Hot Cross Buns In January – Not Such A Good Idea

Just when you think you’ve successfully navigated the worst time of year for homesickness that bitch ups and hijacks you! And it was something so small, so insignificant that I didn’t see it coming…
One of my Dad’s favourite things to eat is a hot cross bun. He positively delights in putting those little beauties in the toaster until they’re lightly browned, then spreading some butter on them and sitting down and enjoying them with a cup of piping hot tea.
One of my son’s favourite things to eat is a hot cross bun… He needs it lightly toasted with plenty of butter on top and he will enjoy it with a glass of chocolate milk. Yesterday he lit up with excitement in the local supermarket when he spotted a packet of hot cross buns. Of course I bought them for him and smiled smugly to myself thinking – “breakfast is going to be easy tomorrow.” I had no idea what was going to be served along with it.

A Simple Hot Cross Bun – Seems There’s More To These Delicacies Than Meets The Eye!

This morning I watched as my boy smiled in delight as I presented him with his perfectly prepared hot cross bun. I listened as he “yummed” his way through it.  I grinned at him finding such happiness in something so simple and then I clutched my tummy as a bolt of homesickness shot through me so intense that it took my breath away.
I turned and fled to the kitchen before my son could see the change in my demeanour and dragged in a deep breath as a longing and yearning for home washed over me like a wave and, in that instant, threatened to drown me.
I held onto the counter top for strength as I wondered where the hell this had all come from.  I waited for it to pass but it didn’t.  Images of home assailed my senses instead.  The soft sand between my toes on Keel Beach, the smell of a turf fire, laughing with old friends and my Dad’s smile.  And that was it – I realised what had set me off – the inextricable link between generations epitomised by a simple smile.
My boy has his grandfather’s smile and this morning I’m sad that he hasn’t seen enough of that smile in his short life.
Don’t get me wrong  – I’m not belly-aching (even though I literally was!) I’m not complaining about my life – I’m incredibly blessed to have these opportunities to live in other countries and I’d be a miserable old bitch if I couldn’t explore this incredible world of ours.  However, there are times when you need home.  I need to go home.  I need my kids to spend time with their grandparents.  I need to see my father’s smile.
Now all I need to do is figure out how to make that happen

My Thanksgiving Day

The washed out wintry light of the early morning sun was just starting to peep over the hedgerows.  The road was still damp from the rain that had fallen soft and slow throughout the night.  I looked over at my husband, his face deep in concentration as he wrangled our recently acquired left-hand drive camper van around the twists and turns of the Irish country roads.  I looked back to check on the dogs and I smiled as I spotted Billie peeping out at me from underneath the table and Zara sitting up on the seat, her head resting on the tiny lip of the window – determined not to miss a thing.

black dog on beach

Miss Billie

Zara in snow

Zara

I looked back out onto the road and I smiled some more, this smile warming me from the outside in.  We were doing it.  We were finally calling time on all the shit luck that had plagued us in recent years.  We had already covered the first few miles on an adventure we had planned for months.

We had no idea where we were going.  We had no idea what we were doing.  We had no clue as to what the future held for us but we were throwing caution to the wind and just going for it anyway. The presenter on the radio announced it was Thanksgiving Day in America and wished everyone a happy thanksgiving day. I smiled again, somehow it seemed appropriate that we were setting off on our journey into the unknown on a day when people celebrate that which they are thankful for. At that point in time I was intensely grateful to be physically putting some distance between me and so much that had happened in the years before.

hymer-history-5

The Good Old Hymer!

A few months previously we had sold up everything  – our beautiful home, our cars and anything else of value we’d had.  We’d paid off the tax man and our debtors, glad to finally be free of crippling debt that had arisen from a business deal that had gone horribly wrong.

However, it wasn’t just our business that we lost in those few years but also the dream of being parents.  Our tiny babies lay dead and cold in a grave on a hillside in the west of Ireland. We were emotionally battered and our souls were weary.  We needed to step off the merry-go-round of life for a while and take some much needed time out.

And that’s exactly what we did.  For the next nine months we trundled along the highways and byways of Europe. We ate all manner of wonderful food and we washed it down with cold beers and fine wines.  We walked for miles on golden sands – I don’t think there is an inch of European coastline we missed.  We hiked through sun dappled  forests and swam in lakes the colour of earth and sky.  We gloried in freshly fallen snow and we skied and fell in love with the granite peaks at the heart of Europe which we’d never visited before and at night we warmed ourselves with the heat of a log fire and the local firewater.

triglav_national_park_-slovenia

The Julian Alps in Slovenia

We got lost, gloriously lost and yet somehow managed to find our way.  We met great characters that enriched our journey beyond measure.  Bit by bit we healed and started to feel the joy of life flowing in our veins again.  We dared to believe in dreams once more and we even dared to dream.

A year later we found ourselves back in Ireland patiently awaiting the birth of the child we were told we’d never have.  From one thanksgiving day to another our lives had changed beyond belief and we had so much to be thankful for.  A few weeks later I gave birth to our beautiful baby girl – a precious gift that I will spend the rest of my days being thankful for.

laoise-in-sunglasses-on-hols-in-greece

My Perfect Little Girl

However, on Thanksgiving Day I always remember that wintry morning in Ireland as myself and my husband bumped our way along to the early morning ferry that was to deliver us to Europe and from there to God only knows where.  I remember and give thanks for the small bud of hope that still remained somewhere deep within me.  Sometimes you’ve got to let go of all you think you know and just go – go with your heart and feed your soul.  You’ll be thankful for it more than you can ever know.

Commitments, Contingencies and Coping With The Unexpected

It’s one thing to commit to a blog. It’s another thing entirely to find the time to actually write it!  When I committed to this blog a number of months ago I had a long hard think about whether or not it was a good idea to even start it if I was never going to have the time to attend to it.  I looked at all the commitments I have, sized up where I could adjust my schedule, allowed for contingencies and decided I could manage it. My aim each week is to have a post up by the weekend and failing that at least by Sunday morning at the very latest.  So far I’ve been doing ok…… until last week and the week before that…….  And here is the problem – when it came to allowing for contingencies I couldn’t have imagined a total crash of my computer system or, just the week after that catastrophic event, the arrival of a super-storm!  I had been thinking along the lines of sick kids, school holidays and unexpected visitors.  Obviously I need to up my contingencies game.  So, note to self – when it comes to planning contingencies in the future perhaps I should plan for bigger contingencies than most.  Mind you, contingencies don’t come much bigger than the super-storm that hit Brisbane last Thursday!

photo of jellyfish shaped storm cloud over water

The Beast

Two storm cells came together and formed The Beast – A Supercell Thunderstorm that unleashed hell on Brisbane in just over an hour.   One minute I was out the back of the house in blazing sunshine and sweating my tooshie off and the next I was looking out my front door, with my jaw on the floor.  “Oh dear,” I whispered as I stared at the sky with cold blasts of air rushing over me, “what’s this?”
Within seconds, a strange cracking sound started, then a blast of thunder exploded over the house. The sky was totally dark by now and it was as if night had descended upon us but not for long as sheets of lightning lit up the landscape.  And then they came – golf ball sized hail stones catapulted out of the sky and pummelled everything around them.  The noise was deafening.

One of The Lumps of Ice That Hit Brisbane During the Super-Storm

One of The Lumps of Ice That Hit Brisbane During the Super-Storm

Now, it should be said I’m from an island on the west coast of Ireland and am no stranger to the fury of mother nature.  Storms on Achill are brutal and fierce and I’ve experienced some of the worst. However, in all my days, I have never seen hail stones the size of golf balls!  And we were lucky, as the storm intensified, hail the size of tennis balls fell in other parts of the city and how it fell!

A pile of Ice on the street

An Ice-pile

It rained down mercilessly, like God was emptying his Eski (local slang for cooler box.)  Nothing was safe and the damage has been extensive.

car damaged by hail in brisbane

Hail Damaged Car

Cars in particular were badly damaged.

Beige coloured car with window smashed in

A Lot of Cars In Brisbane Look Like This At The Moment

Many houses had their windows smashed and the office blocks of the CBD (Central Business District) also suffered.

Glass Office Building With Broken Panels

Beat Up Ofice Building In Brisbane CBD

Many people took shelter in the CBD only to find themselves being showered by hailstones and glass!
At about 5pm this is how Brisbane CBD looked.
Dark and foreboding sky

The Beast

Now if that’s not apocalyptic looking, then I don’t know what is!
As the hail abated the wind intensified and ripped through the city tearing up trees and taking roofs with it as it went.
Apartment with Roof Missing

Bye Bye Roof

Photo of UTE crushed by tree

Bye Bye UTE

Back in our part of town the hail had thankfully turned to rain and it was sheeting down.  Things were starting to look a little more like a “normal” storm.  Of course, power outtages and internet blackouts followed and so yours truly had to abandon all plans for posting on a Friday – again!
However, having seen all the post-storm damage I’m incredibly grateful that we came out of it totally unscathed and that nobody was killed.  I may have had to postpone a post till today but it’s not every day you get to write about having been in a superstorm.  Ah life in sub-tropical Australia – everything is bigger here – especially life’s little contingencies.

The G20 In Brisbane – Welcome To The “Hippest City” In Australia

So it’s all eyes on Brisbane this weekend as the leaders of the world’s twenty most powerful nations descend on the city for their annual pow-wow.  Coming along with them are all the admin, support and security staff and of course no international backscratching event would be complete without the accompanying posse of media.

Sculpture of Brisbane in colours

It’s estimated that Brisbane can expect an influx of approximately 10,000 visitors over the next few days.  So, what will they find when they get here?  Lonely Planet recently named Brisbane “the hippest city” in Australia – no mean accolade.  Having lived here for the past two and a half years, I have to say I agree with them.  Brisbane is one cool town.  G20 attendees will find streets with jacaranda and bougainvillea in full bloom.  Having a sub-tropical climate the city is known for its al-fresco dining and it’s pretty unbeatable when this takes place along the river such as at the Eagle Street precinct.  When it comes to after-hours entertainment much of the action is to be found in The Valley – home to some pretty cool bars and music venues.

Mural at 4ZZZ radio the valley brisbane

Street Mural In The Valley

The Brisbane river is the life-blood of the city and affords the visitor one of the most effective and fabulous ways to see Brisbane and to connect up with its many diverse neighbourhoods.  One of my favourite things to do is hop on the Citycat (the highspeed catamarans that go up and down the river day and night) and let the wind tug at my face as we zip from stop to stop, looking at all the amazing riverside properties.

Citycat ferry

Citycat Ferries – The Best Way To Get Around The City

One of my favourite places to head to on the Citycat is the Southbank area with its city beaches.  Yes you read that correctly – beaches in the middle of the city.  Originally developed as part of  Expo ’88 the area has since been re-developed and improved and provides an amazing place to meet, chill and relax in the heart of the city.

City beach brisbane

Southbank and Its City Beaches

With Temperatures set to soar to 40+ degrees over the weekend – that’s 105 Fahrenheit! – I’d be willing to bet you might find a few delegates cooling off at Street’s Beach.  This is one of the things I’m not crazy about Brisbane – the extreme temperatures in summer.  Last summer saw some of the highest temperatures ever recorded in Australia and it looks like this year isn’t going to be any different.

If there is one things the G20 delegates won’t find in Brisbane this weekend however, it’s a Brisbanite.  The past few months have seen a heavy emphasis on security and traffic restrictions with road closures.  The city centre is on lock-down and the locals have been given the distinct impression to stay outta town!

Police on streets brisbane

6000 Police Officers Will be on Brisbane Streets This weekend

We even have the day off!  Which means only one thing to a Brisbanite – the chance to get to their beloved beaches on either the Sunshine or the Gold Coasts – which offer an embarrassment of riches when it comes to golden sands.  All roads led out of Brisbane last night and this morning.

Bheavy traffic on bruce highway

The Bruce Highway – Chocca!

And they were chocca – as my Aussie friends would say.  Brisbane city centre is effectively a ghost town.  Realising they may have gone overboard and empty streets aren’t exactly the image they want to portray, city officials have recently announced the availability of 1000 free car parking spaces over the weekend.  In a city where it costs $30 per hour for parking – this is rather generous of them.

That’s one thing all the delegates will find in Brisbane – shocking prices for food, drink and taxis.  Then again hip and cool was never cheap.

The Fall Of The Wall

It’s hard to believe it has only been 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and yet in another way it seems like a life-time ago.  I suppose in a way, for me, it has been.  I remember, as a student of sociology and politics, being fascinated with communism and wanting to spend time in a communist country, to experience it first-hand.  I wondered if it really was just totalitarianism dressed up as a high “all people are equal” socio-political ideal or if there was something more to it than that.  The fact that a structure such as the Berlin Wall existed at all made me suspect communism was simply a euphemism for fascism, after all its primary purpose seemed to be to keep people IN eastern Germany rather than keep westerners out.  Still, I wondered and set my sights on one day going there to find out.

RETRO-BERLIN WALL-CHECKPOINT CHARLIE

The Infamous Checkpoint Charlie

However, on 9th November 1989 the wall came tumbling down and with it the end of communism in what was known as the Eastern Bloc.  I remember watching the news reports, incredulous that this structure of oppression was coming down and not one person was harmed or killed.  Only months beforehand that would have seemed impossible.

The Brandenburg Gate 9th Nov 1989

The Brandenburg Gate 9th Nov 1989

I was truly happy for the people of eastern Germany and watched their jubilant celebrations continue into the night.  History was being made and I almost felt like I had a front row seat.  A twinge of disappointment nagged at me though, that I hadn’t made it to Eastern Germany to see what life was like behind the Iron Curtain.  The champagne bottles were barely empty however, when a sense of “what happens next” crept throughout Europe.  Again, I wondered what life was going to be like for the people of the former German Democratic Republic.

This time however, I got a chance to find out.  Not long after the last Soviet troops had left in September 1994, I rocked up to Chemnitz, East Germany in my blue Volkswagen Golf.  Re-unification was in full swing and Eastern Germany was under re-construction.  My new husband was tasked with overseeing the construction of a city block.

Chemnitz was decimated by the Allied bombing campaigns of the second world war and the only construction that had taken place during the Soviet era was primarily Plattenbau style tower blocks.

Tower Blocks in the Plattenbau style construction

Plattenbau Style Tower Blocks – Not Pretty

This town, and many others, desperately needed a facelift.  As my husband settled into the monumental task ahead of him, I took up a position as an English teacher with a local language school.  This meant I was in close contact with members of the local population and I soon learned just what life had been like under communist rule.  As I had suspected, communism had meant oppression.  From the stories I was told, life had not been easy under Soviet rule and in keeping with human nature, some chose to ease their hardships by informing on others.  Even five years after the fall of communism and with the last of the soviet troops gone, my students still lowered their voices and looked nervously around them when they spoke of the dreaded Stasi.  Detention, torture and  disappearances had been common.

Stasi Insignia

Stasi Insignia

Apart from the insidious repression there had also been day to day challenges for the people of East Germany.  They didn’t have supermarkets like we had in the west and shortages of all sorts of goods were common.  A type of bartering system existed where goods, produce and services would be exchanged for each other.  When the wall finally came down, many east Germans spent what little they had and their west German welcome money on items such as television sets, microwaves and other gadgets that all too often were faulty goods sold to them out the back of vans by con-men, many of whom had been English speaking.  This did nothing to alleviate their inbuilt suspicion of strangers.

The first night myself and my  husband entered the local stube (bar) the place fell deathly silent and one could sense a hint of hostility.  Most people would probably have left but the problem was, I was hungry and thirsty and the cupboards at home were bare.  So as far as I was concerned the locals – mostly dirt-on-boots working guys –  could be as hostile as they liked, I wasn’t letting that get between me, my food and a cold beer.  Unknown to our new drinking buddies my husband is fluent in German and there were a few raised eyebrows as he rattled off our order in flawless Deutsch.  We took our beers and made our way to a table by the window.  Conversation resumed but in a more hushed tone than before.  Eyes glanced over at us, some curious, more of them suspicious. It wasn’t long before a representative was sent over to interview us. “Abend,” he said in the unique Chemnitz way, drawling out the “A” .

“Abend,” (evening) we both smiled back.  I can still see him standing in front of us, his bushy blond hair sporting something of the mullet look and his startling blue eyes full of unspoken challenge. “Woher kommen Sie?” he asked.

“Ireland,” I replied.  His eyes switched from challenging to surprised and I could see him searching his internal database.  It was obvious when he located Ireland within his memory bank as his face lit up in shock.

“Irelanda?” he asked and I’m willing to bet I was the first Irish person he had ever met.

“Ja, das ist richtig,” (Yes, that is right) I answered, somewhat amused.

“Und was tuen sie hier?” (And what are you doing here?) he asked.

I explained I was a teacher and my husband was an architect working on the new city block just around the corner.  He eyed us up, decided we weren’t con artists or even worse – condescending west Germans – and welcomed us to Chemnitz!  The welcome included two more beers.  We bought a round for the Stammtisch (locals’ table) before we left and every night we dined there afterwards, a steady stream of beers would miraculously appear with our meal.

STammtisch the locals' table

Stammtisch – A Table For Locals Only

Our time in east Germany was much shorter than we had planned and I have to admit to the drab architecture and overwhelming greyness getting to me to the extent that the weekends would find us on one motorway or another out of Chemnitz.  However, the more I got to know the local people they beguiled me with their friendly, warm nature and by the time Sunday night rolled around I was always happy to be dodging them in their Trabants and making my way back to their smiling faces again.

light brown trabant car

The Ubiquitous Trabant

Later that year as I pointed my Golf west I couldn’t help wondering how the whole re-unification project would go.  It was only five short years since the wall had come tumbling down and tensions simmered on both sides of the now defunct structure.  But as the amazing scenes of celebration on Sunday night showed, the German people pulled it off in spectacular fashion and are incredibly proud of what they have achieved, and so they should be.  As Angela Merkel, who was raised in east Germany, said:

“The fall of the wall showed us that dreams can come true.”

Peace

Frieden – Peace