The Galaxy v. Master Yoda (No. 1), [2016] ICC 132

I’ve recently begun to play this weird, kinda disturbing game in my head when I go to the cinema to see any form of action movie – I count the violations of the Geneva Conventions and try to decide who is guilty of the most war crimes. (I abandoned this game 20 minutes into the last Hunger Games movie. Don’t get me started on that big Australian man-tree, Gale. The Hague would have a field day prosecuting that dude.) Also recently, as some of you may have noticed, the dudes who make Star Wars decided to make another one. It came out around Christmas, I don’t know if anyone saw it. Anyway, I digress. My significant other has a slight Star Wars obsession, and if I was going to accompany him to the latest installment, I needed to be introduced to the world (or rather, universe. Get it? I made a Star Wars joke.) of George Lucas. Let me give you my first unpopular opinion of this blog post, and it’s only going to become increasingly more unpopular from here on: Episode IV and Episode V are literally the only good movies of the original 6. If a franchise is only 33% good, it’s not a good franchise. JK Rowling for life. (Ok, so Episode VII was AMAZING on so many levels and Rey’s badass character totally made up for the infuriatingly sexist, unnecessary-to-the-plot-line travesty that was Princess Leia in that bikini, with Jabba the f***ing Hut, and I actually forgive JJ Abrams for Lost now because The Force Awakens was fantastic)

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At this point we were all in too deep to even say “Dammit John, you cannot move an island!”

But again, I digress. We got to Episode II, after the complete snooze fest that was Phantom Menace where the only exciting part was Liam Neeson’s L’Oreal-worthy hair, and suddenly I was playing my sordid little war crime game again. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is where the most unpopular of unpopular opinions is about to drop, like a planet-destroying super-laser on Alderaan.

Yoda is a war criminal.

For those of you still with me, make no mistake, I am finding it as difficult to process as you are. Cute little, wrinkly Yoda, with his curious limp that miraculously disappears when someone needs an ass-kicking. If Yoda is guilty of anything, its of being the cutest character in the franchise. Cuter even than those primitive Ewoks who worship C-3PO. But facts are facts. And a war crime is a war crime. And it’s no surprise that little green whatever-he-is went into hiding after Episode III.

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Nawh, a plushy war lord, how cute!?

My specific beef with Yoda is the fact that he’s a war lord who continuously violates the laws of war and uses child soldiers in acts of war. And by literally anyone’s standards, child soldiers is a bad thing. So lets look at the facts. First of all, we need to think about Attack of the Clones. Forget all of the painfully clichéd scenes with Anakin and Padmé (forgetting that awful scene where they roll around in the grass is a difficult task – it’s seared into my consciousness forever.) Lets look at Obi-Wan’s journey to Kamino, that planet that didn’t appear on the Jedi Archives (I originally called them ‘Jedi maps’, not archives. My proofreading-Star-Wars-nerd-boyfriend insisted I change it). It is there we discover that the planet’s Prime Minister, a Mr. Lama Su is in the process of developing a massive army of cloned humans. (As an aside, this weird snake-dude Su is definitely a war criminal too. If your business is literally the mass production of disposable humans to order, for slaughter in war, you’re probably not a good person.)

So anyway, we find out on Kamino that some former Jedi fella by the name of Sifo-Dyas ordered all of these clones ten years ago on behalf of the Republic. There are some points of information here. Firstly it’s super important to note that the clones were commissioned 10 years before Obi-Wan arrives. This means that Lama Su and his bros only began the creation of the army then. He explains that their development process has been speeded-up and that’s why they all look like adults. However, they’re not adults. They are, in fact, 10-year old humans. And herein lies the important part. Just because the Jango-Gang all look like 40-year old men does not make them 40-year old men. They have been alive for a mere 10 years, at most. Therefore, regardless of how they look, how early they hit puberty or how much they look like that fully grown man with a son, Jango Fett, they remain as kids. The clones are 100% children. The golden age under International Humanitarian Law, or the Law of War, is 15-years old. We’ll get to that later, but for now, just note that the Jango-Gang are all at maximum, 10-years old.

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“Don’t you fucking TOUCH my Alphabet Spaghetti, Karl.”

Anyway, this Sifo-Dyas character orders himself a big ole army of cloned people. Ok, so he did the whole thing behind everyone’s back, and ended up dead before the shit hit the proverbial fan. But then it was of course Senator Palpatine, the least convincing double agent in all of cinematic history, who caught onto the notion that this army existed. He uses it as part of his plan to overthrow the Republic and because they are all terrible seeing what is literally right in front of their noses, apparently for more than 10 years, the Jedi council and the Republic itself take the bait. This would not have happened on Dumbledore’s watch. Just saying.

Here we get to the second most important part of our story thus far. Back to the clones. Yoda is made aware of this clone army. He’s currently top-dog in the Jedi Crew at this point and he’s faced with a decision. Obi-Wan and the two most infuriatingly incapable characters, Anakin and Padmé (aside from Jar Jar Binks in literally every second he’s on screen and R2-D2 in the latest installment. How could he not wake the hell up sooner? They could have made a 30 minute movie if R2-D2 had just woken up when they needed him) somehow get themselves into a crazy, harebrained, darned tootin’ scenario and need to be rescued. Cue Yoda with his decision – Do I send the army of child soldiers that have materialised at my disposal just now, or do I want to not be a war criminal? You’d think that it’s a right old head-scratcher. Mmmm, for Yoda, it is not.  Nope. Yoda is right in there with the Jango Kids. Off to war with you all! And in that moment, little grammatically challenged Yoda becomes more that a criminal against the English language, he becomes a criminal against humanity.

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Heard of International Humanitarian Law, I have not. 

Now, lets follow the foolproof legal-answer-format of ILAC (issue, law, application, conclusion) and back up what I’m saying with some law. Specifically, some Geneva and Hague Law. I’m pretty sure everyone’s heard of the Geneva Conventions, because they get a mention every now and then in some Hollywood rendition of diplomacy whereby the middle-aged white male in charge seems versed in international relations by saying something like “Forget about Geneva, dammit!!”. But nevertheless, they are a set of internationally binding conventions that govern the rule of law. The important thing about the conventions for this pointless, hypothetical, intergalactic discussion on war crimes is, however, that even if a country (or in our scenario, a planet or galaxy) has not signed up to Geneva, they are still bound by them. Geneva applies to all war (with lots of exceptions that I wont go into now), whether you want it to or not. It’s customary law. Next.

Furthermore, Geneva applies for the most part to what is known as international armed conflict. Essentially, this means country-on-country war. So I’m interpreting this to mean planet-on-planet war. Deal with it.

Now, lets look at the conventions themselves. Article 50 of Geneva Convention IV tells us that there may be no enlistment of children, specifically that the Occupying Power may not “enlist them in formations or organizations subordinate to it”. Ok, but that’s just an occupying army, what about any army, who isn’t actually occupying any country, region, planet or galaxy? It seems, however, the people in Geneva thought of this too. Albeit not until 1977, but nonetheless, it’s there. Article 77(2) of Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions reads that:

“The Parties to the conflict shall take all feasible measures in order that children who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities and, in particular, they shall refrain from recruiting them into their armed forces. In recruiting among those persons who have attained the age of fifteen years but who have not attained the age of eighteen years, the Parties to the conflict shall endeavour to give priority to those who are oldest.”

And the Additional Protocols don’t stop there. It is literally never ok to use child soldiers. You hearing that, George Lucas? Your little green hero is a monster. Its not even ok if you need to fetch Anakin the Incompetent from a gladiator ring (that he is fully responsible for finding himself in, I might add). Additional Protocol II says at Article 4(3)(c ) that

“Children who have not attained the age of fifteen years shall neither be recruited in the armed forces or groups nor allowed to take part in hostilities”

Finally, lets have a look at the International Criminal Court. That’s the place you go if you’re literally the worst person on the planet (and not an English-speaking white diplomat, apparently) and get tried for war crimes. The ICC has a statute, setting out its mandate, and inter alia (I’m using a legal term here because I want my parents to know that studying law was totally worth it, as I sit here, writing a blog post about Star Wars, loosely tied to the law on a Thursday afternoon) it tells us in Articles Article 8(2)(b)(xxvi) and (e)(vii) that is is a war crime when a party to conflict engages in:

“Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities.”

It’s currently not looking all that good for our friend Master Yoda. That lightsaber is a lightsaber of lies. It needs to be red and you know it.

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Alright, alright, alright, moving on to application, with the help of my buddy Matt. 

Alright. Application time. Although I hardly feel the need. As I mentioned before, the Geneva Conventions are customary. And as they therefore have a universal applicability, it would make sense to consider that they apply to, well, universes. So you’re screwed on that one Yoda. The clones are at most, 10 years old. They are also living beings. The Droid Army don’t exactly fit this criteria (maybe they do, because I’m pretty sure BB8 has feelings. He’s also adorable. Does that mean he’s alive? Hell if I know, I’m in the business of law, not ethics.) So essentially, they are kids, below the cut-off age of 15-years old. And Yoda knows this. If he doesn’t, he ought to have known, and in the legal world, this is mostly identical to actual knowledge. Yoda was in charge and he ought to have known better. He ought to have behaved better and, you know, not sent a load of kids into armed conflict to save what the dude who would eventually turn out to be the patriarch of the most troublesome family the galaxy has ever seen. In the movie itself, Yoda comes flying in, like a little green hero with all of the Jango Kids and “saves the day”. He’s all like “around the survivors, a perimeter, create”. As in literally use yourselves as human shields for the Jedi, because I like those guys more. YODA COME ON. You are now in the same box as Donald Rumsfeld, AKA, Satan Himself, a man who deliberately danced around Geneva and actively sought a way to violate the most un-violatable of all laws, ever.

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Dammit Yoda, we were all rooting for you! 

I just wanna point out that not even Kylo Ren, the creator of a massive WMD (that’s a weapon of mass destruction, if you’re not down with the lingo) that ticks all sorts of No-No boxes as far as the Geneva Conventions are concerned (ability to kill indiscriminately, kills civilians, destroys cultural heritage and civilian objects, obliterates entire races of people, etc), used child soldiers. And this guy is evil to the core. Evil and a moody teen, to the core, obviously. I mean he had no other reason for being evil than thinking it was super cool, hating his dad and being annoyingly emo. He doesn’t even need the mask! He literally lives on a WMD, his postal address is “Star Killer Base”. Not even this dude would stoop to Yoda’s level. He apparently just prefers mandatory conscription, I guess.

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*slams bedroom door and blasts MCR at full volume from iPod speakers his dad bought him*

There are no two ways of looking at this. Yoda is full-on guilty of war crimes. He’s getting done. Although considering all of the lousy characters in the movie, he wouldn’t have been alone in a cell. He would have had the accompaniment of Anakin (straight up murdering kids and you know, all of that genocide and stuff with the Death Star after he changed his name and got really into walk-on music and black capes), our old friend Lama Su, probably Sifo-Dyas because placing an order for the mass production of killing-children crossing all sorts of ethical lines is definitely not a good idea and he essential got this old Jango-Child soldiers ball rolling. Oh, Kylo Ren is also in there, again, he lives on a weapon of mass destruction and stuff and I guess Domhnall Gleeson might get a seat in the cell too. We’re going to need another cell. Because George Lucas directed three terrible movies and couldn’t leave well enough alone. I CANNOT UNSEE ANAKIN AND PADMÉ ROLLING AROUND IN THE GRASS DAMMIT. No amount of flowy, peak 90’s, L’Oreal for Men, Liam Neeson hair can make up for that tragedy.

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Because I’m worth it. 

In true, ILAC fashion, I gotta conclude this. And in conclusion, everyone, including myself, who consider Yoda to be the adorable, wise and reliable hero of the Star Wars universe, has been grossly mistaken. Call it victors justice, call it excellent marketing or call it an unwillingness to see the green, wrinkly Dobby-of-Star Wars as a bad guy. Whatever it is, we’ve been lied to. Yoda sucks and he’s got quite a nerve to talk shit about the Sith being evil. Little green hypocrite.

Now, before anyone gets on their high horse about the legitimacy of my argument and accuses me of having no idea about Star Wars, although I may not be a die-hard fan, I am sure the site administrators of Wookieepedia are. (Incidentally, this is the greatest name for a website, ever. I laughed for a good 10 minutes when my google search of “Star Wars Wikipedia” coughed this up.) If you haven’t been on this site, it’s phenomenally well researched. So much so that on the first article I clicked on (A synopsis of Episode II, because there was no way I was sitting through that cinematic disaster again, not even for vague, pointless research) every 4th word or so was a blue hyperlink to another article. Like, that dude, Sifo-Dyas is mentioned maybe 5 times in the movies. And yet there’s an entire page on him including a picture. These guys know their Star Wars. And I know how to read, copy and paste, so if my facts are out, take it up with Wookieepedia.

 

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Chewbacca appreciates a good pun. He may also be drunk. And appears to be advertising for Corn Flakes. 

 

 

I also want to make it clear that I am not making light of war crimes, war itself or the atrocities it brings. I am annoyed by most movies that romanticise and celebrate war because almost exclusively, the terrors of war are overlooked and human suffering ignored. This blog post is meant in jest and I hope people can see it that way. 

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Things That Are Different In Finland (That I Never Expected to be Different)

I can’t think of a better name for this post. I don’t know if there’s a word for “Things that are different that one never anticipated to be different”, but if there is, please let me know. Until then, we’ll just say that this is a blog post about the things that, during my time in Finland, I found to be different, that I never thought could be different. Concise, right?

When you move to a different country, you sort of prepare yourself mentally for the change. When I moved to the States, for example, I prepared myself for people not understanding my accent, people not being able to pronounce my name, for unhealthy food and for really expensive health care. There were a few things that struck me as weird when I finally moved to the US, like the shelf-life of milk and bread and the fact that people still used fax machines, but over all, culturally, there wasn’t a lot that made me say “Hey this is so different”.

However, fast forward a year or so later when I moved to Finland and you’ll find a great disparity in the situation. Here are some things I expected to be different in Finland before I moved: The language, the climate, the food, the people, etc. Normal stuff. (I expected people not to be able to pronounce my name, but that doesn’t fall into the category of ‘different’. It’s different when someone can say it.) I had the advantage of having visited Finland a few times before I even moved so I was fully sure that nothing was going to surprise me there. Oh, how I was wrong.

So lets get to it, the things that are different in Finland that I never expected to be different.

Keys. I have weirdly strong opinions on this and it feeds into the next one in the category of the unexpectedly different, but because I feel so strongly, this is a category in its own. Ok, if you’ve never been to Finland, chances are you’re reading this thinking “How could keys be different?” If you’re from Finland, you’re probably thinking the exact same. Finns have taken the blue pill, they go on living in their little world where Abloy keys are the only keys to open doors and in order to unlock your door, YOU TURN THE KEY CLOCKWISE. For the non-Finns, take a second to digest this. You put your key in the door. You want to get in. So, you turn it in the most ungodly fashion possible, defying all laws of life. Keys, when unlocking doors, should only ever turn anti-clockwise, unless we want to rip the fabric of society and descend into anarchy. You’re unlocking it, it needs to go backwards. Forwards is for locking! Finland, get it together!

Abloy keys are not like keys. They’re like normal keys, on a diet, or the offspring of a normal key and a car key. Additionally, Abloy keys literally all look the same. There is literally no way to tell them apart rather than the process of elimination. This might not seem that difficult, a minor inconvenience, if you will. You’d think so. You’d be wrong. Let us take me for example, coming home from work at 3am. I’m tired, I’ve spent the night cleaning up after drunk people and pretending to be interested in the woes of inebriated men who are yelling about taxes in Finno-English. I get to my apartment and spend 10 bleary-eyed minutes attempting to open my apartment door, systematically trying all 4 keys I own to open the door, instinctively turning anti-clockwise, swearing in a dimly lit hall way, dropping my keys and having to start over again, before eventually making it inside with frustrating ease on the final attempt.

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Am I the front door key? Am I the basement key? Who knows!

I told you I have strong opinions on it.

And this reality of difference became extremely clear this summer when my Finnish Other Half and I went of holiday to Croatia. While there, in the vulgar heat and humidity of 35 degrees, unfit for two pale kids like us, we stayed in a guesthouse. That guesthouse had a key for the front door and for our room door. Two keys. Those two keys, you’ve guessed it, were normal keys. I was in my element here, unlocking the doors like a pro. Swiftly inserting keys and turning left and right in a matter of seconds, depending on our necessity. My poor Finnish companion, however, spent the 5 days calling for help as he tried to lock and unlock doors. I ended up being the keeper of keys on our trip. A great responsibility. He was force-fed the red pill and was faced with the reality of life outside Finland, where keys are keys and unlocking, naturally, requires a flick of the wrist to the left.

Doors. I thought of combining this difference with the above section on keys, but I had so much to say about keys that it made sense to split these two up. I lived in Finland for a year and a half. My name is Gearóidín and I don’t know how Finnish doors work.

Why is there a little switch on the doorframe? What does it do? Why can I sometimes open the door after it closes, but other times it locks itself? What are the rules? I developed such a fear of being spontaneously locked out that when at work on my own, I wore my keys around my neck constantly, all 4 of them, because I couldn’t risk only taking one for fear of taking the wrong one (see aforementioned reference to carbon-copy-keys) and being locked out, with a plethora of alcohol for the taking and a nefarious character remaining inside.

What are the rules? Why are doors so unpredictable in your country, people of Finland? Why does the handle open the door sometimes, but not when I’ve left the house without my keys? Is there a door ritual that I was supposed to conduct? What is the switch for? Is that to turn the door’s mind off? Which way is off? You turn things the wrong way and switch them the wrong way so how should I know? I’ve left Finland now, but for my own future reference, it might be a good survival skill to have, like knowing CPR or how to make fire out of wood and stones.

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I couldn’t find a picture of a Finnish door, so here’s an old-timey door instead. 

Beds. In the rest of the world, you have one mattress on your bed. You also have one duvet/cover/comforter. Regardless of the size of the bed or the number of people in it, there is only one. In Finland, this is not so. A double bed, let’s take for example, has the following: A mattress. Two single-bed-sized small, thin mini mattresses, one on either side of the bed. Two pillows. Two single-bed-sized duvets with two covers. Non-Finns right now are like, “whaaaat?”

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What is this madness??? :O

I spent 30 minutes standing in IKEA negotiating with my previously mentioned Finnish companion about whether or not to buy two of these weird mini-mattress things. In the end, I convinced him that a mattress would suffice, with the caveat that on my next trip to Ireland, I would import a memory foam, double mattress topper from Argos. I wasn’t so successful in trying to convince him about the two duvets. I don’t really get the separate-bed concept in one bed. I’m putting it down to the fact that Finns love being alone and they like their own space. So regardless of whether you’ve been married for 35 years, you get your own space at night. It just happens to be next to your spouse.

And no, before someone tries to tell me that it’s a Nordic thing, it’s not. I used to work on a ferry, among other vile things, making beds. The ferry left Finland everyday for Stockholm, Sweden. When we made the beds in Finland, they were made with two single duvets. When we stripped the beds having returned from Stockholm, they had only one duvet, a double one. So it is not a thing in Sweden. It’s just Finland. And it’s strange. Sure, if you sleep with someone who is a notorious duvet hogger and likes to cocoon themselves into it, while you freeze in the night air next to them, edging closer for a corner or warmth, two duvets are a great idea. Being a duvet-stealer, however, if there are two duvets on the bed, I want both. So the problem for the cold person isn’t really alleviated. Instead, I am burrito-ed in two duvets, rather than one.

Silence: Rest of the world: Silence is awkward. Finland: Silence is good. Silence is comfortable. Silence is golden.

Household layout: Why is the washing machine in the bathroom? I’ll give it that this probably is a Nordic thing, based on a cartoon image in my Swedish-book, teaching us vocab for household items and rooms. So the tvättmaskin in that picture, goes in the badrum. Ok, I get it, there’s water in there, you clean yourself in there so why not clean the clothes? I get it, on paper it makes sense. But that’s not where the washing machine goes. (Source: It’s just not where it goes, ok? I can’t explain it.) It goes in the weird little room that you put plastic bags, sweeping brushes and the vacuum cleaner in. It can, possibly, go in the kitchen, but that’s kinda weird too. It can even go in a basement, a shed or an outside hut. But it absolutely does not go in the bathroom. That’s like putting the dinner table in the bedroom, the sofa in the front hall, any device which has Netflix in the kitchen (one should never have the distraction of House of Cards where one has access to knives or other devices likely to sever a finger when not focused on)

Milk cartons: Finally, the last and most grave of the differences between the world as I know it and Finland. Your milk cartons AKA My One Great Nemesis. I cannot open Finnish milk cartons. When I was a child, cartons of milk were opened by pulling back two cardboard flappy tabs at the top of the carton and sort of squeezing. However, by the time I was old enough to have the responsibility to actually open milk carton unsupervised, our society had moved on to twist-top caps on our cardboard cartons. We left the dark days behind. Finland either never made this transition, or made the transition and decided that the flappy, infuriating and evil tabs were better.

 

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The food-storage method of nightmares

 

As far as I know, only one brand of milk in Finland has the twisty cap-opening mechanism. That brand also happens to be the most expensive brand of milk. Evidently there is a great cost involved in adding a small, 2cm diameter round cap to milk cartons. As such, being a broke student, I was forced to buy the cheaper brands. There was no taste difference in the milk. But these affordable brands gave rise to The Great Struggle of my Finnish life. I know there’s a knack to it – I’ve seen Finns open milk like a pro: Open tabs, push back, squeeze and pour. They make it look so infuriatingly simple! Well let me tell you, it is not. Opening milk, for me, an unfortunate immigrant in your society, required an array of the following: A fork, a butter knife, a teaspoon and a Fiskars scissors. I needed to open the milk over or in the sink, because loss of product was a given. Occasionally I had to have empty bottles and containers nearby because of the risk of destroying the whole carton and needing to hastily transfer milk from the sinking ship.

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An adult or a Finn of any age.

I’ve seen Finns, smug as anything, open cartons of milk with one hand. The speed and professionalism is so hard to take – I am forever jealous of their skill and ability in the field of dairy unboxing. I’ll admit that near the end of my time in Finland, perhaps once a week I opened milk without the aid of tools or a Finnish supervisor. I think that had I put in more training, more practice, then perhaps I would have been far better at opening the milky-goodness. However, undoubtedly I will never reach the Finnish standard of excellence, garnered, presumably, from years of formal training, beginning at the tender age of three in kindergartens across the country. I assume then, that there’s a state exam of milk opening and specific techniques to master in order to become the milk-opening pros that they are.

 

I love Finland. I loved living there and despite these weird and different aspects of life, I had a wonderful time there. I regularly grumble about aspects of Irish society that I never realised were annoyingly slow or ineffective and compare them with Finland and the rose-tinted Utopia glasses with which I now wear. I love sauna (something I never thought I’d say – it’s a sweaty wooden heat box that you sit naked in with your friends and family and yet I recently found myself pining for it!), I love Cinnamon Buns (but not Salmiakki – you will never take me to the dark, salty side of candy!), I love punctuality, organisation and I love not engaging in small talk. I miss so many aspects of Finnish society. But this morning, as I twisted open the carton of milk and poured it on my musli, or yesterday, as I unlocked the door by turning the normal key anti-clockwise, I remained thankful that certain aspect of Finnish life, the madness of two-duveted-bathroom-laundry that you all live in, has not been exported worldwide, like Nokia or Angry Birds. Send me your Dumle, send me your Geisha, send me your Korvapuusti and your reasonably priced student dental care. But for the love of God, Finland, keep your daemonic milk cartons to yourselves.

The Second Class Citizen Box

On May 22nd of this year, my country, which I love endlessly, is to hold a momentous occasion. We, as a nation, are to vote on the Thirty-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, in a move which has the potential to put Ireland on the map as one of the world’s most progressive states. I say this because, for those of you who don’t know (The non-Irish readers, or the Irish readers evidently living a) under a rock, or b) in outer Mongolia, for the past two years) we will vote on the legalising of Same Sex Marriage.

Many of you may not know, or have limited knowledge on the fact, but within my own lifetime, (that’s just over 22 years, by the way) not only was Civil Partnership not an option for gay people in Ireland, but homosexuality itself was criminalized . In Norris v Ireland, after a condemning judgement in the highest court in the land, which makes for embarrassing reading in Liberal-Ireland, the European Court of Human Rights declared our illegality of homosexuality to be a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In just over 20 years, we have the potential to move from a state of complete illegality and taboo to full acceptance and equality. For now, however, this remains only a potential.

Although in the minority, as the day of the referendum approaches, many people have begun to speak out against a Yes Vote in favour of maintaining the status quo and denying the right of people who love other people to mind their own business and marry each other. If you are on the fence, if you are unsure, if you are certain about voting No or if you are uncaring and intend not to vote, I implore you, I beg you: Read on.

A No Vote will force a person, who never did anything to harm you, or more accurately, whose sexual identity never did anything to harm you, to remain in their little socially constructed box of “Second Class Citizen”. That Box is one in which we still put women who want a right to their own reproduction (the audacity of those girls. Back to the kitchen with you), immigrants with immaculate but unrecognized qualifications, the disabled and so many others who don’t fit into the stereotype of shiny plastic normality. The members of the Box are suspect, wrong, to be changed, altered, molded and never to be trusted. The are to live their lives always anticipating social rejection, bullying and hatred. We have created an unacceptable class divide and we have change at our fingertips.

We, for the first time in our history, are being given an opportunity to let a whole category of person out of that Box in the most legally significant process possible in Ireland. The State is saying “Your Constitution, written in 1937, says marriage is only between a man and a woman: We want you to decide whether this is fair or not” They are giving us the opportunity to allow a perfectly good human the right to love another. It is also giving us the opportunity to allow a perfectly bad human the right to love another. Because, being gay isn’t the same as being good. It’s also not the same as being bad. Much like heterosexuality, it has absolutely no effect on a person’s character. Because character ought not to be relevant in this argument. Equality is funny like that.

Increasingly as May 22nd approaches, I see more and more articles pop up, videos make their rounds on social media purporting an idea of “normalcy” and expressing a view that we must protect the youth from such abnormality, such strangeness. They cite religion as, among other things, a justification for inequality and its maintenance.But this discussion is not a religious one. Nor should it be.

The various churches of the world can choose whether or not to dictate themselves into irrelevant obscurity through a refusal to change if they so please, I don’t really care. The issue is whether or not we allow a mighty injustice to be eradicated. The issue is whether we can actually mean it when we tell children to “be who you are” and whether that mantra will be backed up by our legal system. The issue is whether we can legally permit two people to stand next to each other and say “I love you” and for the state to say that it’s ok. Religion can say what it likes. Religion is not a horse in this race.

The issue is that right now in Ireland, people are being put in a Box and labelled as abnormal because of something as immaterial as the sex of person they love. How dare I, or anyone else in the “majority” situation define what is normalcy? How can we be so arrogant as to portray ourselves, our deepest and most intimate desires as the standard to which all people may be held? How can we deny the most basic and pure part of life, the right to love and to be equally recognized in love, to anyone? How dare we say that the love of one person is somehow impure, unnatural and wrong? How can we sit on our pedestals and declare that all of those who are “different” are ill-equipped to join us in our privilege?  We have created, as humans love to do, a situation of “Us and Them”. The Us and Them is what fuels racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, islamaphobia and every bad ism and phobia that I can think of. A No Vote keeps the Us and Them culture alive.

I have many friends who I love so dearly who also happen to be part go the LGBT community. I also know that there are thousands, millions of people world wide who identify, privately or publicly, as part of the LGBT community. Whether I know them or not, love them or not, is entirely irrelevant. What I do know is that the biological make-up of the person with whom you are in love does not define you as a person. Certain commentators on our upcoming referendum, however, have a difficult time perceiving this.

These people, fearful of change, allow hate of the unknown to cloud their judgement. They use the age-old myths about gay people, quoting a book written too long ago to be relevant in legal reasoning, purporting the message that children need to be protected from such abnormality and scaremonger with warnings of the destruction of the institution of marriage between a man and a women as a means to muddy the pure and unoffensive waters of love.

Recently I’ve heard a lot of discussion about whether or not a gay couple ought to be allowed to adopt children. The argument supporting this is that “Children need a mother and a father”. That a mother and a father each bring a unique set of characteristics to the upbringing of a child that cannot be obtained from only one sex. I am burning inside from the gender-stereotype that this argument smooths over (Mammy can’t teach you how to play football and Daddy can’t show you how to bake? The sexism is giving me a migraine!) But this is not a feminist post. This is a post about the potential to right a great wrong that my country, and the whole world has promoted since the beginning of modern legal systems. What a ridiculous argument! Firstly, although I am lucky enough to have been raised by two parents who made me the person I am today, I have many friends who are wonderful, accomplished and well rounded people who were raised by only one parent or no biological parent at all. Single mothers, single fathers, adoptive parents, guardians, widows and widowers are a reality with which no one has an issue. Why then would social acceptability of the addition of another willing parent be hinged on that second parent’s gender?

Furthermore, as a student of law, I have had the displeasure of reading some of the most harrowing and heartbreaking cases where children are abused. Many of these cases, more than I care to recount in fact, involved one or both parents perpetrating abuse. My point is this – heterosexuality is in no way indicative of one’s ability to raise a child. Neither is homosexuality.

We would then, arrogantly deny the right of a couple to raise a child, even when their process of procuring a child is much more complex than the “normal” couple. How dare we? How dare we say that these people who would willingly put time, effort, money and stress into a long and complex procedure just so they may show love to a child, are somehow inadequate as parents?

I am not asking anyone to instantly love all gay people. That would be akin to asking you to love all straight people. What you must do, however, is look inside your heart. Look deep inside yourself and ask yourself how would you feel if you too were put in the Second Class Citizen Box. Ask yourself how torn up would you be if you were prevented from expressing your love in the most fundamental and traditional way to the one person who made you feel whole, who completed you, who made you the very best version of yourself. Picture your child, never being allowed to walk down an isle to meet the person who will make them most happy and unite as one happy little, legally recognised family. How on earth could you live in that world? I am almost brought to tears just imagining the injustice of being denied such a happy celebration of love, before all of my friends in family. The thought alone of the injustice saddens me and yet it is the harsh reality of millions of people world wide and so many of my beautiful, wonderful friends.

I beg of you, not to let this referendum pass you by. Don’t stand by with the assumption that it will be a success. Register to give a right to your friend, your neighbour, you brother, sister, accountant, barista, doctor, teacher, librarian. Stand up and be counted. Don’t let the fear of the unknown, the prospect of change affect your judgement. Give all people the right to love and the right to be happy. This may be our only chance to vindicate the rights of so many Second Class Citizens. Allow these people, these perfectly good humans to escape the Box, and allow them to take one more step on the road to equality. Let us all stand proud of our country and our people and when our children one day ask us if we stood up for the rights of one of the most marginalized groups in society, we may proudly answer in the affirmative

If you’re unsure about whether or not you’re eligible to vote, check the register here: 

Also, for more info on what we are actually voting about, check out these pages.

  • Referendum Commission which talks independently about the facts of the Marriage Equality, but also the Lowering of the Presidential Age referenda.
  • This site, one of the many useful sites devoted to marriage equality
  • And finally, for a look at the ridiculous and awful scaremongering approach to a No Vote, I present you with this abominable video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_nmxXYIUqA&feature=youtu.be
  • If my ranting doesn’t convince you about what not voting, or voting No will do, then this video certainly will. This video is all like “Logic and reason? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  Nope!” Good luck getting those 4 minutes of your life back.

Not Sweden, the Other One.

A fellow ginger, adopting the Finnish way of life. Conan is my homeboy.

A fellow ginger, adopting the Finnish way of life. Conan is my homeboy.

Yeah, so I haven’t posted in forever, I’m sorry to my two avid* readers (*accidental). Gimme a break, I have a life too you know. Lol, jk, I just developed an addiction to knitting.

So as some of you may know, I’ve been living in Finland for the past few months. I have posted about the mysterious land of the Finns before, but from a visitors perspective. Now, having lived here for some time, I am posting from the perspective of a spy, behind enemy lines. In this scenario, the enemy is a sort of indifferent and mild mannered people with mostly blonde hair and blue eyes who are most definitely not to be confused with the Swedes. Sweden is the one with ABBA and Volvo. Finland is the other one. Not the rich one, that’s Norway. Well, yeah, it’s rich, but not compared to Norway. In Norway everyone gets a Lambourgini and some Chanel booties as a gift from the state. Here, the government just give you baby-stuff. Think Nokia and Angry Birds and Lordi, that angry band who won the Eurovision a few years back.

In this senseless article, I am taking time to analyse and discuss (and shake off writer’s block) some aspects of Finnish culture that often baffle and amuse the foreigners who come here. So lets get down to it:

Dill:

Before I came to Finland, Dill was a character on the Rugrats. Remember Tommy’s little brother? That guy, not the ginger kid. (Chuckie, like us all, was just misunderstood) In Finland, dill is a staple part of one’s diet. I grew up in a garden centre and until I came here, I couldn’t have even told you what it looked like, let alone what to put it with. It’s this mildly flavoured and scented herd, sort of similar to parsley, but more grassy and stringy. So what do you put it with? Everything. You put it with everything. Chips (crisps or taytos if you’re Irish) – what flavors come to mind? Cheese and onion, salt and vinegar, smokey bacon, am I right? Hell no, in Finland you better believe they’re putting dill on them.

General Nudity:

It’s not that they love being naked. They don’t (or at least I think they don’t. I don’t know. That would explain a lot) It’s just that there’s a general acceptance for it. It stems, probably, from the sauna culture, which I’ll talk about later. But Finns are totally cool being naked (and I mean stark naked, as the day they were born) around each other. It’s a part of the culture I have definitely not warmed to. I don’t wanna see that, and I don’t wanna talk about that. I spent 20 years in a Catholic country, and spent my school days forced into a casket of skin-covering tartan, being given a healthy dose of Catholic guilt and shame. So when I walk by the sauna in my building to the laundry and see a completely naked stranger, chatting to his completely naked friend, I get more uncomfortable than a chauvinist at Emma Watson’s house.

Sauna:

Awh yeeeeah. When you speak to a Finn about the famous things I mentioned above, they’ll almost all immediately retort with “We invented the sauna too!” There is usually one in every home, sort of like a kitchen – treated as a necessary part of the home. I honestly don’t get it. I don’t fancy being shut in a wooden box sweating myself to oblivion and then getting into a cold shower/frozen lake for the lols afterwards. Every Finn reading this is like “Oooh but the health benefits/hygienic reasons/relaxation, etc. etc” I’ve heard it all and I am not buying it. They’re very serious about it too. Like, yes, there are electric sauna’s in the home, but it’s not the same heat, you know? Nope, I don’t know. Finns are all about the wood burning saunas at their summer cottages, preferably next to the aforementioned lake where they have a much softer heat. I didn’t know that heat could have a texture. Apparently it most certainly can. Now get in that damn sauna and you better like it! 😀

Finnish stuff:

Pentik, Marimekko, Iittala, Fiskars, Moomin. Anyone who has ever been to Finland will immediately recognise these brands. They are all Finnish concepts, authentically Finnish and more expensive than the rent on a small apartment in Turku. Finns litter their neat homes with all manner of these things, from Pentik candle holders, to Marimekko curtains, Iittala Aalto vases to a collection of Moomin coffee mugs. And of course, a trusty orange scissors from Fiskars. They legit go nuts for it. Recently I was passing by a Marimekko store that had a 20% sale. It was like Black Friday, but with more blonde haired politeness and less yelling. Even though I have grown to love all of this stuff, I can’t really explain the fascination. None of it really has a function. For example, although they make lots of stuff, most of the popular Iittala glassware doesn’t actually do anything. Holding a teelight is not a function, It’s just in a fancy shape, or a fancy colour, but realistically, who needs a curved and mounted glass bowl to put their keys/jewelry/sugar in?** I guess, from the point of view of a Finn, it’s better to have fancy but functionless and overpriced stuff from Finland in your tidy and organised home, rather than fancy but functionless and overpriced stuff from Sweden.

Social Awkwardness:

If there was a socially awkward world championship, Finland would totally win. (And totally beat Sweden. Finns love beating Sweden.) It’s not a rudeness. It may seem that way to some chatty foreigners, who enjoy nothing more than small talk with complete strangers (like me), but once you get to know the culture a bit better, you realise that it’s just a general unease in social situations. One ought not to be alarmed that the expression on the face of the man from whom you just asked directions never changes the entire time he replies. It is perfectly acceptable to sit next to someone on the train in complete silence for the duration of your journey. Waving at strangers is a no-no. Unless, like me, you enjoy entertaining yourself while you sit in a coffeeshop window, watching the confused expressions on the faces of Finns who awkwardly return your wave. Also, if you have time, and you manage to find an almost empty bus, sit in the seat right next to a Finn, ignoring all the other completely spaced-out and vacant seats. The will, no doubt, get off at the next stop, thinking you’re completely crazy and possibly dangerous. Lol. I have too much time on my hands.

Parenting:

Finns have a great parental system and it’s one of the best places to be a mother in the world. They have great governmental support and a fantastic education system. But what fascinates me most about Finnish parents is twofold, and both points are interrelated. Firstly, parents here are expert wrappers – their babies have more layers than an onion and are more wrapped up than a pass-the-parcel gift. They have baby grows, tops, pants, socks, heavy woolen socks, a sweater, a balaclava, a hat, a sort of padded and waterproof hazmat suit (think Walter White, but a less offensive shade of yellow), mittens and boots. There is not a breeze in the world going to get at that baby. He is zip locked, water tight and vacuum packed. (Perhaps a childhood spent essentially bubble-wrapped from the cold leads to the need to jump naked into a frozen lake) Secondly, with their cosy babies fully element-proofed, what is the best way to put said baby to sleep for his afternoon nap? Why, by bringing him for a nice stroll in the below freezing air. Because nothing sleeps sounder than an insulated baby in the snow.

Equality:

If there’s one thing Finns love more than a cacooned, sleepy baby, dill and a socially awkward sauna all put together, it’s equality. Finns don’t see gender, and I mean that in the most literal sense. In the Finnish language, they don’t have separate words for “he” and “she”. They just have this one encompassing term that can mean either, given the situation. Equality aside, this can give rise to some hilarity in English when your Finnish friend refers to her dad as “she”. Lol. Both parents get parental leave in Finland, all kids go to the same level of schools, with the same prospects, they all get fed the same school lunches and the big box of gifts from the state to every new born are gender neutral. Because Finland is all like “screw you, gender rolls!” A word exists in Finnish and Swedish for a situation where two people live together and are in an unmarried relationship which is totally ok here and has been for some time. (I don’t know it in Finnish, but it’s sambo in Swedish, which also means a “sandwich” where I come from) And just recently, same sex marriages were legalized. Finns are and incredibly equal people and equality can be seen in almost all areas of society here. Politics, education, family life, etc. Maybe just not in the eyes of the Finnish stranger who I sat next to on a Turku bus. She was not feeling the equal need to engage in a conversation about the weather with me. Not at all.

Finns are different to Irish people. They don’t say much at first and they are quite shy and modest. However, once you get to know a Finn, they are likely to be a friend for life and are among the most genuine and honest people I have ever met. Although I find their tendency to shove as many vowels into a word as possible infuriating and can never understand the desire to torture oneself by consuming samiakki licorice, (it’s not candy. Chocolate and wine gums are candy. Salmiakki is were candy goes to die) I am finding myself ever so slightly veering towards Finnishism in my life. I take off my shoes immediately on entrance of a premises, I air dry my dishes, I always have milk with my meal and my dinner is greatly improved by the appearance of some fresh dill. I will draw the line, however, at hopping into a wooden hot box with some buddies to sweat it out. That type of thing is used as a questionable punishment in some countries and something this little ginger is uncomfortable with in about 8 different levels. For now, I’ll stick to the gender equality and a simultaneous and quasi love/hate relationship with Sweden, becoming irritated by their more well-known international status, all the while loving H&M and reasonably priced trips to Stockholm. Conan’s got Finnish lifestyle down.

(**Me. I do. Please buy me one.)

The Most Unexpected Home

I never planned on ending up in Cork. I guess I always assumed that my college career would embark on a Dublin bound-journey, in the archaic and beautiful scenery of Trinity (probably because it was the first university I had ever been to, and the Book of Kells is pretty cool). To be honest, I couldn’t have even told you what UCC looked like, this time in 2010. I had no idea that one of the most beautiful learning institutes in the world was located in the south of my own country. For any avid reader of my blog (the group of “avid readers of Gearóidín’s blog” consists of me, my proofreading boyfriend and my mother) you will know why I made the decision to put UCC as my first choice of 3rd level education. For those not familiar, let me just say that fear and anxiety took hold of me and I made a rash and blunt decision to change my plan. I had planned, ever since I was 14, to go to study Law and Accountancy. I had spoken to past and present pupils of the course, I had made a 3 year plan for after my degree, I had booked accommodation! And then, all of a sudden, I switched my preferences! The most rash thing I had ever done.

I had never seen UCC. I had never been to Cork. I had no idea what Cork people were saying, with their sing-song accents and constant referral to someone named “boi”. My first time to enter the city was a stressful affair where my mother and I got horribly lost on Anglesea Street (A fact that seems laughable now), struggled up Bishop Street and tried to park outside the Kane Building before being told that if we weren’t there for “the wedding”, we had to park elsewhere. UCC was not looking good. We drove down on the new motor way on a June morning in a black Ford Focus that was packed with Irish dictionaries and grammar notes – I was having my interview for the Irish Language Accommodation in UCC, were I to be accepted there the coming semester. We parked in the car park at Gaol Cross and walked up the hill toward what was to be my home for the next 4 wonderful years.

We met a boy under the main archway – and I know that I stepped on the crest. The thought makes me shudder. It gets worse – we asked the boy where could we find the O’Rahilly Building and he cheerful directed us. He said walk through the quad…. Of course, any UCC student will tell you that this means, walk around the outside of the quad without walking through the centre or touching the grass. Do not make eye contact with the quad. Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200. But of course, neither my mother nor I were Munsterites. We had no idea the eternal damnation (or failed exams) that superstition engrained in those fortunate enough to be UCC students. And so, clueless and bliss with ignorance, I walked through the Quad toward the ORB. I’ve been living in fear ever since.

As I waited to be called for my interview, in the lobby of the ORB sat other candidates. A boy with red hair named Dónal, whom I never saw again, a blonde girl who would become my housemate and a girl with dark hair who showed up 20 minutes late in a floral dress who would turn out to be one of my best friends and would live with me for the 3 years I lived in Cork. From that day forward, my life got better. I was accepted to both Áras Uí Thuama and UCC. I moved to Cork in early September 2010. After a few weeks, I had subconsciously begun to refer to my little apartment on Victoria Cross as ‘Home’, much to my mother’s, and particularly my father’s, dismay, both of whom feverishly corrected me with “your home is HERE!” every time I said otherwise. From my very first day, a scorching hot September day where everything was a total blur and I entered hidden places on that orientation tour that I have never been to since (despite 2 years spent giving such tours myself!) to my last day, when I bundled the last of my belongings out of my middle floor bedroom on college road, UCC has been the most unforgettable and enlightening experience.

I cannot overstate the beauty of the campus. I still remember the first night I was late leaving the college. I was a bartender at the time in the Old Bar, and I had the late shift. I left the bar just before 10pm. As I rounded the corner of the main quadrangle, on my way to Gaol Cross, I was struck dumbfounded by what awaited me. The castle-esque North Wing was illuminated by the flood lights below, and by the backdrop of twinkling stars above. I was frozen to the ground, because it was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, even to this day. The campus was silent, and it was only the lights from the Boole Library behind me that hinted at any other forms of life. I stood there, staring up at the old, grey -stoned archway, at the president’s wing, at the windows that had looked out at so many students who had come before me and I was silent. I took a photo on my phone, a photo which I still have. I look at it some times and get the same shiver down my spine as I did on the night in 2010 when it was taken. I was taken aback, not only by the beauty, but by the knowledge that the image before me way momentous – the knowledge that UCC would, from that point on, be mine.

Despite its beauty, UCC would never have held for me the special place that it does were it not for the friendships I made.

I have made some of the most wonderful and life-long friends in the Rebel County. The goodbyes I have said over the past few weeks have been incredibly difficult. Even writing this now is difficult. The lump in my throat is becoming problematic and my eyes are a little more than misty. Because for almost 4 years, I have taken for granted that these wonderful, truly wonderful people, would be there tomorrow: they would be there, in the various rooms in my house on college road; they would be in my apartment in Montana, halfway across the world with me as my best friend; they would be having coffee with me in the ORB or studying with me in Q+1. I took advantage of the fact that I would sit next to these people in Jurisprudence, share a taxi with them to Voodoo Rooms, see them sleep on my sofa after a night on the town and go for a stroll with them around the Lough. I took this advantage because the reality was so much harder – that the day where those friends of mine were no longer a permanent fixture in my life was fast approaching. That day has arrived. Thankfully, the world is made smaller by Facebook, Whatsapp and Skype, but nothing will compare to the wonderful feeling of actually being with my friends in UCC. There is no Snapchat picture that can encapsulate procrastinating in the Student Centre or getting a hot chicken roll at Daybreak on College Road.

The ominousness of goodbye is overshadowed by the unstoppable force of the future. The friendships made are one of the best parts from my time in Cork. I’ve been so fortunate to have found some of the most wonderful people to call my friends. I left Laois, terrified that I would be alone and then arrived in a place so abundant with people willing to accept me, that my fear suddenly turned into a feeling of belonging. Most of the people I have met in UCC are going places. It makes me so happy to see their success and it is but a tinge of sadness that seeing some of the closest friends I have ever had will probably involve a flight and maybe even a visa from now on. I refuse to name names, because I could write a book on the subject alone and I would have to dedicate the first two chapters to introductions alone (and lets face it, you all know who you are), but my UCC family – lets call it what it is – have been there for me, mostly unknowingly, through some of the hardest parts of the past 4 years. To the men and the women, the speech and language therapists, the Francophiles, the lawyers, the Gaeilgeoirís, geologists, teachers, sociologists and the nurses – all of you have shaped my life, made me happy, made me who I am and made me the better for it. I could never thank all of these people enough, show them enough appreciation. All I can do, all I will do, is try to be the friend that they have been to me, since each one of them wandered into my life. My little Cork family of tremendous people have been with me, through thick and thin. They have also been with me through, and formed the majority of, the best parts of my 4 short years. And the tears I have shed in saying goodbye are but a testament to the love I have for all of you.

They say school days are the best days of your life. I don’t know if that is meant to include college. Having spent 4 years in such a beautiful institution, then I can only assume that third level is encompassed by the maxim. UCC gave me a Law and Irish degree that I will be proud of for the rest of my life. It taught me about mens rea, actus reus, res ipsa loquitur, the tuiseal ginideach and the modh ordaitheach. I don’t know how often I’ll use those things, but the University College of Cork also gave me some of the most useful skills I have in my arsenal today. It made me independent and opinionated. It made me strong enough to stand up for the things I believe in, to stand up for myself and to stand up for others when the situation demands it. It taught me that sometimes people will hurt you, and sometimes you will let them. It has taught me that however bad things get, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, or more often, a friend in the tunnel with you, holding a flash light. After my undergraduate I may now be able to hold my own in a conversation about limited liability and directorship of a company, but I am also capable of being a well rounded, driven and happy person. From within the picturesque campus, I became not only a graduate of BCL (Law and Irish), but I also became the best and most confident version of myself that I have ever been. I grew, over the past 4 years, into someone who I am happy to continue to be. And because of that, UCC will forever be part of my heart, part of my home.

UCC was the most unexpected journey I have ever taken and it turned out to be the best, Because the places I have been to, the places I am going and the future that awaits me would never have become reality were it not for my years in college in Ireland’s real capital. I began writing this post weeks before I even began my final exams (in an effort to procrastinate, no doubt) in mid April. It is now almost July and I am still tinkering and fixing it. I am doing so, because I know it is never likely to be perfect. There is no earthly way that I could encapsulate the experiences I have had, the person I have become and the love that I will hold dearly in my heart for UCC and all that it has given me over the past 4 years. All that I can do, all that I am capable of, is to say with certain knowledge that no matter where I go in life, no matter how far away I am, a part of me will always be longing for the beautiful university on the banks of the River Lee.

 

2013: Richard Parker and a Half Full Can of Redbull

A year consists of 365 days, provided it’s not a leap year. 2013 was not a leap year. A year, like 2013, consists of 525,949 minutes. As I write this, it is the 349th day of the year. That means that I have spent (give or take a few hundred minutes due to frequent time zone change) over 502,560 minutes in the year of 2013. Those minutes have been among the best in my life. Combined, 2013 was the best year I have ever lived through.

On January 2nd of this year, I jumped on the early train from Portlaoise to Dublin. I slept an uncomfortable sleep for about 40 minutes that dark and frosty morning. I took the Red Line into Abbey Street and then sat on the top deck of the Number 4 bus out to Ballsbridge. It was still dark when I went through security check. I sat awaiting my turn to be scrutinised and was momentarily terrified when I heard a loud interaction between an unsuccessful visa applicant and a man behind 4 inches of bulletproof glass.  Turned out that the applicant had “accidentally” stayed in the States 2 years after the expiration of his last visa and had a dodgy experience in Amsterdam involving a suspicious amount of “sweet tea”. I needn’t have worried. My passport and my visa were promptly posted to me a week later. On my way home from Dublin I purchased “Life of Pi” in Easons on O’Connell street.

Fast forward to January 20th when I flew over 4,300 miles, taking 3 flights and over 24 hours of travelling and landed in the snowy wonderland of Missoula, Montana. And so, the journey began for me. Missoula was the starting point of things for me. It was the change in my life that I never knew I needed. Since I first started studying my course, I knew about the 3rd year opportunities. I knew that I wanted to go to Montana. I had no idea just how fundamental the experience would be.

Somewhere between Sunday the 20th and Thursday 24th I made a friend. I walked with my neighbour toward the bus stop, through the snow. We saw a deer. She said he looked like Bambi. This friend would turn out to be my best friend for the next 4 months until she left for Finland. She would be one of my best friends for the foreseeable future. She would come to visit me in F25, in Helsinki and in Ireland. She would make me food, eat my food, share GF brownies and dance on a bar with me in Vegas. She would watch the Eurovision in my apartment and have a Big-Gay-Day with me and she would cry when I gave her photographs and Salmiakki for her birthday. She would teach me how to say “I look good as hell” in Finnish and I would teach her Irish slang and a phrase or two in Irish. She would laugh with me and laugh at me and irritate me and love me, throughout the year. She would be my favourite little Finly. Riina deserves a mention on this blog. I have no idea how I met her. We were both too jet lagged to recall. We just know that I went to pick her up for the Griz v. Idaho State basketball on the Thursday after we arrived in Missoula and we ended up as friends. Best friends. People mistook her as Irish. They mistook me as Finnish. I am privileged to know her.

Frequently people say that their favourite thing about Missoula is the people. I have to agree. I made friends with mostly foreigners, like myself. Like a crazy little party animal who lives on top of the world. The Norwegian made me laugh everyday. She was a daemon for the Iho, hiking and banana bread. She was always the last man standing at any party and organised some of the best parties I have ever been to. She would bike into town with me and the Finn for ice cream in Big Dipper and tea in Liquid Planet. She was always up for an adventure or a lazy day of procrastination. Tanja is my favourite Norwegian and is the reason I can only say extremely vulgar things in her language. She was the last Nordic to leave the States and it broke my heart hugging her goodbye in the Irish House. Her recent Christmas card in Norwegian warmed my heart.

I made friends with some unforgettable Germans, an adorable Italian who will never have more fridge magnets than I, the most loveable Mexicans with the kindest of hearts, a Spaniard who taught me some Finnish, a Moldavian who flew in with me and spoke Italian, the kindest, most motherly and caring Burmese woman who made the most amazing food and is still a legend in the University of Montana. I befriended a beautiful Brazilian man who brightened up my day, a feisty little French girl and the most goodnatured Canadian rugby player who might just be the tallest person I know and a girl from Seattle who showed us all the ropes and introduced me to Superbowl parties, deep fried cheese and chilli. I became friends with Irish students from my own university who I am privileged to see often – an angry leprechaun, a few crazy geologists and a man -among my favourite men – who, upon first meeting him, drunkenly discussed the pros and cons of the female anatomy at 2:30am. I made some of the most interesting friends – a whole bunch of the most different, diverse but fundamentally the same people. Despite our backgrounds, Missoula called out to us all and to the Rockies we came.

“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” – I can now say, with 100% knowledge of fact that this is entirely false. Because what happened for me in the Golden Nugget on Freemont Street in early April of 2013 most certainly did not stay in Vegas. It did not come to Missoula, in the literal sense, but it did come into my life a little. Then suddenly, what happened in Vegas became a bigger part of my life. Soon it -he- became one of the biggest things. What happened in Vegas was what the Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz disaster should have been. I met somebody so truly wonderful that saying goodbye forever, outside a taxi with 2 other people and an awkward hug would never be enough. Unconventional friendship turned into something more and eagerness to “see what happens” followed. This came with communication at all possible times through a multitude of media – text, email, Facebook, Whatsapp and daily Skype (the record being a marathon 7 hour conversation until 4am) And although 2 timezones and over 3,000 kilometres separated us, something was worth seeing through. He encouraged me to write, he reads through every post before I publish it, every article before I send it to my editor and is a driving force of support for me and my abilities. Finding something that fit so well into my unexpecting life was worth the eventual 9 hour time difference, the altered sleep pattern to facilitate Skyping and the then 7,500 kilometres between us. Because discovering a person who suddenly makes you happier than you have ever been is not something to let go of. When your life is suddenly a lot brighter than before because of the presence of one person who is so compatible to your personality, that person is special and they need to be held onto. A Canadian, Nordic men playing American Football, a broken wrist, a few Finns, a blind date with my best friend, a Mexican, a trip to Vegas and a tearful cuddle at Dublin airport somehow brought us together and let me just say that since that chance meeting next to slot machines and a half full can of Redbull, things have only got one way: Upwards.

Coming back to Ireland was an experience filled with jet lag, overexposure to good food and even better welcomes. I had never been away from my family for more than 3 weeks at a time, so my 5 month absence was met with a joyful return, a balloon, a sign welcome sign and a fry up. I then slept for what felt like a year in a bed of such extreme comfort, that it could only have been crafted by angels, sprinkled with fairy dust and lined with unicorn fur. Less than a week later, most of my family – my incredibly large family, I’ll have you know – friends and a bemused and loveable Finnish man came to celebrate my birthday. Seeing everyone again, having being gone so far for so long was the perfect coming-home experience. It was a chance to catch up with everyone, to have all the people I loved dearly and who had always been a part of my life in one room, a rare occasion to have all the important people in my life together. It was a fantastic night and I couldn’t thank everyone enough for being there and making it special.

2013 marks the beginning of my final academic year in UCC. I have spent almost 4 whole years as a student. I have had ups, I have had downs, but UCC will always have a special place in my heart. This year I live in a house with 7 other girls. 8 girls and two bathrooms. Mayhem, that’s what you’re thinking, utter mayhem! But you’re wrong. The girls are among the sweetest and friendliest people I know. Some of them I have known for years and some I am only just getting to know, but in all my life I never imagined to get so lucky 7 times over with such nice housemates. Sure, there’s an almost constant milk shortage and we occasionally forget to take out the bins and we’ve had tremendously bad luck with the piscine species but we all get along. The houses never empty for long and although we all have our own plans in life and our own journeys to take, we all seem to blend together. There is a constant buzz and atmosphere around the four floors and despite the fact that we’ve rarely been all together at the one time (3 times, I think. Correct me if I’m wrong) we still all mesh together, like one big, ever so slightly odd and mildly dysfunctional family.

With the amount of people walking into my life this year, a certain few have had to walk out in order to make space. A year ago life without some of these people would not have seemed possible. But my 2013 has been proof that a lot can happen in a year. And somebodies who you thought were pillars in your life sometimes turn out to be structures that weren’t really supporting anything and that you can stand stable and strong without them. People faded from my life. Some had been there for a long time, others had only just entered it, but nonetheless without even noting the shift, they were suddenly gone after weeks, months and sometimes years of erosion. Little tiny fragments of their importance worn away by time and experience until one day – nothing. The fading away of such people has not been a source of sadness for me, although I would have expected it. Rather these insignificant characters evacuating my life either through being pushed or their own twisted will has only proved to me just how far I have come in 12 months and just how capable I really am. It was not only people that eroded away. Previous blog posts and the subsequent fall out will tell you that daemons I had been unwittingly clutching on to also drifted away. Through this very blog, through the clicking of the “Publish” button, I dusted away the last of the painful fragments that I held from experiences gone by and cast them, along with those removed individuals, into the realm of memories and nothing more.

My future plans have drastically changed in a year. Exposure to experiences and other cultures has made me want to take a different path in my life. To change from such a certain and definite plan to the current blurred and malleable one might seem a little scary, but to me it is exciting. I don’t know where I’ll be in 10 years. I know that I’ll have studied and learned the things that interest me. I know I’ll have had some fantastic experiences and travelled the world. I know I’ll be happy. And that’s all that matters.

I finished Life of Pi in April. A slow read by me, but I had been quite busy. I cried at the end. And immediately rushed to the sink, filled it with water and popped in a few bananas. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the movie yet, the emotional roller coaster is too much to handle twice in one year. I still wonder about Pi’s stories. I believe that the story of Richard Parker is true, and that the other atrocities suggested are what the first appear to be. I think, however, that had I begun to read Mr. Martel’s masterpiece in January 2012 I would be less optimistic. I would have seen that Redbull can in Vegas as half empty and I would have sat in melancholy, knowing that Richard Parker never made it to that life boat and that Pi’s mother had met an horrific end. However 2013 has changed me. It has given me the optimism and hope that I didn’t know I lacked. It has given me happiness and faith in humanity that had become silently void in my life.

As I said, 2013 was not a leap year. If you offered me the chance of repeating this year, with one additional day, February 29th, despite all the wonder and happiness of 12 months, I would decline. Why, you ask? I don’t want to repeat the year for the simple reason that it has been perfect and doing it all again could not make it any more perfect. I also don’t want to repeat it because I do not fear the future. I look forward to new beginnings that 2014 will no doubt offer me. I look forward to progressing in a happy relationship, in a happy state of mind and in a happy life. I look forward to the challenges of the year, the undeniable stresses I will face, the ending of eras and the start of new ones. 2013 – you have been beautiful. The people in it have been likewise. Here’s to 2014.

Balls.

My Grandmother recently told me (right before turning to my mother to say that I would never provide her with a son-in-law or grandchildren) that I’m much too fond of the good times and that I need to settle down. I was more than a little offended and explained to her that I work seriously hard at college. Less than a week later, however I was on a plane to Norway with a connection to my favourite Nordic state. Yes, the irony of this did sting quite a bit.

This time, my visit to Finland was to be a short, but altogether memorable one. Short, because I arrived before midnight on Thursday and left before 7am on Tuesday. Memorable because I would eat some amazing food, learn to waltz and spend about 10 hours at the most confusing array of festivities I have ever experienced.

I was invited to attend a ball. I have been to balls before. I went to my secondary school debs (prom or grad, for those of you who don’t know) where I had to ask 4 people before someone agreed to be my date and my handmade dress fell apart. I had been to university balls where everyone was atrociously horrendified before 9pm and I spent the night trying to pour water into my drunk friend. All that disaster aside, formal events were usually enjoyable and I was fully confident in the knowledge that I knew how these sort of university based gatherings went down. Well, I was wrong.

It all started with Facebook. My date, who happens to be my boyfriend, has some pretty strange photos on his page. In the initial stages of a relationship, when it’s all flirting and indirect attempts to see if the person you like is a murderer or not, Facebook creeping is essential. If there was such a thing as Facebook Creeping in the Olympics, between Katie Taylor and I, Ireland would be a haven for successful female athletes. So being attracted to this person, I creeped on photos. Not just one. All of them. (Don’t judge me, I know you all do it. Well, I hope, for my own sake you all do it.) Within his photos lay some ones that required further follow up. There were photos of men, at what appeared to be a party for decorated soldiers and aristocrats taken in 1865. They wore white ties, waistcoats, black suits with tails, some of them had capes and almost all of them had an array of medals pinned to their jackets. He assured me it was a normal part of the culture in this part of Finland. I was sceptical. He had to be a Freemason, which he repeatedly denied. Just like a Freemason.

So when I was invited to this ball, I was informed that this would be the general attire. Weird as I though it was, I happily decided that this would surely be the only odd thing about the otherwise normal ball of a university’s society. Again, I was wrong. So. Very. Wrong.

So I bought flights, a dress and a shawl (I was told I had to wear one. Until after my main course was eaten. Then I could take it off.) and I skipped on my merry way to Finland, via Norway where I unknowingly spent €12.98 on a sandwich and a bottle of water. Fast forward to 11pm the night before the ball where I stood in a one-roomed apartment learning to waltz as Avicii pumped Wake Me Up from a Spotify playlist. What was happening? I was being told that I would need to waltz! Convinced I would be asked to make a blood pact at this gathering the next day, I had an uneasy sleep anticipating what was about to come.

I began the beautification process of turning myself into an optical illusion at around midday the next day and as I sat filing my nails, my date said something that made me realise that this was going to be among the more stranger nights of my existence: “I suppose I better fill you in on the rules now”

Rules? Are you serious? This ball had rules? Expecting the next words out of his mouth to be “The first rule of Årsfest is: You don’t talk about Årsfest. The second rule of Årsfest is: You don’t talk about Årsfest!” I readied myself. What followed was a list of complex instructions about when I could and couldn’t use the bathroom, the process of being escorted into the dining hall, dancing, when I could and could not consume liquid, and most importantly, the convoluted procedure of singing songs in order to reach the reward for such a performance at the end: A gulp of schnapps.

This was probably the most important aspect. There would be a bell and a toast-master (not a person who rocks at making perfectly golden crisped and heated bread, I checked) and this person would ring said bell and everyone would break out in a happy chorus of songs, reading the words from a carefully pre-printed songbook at each place-setting. All night 179 Nordics sat singing and occasionally engaging in actions and swaying while one pale and noticeably “not-blonde” Irish girl sat with an expression somewhere between fear and confusion. You’re reading this and in you’re head you’re thinking that it was in the region of about 6-8 songs. No, it was more along the lines of 28-30. Apparently, the rules are that no one may drink their beloved schnapps without first earning it (I’m assuming its a matter of earning it) through a few verses of song. Therefore, with no more than 2-3 minute intervals (I’m seriously not exaggerating on this) there was either an independent ringing of their fancy bell or a cacophony of table banging from thirsty Finns, calling for more singing and more schnapps. The process didn’t end there, however. After the last note rang out, came the toast-part (again, not a reference to bread. Although toast would have been pretty awesome) This required concentration.

Take your schnapps glass, the small shot glass, next to your water glass and raise it. Turn your whole upper body, first to the person on your left for a woman and on your right for a man and raise your little glass to them while making eye contact. This part is important to maintain adequate fornication for 7 years, apparently. You then say “Skål”. This action is repeated with the person on your opposite side and then to the person facing you. Then, and only then, may you drink your high percentage alcohol.

It will come as no surprise that although I began eating at around 7, I swallowed my last gulp of tea at 11:40. I shit you not.

Most of the readers will find this bizarre. But I haven’t paid tribute to the strangest and most mitigating factor. The singing, the conversation, the guest speakers and the general banter all took place through the beautiful, although entirely unknown medium of Swedish. Have you ever been on a holiday to a country where you don’t speak the primary language? You’re in the hotel room and it’s too rainy to go to the beach, so you pop on the telly and there’s some homegrown soap opera on. You kind of understand whats going on through the body language of characters (if the acting isn’t substandard) and the general behaviour, but you really haven’t got the slighted iota of what the hell these people are saying and so really you have no concept of what the sitcom is about. Yeah, well this ball was like that, expect it was as if I was actually asked to act in this show, arrived on set and was handed a script entirely in Greek and then someone yelled what I assumed to be the Greek version of “Action!”

For most of the night I was scrounging for words that sounded vaguely English, French or Irish, the only languages I know, or were one of the few words or number 1-10 I recognise in Swedish. (I had a very proud moment walking up the stairs when my date turned to his buddy and I understood an entire sentence: “Jag är hungrig = I am hungry”)

I have now perfected my look of abrupt loss and helplessness when someone in the departure lounge of Oslo Airport speaks to me in a language foreign to me and my subsequent spluttering and choking for words and expressions of “I don’t speak Norwegian, I’m sorry” are second to none. Waiters and waitresses sympathetically switched to English for my linguistic handicap and people stared blankly at me for a few seconds due to their though process occurring through Swedish when I violently attacked them with English. A theme of burlesque ran through the night, so when a middle aged woman in a green coat began to remove her clothing between courses to music, my shock was about 2 minutes behind that of everyone else’s.

Reading this, you might think that I had a stressful and altogether nerve-wracking night. That is not so. I actually had a fantastic time. I was incredibly nervous, I will admit. It was “meeting the parents” round 2, because I was meeting friends and the scenario was alien to me. My heart was thumping as I was escorted in (if you’re picturing a scene from Pride and Prejudice, you’re on the money) and I was very afraid of the sheer newness. But after only a matter of minutes, I was at my ease, talking and enjoying the company and the performance of some very friendly Swedish Speaking Finns. The people were so nice, so talkative and so very keen to make sure I wasn’t wandering aimless and blindfolded through the land of nonsense with frequent translations and contextual explanations. People made me feel welcome, they made me feel at ease and at home. Again, this stereotype that so many people, including Finns, have informed me of, that Finnish people are shy and detached is completely lost upon me. The guests, almost everyone of them I met, was eager to talk to me, to ask about how my boyfriend and I met (a story too long, with too many character to divulge), to ask about my night, my experience and my culture. Mostly people wanted to know what I thought of Finland. This made me like the Finnish population even more. There’s something incredibly Irish about a nation’s desire to be well regarded and liked on an international stage. Increasingly in fact, I see corrolations between Finns and Irish people. All that singing, for example, was basically wednesday night in the Rock Inn on College Road – everyone singing and consuming alcohol – but with that added dash of Finland in the organised and efficient inclusion of a songbook and choreographed hand actions and rules about when to drink.

I have also decided that Finns are beautiful. Like, everybody is. Not just the blonde and blue eyed, tall and athletic people or each gender, but everyone. Their Nordic features are incredibly attractive and striking. I couldn’t help staring and feeling incredibly conscious about my own freckled and ginger appearance! I just hope I looked as exotic to these utter god-like arians as they did to me. What kind of fabulous does a person have to be to win Miss Finland?!! I expected there to be a form of relief the following day at the at the after-party breakfast (Note to members of my society: we need to implement a Next-day-breakfast-policy immediately. That is all) Alas, even in their tired and hungover state, wearing weird overalls, darned with patches, they still looked painful beautiful. They had to be Freemasons.

I waltzed with many people, all who were pleasant and warm. I was given a napkin, folded into a flower and my own non-alcoholic option – a jug of pineapple juice – at the meal and was included in the champaign reception with a glass of a soft drink that looked like the real-deal. This never happens! Probably the very best part of the night, however? My name, correctly spelled on both my place setting and the seating chart. I have kept both pieces of paper. One is in my purse, in the pocket reserved for “special things”. It’s rare that this happens in Ireland, and nothing short of a miracle when it happens outside. Refer to my first blog post.

Despite the unnerving lack of daylight and the worrying amount of Freemasons and/or members of a cult, possibly the Illuminati, I have only fallen more in love with Finland. I should mention that if the Illuminati were present, then this assertion means that I am most likely in danger. If you don’t hear form me for a few days, alert the Gardaí, the Finnish version of the hopefully more efficient Gardaí, Interpol and Dan Brown. My safety is of paramount concern.

How not to eat an apple.

Firstly, before I launch in to the latest (albeit horribly delayed) documentation of aimless rambling, I would very much like to make reference to my last blog post. For those of you who read it, you will know that it was a break from my usual genre. It was the first time that I exposed part of my personal life on this usually lighthearted blog. It wasn’t easy, it was a long time coming. I was nervous before posting it and thought long and hard about whether or not to do so. 

What I must say, however, is that I needn’t have been. To those of you who took time out of your days to read it (or in fact, to read anything I have written) I thank you. It was the most viewed article I have ever posted, receiving hundreds of views per day from all across the world. To the people who reached out to me, text me, called me, emailed and messaged me, saying that they could relate to my experience, saying that they were inspired and telling me that they were proud of me – Thank you. You have no idea how much mach of your comments mean to me.

To the people who publicised, shared, reposted and published it, you have no idea how good it felt (and still feels) to have been given a platform to speak out about this and offer support to those who are experiencing the same horror that once enveloped my life.

I have been offered jobs, interviewed, asked to speak out in public and advocate for an end to bullying. I had no idea when I first started writing that post, alone in my bedroom in Laois that it would grow the way it did. 

Finally, to my friends and family who have been there for me through all of this, who have helped me write, given me confidence and helped me through, I could never, ever thank you all enough.

A Small Rant.

Ok, it’s not that small. 

If you’re wondering why I have been so absent from my usual chronic word vomit lately, let me enlighten you. I am once more back in UCC. I am 5 weeks in to my final year of my undergraduate degree which, for those of you who aren’t aware, means that I have spent a total of 4 weeks and 3 days sitting in the library. I am more than a little stressed right now. Procrastination is around every corner. I’m procrastinating right now, in fact. This blog is taking precedent over reading an exhilarating court case about interlocutory injunctions (For your own sanity, don’t google it)

I mostly fight the procrastination quite well (Oh, the irony!) and can quickly get my mind back on track as I sit in my nest of books in the corner of the Law Library at my university. Therefore, I find it a little more than sightly irksome when I am disturbed from my studies by a third party. Some of these distractions are unavoidable – the automatic opening of the windows in the study area and the subsequent sounds of less stressed students outside of my prison of books having general banter as I lose myself in reading reports from a Canadian Law Reform Commission, for example.

What this article is dedicated to, however, is the unnecessary distractions. The “human error” of Q+2, if you will.

I shall set the scene, for those who are not UCC students, or those who are but have never set foot inside the large brown building behind the quad. It’s a library, by the way. And what deal did you people make with the devil to afford such pleasure?!

The second floor of the library on main campus in UCC houses the university’s law books. On that floor (and indeed on each floor) there is a large room with dark brown desks and a dark brown haired girl, glaring at others. That room is called the reading room and that girl is called Me. I have sat in the same seat almost every day since 2010, when I first came to this fine institution of learning. The rules of the library are pretty standard. You have to shut the hell up in there. If you do talk, you whisper. Sure, there are public areas that people can talk loudly, but this reading room ain’t one of them.

Since coming back to UCC, they have implemented a clever little noise policy. They have posters dictating the type of zone you are in at any one time. Staircases, group study rooms and reception are all green zones – you may talk and chat and giggle and be merry in these places. The area where the books are, public computers and some desks are called amber zones – basically you can whisper here, unless you’re one of those people who can’t whisper. Those people need to shut the hell up. Finally, red zones. These are the reading rooms. Absolute. Silence.

Something about this apparently simple policy is just not resinating with people.

So there I was, in the reading room of silence, buried in Equity and the Law of Trusts in Ireland with an expression of both helplessness and panic on my face. I was completely engrossed in Lord Cairns and all he had to say, when suddenly a sound jolted me back to reality. It was like the jolt that woke up Joseph-Gorden Levitt, Juno and all their buddies from all those dreams in Inception. I eventually came to and realised what that God awful crunching sound that had assaulted my ears and my focus was: It was a girl. Sitting two seats away from me.

Eating. An. Apple.

Are you SERIOUS? 

An apple? Now, I have nothing against apples. Daily, they fend off medical practitioners and they give their name to the software company for whom I am a slave. What’s not to love about the mighty apple? Well, nothing, if you’re not munching on one the size of a child’s head in an area that is specifically dedicate to absolute silence. She must have chosen that biggest, juiciest and crunchiest apple available to her. She was dribbling and slurping all over it. It’s like watching a terrible accident; you want to tear your eyes away, but you can’t. You carry on watching, your face contorted in a horrified expression. That’s how I stared at her. Except my horrified expression was sharing my face with rage. I couldn’t decide which urge was most overpowering; the urge to forcibly stop her from consuming her fruit, or the urge to beat her with 900 pages of Equity Law. Weighing up the options, I decided that both would land me in trouble, possible of a legal nature and nobody wants a lawyer with a criminal record. Instead I decided to storm off and allow my fuming nostrils to calm down. Not before I spent a good 3 minutes glaring at her stupid, oblivious, chewing face. I don’t care if she was Pink Lady herself and Smith was her Granny. Eating apples in the reading room is not cool, bro. Not. Cool.

I speed walked through the library to blow off steam. As I did so, I began to think about other incidents in that room that were on par with the Apple Affair of September 2013. And although recalling these blood-boiling events did little to calm my Apple Anger, in my head I began to comprise a list. The list, as follows, is a set of instructions relating to conduct and consumption of sustenance in a library. I feel like this list is something that should be implemented as binding law in all countries, in all libraries, everywhere. At least in my world, it is necessary, anyway.

  • Eating apples, of any kind in a library should never be permitted. They are the loudest of all natural food stuffs.
  • Carrots and celery. Are you serious? Firstly, take a long, hard look at your life that you went to all the trouble of creating celery and carrot sticks to bring as a snack for the library. Then get the hell out with your annoyingly neat lunchbox full of crunchy goodness. Some of us are trying to concentrate, not calorie-count.
  • Anything that you wrap in tin foil – Do not bring it near me, I will throw it at you. And for the record, when you’re trying to be silent as you slowly unwrap your BLT from the metallic paper, you’re actually making more noise than if you just ripped it off all at once. Treat it like a plaster – just pull it off. Actually, no. Use cling film. Do not bring tin foil to the library.
  • Crisps. Not only is it noisy when you open the bag, the noise continues every time you shove your hand into the greasy bag and every time you place the thin, deep fried potato slice into your face. Want to consume your bag of Taytos? Make like a smoker and go outside and do it.
  • Fish, egg or onion sandwiches. This time it’s not some much the noise, but the deplorable odour that comes with it. Seriously dude, have some consideration and keep your pungent food at home. I will not be responsible for my actions if you bring an onion bagel filled with tuna and egg, all wrapped up in tin foil, into my quite zone.
  • IF YOUR PHONE RINGS, YOU GET UP AND GO OUTSIDE TO ANSWER IT. Twice this week I have gazed, open mouthed in shock, as people answered their phones and proceeded to have a conversation in the actual reading room. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
  • Don’t lick your hands. Ok, I know it’s weird, but I sat in the Fishbowl (the ground floor reading room, for non-UCCers) a couple of weeks back and bore witness to this. I don’t want to talk about it.
  • Take your damn vibrating phone off the wooden table. We get it, you’re popular and you get a text every 7 minutes. I don’t need to hear about it.
  • Shifting. I would have completed this list without this instalment if it weren’t for the utter travesty which I bore witness to yesterday for 6 hours. One sat facing me, the other sat to my left. And they spent the day giggling across the room to each other and hopping across to each other every 3 minutes to play tonsil tennis and generally maul each other. Lads, get a room. Preferably not the reading room!

I wont be surprised to walk into the Boole library on Monday morning to see the above list, blown up on giant signs, glaring down for all to adhere to. I mean, it just makes sense.

To anyone who thinks that I’m crazy, know that I’m not alone (and that I might be a little crazy, when it comes to library anger. “A little” might be an understatement) and that there are two types of library people. The glare-ers, like me, who sit in corners and judge you which mentally trying to make you combust, like Sheldon Cooper, and there are the phone-call-getting-tin-foil-wrapping-celery-stick-making-apple-eating-boy-shifting-noise-makers. If you are raising your eyebrows and scoffing at this article, you are the latter. And I possible need to take up meditation, or yoga or at least drink some herbal tea and maybe go and have a little lie down.

What has my life become?

The Anonymous Author Of Page 74

I have very few regrets in my life. I would like to say I have none, but alas, we all make mistakes. It is a consolation, however, that almost all of those regrets I have led to circumstances that positively impacted my life and therefore, cannot be truly regrettable. There is one regret, however, that is true in the sense of the term. I wish I had done things differently, chosen the other path, been braver.

Out of context, it seems trivial and perhaps not even worthy of such a negative title: I failed to take credit for an article 17 year old me wrote. Let me explain.

In my final year of secondary school (middle school and high school, all beaten into one, for my international readers) I was editor of my school yearbook. I have always had a passion for writing and thus in this role, as well as editing, I wrote many articles for the yearbook. Among my book and TV show reviews, I also wrote what was, at the time, the best thing I had ever written. Minus a few typos in the finished product, I wrote an article that was extremely personal to me. It came from the deepest crevasses of my soul and pouring my words on the page was a both astoundingly difficult and remarkably liberating experience. I wrote about my experience of being bullied that year, and throughout previous years. I was proud of the finished product. However, as time went by and the date of publication approached, something began to fester within me. The niggling rot of fear gripped me. I was afraid. Afraid of the consequences that writing about what some of my classmates had put me through would bring. There, below the title, in bold print stood my name. My name. It could only be me. What would they do? What would they say if they saw it? They were bound to see it. And so before the finished mock up was sent to the printers, I made the decision to change “Gearóidín McEvoy” to “Anonymous”. This is my regret. And this is the blog post I have been trying to write ever since.

I have always been a confident person. I may come across as quiet and shy why I first get to know people, but I am never anything but driven and ambitious. Thus when I first began to feel scared and unsafe in school it came as quite a shock. I had been until then, confident in the knowledge that I could handle anything life threw at me. I was not prepared for this, I was not ready, I had no plan. I didn’t see myself as a candidate for being bullied, I didn’t fit the stereotype I assumed to be accurate. I had a group of amazing friends, I had a boyfriend, I played sport and I was good at school. At first, I suppose I was in denial about what was happening. I could see that my friend was being bullied. I could see how these people tormented her, tore her down, destroyed her confidence and made her feel insignificant. I just couldn’t see that it was happening to me too.

In that anonymous article I wrote about the term “bullying”. I hated the term then. I hate it now. There is something incredibly juvenile, incredibly tame about the word and it fails to encompass the true experience. It is probably due to the fact that it is thrown around and used casually and sporadically where it is not needed and thus society is desensitised to it. Unfortunately, the term comes with the connotation that it is a rite of passage. I have completed quite a bit of research on this issue and found that among some of the irritatingly common misconceptions regarding bullying is that bullying happens to small children; only boys are bullied; bullying is physical; it makes kids tougher and various other outrageous assumptions.

Fact: I am a woman. Fact: I was bullied from the age of 15 upwards. Never before. Fact: Although sometimes it was physical, I could handle the abuse when it came in this form. It was the non-physical that kept me awake at night, on tear stained pillows. Fact: I am a lot of things as a result of being bullied. I am more aware of the world, I am less trusting, I am perhaps a better person. I am not thankful for being bullied. It did not make me who I am. It tore me apart for years and still haunts me.

It is difficult to explain the experience of being bullied to someone who has never had to go through it. Describing the actions alone, the “what happened then” is altogether unsatisfactory, creating a black and white outline of events. Being bullied is not black and white. It is a spectrum of dull greys and frightened greens, of panicked crimsons and self-loathing indigos.

What affected me most was the fear. Fear of changing for PE. I avoided almost every PE class of my 6th year. I would gladly accept the note home to my parents for “forgetting” my sports clothes again this week. I became an expert in making well rounded excuses that got me out of group projects, team work and any other situation that would put me in a confined area with my tormentors. I often hid in bathroom cubicles (more than once I hid so long I ended up late for class) when I heard them outside. Often, they knew I was in there and spoke about me, saying the most awful of things, knowing that I would hear. I tried my hardest not to walk alone to class, not to wander the hallways without a posse of people. Rounding corners was a terrifying ordeal. Because around each corner, they might lie. When I did pass them (I refer to them – a group of people, you see) I would hold my breath, avert my gaze and scuttle past with my head pointed at my toes. I tried not to give them an opportunity to say anything. Sometimes it worked. I would pass through the second floor corridor and make my way to French without so much as a hiss from these people. Once out of harms way, it was all I could do not to break down in tears. Ironically, it was these times when nothing happened that hurt me most, because the anxious knot that had built up in my stomach was all in vain. Why did I have to be so frightened? Why did these people have such power over me? They couldn’t hurt me, right? Fear is a strange beast.

I had always had an excellent rapport with most of my teachers. So when it got too much to pass off as “school yard banter” the people in authority were alerted that my best friend and I were being bullied. I trusted the teachers. I had faith in the administration. I knew that the offenders would be punished, and all would be right with the world.

I was very, very wrong.

I must issue a cautionary note.  Many of my teachers were wonderful people and still play a role in my life today. I count a certain few as close friends and cannot fault them in anyway. But be it incompetence on the part of those with influence or a bureaucratic impracticality, once we told our teachers what was happening, like a snowball rolling from a mountain top, gravity and velocity dragged misery on top of us at an alarming and unexpected speed.

On one occasion, after a threatening confrontation before my Biology class, I sought help from a teacher in charge, telling her what had happened. The response I received was to sit in an office and relay the entire event while the person who threatened me sat in a chair next to me. I had never shook with fear before. I quivered uncontrollably as I sat there, staring fixatedly at the framed degree in education on the wall behind the teacher. I could feel my tormentor’s eyes burning into my skull, a look of sheer contempt on her face. I tried my hardest to keep the tears from my voice, but the frequent dip and catching in the register of my voice betrayed me for 30 pieces of silver. I have never felt weaker, smaller or more insignificant in all my life. I was a mouse, so terrorised by the giant monsters surrounding that my catatonic body surrendered its functions. Later, what seemed like years later, I left the office and less than an hour later, during lunch, they hunted me down. Needless to say, I did not report their actions again.

My school advised me to go and see a counsellor every Monday, to help me “cope”. My best friend had moved to a different school and nothing was being done about the people who drove her out. It stuck me then as ironic that I should be the one who needed help. Where was the help for my best friend, when she sat in that same office, crying her eyes out? Where was the help outside of the counsellor’s office, when my belongings were being destroyed, and I was being emotionally tortured? After my first session, I felt great. I had spoken about a lot of things and I looked forward to the next week. That was of course until I arrived at 10am, only to find this counsellor introduce herself to me and ask, “What is it that I can do for you?” She had completely forgotten me and I had to go through the same story again, to refresh her memory. I went a few more times, but after perhaps my 5th week, I feigned that I was “cured”. I was tired of spilling my soul to a woman who didn’t care enough to even listen.

I spent a very long time asking myself “Why was I bullied?” Something within me needed to know what I had done to incur such a wrath from these people. Was it the way I spoke, my clothes, my personality? I needed to know why. The experience gave me a deep-seated sense of insecurity about my body, my appearance and my ability, which I have been unable to completely shift ever since. I was sent menacing text messages from unknown numbers and called at all hours where the person at the other end would vary their comments from utter silence to whispers of “I’ll get you tomorrow, you [insert chosen profanity here]”. My schoolbag was hidden, it was put in a sink with the taps left running. My books were stolen and defaced, I was pushed, kicked and yelled at. I was excluded, isolated and mocked. They talked about me, horrific things I will never, ever verbalise, as I passed by, careful not to use my name, but clever enough to make sure I knew it was for me. I cried in toilets, I cried on the bus, I cried at the back of class, hiding my face behind my hair, pretending to write. I cried at night, in my bed, alone and afraid. I wept out of fear of the morning, willing it not to come. I knew it would, and I knew I would go back to that place, where I could not escape. I cried at the unknown, the fear of what might happen. I cried for my friend and I cried for our friendship. I cried for my future and I cried for willing it to come and save me. It’s normal for a 5 year old to cry on their first day of school as they wave goodbye to their parents, the only influence and protector they have known for their whole life. I didn’t cry when I was 5. I was excited about school, I couldn’t wait! I cried, however, on my first day of 6th year. On the first day of my last ever year in school, I cried.

Why me? Why did this happen to me and to my best friend? Well, I haven’t asked myself that recently. The question is not “What is wrong with me, that I was chosen to be bullied?” rather, “What is wrong with these people that they chose to bully?” Because to do to a person, what these people did to me is not normal human behaviour. So many people tell me that I should be sympathetic to my tormentors, that they may have had hard lives which made them lash out at others and I just happened to be an unfortunate coincidence. I accept this as fact. I do not accept this as a sentiment.

I have no sympathy for these people. They voided their right to such niceties when they made my life a misery in school. I do not hate them. They are far too insignificant in my life for me to waste my time on hate. However they are equally too insignificant to be afforded pity or forgiveness. I am completely indifferent to their existence nowadays. The crippling fear that they once sparked is now nothing but a painful memory.

Every cloud has a silver lining, and everything happens for a reason. I firmly believe that now. Had you asked me this a few years ago, however, I would not have been so sure. But when the time came to chose third level degrees I found myself at a crossroads. I had always been 100% certain of the course I wanted to study, and the university I wanted to go to. But just like the dawning of the publication of my yearbook, the closing date of the CAO approached and niggling fear returned. I knew that many of my tormentors had applied for my college of choice. What if they got there too? What if they continued to bully me in university? So I made the rashest and most unprepared decision I have ever made. I gambled my future and chose UCC, the furthest university from my home. I ran away. I gave my friends and family the excuse that I chose thus because I wanted to study Irish. This was only half true. In the true spirit of the above maxim I was offered my place at UCC and I have never looked back. It was the best decision I have ever made. So many opportunities (a small selection of them can bee seen in my previous posts) have come my way as a result of the decision to study at UCC and I am ever thankful.

Make no mistake in my intentions, I do not owe the people who hurt me, teased me, threatened me and scared me anything. I do not owe my success and my happiness to being bullied. I have merely taken a positive from an astounding pile of negative and chosen to discard the rest. I am a strong person today. I am not afraid like I used to be. I am not bitter, I am not hurt. I am sad that there are students who are about to return to school, holding the same fear I used to hold. I am sad that for them, as for me at the time, there is no way out. I cannot offer any support to the unfortunate masses other than the unquestionable knowledge that it will get better. Life moves on and you move with it, becoming a better and stronger version of you. Keeping a strong group of friends around is key and reporting the abuse is essential. Despite my negative experiences, authority figures need to be notified at every turn. Parents, teachers and even police, should it become that serious, must be informed. It is the only way to remain with some veil of protection.

This blog has taken me weeks to write. I suppose, if I’m honest, it has taken me years. I have joined anti-bullying campaigns, I have spoken publicly about my experiences, I have taken classes and written papers, all surrounding the subject. All to the same end, the same tireless hope. That some day, everyone would know that the article taking up pages 74 and 75 of my school yearbook for 2009/2010 entitled “Bullying” was mine.

Finland – What I missed.

This is not a travel guide. It is not a blog dedicated to exploring the world and reporting on it, for all those making use of the Internet machine to read. Although if anyone reading this wants to buy me flights around the world so I can transform this into a travel guide, then I am totally cool with that.

I am, however, going to dedicate this post to exploring and my recent international adventure. No America, this time, I’m afraid. So where am I, you ask? Currently, I am North by 59 degrees and 58 minutes and East by 23 degrees and 26 minutes, making it the highest point I have ever been to in the world. Still wondering? I am in a town in Southern Finland, blogging about co-ordinates.

Next question: Finland? Why? An equally good question. A year ago, I would have asked myself the same question. But circumstances change (for further information, see my previous posts) and people you never knew existed come into your life and change it so radically, you can hardly believe how life used to be.

When I was in primary school, at the tender age of 12, my teacher assigned us a geography task. We each had to pick a European country and create a project of information on that country. Thankfully my class consisted of 13 kids, so there was plenty of “good countries” to go around. I chose Finland. Why did I choose Finland? Because Santa Clause lives there. Duh. 

This blog post will consist of a number of things my A1 sheet of colourful Finnish facts missed.

The year was 2004. The internet wasn’t what it is now. Researching meant everyone had to stay off the landline and I could go and eat my dinner while our family PC connected to the World Wide Web. I’m putting a lot of the gaps in my Nordic knowledge back in ’04 down to this. The first thing I did, when I chose Finland, the funny shaped country at the top of our old map of Europe (that still contained Yugoslavia and USSR. Bosnia who?) was source my brother’s atlas, the one he got from collecting Wheetabix tokens. In the back of the atlas, was a page containing world flags, which I loved. I mostly loved this page because there were animated Wheetabix people, in various national dresses and the Brazilian Wheetabix lady was pretty colourful. But therein I found the Finnish flag. I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed. I loved to draw and the plain blue cross wouldn’t be much of a challenge. I should have gone for Spain. That coat of arms would have been more fun. But nonetheless, I set myself to work. First things first. Decorate the border of the large white page in Finnish flags. It was extremely artful, trust me. Then I stuck on a larger Finnish flag on the upper righthand corner, raising it up a little from the page, because 3D effect were cool and definitely worthy of a red “go maith” tic from my teacher. Yes. Even at 12, praise from teachers was like crack to me.

Next I resorted to the largest source of information I could lay my hands on. The labyrinth of knowledge and power. Encarta 97. After an epic game of MindMaze I proceeded to “Google”, 2004 style ‘Finland’. The little men in the computer box spun the CD and made sounds like an aeroplane taking off, only to present me with maps, short videos and fun little facts about the Nordic Maiden. Because apparently Finland is shape like a chick. I can’t see it yet, but I am trying.

Added to my large piece of paper was a printed map of Finland, containing several lines and fading colour everywhere North of Oulu. Using coloured card, I created a box of Fun Facts. Population, language, area and currency. Sort of like an ancient form of Wikipedia, and probably just as accurate. On red card, I wrote about Nokia, the cellphone giant of the age and how they were “connecting people” with the 3310 and 3310i, if you were cool. (What’s an iPhone?) This was pasted somewhere near the middle, along with a few paragraphs about Lapland and Santa Clause. Can you tell I love Christmas? There was a 3D Santa Clause featured too. Because I was a goddamn A student. Weirdly, I also wrote about the high suicide rates and tree farming. Not related. I think.

There were various other illustrations and something about copious amounts of snow and how most of the water is frozen in the winter and basically people can’t do anything. I presented it before a largely bored audience of 12 year olds and it was hung on the corridor (the only corridor in the building) for a few weeks until we did our project on American States. I chose Hawaii. There was a 3D Hula dancer incorporated.

So here are some things I missed. Firstly, and most importantly, Finland has two languages. I know, I didn’t know that either. Finnish and Swedish are both official languages. A long history with Sweden left a minority group of Swedish Speaking Finns in Finland and a language that is as alive as Finnish in many parts of the country. Most people speak Finnish, English and some Swedish in this country. I actually know more Swedish Speaking Finns than Finnish Speaking Finns, a fact which is apparently weird considering they only make up 5% of the population.

The languages themselves are vastly different. Finnish is vastly complicated and unlike most languages. But it is by far the most emotive and expressive language I have ever heard. To Finns, words are like gold – to be preserved and used only with genuine desire and intent. If a Finn tells you something – they mean it. No matter what language. Swedish is a vibrant and sensible language, grammatically similar to English, but rich in strange accent and thick pronunciation. Those who have Swedish as their first language are proud of it, proud of their heritage and their culture, proud to be Finnish, proud to speak Swedish. Their language is part of their very beings. One thing I have noticed with Finns, be it Finnish or Swedish speaking, is that they are genuine. They are honest and although they may be cautious of strangers at first, once they have gotten to know a person, they are a source of a true, loving and strong friendship.

The Finns I have met have all been fun and energetic people. Apart from the way that Irish people are overtly talkative and always have something to say, Finns remind me a lot of my own people. And apparently they do just as well in the partying department as their Irish counterparts. They are efficient. Like, seriously efficient. Efficiency that makes you stop and gasp in awe at the sheer sensibility of customs. Think you may have a million euro idea for a simple labour-saving, household gadget? Chances are the Finns have beaten you to it.

Take for example, drying dishes. You didn’t even think it was an action that needed simplifying. But there, above every Finnish sink, craftily disguised as just a regular cabinet lies an Astiankuivauskaappi (I can’t pronounce this one, but I do a mean job of saying it in broken Swedish – I just have no idea how to spell it) Google it. And make sure you’re sitting down. This dish drying cabinet will blow your mind with it’s simplistic genius. I’m almost a little offended that the European stereotype for efficiency is Germany. Shoes are to be removed at the door of Finnish homes. In my country, asking this might be treated with contempt – but think about it: You’ve been outside, walking around. Perhaps in the snow. Your shoes are dirty. You take them off to keep the place clean. Not only do you feel more at home, you’re also maintaining a clean floor! It gets better – Bottles and aluminium cans all have a price written on them; 0,15€, 0,20€ etc. Recycling them will result in reimbursement for the amount you have collected. Effectively, the government pay you to recycle, at the same time as paying you for keeping streets clean. What is this witchcraft!? 

By far the most underrated aspect of my 6th class project, however, was the complete lack of notice paid to the beauty of the country itself. I did quite a bit of sightseeing in my 11 days here, all in the southern part of the country. I am aware that this means I have about 70% of the country left to explore, but this leaves me only with excitement for what is to come. I saw the beautiful and scenic old town of Ekenäs, the soft pastel coloured houses with crisp white shutters dripping of old European beauty. I toured Turku, its idilic clock tower church towering over the city’s cobbles and calm streets. I climbed to Turku’s observatory and looked out over the city, Åbo Akademi University buildings inconspicuously dotted about the colourful buildings, the bustling cafe’s lining the river in the shade of beautifully green trees.

Helsinki was altogether unexpected. I am, by my nature, not a city girl, but Helsinki surprised me. The city centre is full of detailed architecture and it is bursting full of history. From the titanic Parliament building, its great pillars looking out over the capital’s people, to Senate Square, full of tourist and Finns alike, eating lunch on the steps of the white Lutheran Cathedral, to the many old buildings, which thankfully survived wartime, Helsinki is like no other European city I have been to. It is a mixture of everything and nothing, a bustling hive of activity and commuting, and grossly under marketed as a city-break destination in Europe. The city’s parks mean that despite the thriving hub of movement, there is always somewhere to escape, somewhere to get away.

Helsinki offers ferries (for €2.20 – might I add, this is the price of a cup of tea on Irish Rail. A cup of tea.) to many of the beautiful islands in the archipelago in the harbour. I strolled around Suomenlinna with my two favourite people, eating rye bread and yoghurt, drinking in the sea breeze, the stone caverns and the rich history. Finland’s long, yet altogether recent history was more than present in the Sea Fort Island’s museums and cultural centres.

Porvoo – my favourite place in Finland, so far. It is a beautiful city in southern Finland, where the old town resembles streets of painted doll houses, all similar, but each with its own charming character and uniqueness. The old cobbled hill to the church provides a fabulous view of the winding streets, the decorative craft shops and the lazy, meandering river. I stood there, atop the hill at Porvoo’s stone church as the sun began to set, on a warm Friday evening and fell in love with Finland.

I took an unexpected stroll around the hidden wonder of Fiskars – a town famous in Finland for scissors and knives – but famous in my heart for its romantic captivity. A small stream, clutching ducks and swans, runs through the village, hugged by picturesque wooden bridges. A fantastic chocolate shop is nestled in the row of redbricked handcraft stores. There I discovered another new love of mine – Kinuski. A sort of fudgey, chocolatey caramel. Not quite ganache, not quite toffee, but something of an heavenly mixture, enveloping my senses and tasting like more.

I went to the Southernmost town in Finland, Hanko, where one can almost see Estonia and the memory of Russian occupation is evident in the trees, no more than 70 years old and the rocky forests. I stood on the beach, in front of the infamous restaurant and function house, Casino and watched they giant cargo ships head for Poland, Stockholm and Tallinn as the sea air brushed my face and the sand caressed my toes… I love Finnish water, I love the trees, I love the weather, the landscape, the food, the fish and the culture. I love Finland and I love its people. I can say, not just with hope of conditional certainty, but with actual knowledge and fact, that I will return to the Finnish Maiden, and that my return shall not be the last of such.

In hindsight, 21 year old Gearóidín is struggling to put into words they majesty of Finland. I have not done the country justice. But I don’t think there are words – not in the English language, anyway. I’m not sure if 12 year old me would have done a much better job, even with all this experience, all this excitement and all this love.