Paddling the Nile
The first ever paddle down the Blue Nile from source to sea. 5,000km through wild rapids, war zones, crocodile and hippo infested waters, disease, terrorists, guns, arrests; the works...
Newly married amongst the neon glow and dumpling vendors as we bumble our way trying to figure out the world's most populous nation at this exciting time in it's history...
The Great Canadian Bike Trek
23 years old and naive, I set off in the middle of Canada's barbaric winter perched on a woolskin seat-cover peddling solo from one side of Canada to the other...
It was to captivate the city of Dublin for 6 huge nights. The 21st annual Kilmacud Musical & Dramatic Society's performance of Cole Porter's Anything Goes. Set in the 1920s on the illustrious cruise liner 'The American', the show was an electrifying 2 1/2 hours of lies, deceit, love and misdeed - with a happy ending of course. Roaring tunes, complicated tap dancing routines and elaborate costumes entertained the audience through the 2 acts and 11 scenes of possibly the finest example of an amateur musical in Europe.
I made my stage debut as a sleazy cameraman wanting a bit of leg before the quick transformation after the first scene to become the pompous captain of the ship. Sporting a pair of shiny white shoes, a sailor suit, a bristly beard and a coating of makeup that even an Air Lingus hostess would be proud of, I faltered my way through with good posture and a bad American accent playing a character later compared by critics to screen legends such as Buzz Lightyear and John Wayne. Even after a gruelling winter of dance routines and song sheets, I never managed to master any of the steps and my chorus singing was pretty bad at times, but one couldn't be happier with how the overall production turned out.
The last night ended in style including the usual pranks such as a blow-up sheep and excessive chest hair and the presentations of flowers to the divas followed by a memorable post-performance party complete with a well-lubed Nancy, karaoke and some surprisingly poor renditions of everything from Madonna to Andrew Strong. And then the show was no more.
Although it was nice to have free nights again (leading up to the show, rehearsals were almost every night) and I had been warned of the potential post-show blues, I was still a little bit sad that there would be no more walks down to Stillorgan for practice, pints at the Millhouse or Big Macs in a crowded McDonalds and most of all, it would be a good while before I would see most of the cast again.
The buzz of the show meant the chilly months of winter came and went without hardly even noticing them. Although my memories of winter are dominated by recollections of learning lines to songs from a home-made tape for tenors and post-rehearsal car journeys in Ian's VW with Tahlia and Catherine singing along to Dublin's light hits, I still managed to see a few sights in between.
Winter started for me with a ridiculously hung over journey, sleeping on the floor of the ferry to Wales across a choppy Irish Sea to join my cousin Stuart (a.k.a. Poxy Stu) for his birthday celebrations at a magnificent historic homestead in Snowdonia, the scenic mountainous part of Northwestern Wales. The memories I had of Poxy Stu were of a pimple-faced golfer who was a few years older and who had a scarred and slightly flattened nose from a squash injury involving my brother and a graphite racket. The years had been good to Stu, he still had the nose wound but he had turned into a high flying finance guy with a lovely girlfriend called Rochelle.
The homestead Llanfendigaid ('Parish of the Blessed') was a spectacular 3-storied, 10-bedroom, stone mansion built in the 13th century. It came complete with a good 300 acres of scenic hilly land stretching down to the rugged coast in the southern end of Snowdonia National Park. Guests were spoilt with a heated indoor swimming pool and all of the magnificent antiques and memorabilia you'd expect to find in such a grand estate. The walls were lined with family portraits, family trees (or rather vines, as there was only two aristocrat families in the town so there were slim pickings for mates), stuffed ducks and other animals from hunting and a walnut-sized bullet that had been lodged in a relative's ribs for a couple of months before it was removed. To top things off, I had the eerie third floor all to myself.
When we weren't filling ourselves with copious amounts of lavish food and drink we took advantage of the apparently unusually beautiful weather and saw a few of the sites around the mountainous area in the cheap rental bomb (that was later to break down in the absolute middle of nowhere) taking in a few castles and the village of Portmeirion. Portmeirion was built by Clough Williams Ellis on his private peninsula between 1925 and 1975. The lush steep hillside is dotted with character buildings inspired by architecture from the all over Europe acting as everything from museums, to restaurants, to craft shops to honeymoon suites lining a skinny avenue winding down to a golden sandy beach, it was a good place look around.
With no family in this part of the world to spend Christmas with, I joined the other antipodean orphans Gav, Kate, Dan and Ronnie and went for a weeks skiing in Val d'Isere somewhere high up in the spectacular French Alps. Apparently one of the biggest resorts around, what impressed me was how many different runs there were and the infrastructure linking them. Getting up the mountain was a breeze with everything from chairlifts to gondolas to cable-car-things that go up through a tunnel in the mountain. In a nutshell the week consisted of a bit of off-piste (off the groomed trials), hot chocolate, a few BIG stacks from Gav, snow men, miniature bottles of French beer, mulled wine, hot dogs amongst other good French food and almost getting my head bashed in by an angry girl from Essex who I accidently hit with a pool ball.
A hunger for a bit more time away from the big smoke saw a weekend up in Carlingford just south of the Northern Ireland border. It was a sweet little town at the foot of some mountains on the shores of a loch and is apparently known for its outdoor activities on the lake and in the mountains.
As it was still the middle of winter, water activities weren't really an option, so Darragh, Madden, Dan, Ronnie and myself took to the incline. Four seasons in one day spoilt us with anything from short spells of sunshine to howling winds and horizontal rain battering us along the ridge. We made our way across farmed paddocks, over stone walls and through bog lands before we reached the top, which bought with it a 360 degree vista of the loch below, the mountains to the north and the plains to the south and beyond.
An entertaining evening followed, starting with one of the best dinners I've had in Ireland followed by a bit of a pub crawl to a few of the town's interesting establishments. The night saw a pool table brawl between some locals and a stag from County Meath, some unsuccessful negotiations to get into the local disco, a lock-in with some poor singing, a greasy takeaway trailer who accepted Australian dollars and an attempt to dip hands from the sleeping stag party in pots of warm water.
No chronicle of my travels would be complete without a mention of the belated Eircell Vodafone Product Marketing Department Christmas do - a lavish black tie casino evening. The common bystander could be forgiven for thinking the Oscars had come to town, based on the way everyone scrubbed up, but what started off as a respectable and somewhat elegant evening ended a drunken loutish affair in the finest of Christmas spirit. It was a night of singing (of which 'Just a Gigalo' was on the playlist), dancing, gambling, head injury, scandal and an extremely grubby white jacket in the morning...