I write this piece with somewhat grumpy nostalgia, for Dublin is spewing out freezing horizontal rain, and it’s too disgusting to leave the house. I wish to be nearly anywhere but here right now, ideally some warming, functioning alchoholic class of a country. Yet as much as I love travelling, what can technically be done in the space of six months is sadly limited, due to revolting financial constraints. (Friends and family take note: send me on holidays for my thirtieth!) The man of the moment received quite the enviable gift for his big birthday: a trip to Venice. Of course he brought me with him.

Never having even been to Italy before, I was delighted and excited to go. I went out and bought my map (essential security blanket for any anally-retentive soul, like me), clutched it, and sat up dozily all of the night before, waiting for the stupid-am flight. The enthusiasm remained unquenched even when the film, Death in Venice appeared by random on TV. This is quite a creepy little film in which the protagonist chases a little girl in a red coat around abandoned canals, eventually finding she is in fact an evil old witch who slashes his throat. Yummy. I did then for the duration of the trip keep my eye out for red-coat-clad children, but thanfully none were spotted. This time, anyway.

So we got to the airport, and after a prolonged runway debacle where the cabin crew informed us that our plane was ‘broken’ (alarming!), we did finally fly to Italy (on a different plane), land at Marco Polo and make our way to Venice.

Just arriving at Piazza San Marco. I pulled that case over thousands of steps to get there.

Just arriving at Piazza San Marco. I pulled that case over thousands of steps to get there.

It was a hack and a half to find the landmarks St. Mark’s Square and the famous Rialto bridge (near where our hotel was) simply because once you get ‘into’ Venice, the buildings are tall and the streets are narrow and winding, like alleyways, criss-crossed by canals and bridges. Every so often you arrive at a square, which usually has a church and a bar. It is utterly beautiful, even if The Map (damn you, Map!) was pretty useless. The city simply swallows you up and in honesty, the only two choices are either to cry about being lost, or to put on your big-girl pants and enjoy the experience of it. Once we eventually found the hotel and dumped the lumbering suitcases, we went for a wander and  immediately went missing . It was pretty fantastic. There were a few touristy attractions that we discovered during the first few days: Harry’s Bar being one of the most famous amongst them. Nice Bellinis!

Bellinis in Harry's Bar, Venice. Probably the most expensive drinks I have ever bought, but they were totally worth it!

Bellinis in Harry’s Bar, Venice. Probably the most expensive drinks I have ever bought, but they were totally worth it!

We walked for miles every day, visited the museums and art galleries (I am now jealous of poor dead Peggy Guggenheim’s life), had pastries for breakfast and beer for lunch. Could very much get used to that… We also discovered that the best way to get around is actually by boat, which is a ‘bus’ type boat that travels up and down the Grand Canal. On the boat, you can sit open-air at the front, and view all the buildings’ gorgeous facades. Never has a bus jouney been so appreciated, even if the bona fide Venetians looked frankly underwhelmed by it. If you simply want to get across the river, rather than down it, there are set points where gondoliers charge a very small fee to take people (in a gondola!) to the other side. This was another first for me, yet normal to Venetians. Gondola trips through the lesser canals are a notoriously overpriced tourist-trap, so I enjoyed the ‘real-life’ ride much more.

Gondola traffic.

Gondola traffic.

One of the last days, we ventured out on the boat to the famous Murano glass island. Here, we saw glass being cut into beads, blown into the shape of a jug, and then, amazingly, made into a horse. The glass-man held a stick glowing from the oven: on its end was a lumpen clump of molten glass, at which he pulled with tweezers. That turned into hind legs. He stretched the clump, to make a body, fiddled with the tweezers to make front legs and a head, and with one final curve to make the whole thing stand upright unsupported, there was a glass horse. That was one of the most skilful things I have ever witnessed.  After that, I saw a glass chandelier that I liked. It was only €125,000 so one for every room is in order now, of course.

Finally, we had some food and went back off to visit the cemetery island, which is the stop between Murano and Venice.  When the boat stopped at the cemetery, we were the only people to get off. We stood on the gangway, confused, whilst the boat went away. It was dusk, and the cemetery door (black, imposing) was closed. A creepy old man came out with some clanky keys. It seemed (oh, stupid tourists!) the cemetery had shut for the night, and we were left alone with this ghostly old man, to wait, by the cold dark water for the next boat, should one ever come. The man of the moment whispered to me that we could push him into the water if he tried anything, and no-one would ever know.

We didn’t. But they wouldn’t have.

My chandalier, at Murano glass island.

My chandelier, at Murano glass island.

On a lighter note, much of the visit was peppered with quirky food to be eaten standing up in a café- gorgeous little mini-pizzas, bread, chocolates and pastries. I particularly liked the snowmen below.

Meringue-made snow-people.

Meringue-made snow-people.

Finally, one couldn’t go to Venice without playing around with the masks. Always a fan of disguises, trying on the new personas (for the most part, hand-crafted and unique) provided plenty in the way of fun. I wanted each and every one of them!

Don't look now...

Don’t look now…

Vintage Burlesque Poster

Vintage Burlesque Poster

Fascinated with all things theatrical, my childhood self wished hard to be a Drag Queen. There’s a gorgeous harmony, or beauty to be found ‘in the equilibrium of opposites’, that I first associated with gender-blending, and, much later, still apply to everything I know about fashion. A ‘beautiful freak’ type of a sensation when someone or something is deliciously outside the boring norm.  When my own chubby, fuzzy teenage years (and indeed early twenties) much later became (deliberately to the point of dangerous) an impossible six stone, all hipbones, ribcage and eyes (oh my), the biggest achievement I felt throughout was that I was managing to embody an illusion.  I have to admit it was pretty special.

Although special, in the longer term it proved to be unsustainable. However, the root of the idea, which was just how psychically powerful it can be to make a performance out of kinking up one’s own body, stuck firm.  And so was born the interest in Burlesque.  After having spent the last year or so regularly tarting up to attend the monthly burlesquecabaretsocialclub.com, held in the ever-lovely Sugar Club in Dublin,  and additionally haven taken Lisa Darling’s classes at the Irish Burlesque School, the time had come to try myself out as a performer. Not yet quite ready for the stage (soon!), but more than able for the sidelines, I have become a burlesquey usherette as part of the regular show.

Usheretting at the Sugar Club (left).

Usheretting at the Sugar Club (left).

From this role, we learn about the acts, the performers, burlesque as a whole, and ideally take to the stage on our own, which shall happen soon for me. The sexy little outfits are yet another perk.  I utterly love it.

After the show!

After the show!

Looking for a Burlesque stage name if anyone has any suggestions?!

As I write this (from Bed, with my friends Coffee, Chocolate and Cigarette for company) the man of the moment has left me. He’s gone to go rowing. On this dark, cold, wet day, he’s headed towards the darker, colder, and infinitely wetter, river Liffey for an afternoon of healthy fun. What could be nicer? Or so I thought. I recently tried it out myself, with, I have to admit, visions of an undiscovered talent dancing around my head. ‘Rio 2016, here I come!’, I thought, in my narcissism. ‘This shall be easy!’

A screen grab of ladies rowing. It really doesn't look that that in real life.

A screen grab of ladies rowing. It really doesn’t look that that in real life.

Well so I got up at stupid o’clock one Sunday morning, and trekked my sorry self all the way out to Dublin’s Commercial Rowing Club. Well that is one place to find the men, if anyone is interested. Women were admittedly fairly scarce. Because we have more sense, I think. After an introduction on the rowing machines, where I was told I made very good time, even if I am only a little old lady, it was time to meet the boats. The training boat (which seats eight and a cox) is called the Nancy Hand. I misheard and thought it was called Nazi Hans. Although mocked for that, I think my name is more appropriate. That boat has a bad history.

You strap your feet into giant shoes.

You strap your tiny feet into giant shoes.

I sat stern side (the right hand side of the boat), and was given an oar. Everybody else got in, and off we merrily went. Well except me. My first time rowing in a boat, and I seriously thought I was going to die inside the first five minutes. I was easily the crappest person on board. (Not to mention the only total novice, the oldest by far and much the lightest…) I could barely get the oar into the water, and getting it in time (critical) was just about impossible.  Utter shambles. The cox stopped us and shouted abuse at me. Although at that point I did die a little inside, the following five minutes of mortifying  personal coaching taught me to handle the oar, and the next few hours or so travelling up and down and up and down the Liffey, in a halting, jilting, juddering mess were definitely an education and a half. The points where we all ‘got it’ and were flying along in sync, were absolutely amazing.

The giant blister I received handling the oar of Nazi Hans.

The giant blister I received handling the oar of the Nazi Hans.

I went home through Dublin city centre on a massive endorphin high, bright red and bedraggled yes, yet beaming away at everyone, even the hateful nutters and knackers. The next day, however, I hurt so badly that I seriously couldn’t get up. I also sprouted a massive blister on my left hand, courtesy of the oar. The man of the moment said get used to it. His are worse. Of course they are. ‘My lovely hands! Ruined! Forever!’, I wailed to myself. But at least they acted as proof to everyone who thought I wouldn’t/couldn’t do it. I am glad I did it,  and I will do it again, and perhaps again after that, but honestly not in this dreadful weather. 

On a closing note, the man of the moment had one big birthday shortly after my rowing debut. Here is the cake:

Nom!

A rowing cake.

I think this is the kind of rowing I prefer. Life is but a dream. Nom!

Two oysters. Their coats were brushed, their faces washed, their shoes were clean and neat…

Well the time has come. I have eaten many odd things in my time, and indeed spent a long time eating nothing much at all. But I had never eaten an oyster. Well, so was planned another new experience. One friend scoffed in my face at the very idea, and muttered dark threats about food poisoning and going to hell. Another friend turned his eyes to the mist and recounted a sublime night of illicit seduction which was mainly started by an oyster and champagne supper. I suspect in that case the drink had more to do with it than anything else, yet my curiousity was  piqued nontheless. What makes these revolting-looking things so special?

So off I went to the Saturday morning food market in Temple Bar, which has a little oyster stand, which also offers the obligatory brown bread and complimentary wine. The oysters arrived, freshly opened and shaved, and almost angrily, nakedly, raw. I looked at them, closely, and honestly, they look like one of the last things in the world I would ever voluntarily put in my mouth.

I am looking at my oyster in curious disgust.

Anyway, I ate it, simply because we had got that far and I couldn’t bear to be defeated by something so small. Additionally, the man of the moment was laughing at my expression….  So. You’re meant to swallow them whole, which is an unusual thump-in-the-throat of a feeling that made my gag reflex stir, just a little, just a little, but definitely enough. So then I had another, to check. They taste like lumpy lemony seawater. The second was better than the first. Perhaps if I’d kept going I’d have discovered the fuss. Yet at this point, they do absolutely zero for me. Glad to have tried, however I was gladder to have a drink to wash the taste away, which perhaps just says it all.

Sláinte!

What a time to be asked to appear on TV for the very first time. All of my nicer clothes (really, ALL of them) are still packed away in boxes, because I’m still a little bit homeless. Nonetheless, my would-be esteemed presence had been requested to grace the couch of early morning TV, in order to talk knowledgeably about a book.

(The child in me screams in delight mingled with horror, ‘They think I’m a grown-up! Who knows stuff!’)

I actually find that talking shite about books whilst wearing some stupidly gorgeous dress is one of the funnest activities ever, so I quite happily agreed. The book itself was the 2012 award-winning Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor, which is a dark story of drug addiction and wasted lives. Definitely not the world’s most joyful read, but it was amazing in its own depressing way. That was fine. I then had to go off and buy a dress rather than risk my life dismantling the box-room. I secretly suspect that all those boxes will one day fall down on me, and I will in fact be dead before the age of thirty, heartlessly murdered by piles of my own stuff.  But anyway, a dress was bought, and it was fabulous.

Then all set, all that remained was to get up at stupid o’clock for my taxi to the TV3 studios. The man of the moment very kindly cajoled and then gently physically pulled me out of bed (oh, bed!). I felt like a newborn Bambi being up at that hour. However, after basically snorting up a bucket of coffee and a bold cigarette, I felt like my normal self except crosser and went away to begin what surely must be a dazzling career on camera. My ten minute slot on IrelandAM’s Bord Gais Energy Book Club was (obviously) fairly quickly over. I behaved like a grown-up after all and did not disgrace myself or anyone else on live TV. In honesty, I really enjoyed the whole thing.

There have been no lasting effects. But I met my first (only!) fan in the pub a few evenings later. I was alone. He approached, lumberingly.

‘You’re Rachel’, he announced, menacingly.

‘Yes’, I agreed, apologetically.

‘I watched you’, he said.

Silence.

‘You’re that burd off the telly in me ma’s house!’

I feel the finest hour is yet to come.

Another unflattering picture of me with my eyes shut. Anyway, there I am being on TV.

My thirty weeks have commenced with such a welcome new event- a very much-needed house move. This is an event that my paranoiac self has avoided for quite a while, yet it was much less painful than anticipated, especially given the overwhelming amounts of disobedient stuff I somehow own, that somehow had to get unbreakably packed. Well, packed it was got, even my Triffid, and out we merrily moved.

But moved to where? Well that was always the question.

Currently, in and around eight years’ worth of my stuff, save a few changes of clothes and a bag of cosmetics, are stacked away in forty-odd boxes in the man of the moment’s mother’s box-room. And I am currently co-habiting… and hard ignoring the Monica within, who’s wailing, ‘I have to live with a BOY!’ Nevertheless, my first ever go at co-habiting is going as well as can be expected. We did manage to aggressively head-butt one another in our sleep last night, but I’m told by more worldly friends, that these things do happen.

Meanwhile, the apartment hunt is ongoing. Not rich enough to buy, nor spoilt enough to have one bought for me, I’m still in the fairly depressing world of renting in Dublin, where the bulk of landlords seem to be geriatric rip-off merchants, ‘presenting’ places that  are beyond all contemplation. It will take time, and thanks to the boy, time I now have.

Here I am, knackered, after a day of packing and moving. The towers of boxes, which hold just about everything I own, are stacked well above my head.

Some rather horrific maths of recent days revealed that I only have a mere thirty weeks left to spend upon my misspent youth. I’m actually still quite convinced that I’ll be dead before the age of thirty (and in honesty, it’s a miracle that I haven’t accidentally killed myself) but just in case… just in case… I’m not, I’ve resolved to spend the next six months or so packing in just as many new experiences as are realistically possible. Gone are weekends lost to bed and the pub. Gone is the procrastinating sentiment that ‘there’s always next year.’ Instead, I have a list of dares, challenges and personal goals to complete before the clock strikes 1.34 am on the 13th of April 2013, whereupon I shall wither into a hairy old bag.

At this point, I’m still optimistic. However, we shall see. There are some obvious limitations. Finances are one. (I don’t have any). A friend suggested doing thirty cities in thirty weeks. Alas, that’s not going to happen without a significant personal miracle or a wealthy benefactor. Another friend suggested doing thirty men in thirty weeks. That isn’t going to happen either. Unwise in this city anyway. Yet, using what I have, and what this city of Dublin can offer, all I can say at this point is that this self-made mission is well and truly accepted.

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