Ireland Lord Hamilton St. Patrick's Day

Not So Much My Savior After All: The Pompous Lord Rerun

my pimped pic!

In honor of my naturally-red Irish roots; the big drunk that is St. Paddy’s Day; a lack of writing time; and a firmly-entrenched believe that recycling is always good, I’m re-running one of my earliest posts (it had all of three readers!). I wrote a series of tales about Jocelyn Set Loose in Ireland, and this was in the mix. I hope it makes some sense–or at least as much as my posts usually do.

“Not So Much My Savior After All: The Pompous Lord”

I feel it. Pulsing towards me through cyberspace, I sense your desire to read more of my rambling adventures in other countries. Or maybe what I sense is just my computer trying to stream an episode of Ugly Betty to me, but I’m choosing instead to read this communication from as a psychic connection that you and I share. And either or someone else out there is telling me that more travel stories would be okay. Yes?

I’ll take your silence as a hearty and resounding “yes!!!”

Now, I know you want to read about when I was 17 and attended a weekend biker ralley in Denmark (all the hardcore bikers from around Europe converged on a farm for the weekend), but since some of my unmentionables went missing that weekend and later showed up nailed to a clubhouse wall, I shan’t relate that story, lest I blush and find myself unable to make eye contact with you in the future when we bump into each other near the holiday hams at Cub Foods.

And I could regale you with a story about camping around Iceland for ten days, my body sucking up around-the-clock arctic light; upon return to the States, my body’s internal clock was so confused that I ended up with a surprise pregnancy–a daughter now nearly eight!–out of the deal. A quick summary of that part of my life goes: “Whee. Whoa. Wow. Whoops.” But again, if you’d read a detailed account of such a happy, but personal, mistake, how could we chat superficially at the Cub Foods after running in to each other in the cereal aisle? We’d be fake-smiling, trying to come up with things to say, mindlessly loading our carts with heaps of unneeded Quaker Oats, while your brain would be spinning: “Oh, man, I know way too much about this lady to even pretend to care about the weather. But just keep smiling, Skeeter. Just keep smiling. And nodding. And making those affirmative noises in your throat.”

Or I could tell you a story about being in the airport in Chisinau, Moldova, when I tried to crack a joke about how I was visiting the country with the intent of drinking lots of their famous wine and then standing on the corners to sell Levi jeans for a huge profit (the Iron Curtain had fallen, so I thought the place might have lightened up. Who knew 70 years of Soviet influence wouldn’t just melt away into good humor and that I would be pulled out of the baggage area and made to stand aside and be scowled at while my passport was “taken to another room”?). But again, if I told you this story, there you and I would be, standing stiffly in the Cub Foods cookie aisle after we reached out simultaneously for a package of Keebler Merry Mints, taking turns retreating and saying, “No, really, you go first” and then lurching out again at the same time and clunking hands, making you think to yourself, “Honestly, I swear this woman is the type of annoying person who would think making jokes to uniformed officials in crumbling countries is appropriate. And she probably plans to serve these cookies at a neighborhood party, passing them off as homemade. ‘Oooh, look at me: I worked for hours, trying to get the icing just so!'”

So I guess I’m left telling you another story about Ireland, where even poor behavior seems only “naughty” at worst, and it’s the uniformed officials themselves who are cracking the jokes at the airport.

When last you left me in Ireland, I was cursing at a pony and muttering “Never again…Never again…” The good news is that I hitched up my chaps, tucked my spurs into my backpack, and got over my pony trauma before deciding the next thing to do was explore, on foot and by car, Co. Donegal–a remote place with sparse bus service, which left me asking my B & B hostess, “You’re really sure it’s safe for single women to hitch-hike around here?” Assured that hitch-hiking was common practice in the area, I began relying upon it to get me around the county.

After warming up my thumb the first day with an intricate exercise involving balancing jelly beans on my thumbnail and then flipping them into my mouth (repeatedly), I set off for the coastal mountain/hiking area of Slieve League, scoring four rides whilst to-ing and fro-ing.

The first guy was a handyman who hollered, “Ya don’t mind sitting in back with the tools, do ya?” Not at all. I made off with his monkey wrench.

The next husband and wife were very prim, venturing so far as to ask me if, indeed, everyone in the United States carries a gun. Upon exiting the car, I blasted them with my Supersoaker.

After my muddy, awe-inspiring, 3-hour hike at Slieve League, I was picked up by Liam, who asked me to sit up front and cradle his Sunday paper on my lap. Sensing a fetishist, I obliged, but I managed to steal the crossword puzzle and leave him, undoubtedly, bereft of the sense of accomplishment that comes with knowing which 1970’s rock group performed “Mr. Blue Sky” and filling in the accompanying three-letter answer.

Finally, I hitched a ride with an enthusiastic 19-year-old who was incredibly happy to see me–or anyone else, for that matter. This lad never met anyone or anything he didn’t like…especially MacGuyver, with whom he was obsessed. “Lawse, but that man can do anything! Give him a rubberband, a spatula, and some brown sugar, and he can make a bomb! And what about his hair? Isn’t it cool? Didya notice my hair? I had it cut and bleached to look just like his–you know, that actor Richard Dean Anderson. Doncha think I look like him?” Not having the heart to tell him that highlighted mullets had gone out of style, well, before there ever was style, I remained mum. But I did show him how to make chewing gum out of tree sap, a match, and tire tread before he dropped me off.

Heady with the power of The Hitch, I set out again the next day, this time walking to the local strand (aka “beach”), where I intended to take artistic photos of fog and throw rocks at seagulls. On my way back to the B & B, as I walked the narrow road, I was almost body slammed by a careening Mercedes Benz, driven by a buck-toothed weasel named Justy, who looked and acted like Dr. Frankenstein’s sidekick, Igor (“Yessssss, Master…”). Next to him, in the Seat of Command, was a 63-year-old florid man named…

“Lord Hamilton, my dear, and so nice to have you aboard. Do sit in the back, and I’ll tell you about myself.” This he proceeded to do for 20 minutes, detailing his family’s pedigree, handing me a gold business card that had the weight and heft of a credit card, inviting me to stay at “the manor” next time I was visiting, and cautioning me off “the natives,” saying, “They’re animals and gypsies, every one of them.” Speechless in the backseat, and not by choice but because I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, I mentally reviewed the history of the Republic of Ireland: English landlords driving the native peasants to destitution and starvation…and there I was, sitting with one such modern “landlord” who’d not had the good sense to update his thinking or to really look at the substance of the native inhabitants of the town of Killybegs. Later, after he dropped me off with a shouted warning not to socialize with a soul in the town, I recounted his monologue to my B & B hostess, a native herself, who laughed herself silly and dismissed him with, “Ah, you were in a car with Himself! He’s quite a toff, eh?”

I still have that gold business card, and I still think often of how Lord Hamilton prided himself on being above the reality of the people who surrounded him. His pomposity created in him a crisis of character, one of which he’d never be aware–such was the state of his arrogance.

Even now, ten years later, I feel confident that if I ever run into him in the coffee aisle at Cub Foods, I will crack open a bottle of Torani’s Hazelnut syrup on his head and dump its contents into his declaiming maw, just to make him cease babbling about his importance. (You can hover down by the tea bags, gawking and assuring your fellow bystanders, “Trust me, I’ve read her blog, and I can tell you this is just like her.”)

And I guess I won’t be staying at the manor.

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Ireland past summers solo travel

Chicken for One

“Chicken for One”

Eleven summers ago, I got a job that paid a liveable wage.
Ten summers ago, I got over a broken heart.

And nine summers ago, I got confident.

That summer, I was back in love–with a new feller, someone intriguing and exciting yet damnably inscrutable and taciturn–ready to embark on the extended dance re-mix tour of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the Isle of Man.

Unequivocally, I heart Ireland, so hopping a plane across the pond for six weeks was a pleasure. Moreover, when I hit 31, my crow’s feet and I had a talk (Crow’s Feet: “Caw, Caw. You’se a crinkled hag. Caw!” Me: “Listen, Ass-hat, I can easily put duct tape over you and claim it’s some new mid-face fashion trend, so tread lightly”). Ultimately, after some squabbles and a few lost rounds with a bottle of Oil of Olay, Crow’s Feet and I decided to start a skin-maintenance program…and where better to do that than in the misty, pore-drenching climes of Guinnessland? Plus, I had a good friend who was hankering to see the place, who was willing to pay, as well, for a mutual Polish friend to accompany us; too, I had a cousin who was keen to join the fray. The four of us women agreed to do the deed, spending various stretches of time together–on again, off again, depending on the locale and personal desires.

Whereas my trip to the UK the previous summer had been tinged with melancholy and the need for some self-esteem recovery, this holiday was, simply, purely, about joy. I felt strong, healthy and as though my life held at least seventeen kinds of possibility. Let the wind tousle my hair! I shouted. (…metaphorically, of course. Who would I have literally shouted that at? A flight attendant? Would he then have stopped the beverage cart long enough to run a manicured hand through my tresses? As if. Those attendants are way too self-absorbed to do me such a favor. It just wouldn’t happen, so I must be metaphoricalizing. Catch up with me here, Mortimer.)

But lookie: the wind did blow my hair, even though I never actually said it out loud. The Wind Goddess, Mariah, must have read my wishes. Mariah also hosts an infomercial on late-night tv, in which she hawks her tarot-reading powers. Having financial trouble? Call her 1-800 line.

A rough cross-section of that vacation reveals

…tumbled castles

…a whiff of King Arthur (not the scent of decay you’d expect)

…hospitality from strangers whose walls dripped with history (but not, to my dismay, lager)

…and a terrific snog

Overall, there was much beauty on that journey: the sights, sharing a beloved place with friends, seeing a best girlfriend get married on the Isle of Man. And there was much that was stressful on that trip (suffice it to say, not all personalities mesh well, and it became necessary for some of us to part ways and recover a bit in separate corners before reuniting).

Due to the clashes, however, I stumbled into something I mightn’t have chosen deliberately: traveling alone. Much is made of “women who travel alone”–I’ve seen whole tomes on the subject–but, in this case, gender wasn’t the issue at all. Mostly, my solo week was remarkable because it was comprised of the minute acts of courage that any traveler has to muster when not buffered by the words, presence, and security of a partner or group. These acts aren’t visible to any outside onlooker, not palpable to anyone save the lone individual. But what I learned that week is that once the protective layers of companions are shed, the lone traveler experiences a kind of vulnerability–and welcome exposure–that is a privilege.

Thus, even though I spent six weeks seeing and eating and moving from place to place that summer, the lasting impression I have of that time is actually of one rare week, when I hopped a bus all by my Big Brave Self, bidding my cousin adieu for that piece of time, and stayed by myself at a B & B in Killybegs, Co. Donegal.

Almost immediately, I discovered that being alone meant I was more approachable. When I’d been with friends, no native would approach me or strike up a conversation, but by myself, I was making friends in the line at the cash-point machine, having lingering cups of tea with my B & B hostess, chatting with farmers driving their tractors down the road. As well, I became very conscious of how much time I spent in my room (could have laid on the bed all day, finishing A Prayer for Owen Meanie, even as I cursed its saccharine hero), making sure I had a destination each day that would counter my natural inclination towards the horizontal. Perhaps most gratifying about that week were my forays into hitching; since Donegal is sparsely populated and bus service is irregular, sticking out the old thumb was the prime way to get around. Of course, I’d seen Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher some years before, so every time I emerged from a stranger’s car, all my limbs intact, breath still in my lungs, the air struck me as redolent with four-leaf clovers, and my steps were positive boing-a-sproings of relief.

Heady with the sense of adventure, I explored the county, hiking the glorious Slieve League, buying hand-knit sweaters, popping in to witness a religious Blessing of the Fleet ceremony in a warehouse at the dock, fending off the advances of a gormless but lusty fisherman.

Occasionally, my stomach growled, a noise that intimated I might, at some point, need to eat.


And you know? That was ultimately the hardest part of the entire deal. I dodged the issue a few times by purchasing my lunch from a grocery, but eventually, as is my wont, I craved hot, cooked food. So I paced outside a family-friendly pub for some minutes before entering. Once inside, I eyed the bar and then eyed the tables. It was too dark to pull out my book for occupation. I would have to sit, alone, and eat, alone, staring at nothing, talking to no one.

I ordered the chicken. It came with potatoes.

Then, the next day, as I strolled past a different pub, music wafted out–excellent fiddle music. On a whim, I dodged in and worked obviously and diligently on my travel journal (first day I’d kept one!) until I was certain my presence wouldn’t raise a hue and cry. Emerging several hours later, I felt as though I’d found my new home. Each night thereafter, I visited this pub, pulling on my pints as I listened to the most-lovely music played by the proprietor and his mates, easing into conversation with my fellow fortunates.

Within the space of seven days, I had A Local, knew some familiar faces around the village, and had gawped during an evening of dancing at my B & B hosts’ favorite club (Just me and a hundred 55-year-olds, circling the floor in a waltz, the native ladies in their pumps, me in my London Underground hiking boots). Being alone had given me an entree no passport ever could.

This congenial time of personal expansion ended rather too abruptly, in truth, when my cousin decided to rejoin me in the next leg of my plans: to stay a week in Connemara in a small town called Cleggan. Resolutely, we aimed towards fun, even achieving some (despite an afternoon on the back of an Irish pony).

In Cleggan, and then in Northern Ireland at the farm of distant relations, and then on the Isle of Man, we had moments of great togetherness as we whizzed down the “wrong” side of the road in our rental, taking refuge in that small car when a herd of hungry cows surrounded us, licking their, em, cuds (and chewing their chops); we descended into hilarity rolling around the Giant’s Causeway and mock-attacking at various ring forts; we simultaneously missed heartbeats when we realized we’d visited the town of Omagh in Northern Ireland three days before an IRA bomb in the main square created the higest body count of any during The Troubles. We found a common vibe, and I easily fell back into the comfort of companionship.


As it turns out, learning to forge ahead while feeling nervous and uncertain and alone was a tremendous gift. Nearly the moment I landed back in The States, before I’d even laundered my unmentionables, I was informed abruptly and ignominiously that the new feller was quite over me–had been for some time but was too passive to make the cut earlier (You know, before my trip, during which I then could have rustled up a little comfort in the pub or on a beach. The fecknob).

In the ensuing weeks, as I lay sleepless and agitated and profoundly heartsore, lonelier than I’d known I could be,

at least I had Donegal.

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break-ups Ireland past summers travel

“Busted in Ballyvaughn”

Eleven years ago, I started to turn my life around economically. However, my romantic life was still facing the wrong direction. It took another year for the About Face of the Heart to take place, for me to realize that I’d spent the bulk of my twenties in a relationship that, while fine and good on many fronts, would never fully satisfy. It was too full of emotional landmines (whoops! Triggered another one!) and divergent goals. Even though Boyfriend Of My Twenties had moved to Minnesota with me, and I appreciated that act of solidarity, things had to change.

Thus, one decade ago this summer, I was mourning the demise of my six-year-relationship. And the break-up? It had been long and exhausting and had pretty much cut me off at the knees.

Metaphorically speaking. I mean, I still had calves and feet. C’mon. What’d you think? That I shuffle around on my patellas? Imagine the horrid scraping sound that would make.

At any rate, after wading through a fair amount of extended emotional upheaval, there I was. Thirty years old. Overweight. A mixture of really sad and strangely buoyant simultaneously–certain I’d never find genuine, healthy love at the same time I was glad that new, better, love was a possibility.

So I started exercising; lost a little weight; realized the beauty of feeling free.

And in response to all this? Deeply and profoundly, I knew it was time to start making my credit cards flex their personal-debt-inducing muscles. It was time to get my wounded soul a passport, mix it up with The Ladies, and take a trip.

And so I did, mixin’ it up, generationally, too. That summer, I spent three weeks scooting around Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man with my mom, her cousin, and one of my treasured girlfriends. Ranging in age from 30 to 61, we were dope, jiggy, and phat–ready to get down with the scones and the clotted cream. It wasn’t exactly dropping acid at Ozfest, but it would suffice as a heartmender.

We giddy four hit the 40 Shades of Green that make up the Irish landscape with all the enthusiasm and eagerness of, well, a leprechaun on acid at Ozfest. We saw castles. We listened to music. We got a puncture in our tyre, fixed by a lovely man named Michael (Honest to St. Patrick, his pre-adolescent daughter put on her saucy skirt and amused us with step-dancing while we waited).
We saw theatre. We ducked into Stone Age tombs.
We enjoyed an entire 15 minutes on the Isle of Skye (last ferry of the day arrived and soon after was departing). We stayed with my excellent Manx friend on the Isle of Man. We applauded a sheepherder and his border collies.
We spent some days in Edinburgh during the yearly Fringe Festival, marveling at the talent unleashed. We, my friends, had our scones.

In sum, we rocked it–me and my companions, The Mothers, in their modest, knee-length skirts, with their sensible walking shoes, tittering at the hint of a brogue.

Sure, we had our moments of stress. One morning I hopped on a train easily, wearing my backpack, and then turned to watch my mother and friend try to board, only to see their big suitcases get hung up on a stack of bikes just inside the train’s doors. As they futzed with their cases, trying to get through, the doors slid closed, and the train took off, leaving them standing, with very big eyes, on the platform. Ah, well, I mused. I guessed they’d catch up to me at the next stop. If not, I’d get back on a train heading the other direction and find them still standing there, trying to get their rolling suitcases to budge over a 100-year-old crack in the pavement. And traveling with a diabetic (my mom’s cousin) who used denial instead of insulin was stressful, as well. Every night, after dithering about being unable to check her blood sugar levels, she would order a huge dessert and then start holding forth at the dinner table in fairly mendacious fashion, telling stories that, if not completely untrue, were unfair and mind-boggling. It was only after we put her on a plane home–and she had a stroke within the next week–that we realized she may have been having a series of mini-strokes as we traveled.

But overall, the trip rejuvenated my dented self. In particular, one night in a little village named Ballyvaughn did this girl some good. We checked in to the hotel there and then headed down to have dinner in the pub. Soon after we started eating, a charming lad–that evening’s entertainment, in more ways than one–started setting up his microphone and guitar, chatting us up a bit as he worked. Amazingly, my mother and her cousin lasted through his first set or two before complaining of the ringing in their ears. Shortly thereafter, when Pub Stud took a break, he came over and suddenly transformed me into the star of my very own one-hour-television-drama by whispering to me, “Don’t go anywhere, now.”

Rooted to my bench, I sipped my pints until the last note died away. And only then did I go somewhere, in his car, to the beach, where I was reminded that there was life outside of that newly-departed six-year relationship, that I could still glimmer and shine, even at 30.

Naturally, while I was on the beach, doing my best impression of Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity at four in the morning, the fire alarm went off back at the hotel. Everyone scurried outside in their nighties and waited for the all-clear. And when my mom couldn’t find me, she started to fret. Luckily, before she could rouse the garda to start a search for my corpse, even though there was no fire at all, my galpal jumped in with a suitably-vague excuse: “Oh, I think she left the pub with some young people. I think they were going somewhere together.”

With that, me mum relaxed.

And out on the beach, with the crashing of the waves around me,

so did I.

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idiocy Ireland Olmey ponies water

“A Pimped-Up Paddy’s Day”

my pimped pic! (thanks, Paintergirl, for the pikipimp hook-up!)

I’m an Irisher by heritage (that, combined with being a quarter Finnish, makes me strangely silent yet talkative, somber yet jovial, staid yet merry), so in honor of yet another mass-media-manufactured holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, I’m resurrecting a post containing one of my favorite Irish adventures. And it doesn’t involve green beer or a dumb green hat because those aren’t actually things Irish people drink or wear, for the love of Jigging Leprechauns.

Sorry, Choochoo, you’ve already read this one–you, and two of my students who were hoping to suck up by commenting on my blog a few months back.


“I am yours and you are mine”–Peter Shaffer, Equus

When I set foot on the West coast of Ireland, at the age of 20, I believed for the first time in reincarnation. Nothing had ever before felt so familiar and right.

Thus was launched a long-distance love affair, played out during my infrequent visits across the ocean.

However, that dewy, 40-shades-of-green country and I very nearly went into couples counseling when I made the mistake, some years later, of trying out an equine adventure on its misty shores. Those “lovely Irish ponies” that The Rough Guide raves about? Not so much. Nowadays, I won’t even say the word “saddle”at the same time that I look at the color green, lest the two come together in some freaky synergy and cast me again onto the back of a pony in Ireland.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the tale:

About seven years ago I was in Ireland (as we’ve established: the home of my heart), on the West Coast, staying in a little hamlet called Cleggan in the region of Connemara for a week, exploring the countryside, mostly on foot. I explored old dolmens (big rock gravesites), the ruins of abbeys, the local pubs. After a few days, I started hitch-hiking around the county and taking bus trips to nearby cities. But eventually, it was time to turn to a different form of transport: the renowned Irish pony.

Off I went, whistling and wide-eyed, to the the Cleggan Beach Riding Centre ; there I discovered that there were afternoon tour groups, wherein I and 15 other unsuspecting sods could rent horses and be taken on a jaunt around the area, particularly across the beach and out to a small island that is accessible by foot–or horse–only at low tide. Okay, cool. I was in.

Each client was then outfitted with his/her own horse. Why, I wondered, did the teenage workers snicker when they saddled up and mounted me on a horse called “Dino”? Was he really old and out-of-date like a dinosaur? No, the workers assured me, he was more like a camel than a dinosaur.

With that cryptic information given, they left me to figure out the reins. A camel, eh? I started musing about how he must have humps on his back or like to walk in rolling fashion across the sand, or maybe he’d deposit me at a rustic Bedouin campsite at the end of the day, where the natives would teach me how to make exotic bread that I would bake in the remnant heat of the desert sand. Little did I know he was a camel in that he had no need for or desire to be around water.

After a short training session (during which only one woman was thrown from her horse into a muddy corral at full gallop), we headed for the sea. That’s right, my water-hating steed and I were heading for the sea. The SEA.

For the first hour, it was all tra-la-la-do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do on my part. “Hey, look at that shrub! I’m in Ireland looking at a shrub! Ooh, and that cottage has a very picturesque thatched roof, doesn’t it? I can notice such things, even though my glutes are seizing up, because I’m in Ireland, and the sun is shining!”

Why, there, off in the distance, was Omey Island, our goal. The tide was low, so the sea had receded, laying bare a clear band of wet sand that we could saunter across to explore the island.

But the timing was off that day. As soon as we got out to the island, the tide began returning water to the shoreline. Bit by bit, the band of wet sand shrank down to nothingness, replaced by churning water. “Ah, pish posh,” said our guide. “The water isn’t so very high! We can just turn the horses into it and wade back over to the beach.”

It was at this juncture that I discovered hard-hooved horses are, in fact, good climbers. At my first attempt to get Dino to turn and wade into the water, he reared and clambered straight up a ten-foot mound of slippery rock, with my carcass dangling off his back. My strangled yelps brought over one, then two, then three guides, all with panic in their eyes. They could smell the lawsuit.

When the three of them couldn’t get him down or anywhere near the water, they bailed on me. As they scampered back to their own horses, they tossed out, over their shoulders, “Just keep trying. Really dig your heels into him.” And by Jehosephat, I did. Spurs were not necessary that day, as my London Underground hiking boots did the job. I felt up Dino’s internal organs with my treads and forced him into the water.

While the rest of the touring group tried to line up back on the island and make some sort of organized queue that could be led across to dry land, I gave Dino his head and made him keep trudging through the tide, now up to my knees, as I huddled on his back. My jaw was aching from being clenched, and I was ready to leap from his back and swim at the slightest provocation, leaving him to his fate with the mermaids and fishies. Have a happy life with Ariel and Flounder, you big dumb bruiser.

After what seemed like three hours–it was more like 8 minutes–I reached land. There, on the beach, was the owner of the Riding Centre, in his little van. Some of the panic he’d had on his face as he watched me subsided. When I announced, “Okay, someone else can ride this nag back to the stable. I’m getting in your van, and you can drive me back,” he was composed enough to say, “Ah, lass, it’s all right now. You’ve got the luck of the faeries on your side. Just think of pink stars and green clovers while you ride him back” before pulling out a bar of Irish Spring soap and rubbing it all over himself while humming “Frosted Lucky Charms: They’re Magically Delicious.”

I wanted to resist further, but then he pulled out a harp and started crooning “Danny Boy” in a lovely tenor as he drank a Guiness and ate a heap of potatoes; in the face of his Irish charm, I was defenseless. I stayed on Dino’s back to the bloody end. And that night, I assuaged my nerves and my glutes at the pub with, *cough cough*, several pints of hard cider.

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