A Wee Dander Around the North

October 2018

So far I’ve learned that only about 20% of engineering is understanding the basic concepts and their origins, and the other 80% is simply using common sense and thinking things through. That said, I’m learning to ask a lot of questions without coming across as defiant, because either that I have something to learn from asking the question or it does not, in fact, make any sense at all. One day one of my co-workers wrote concrete “sleep” instead of “slab.” But hey, if I had two small children I’d probably have the same thing on my mind. 

Speaking of common sense, I was walking through the city center heading home from work one day when I heard a strange yell behind me and I turn around just in time to see a bicyclist in mid-collision with a female pedestrian. She had walked into the street when the walk sign was red and somehow completely missed the biker heading towards her at full speed. She was flat on her back and seemed relatively ok, but when she sat up her head was bleeding; not a lot, but enough to cause concern. A few other concerned bystanders and I got her onto the sidewalk and sat her down. I had to ask what the emergency number was (it’s 112 in most of Europe) but after the person looking at me like I was crazy and not much of an answer I just dialed 911 (which turned out to be correct, no thanks to the person I asked). Thankfully a Garda (police officer) was passing by and stepped in, and thank goodness no one was critically injured because we waited at least 40 minutes for the ambulance to show up. Moral of the story: don’t jaywalk kids. Or at the very least double check for bicycles.

The Irish weather has continued to be amazing. I keep waiting for the gray rainy days to set in, but they haven’t yet, which is very unusual. Even though it got really cold last week, we’ve still had quite a bit of sun. Ireland also typically receives the remnants of former hurricanes. This year, while the panhandle of Florida was being absolutely devastated by Hurricane Michael, we got a Friday off work due to “storm” Callum, which ended up being no more than a morning drizzle and a touch of wind. That’t the extent of Ireland’s “extreme” weather and capability of handling it.

As for our neighbors, they’ve been incredibly friendly and welcoming ever since we moved in. The family on either side moved in not long after my grandparents did, so they knew my mom and they’ve known me since the first time I visited when I was two months old. One of the neighbors always brings the bins up the driveway after it’s been collected, and the other always collects our packages from the mailman when we’re not home. Courtney and I even befriended a neighborhood cat named Leonardo, who occasionally walks home with us. One day we arrived home at the same time and were sitting on our front step petting Leo when our neighbor from across the street came over to say hello. She had thought we were locked out, but we reassured her that we were just petting the cat. I suggested that she and her husband and their three small children should come over one evening for tea and biscuits. So about two weeks later they wrangled the kids and brought them over, along with a giant bouquet of flowers to welcome us to the neighborhood. We chatted away (or gnattered, as some Dubliners might say) and they told me about the neighborhood, the local library, the best place nearby to get Thai food (my favorite), and where to get the best fresh bread. We also shared memories of my Grandad, and I rummaged through one of the upstairs wardrobes and brought down some of the toys, games, and puzzles, which dated back to when my siblings and I were very young, for the children. The two older kids enjoyed the puzzle and jenga, while the little one had a blast gradually stashing all the biscuits from the tin in various other parts of the room. I found half a biscuit in the couch several days later.

Last week Courtney’s friend and this friend’s boyfriend’s mom came to visit, so over the weekend we went to visit Courtney’s family (3rd cousins I believe) who live in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Unfortunately something that I ate for lunch on Friday didn’t agree with me, so once arrived, I spent the first five hours of my stay throwing up. Thankfully it was only food poisoning though and not a stomach bug, so after about midnight that night I was fine, so at least I was able to enjoy the rest of the weekend.

We visited Giant’s causeway (of course) and several sites that were used as filming locations in Game of Thrones: the Dark Hedges, Ballintoy Harbour, and a couple other places whose names/locations I don’t remember, but were equally enchanting. We stayed in an Airbnb, a little cottage out in Ballyclare (the middle of nowhere), and we got to meet our hosts’ dogs and cows. They own over 50 Scottish curly haired cows (I think Galloway cattle), who were really shy and cute.

On Sunday, on the way back to Dublin, we stopped at St. George’s Market in Belfast. I found some great homemade jam, fresh Dutch rhubarb (because there wasn’t a good crop in Ireland this year), yummy savory crepes, and I wandered around dozens of eclectic booths selling candy, pastries, wood crafts, metal work, knits, paintings, jewelry, etc. At one point an old fold-up meter stick at an antiques stall caught my eye and the vendor saw me trying to figure out how to unfold it. He started telling me about it and flipped it over saying “This side here is in inches. Your generation is used to metric, but in the past we used the imperial system. You see, there are 12 inches in a foot…” I politely interjected saying that I’m from the U.S. so I’m actually fairly familiar with the imperial system, which seemed to greatly surprise him. This was the first time I wasn’t immediately pegged as an American once opening my mouth, so I’ll take that as a good sign. 

We also gave our guests a brief history lesson while driving around Belfast and showing them the different residential areas of the two factions during The Troubles (the Protestants/loyalists and the Catholics/republicans), their respective murals, and the peace wall.

And of course, many would say that October isn’t complete without Halloween.  However, Halloween is actually a very new concept in Ireland. When my mom moved to the U.S. in the late ’80s, she thought it was very strange that children dressed in costumes and begged for candy from strangers (understandably). In fact, up until very recently the U.S. was the only country that celebrated the holiday (besides countries with similar holidays, such as Mexico’s Día de Los Muertos). It’s the global Americanization that brought Halloween to Europe.

I was curious to see how it would be and very hopeful that people wouldn’t go to such extremes here, because even though there are aspects of it that I like, it’s still my least favorite holiday. The decorations started popping up at the beginning of October, and people started setting off fireworks up to a week in advance (even though they’re illegal). One of the neighbors told me that Halloween is their “fireworks holiday” because they don’t associate fireworks with any other holiday. I find that odd though because Ireland has an independence day (it doesn’t seem to be widely celebrated but I haven’t been here for it so I could be wrong) and I would’ve though that, if anything, St. Patrick’s Day would be a fireworks-worthy holiday. From the way my mom describes the celebrations from when she was a child, it sounds very similar to our Independence Day celebrations.

Despite my general dislike for Halloween, I was still pretty excited for this one because I’d never given out candy to kids before, because my parents have never liked Halloween and in college I either lived in an apartment or there weren’t any kids in the neighborhood. Because it was right after we got back from Northern Ireland, we didn’t have time to get any decorations apart from a couple of pumpkins. I had heard that if you didn’t have any decorations, people might think you didn’t celebrate Halloween and kids wouldn’t come trick-or-treating, so the first thing Courtney and I did when we got home from work/school on Halloween was make our own decorations. The kids seemed to all come at once, before the rain set in. So I’d say my first Irish Halloween was a success.

And of course, since there’s no Thanksgiving in Ireland, guess which holiday “starts” on November 1st?

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P.S. In case you’re still wondering, a “wee dander” is Northern Irish slang for a walk

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