Europe, Travel

A Year in Ireland: Portrait of a Third-Life Crisis

2018 was always going to be an eventful year. Having trained as a journalist in New Zealand and worked in the industry full-time for five years, I thought it might be nice to move as far as possible to the other side of the world and try something completely different. Like, really different. Here’s how it went down:

 

It all started with a man named Paddy, which it was bound to, and a business selling industrial bleach as a cure for cancer, which seemed less likely altogether.

My boyfriend and I had been travelling around Europe and living out of a temperamental Opel Monterey for ten months. After such a long time teetering perilously on the edge of a scurvy diagnosis, it was time to settle down in the Emerald Isle and find something resembling a real job.

Paddy was advertising two nice sounding jobs in a nice sounding area. He needed managers for a rural B&B and an independent sustainable recycling plant. The town had a famous Celtic cross and a pub where Sandra Bullock went one time.

We organised an interview with Paddy while staying in an Air B&B in the closest affordable town to Dublin. There were pictures and statues of bleeding Jesuses everywhere to which I occasionally gave a cursory nod because surely you can’t just ignore that many pictures of bleeding Jesuses without some sort of divine consequence.

Beach near House of the bleeding Jesuses

The night before the interview, a scroll to the bottom of Paddy’s website revealed a few details that didn’t seem all that relevant to recycling or idyllic countryside B&Bs.

In time we found out that our friend Paddy was in fact a self-appointed bishop of the Genesis II Church of Healing, which promotes the use of Miracle Mineral Solution – the main ingredient of which is industrial bleach – as a cure for autism, HIV, malaria and cancer. Did Paddy want us to work at the sustainable recycling plant which was actually dissolved in 2014? No. Did he really want us to help him sell Miracle Mineral Solution to the unsuspecting people of County Kildare? Yes. Had Paddy had his house raided by the guards and been convicted of selling an unauthorised medicinal product on the Irish market? Also yes.

And so we went to Galway instead.

Galway

It was raining in Galway, thick sheets of water that charged down from the heavens and hurt your face if you dared to look up at the source of it all.

A woman who we’ll call Beth-Louise wanted a kind and energetic nanny to look after her four boys all aged under eight which looked easy enough on paper because I had never looked after four boys aged under eight at the same time and had massively overestimated my ability to do so.

We had an interview at a nice café and Beth-Louise said “Just to warn you, I’m very particular”, I said that was fine because people called Beth-Louise are bound to be particular and I also didn’t realise that being particular meant we were going to have serious sit down conversations because I didn’t fold the baby blankets so that the thickest seams matched up.

Childminding in Ireland is a funny job because while the name implies that you are minding children, the reality is often that you are minding children, cooking dinner for an entire family, packing for the family’s holiday, taking the bins out, making a months worth of organic baby food from scratch and doing 17,000 loads of washing including several pairs of lacy g-strings which almost definitely don’t belong to the children.

One day Beth-Louise’s friend came to visit.

“Hello” I said.

“Oh” she said, and turned to Beth-Louise.

“It’s so nice you’ve got someone who speaks good English.”

And off they went.

I used my good English to call Beth-Louise’s friend a twat but unfortunately it was only in my head.

I stayed with the family for five months too long, which is to say that I stayed with them for four months and two weeks in total. There was a trip to Majorca on the horizon, and I thought palm trees and a pseudo-Spanish setting might make up for the patronising blanket conversations. There was a four star resort and an impressive buffet and that wonderful thing commonly known to people outside of Ireland as sunshine.

Majorca

We were lounging under the loving rays of said sunshine one afternoon, the boys and I, when one of them dropped a towel.

“I want my towel Kristin” said Child #1

I said that he had arms and he could get it himself.

“But you’re our maid, you do everything for us”

I said I was no such thing.

“You’re mummy and daddy’s maid then”

Having had my personal crisis summed up so neatly by a seven year old, I left.

Everyone says Connemara is beautiful, but that doesn’t quite do it justice because it’s the kind of beauty that is so simultaneously dramatic and graceful and bleak it grabs you violently by the eyeballs and forces you to take notice of it every second of every day.

Killary Fjord, Connemara

I got a job on a boat, pulling pints and ropes and wearing a clip-on tie. I made bad flat whites and exchanged pleasantries with Americans desperately clinging to their Irish roots by wearing bumbags with shamrocks on them. I laughed until my sides hurt almost everyday.

I met another journalist on board one day, and sensing a distinctly un-Irish twang, he asked for my story, how I had ended up in rural Connemara, and what I had done for a living back home. I explained that I had been a TV reporter, a job I had wanted since childhood.

“Really?” he said, looking out at the vast expanse of water, former famine villages, and not much else. “What are you doing all the way out here then?”

The truth was I was there because I was experiencing something of a third-life crisis, too old to be your typical anything-goes Kiwi OE-er and too young to bear the thought of dedicating the rest of my life to my career or sending miniature versions of myself into the unforgiving world. I was there because in the city I expected nothing less than perfection from myself, and was therefore constantly disappointed. Beyond that, I was always on my phone. I was there because the people who I worked with and the people who I met and the people who lived in the area were nice and had no ulterior motives for being that way. I was there because there’s no greater antidepressant than standing outside in a gigantic yellow raincoat, soaked to the core, watching black clouds roll towards you and knowing that at the end of the day you’re just a sack of meat and bones on a tiny revolving rock in an endless galaxy.

But I couldn’t say all that, so instead I said, “just something different aye”.

 

Clip-on tie

We acquired a lamb, Oscar found him wandering alone on a country highway shortly after birth, mother sheep nowhere to be seen. The farmer said we could have him but that he would probably die anyway. He spent his early days trying to master the kitchen lino with his wobbly legs and smearing shit all over our textured wall with his floppy lamb tail. We took him camping and to the beach and he chased other animals because – thanks to his close relationship with the neighbours dog – he thought he was a Yorkshire terrier. He got sick and then well again. We had to let him go anyway, to be with his own kind, not that he cares much for their company.

Sean/Chops

It’s strange to call another country home, but home was what it felt like. I loved Ireland deeply. I loved the land, I loved the locals and the particular kind of international weirdos that rural living attracts. I loved late nights and pints of Guinness and Bulmers with ice and listening to old people singing old people songs in old people pubs. I loved long tea breaks and stupid jokes and the reflection of the mountains in the fjord and the way Irish people add redundant phrases onto the end of sentences for emphasis, so they do.

I spent a year in Ireland. I advanced my career not one bit, but I got to breathe the freshest of ocean air and gawk at my surroundings everyday. Very occasionally I learnt how to become less of a neurotic tangle of paranoid perfectionism, and I laughed a lot. Did I learn anything more practical from this experience other than to never work for rich people or convicted criminals? I’m not sure. But it was beautiful, and it was great craic.

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