Ireland - wibbler.com

Look at me! I can train!

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There is a little visited place just outside Leeds that goes by the name of Beeston. Sadly, Beeston is not somewhere you’d find on the front of any Leeds Tourist Board leaflet, covered as it is with empty and broken buildings, large concrete slabs of car parks and a remarkably large travellers site. However, there is a shining beacon of light just near the centre – my company’s northern office – and this was the venue for me to give my first solo training course to unsuspecting trainees on the merits of our software system. They were travelling from Ireland and London, eager to listen to my pearls of wisdom. God help them.
I made it up to Leeds in a mere four hours, taking in the sights and sounds of the M1 along the way. It seems that regular drivers on the M1 have developed their own way of coping with the mangled wrecks and twisted metal of more unfortunate drivers as they pass by – and their coping mechanism involves ignoring other drivers for a good part of their journey. Every time I’ve driven up the blessed road, it becomes the survival of the fittest, each twist and turn of the motorway presenting intriguing uses of the brake and accelerator from each driver, all eager to get into first place in an imaginary race. Most cruise on in the outside lane, daring others behind to undertake illegally – a challenge which I take on with enthusiastic aplomb. Many others, when seeing that most are cruising in the outside lane, take the inside, steaming past all the other cars with a big grin on their faces.
I made it in one piece, and that night began to look through the training notes for the two day course. I ought to know a little about what I’m talking about, I thought…
As it turned out, the trainees were very low maintenence. One, an Irish man from Belfast with a barely intelligible accent, knew very little about the system while the other, a large African woman, knew even less. The best possible training situation had presented itself – and I got stuck in, flirting with the woman and cracking jokes with the man, making sure I’d win round the audience even if the content was a little below par.
In the end, I even surprised myself with the knowledge I was able to give, and we all met in the bar that night to celebrate, accompanied by Dean, a colleague who I’d only recently visited Switzerland with. We talked for hours, over beer and over dinner, about seemingly nothing. The Belfast man turned out to be an ex-employee of the Guinness factory and was able to confirm my recent revelation about the hangover-inducing chemicals in English beer. On top of that, he was able to divulge several other drinking facts. For example, Guinness doesn’t contain any iron despite claiming to do so; the best way to drink without hangovers is to have vodka and lemonade; and that one sixth of Ireland are allegic to rice, meaning that they can’t drink Guinness.
Sozzled, I wandered upstars to my room an hour later, and couldn’t tell whether I was so drunk I was hallucinating – or whether I did actually see my old college friend Rob Simpson (under the amusing moniker Rufus Hound) presenting a late night BBC show called Destination Three.
I was unsure I’d manage to fill the second day’s training, but I’d remembered an old trainer’s trick I’d learnt the night before – “if you’re struggling to fill the last day, bore them a little and then tell them all they’re going home at 1.30pm. They’ll be pleased as punch.” Which turned out to be entirely true, and I managed to be 200 miles away, in the loving arms of my sofa and my girlfriend, before sundown.

Switzerland – Minus seven, and I was still laughing…

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Last time I visited Switzerland, you may remember, I was waxing lyrical about the sheer amount of brothels. Not the wonderful cheese, the spectacular mountains, the glorious Swiss chocolate – but brothels.
And now, at the risk of being utterly stereotypical, I shall discuss at length the quality of Swiss beer. No, actually, first I shall let you in on my trip. And then discuss at length the beer.
It was a trip that had been put off since early January, and my experience of Switzerland before had made me eager to sample more. This time, three of my colleagues were on the plane with me for the three-day jaunt – Ian, John and Dean, who hails from Ireland and had come via a Westlife concert – don’t ask. Ian, John and I managed to meet – almost by accident – at Heathrow Terminal 4 on Sunday afternoon, and after checking in with the first check-in assistant I’ve ever witnessed with a personality, we headed for the bar.
Finding the bar was tricky though, and we split up to search. An excited call from John later, and we were in the Duty Free shop, trying 3 different types of vodka cocktails for free. “You’re meant to buy the bottles afterwards” came the distant call from the waitress as we hurried into the distance, our stomachs warmed considerably courtesy of Smirnoff.
Boarding the plane, Ian remarked that my lack of furry coat may be a problem in Switzerland. “No,” I retorted, “they’re closer to the equator than we are. If anything it’ll be warmer.” My ill-thought logic was woefully off-piste, as confirmed by the helpful captain as we looked over the frozen landscape a couple of hours later. “Best get your woolies on,” he cheerily advised, “it’s minus 7 degree centigrade down there.” Christ, I muttered.
We landed remarkably smoothly despite the Siberian conditions outside, and sidled off the plane in awe at the landscape. Switzerland is reknowned for its beautiful scenery and towering mountain landscapes, but I was blown away. Time was not on our side though – it was getting dark and there was a 1 hour train journey ahead of us. Switzerland’s transport system is legendary (at least in my eyes), and after momentary directional confusion, we found the train and reclined in leather-clad luxury for the smoothest ride I’ve ever experienced.
The hotel, just 100 metres from the station, was a pleasant surprise too. Decked out in classy glass and red leather sofas, mirrored ceilings and a glorious bar, it was manna from heaven at 10.30pm on a cold night. We dumped our bags, met Dean, tested the bar, and then slept. Slept well.
The following three days were a mix of training, evening drinking, laughing, resplendent restaurants and a battle for sleep. My colleagues, I discovered, were genuinely amusing, and I laughed until I cried at least three times a day. There were many hundreds of comical moments – from Dean’s initial greeting as he met us in the bar (as he passed the bar with his travel bags, we misheard “two secs” as “group sex”, a greeting that will forever be repeated on future meetings) to Ian’s “petit peu/petit pois” confusion and Dean’s description of the Irish traffic light system (“orange means put your foot down, red means you’re good for two more cars). I was struggling to stop giggling for most of the trip. The main company bod over in Germany, a large Bavarian man called Herbert, was a drinker beyond compare, and we managed to stay up until 2am every day, sampling the Swiss beer like there was no tomorrow.
Ah yes, the Swiss beer. Now, Dean had informed me of a little known fact at our first meeting about the difference between beer in the UK and Ireland and beer in the rest of Europe. According the gospel of Dean, there is a chemical in the UK beer that is banned in European beer. This chemical, I was informed, causes hangovers, in some complicated way I was unable to fully grasp. “Surely not,” I replied, “I’ve never heard that before”. So, in true British style, we decided to test it out. Nine pints of lager and a good sleep later and Dean’s theory was proved correct – we woke a little sleepy but otherwise completely fine.
And there, my friends, is the secret to the drinking skills of other Europeans. The drink because their beer is actually tasty and because they don’t get hangovers. There are all sorts of questions that arise from this, not least why we have that darned chemical in the first place, but we were content to test the theory every night for three days. On the last day we toured Zurich city centre, and discovered an odd mixture of lapdancing clubs and many, many clothes shops. Its architecture is very like Milan, if you’ve ever been, and I’m eager to visit again, despite their extortionate taxis.
So, another trip to Switzerland finished. Safe to say I was in need of a rest, and slept for most of the next two days. Now I’m back in the land of the living, and eagerly awaiting the next excuse to visit…

One Day in Ireland – a step back in time

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I’d only been to Ireland once, and most of that was a haze. My 25th birthday had been marked by a celebratory visit to Dublin, but I was conscious that i wasn’t seeing the real Ireland, but rather a commercialised, but highly enjoyable, version of it.
The real Ireland finally greeted me with open fields early last week on a hastily arranged business trip. I landed at Shannon Airport late on Monday night, on instruction to go and fix some issues at a client of ours in a ominously sounding place called Aughinish Island. A surprise booking in the Club Class section of the aircraft soothed my brow as turbulence hit with unnerving frequency. Being in club Class, I noted, didn’t improve the food – I finally managed to digest the in-flight meal as we were coming in to land. The airport was modern, and the Hertz Car Rental helpdesk assistant was surprisingly cheery as the clock suggested I was probably keeping him from a warm cup of cocoa and an early night. “Oooh, nice,” he said, “A Hyundai Getz…”. I realised as I approached the car that his comment may have been sarcasm. Before me was one of the smallest cars I’d ever seen. I managed to spoon myself into the drivers’ seat, pushed the chair back as far as it could go, and set off into the night with my head planted on the ceiling.
Whenever I set off in a new car, I find the clutch almost impossible to control. I’ve no idea whether this is an affliction that affects all car drivers or whether its just my own personal driving dyslexia, but everyone on the exit road from Limerick Airport at 9pm last Monday will remember a large man in a tiny car bunnyhopping down the road for many weeks, i suspect.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before the police stopped me. In fact, I was only 400 metres away from my parking space when I was flagged down by a stern officer, who insinuated I was driving “erratically”. Nonsense, I declared, but the officer proceeded with his questioning. It turned out the airport was on high alert for a car thief that had just stolen a number of cars and, relieved, I sped away once the officer was satisfied I was mostly innocent, save for my “suspicious English accent”.
Well, “sped”. Southern Ireland have recently introduced speeding fines, and as a result the usual high speed traffic had reduced to a snails pace, leaving yours truly with the tricky task of overtaking in a car that barely touched 70mph. My confidence grew with every overtaking move and I was making blistering progress as both the light and my patience dimmed.
The progress was certainly blistering, but sadly it was in the wrong direction. I was looking for the Ennis Road Roundabout, which I assumed would be in Ennis. Sadly, the Ennis Road is a long one, and I’d been going the wrong way. A short, fifteen minute journey to the hotel had become an hours long trek, and the fading light hurried me on, ever faster.
I got to the hotel at 10.30pm, completely bushed. I fell asleep within seconds.
The following day started early, and I attempted to eat breakfast in the worst Little Chef I have ever found… to date. And then, Aughinish Island. It was a short trek from the hotel, and I took in the sights and sounds of the countryside. There was a distinct lack of development anywhere but the most established towns – the roads, the hotel and its restaurant, even the cars themselves, had clearly never been refurbished since it was built. In fact that was true of most of the places I found during my one day stay – the lack of development, the lack of technology, the lack of pace – it’s all a world away from back home. Even the inhabitants were unaware of any place over 20 miles from their home, which made for interesting directions the night before.
And finally, Aughinish loomed on the horizon. The entire island was taken up by one huge structure, held together with a network of tubes and a maze of roads. I was instructed to wear goggles at the security gate for fear of comtamination – of what I don’t know – but my embarrassment was softened when I saw that the entire 600-strong workforce at the plant were all similarly goggled.
I won’t bore you with my work there – save to say that I managed to fix the bugger 5 minutes before I was due to leave for the airport, and the thrashing the little Getz got in my hurried trip back has probably rendered the gearbox completely limp. I made it onto the plane with moments to spare – and after an uneventful trip back home managed to hit the sack at around 10pm.
The overall impression of Southern Ireland? Well, for what it’s worth, here’s my advice – take a book.