Tag Archives: Ireland

Having Some Good Craic Despite Being Cracked

This is part of a series about living in Dublin and accidentally eating a club sandwich in a brothel in Dubai.

I had moved to Dublin from Oxford, and after a rough landing I was settling in.  My flat felt safe.  I reckoned that, since the addict had broken in shortly before I moved in, odds were that the flat wouldn’t burgled again until long after I had moved on.  Magical thinking, I know.

Dublin did feel like a magical place, but not in a good way.  The flat was close to some old castle that was a stop on the Haunted Dublin! tour. I don’t believe in ghosts or paranormal anything but there was something dark about Dublin.

And Dublin was ugly.  I had moved from Oxford, city of dreaming spires:


To Dublin:


As usual I am exaggerating.  Oxford is beautiful but it is swarming wall-to-wall with crowds, like some science fiction movie about overpopulation.  Dublin has some lovely buildings, but unfortunately too many like the one above.  It too was heaving with crowds, tourists but also EU newcomers from Slovenia and asylum seekers from Nigeria.

I thought about how the English had subjugated the Irish, taxing them, viewing them as sub human, and doing nothing while a million Irish died during a succession of famines.  The architecture says everything about who was the conqueror and who was the conquered.

I didn’t have much in common with my new friend, Toni, except that we were in our 40s while everyone else in Dublin seemed younger, and we were both determined to take advantage of being “over the pond” to travel as much as possible.

The Sunday papers advertised great deals on travel packages.  “See Sunny Spain!  Only 400 € for 5 nights inclusive!”  Inclusive meant airfare, hotel, some meals, and drinks in a resort populated by English speakers who would never be made uncomfortable by having to speak Spanish.

Sunday morning.  I texted Toni.  “Wanna go to Dubai?”

“Tell me more,” she responded immediately.

“Only 500 € for five nites inc airfare & hotel,” I read from the ad in the Irish Times.

“Wow thats cheap lets go!” She was in.

But first I went to St. James Hospital to have my collar bone x-rayed.  I was no longer on the National Health System; in fact I was uninsured, so I would pay cash.

I walked down Vicar Street to Meath Street to Bellvue to Marrowbone Lane to Robert Street, on to Newport Street, to Pim Street, past the Guinness Storehouse, followed the curve of Grand Canal Place to Echlins Street and finally to James Street.

Total distance: 1.6 kilometers, or just under one mile.  That’s Dublin.  There may have been a direct route but now I knew I could stop at Guinness on the way back— and use my right arm to lift a pint.

The hospital reminded me of a Mexican bus station.  The waiting room was furnished with a motley assortment of worn plastic chairs, the windows and linoleum floor were grimy.

I paid up front; I think it was 80 €.  I was called in after the x-ray was developed, and the doctor said, “There’s been no progress. It’s still broken and you’ll have to keep it immobilized for another eight weeks, at least.”

I was shocked.  “But it’s been six weeks!”  I didn’t mention that I hadn’t exactly been resting and taking it easy, that I’d been climbing a ladder up to a top bunk at a hostel, then washing windows and scrubbing floors in my two-story flat.

“How old are you?” he asked.

“46?”  I expected him to say, “Wow! You look so much younger—I never would have guessed you’re even 40!”

Instead he said, “Well at your age, things take longer to heal.”

My age?

“If it doesn’t heal after eight more weeks, you’ll need surgery to screw in a plate to hold the two ends together.”

Surgery?  A plate? F— that!

There’s nothing like someone telling me I’m in a bad situation to make me come out swinging, to declare that things are great.

I was going to Dubai, and it was going to be a blast!

Incense and Sensibility

This post is part of a series about living in Dublin and winding up in a brothel in Dubai.

Eddie’s house was so tiny I expected a hobbit to jump out of a closet.  The floors were slanted, the stove looked like a toy, and the door hung crookedly off the bath so it wouldn’t be any trouble for him to keep an eye on me in there.  I hadn’t been attracted to Eddie in a dark smoky pub, and seeing him in daylight didn’t change anything.  He painted a picture of the house sharing arrangements.  “I go out every night, and when I come home in the early morning I blast me music and drink a few more pints.  It’s my house, so I’ll smoke in it.  If you’d like to cook for us, that’d fine with me.”

I observed myself doing mental gymnastics to convince myself this would all be fine.  I wanted out of the hostel.  The serenity and confidence I had banked in England was gone.  The fact that it was gone made me feel like a weakling.  I had become a female Woody Allen, worrying, analyzing, fearful, neurotic. I was so afraid of being ripped off that I hid my watch—a Movado—in a zipped pants pocket, then promptly forgot about it and threw the pants in the wash.  The watch had been given to me by a jerk boyfriend but was the one beautiful piece of jewelry I owned, and it came out in bits.  Stress does funny things to the mind.

I listened to meditations on my MP3 player: “Sense a soft shower of shimmering light …” said the soothing voice, as the woman in the bunk below me hacked a tubercular-sounding cough.  I attended meditations at the Sri Chinmoy Centre and went to Alanon. But I just couldn’t shake the anxiety.

Eddie kept saying things which indicated he knew sharing the house would be a disaster, such as “I’d probably end up hangin’ meself when yerself didn’t love me.”  Like many men in the British Isles, asking a woman out on a date was not in his playbook, and he wasn’t yet drunk enough to just grab me and snog me.  He must have sensed I would have reacted negatively to either approach.  We sat at his wobbly kitchen table and he slowly drew me a map of Dublin and advised where else I could look for flats, stalling for time.


I admired his engineer’s pencil sharpener, which he gave me and which makes a great eyeliner sharpener.

After two weeks I landed a room in a spacious maisonette.  It had a living area and kitchen on the first floor (in America, the second floor), and three bedrooms and a bath on the third.  I shared it with a French guy who was building a website to help football fans find pubs in real time to watch specific games.  He only emerged from his room when his girlfriend, a Canadian, came over.  The other flat mate was an English guy who worked for Google.  I only saw him once or twice, but several times a week I would come down to breakfast to find a young woman hanging about—someone he had slept with and was done with, but who wasn’t done with him.  “So what time does Paul usually get up?” they would ask.  Or, “How does Paul like his tea?”  I would grumble, “I dunno,” until they took the hint and left.

It took a while with my arm in a sling, but the flat was very nice once I scrubbed it from top to bottom and painted my room, which overlooked some sort of friary.


There was a methadone clinic on the other side; the flat had been burgled recently by an addict who kicked in the door.  There was a primary school on the other side of the flat, and Christchurch Cathedral was nearby, so I heard children playing and bells ringing throughout the day.

Things were looking up.  I met a Canadian woman at a travel agency who was game to go anywhere.  Because, once my anxiety ebbed away, it was time to travel.

To be continued …

Down and Out In Dublin

In my last post I wrote about the river of “what ifs” going through my head about my upcoming trip.  After writing it, I thought back on the worst things that have ever happened to me in my life.  All of them have happened at home.  The worst things that have happened to me while traveling?  Well, they’ve didn’t turn out so bad in the end.

For instance, I accidentally wound up in a brothel in Dubai.

But the story starts in “the other DUB city,” Dublin, where I was working for Oxfam Great Britain on contract for the summer.

Everyone thinks Ireland would be a great place to live, and that’s what I had expected.  But I hated it.

This was at the height of the inflationary period they called the Celtic Tiger—right before the Great Recession hit—and everything was colossally expensive.

I stayed in a 12-bed dorm in the Four Courts Hostel until I could find a flat.  The other 11 beds were occupied by immigrants from Poland and the Czech Republic who were almost out of money and facing the prospect of going back home as failures.  One woman was so depressed she stayed in bed all day with the blanket pulled over her head; I never actually saw her.   The only good thing about The Four Courts was the talking elevator that announced, “Turd Floor” in an Irish accent when it reached our floor.

I could go to the Oxfam Ireland office to work, but they didn’t really have space for me, so I worked out of the hostel dining hall while everyone else was out hustling during the day—except for the woman under the covers.

The streets were full of drunks, Irish and otherwise.  Lots of Brits and Dutch and Germans came to Dublin for their stag parties.  One morning I literally stepped over a drunken man vomiting in the gutter.  I don’t know how they afforded it, because a pint of unremarkable beer in a pub cost $8.  And maybe because Ireland’s economy was roaring, it seemed like the Irish were over being friendly to travelers.  The only friendly overture I had from an Irish person in my first few weeks was a shopkeeper telling me to “Have yourself some crack, now!”  That freaked me out until I realized he meant craic—which means “a good time” in Gaelic.

I had pictured myself working away in a cozy pub and making all sorts of new Irish friends, but I was bored and lonely.

In the UK and Ireland, it is much more common for people to share a flat or a house than it is in the US.  Having roommates is not just for young or poor people.  I would go to look at a flat and there would be a dozen desperate potential renters crowded around the front door.  When the landlord deigned to let us in, we would find a dingy, dirty, little hole with a bedroom featuring a sagging twin bed and a window looking out on a brick wall.  The rent for that bedroom and sharing everything else with two or three strangers was $500 a month each, easy.

Every night I climbed up to my top bunk and hunched over with my head against the moldy ceiling to read, hoping this would be my last night at the Four Courts.  Oh, did I mention I had broken my collar bone in a bike accident in Oxford a week before, and my arm was in a sling?

Everyone used a website called Gumtree to look for flats and jobs and probably to sell their bodies to pay rent.  I arranged to meet a potential landlord in a pub rather than go to his house alone.  It was love at first sight, for him.  Eddie was a good 10 years younger than me and at least a foot taller.  His teeth were brown from smoking and crooked from not being an American.  I wasn’t attracted to him and I knew it would be a bad idea to move in to the room he had for rent, but I agreed to come and see the place the next day.

To be continued …