this time posting about my return to Cork for my friend’s birthday.
If the first travel disaster of the trip was Tilly’s flight being delayed so that she arrived on Christmas Day, when there happens, absurdly, to be no public transport in London (even Wollongong has Christmas Day public transport) so that she had to pay seventy pounds for a cab to where we were staying (see ‘Some things that happened in london); and the second was when our train from Edinburgh to Newcastle was about to depart and we couldn’t find the place to print our tickets so we had to buy more on the train (see ‘English hospitality and castle tours’), then my journey to Ireland for my best friend Charlene’s birthday was certainly the third, and the worst yet.
Let me set the scene. It’s Wednesday and I have an assessment due at three in the afternoon and a train to London at three-thirty. Naughtily, I skip my class in the morning in order to finish the assignment and hand it in with plenty of time to print it out, submit it, pack for Ireland, print out my Ryanair boarding pass, and pick up my train tickets which I’d had delivered to the university for my convenience. I finish my assignment and go to print it out, but the university printer network is temporarily down. That’s okay, I think, I have so much else to do that I can come back in two hours when it’s back up again. I ask the guy at the front desk in the library if he knows anything about when they will be back up, and he replies that I’ll have to go and see the IT Helpdesk; he knows nothing abouti t. That’s RIDICULOUS. The line for the IT Helpdesk is twenty-people long. As IF the Helpdesk wouldn’t be in communication with the MAIN RECEPTION so they could answer that question.
Anyway, then I head to the post room, where I’ve never been before. I give the man my student card and ask if there’s any mail for me. There isn’t. Huh, I think … Odd. They should’ve arrived like, yesterday. Then I remember that we paid for the tickets on Tilly’s credit card, so they might have been delivered under her name but to my address, because I definitely put my address on there. I call Tilly because they probably won’t give something addressed to her to me. She doesn’t answer. I call her a further twenty-eight times. She doesn’t answer. Since there’s nothing else to be done, I head back home to pack my bag and write a plaintive status update, which Tilly sees and calls me.
We meet back up again at the mail room and she sees if she has any mail under my address. She doesn’t. I decide to call the train company and tell them my tickets haven’t been delivered, but I’m in the middle of uni with none of my details or reference numbers so the guy isn’t very helpful, and I end up running out of credit halfway through anyway. I buy more credit and call from my room. He insists that they have been delivered. I return to the mail room once again with Tilly and this time we try her address and her name, in case they saw her name addressed to the wrong flat and put the mail in what they thought was the right one. There’s no mail for her at her address either. By this time they’ve seen me three times in like, two hours, and I just decide to explain the whole situation. Then he informs me that for registered mail it’s my responsibility to check a separate list. HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW!?
Anyway, the tickets are there but it’s now quarter to three and my assignment still isn’t printed. We go to the computer labs in case the printers are working there, but they’re not. I decide it’s best to just go to the English Lit office and ask them what to do, since no one else must be able to print their assignments either. On the way I call a taxi to arrive at three to take me to the train station, but the lady on the phone says I’ll want it now if I’m going to make it through traffic by three-thirty. This means I have to bolt to the office because the taxi is on its way. When I get there, the receptionist tells me the library has been taking down people’s details and saving their documents to be printed and collected later, with notes explaining why they’re late. But this doesn’t help me because I have to leave NOW. As a sign that the universe still loves me, my lecturer for that subject somehow happened to be outside the office photocopying things at that exact moment, and I flustered at her until she agreed to accept my assignment by email, thank GOD.
I then RUSH to the place I’d arranged for the taxi to come to, and despite all that, I miss my train by a minute. I thought I was screwed but I hadn’t counted on the politeness of the English. I explained my situation and the lady at the desk gave me a free ticket. Bizarre. That would never happen in Australia. If you miss your train you miss your train. Harden up. Drink some concrete. Rub some dirt in it.
Anyway, from here on out things settled down and started working out for me. Little did I know my good luck wasn’t to continue, but more on that later.
The only thing I was really worried about at this point was that I hadn’t printed my Ryanair boarding pass, an offense for which they make you a pay forty pound fee. I somehow needed to find a place when I got to London where I could access the internet and print it out – but at six o’clock at night? I couldn’t even do that in Sydney, let alone a city I had no idea about. My first objective was to find a cafe that had free wireless, which was surprisingly difficult. A calm had fallen over me, however, because of the way everything had worked out with the previous disaster. I felt at one with the universe (haha), and was enjoying the experience of being alone in London on an adventure.
When I emerged from the Underground, there was a man standing there with a megaphone saying things like, ‘Do not ask questions like “Who created God?” Leave these to the theologians … Please carry on towards your next material purchase’ etc. It was really entertaining and he had a bit of a crowd around him. I recorded some footage on my iPod but I don’t think this site lets you upload mp4s.
I eventually found a Pret cafe (which I really love: they’re really quirky and they’re either genuine or canny in their environmentally friendly marketing) that had free internet, and googled ‘printing internet access London’. I found a nearby internet cafe and navigated my way to it slowly. I think it was called the Galaxy Internet Cafe or something, and there was some pretty cool street art around:
On the way back I came across these kind of art exhibition things and nearly went past, but then I made myself go in and have a look and start a conversation with someone. I did it, but once again I didn’t account for the differeing national character. Where the English politeness had helped me before, I now ran afoul of Londoner standoffishness. Pretty sure if someone who was obviously a backpacker came up and started to have a conversation with someone in Australia they’d be up for it, but they seemed kind of weird about being approached. Still glad I made myself do it though.
I stayed that night in Stansted because my flight the next morning was really early – like, five or something. Somehow, because I’d been staying up so late recently, I thought it would be a good idea to stay up all night because it’d be easier than making myself go to sleep early. This was a plan doomed from its outset. I ended up having an hour of sleep and desperately wanting more.
And now, the sad conclusion of my bad luck: I arrived in Cork, met Charlene at the airport and instantly began talking the way we do. While doing so I wandered around taking photos haplessly, not realising what I’d done. I’d lost my wallet.
Appreciating a dew-covered statue of a hurler during those last moments of innocent joy …
Obviously I went all around the airport talking to people but to no avail. And I got really pissed off because of the dismissive way the staff on the whole treated me. It just wouldn’t happen in Australia. They wouldn’t just say ‘Sorry, nothing’s been reported’ – they’d suggest what you should do next, who you should talk to, where you could leave your phone number. So frustrating! Service is so bad on this side of the world!
Anyway, that was a really crap way to start my trip in Cork. But I got over it eventually. It was the credit cards I was most worried about, and they’re all sorted now. I lost about a hundred Euro, but that was the worst of it. In those last minutes before I realised I’d lost my wallet I took the picture below of a crow sitting on a sign, but as I took it, it flew off, which augured my bad luck ‘flying off’ because after that I was all good.
Losing my wallet though, did force a temporary stop to my travelling giving campaign. Right before I left I watched an interview with Australian philosopher Peter Singer, where he talked about his aim to change the culture of giving so that donation was an ordinary thing – something which you would expect any decent person to do. You could meet people, conceivably, and casually say, ‘Oh, so who do you donate to?’ I really like this idea, but if I’m going to donate to one organisation I want to do my research and work out which cause suits me, which one I really want to give my money to, and I haven’t done that yet. I can’t really explain it, I suspect because it doesn’t make sense, but I feel a kind of guilt being in someone else’s country and being better off than them. Here I am, a visitor, a traveller in London and there’s a homeless man whose country this is, and I’m better off than him. I just made a promise to myself that, while travelling, I would give something to everyone who asked it of me – even if it’s just always the smallest coin in my pocket (although I think giving single pennies away is more insulting than anything else). I know it’s irrational, but I don’t think giving can really be a bad thing, so I’m happy to keep doing it. It’s either homeless people, charity workers, or buskers, so the money’s never going somewhere it shouldn’t.
Anyway, onto actual Cork. This was my second visit, and Charlz and I basically fell into our old habit of waking up late, wandering around the city, going somewhere for breakfast, then spending the day until dinner in a cafe somewhere drinking coffees and hot chocolates. I’ve really missed our seven-hour conversation marathons in Gloria Jean’s back home, so we had to take advantage of the time we had. It’s hard spending so much time in cafes, though, because they don’t really have the flat white over here, and back home it’s the standard staple caffeinated drink. Without my flat whites I don’t know what to order. Lattes are pretty close, but they come in big effeminate glasses and I feel like an idiot. And cappuccinos? Eh, I don’t really like froth. Luckily, I think the flat white is starting to take hold. I’ve seen it on a few menus with a ‘New!’ sticker next to it, such as at Eat in London. They had it in the Cork Costa, but it was obviously really new and they were trying to fan the flame of its success. They had a deal where you could try it and if you didn’t like it you could have your regular coffee free, but they wouldn’t let you have it in any greater quantity than a small because of the risk, haha.
This time I made a point of taking a photo of Mr Connolly’s bookshop. Lonely Planet has named him as an integral part of Cork’s culture, and he’s a very interesting man. He resents being turned into a tourist attraction, and while I was talking to him (because Charlene knows him) he told someone off for trying to take a photo of him without his permission. I was therefore a bit apprehensive about taking this photo, in case he thought that’s what I was doing, but I got away without getting in trouble.
That’s James Joyce out the front, there.
On Charlene’s actual birthday we followed much the same routine as usual, going to cafes and stuff.
Entertaining nonsensical tryhard sachets.
A disappointing iced coffee – the Europeans just don’t get it.
We also went out to dinner at Charlene’s favourite restaurant, Scoozi’s, where I gave a brief speech in an attempt to embarrass her.
Anyway, I think this post’s gone on long enough!
The ubiquitous and omniscient Lonely Planet has seen fit, in a series of annual lists which has also featured Australia’s Newcastle, to name Cork, Ireland, one of the top ten cities to visit in the world. That’s a pretty big call, and I’m not sure how I feel about it, having just spent about nine days there. It’s probably a case of expectations being different to reality, mostly.
Australia is usually a pretty humble country, if not in its anthems and policies and slogans, then at least in the attitudes of its individual people. And I think we’re inculcated somehow with this idea that we’re the ass-end of the world, that Australia’s a good place to live, but that’s it’s culturally, architecturally, technologically, culinarily deficient and isolated and that, by contrast, all the countries in western Europe, including Ireland, are ‘better’ than us in those areas. The thing is that Ireland isn’t, really.
Before Ireland I was in England, and I mistakenly believed that Ireland was going to be very similar – a tiny but densely populated country. It’s not. Its population is only about four million, which puts things in perspective. Here I was expecting culture and technology and a golden promised land from Ireland, but even some Irish people I met said they thought they were kind of backwards. They don’t have hot running water like we do – they have to switch on a boost or something which provides a certain amount of it. They have about four public TV stations which are absolute crap, and they have to pay for even those with ‘TV licenses’ (and they still have ads, as well). In fact, you have to pay for everything in Ireland: TV, garbage collection, public toilets, and outrageously priced public transport. It suggests to me some extreme right wing politics, maybe? Because it’s like it’s been over-privatised; the anti-welfare state, so to speak. Or it could just be the recession. I tried to talk politics a couple of times, but not very fruitfully.
But by no means was it all doom and gloom. I had a fantastic time, really. All of the above just added to the beautiful and at times hilarious experience. On the plane in I thought the air hostess was speaking Gaelic and was about to translate into English, but it turned out it was just the accent. The weather was also a great novelty for me – so much snow!
At one point I imagined to convince an entire room of Irish people that my uncle was a ‘poker’, meaning his job was to walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge every morning at 4am using a forty foot pole to ‘poke’ the Koalas off it into giant nets. I laughed halfway through the story and thought the jig was up, only to find that they were still captivated by my tale, so I elaborated that I’d done work experience with him in year ten.
I was staying with my friend Charlene, and when I met some of her friends, one of them actually told me I was ‘so tanned!’, something I would never qualify for by Australian standards. They also told me they had a tradition of taking ‘beating’ (pronounced ‘baiting’) photos of one another, a tradition in which I shone:
I think the message for the trip was this, though:
Hi all you sojourners in the UK and Ireland
We have been hearing a lot here about student protests associated with the massive increase in the cost of university fees in the UK – though I think we are getting it on the news so much because of the incident in London involving Charles and Camilla. How are students on your campuses reacting? Do you find students in the UK are generally more politically engaged than at home, or is the student political context there similar to here?
And for those of you in Ireland – how are students and others reacting to, and affected by, the government’s new austerity measures?
Challenging times! I’m interested to know more.