Blue Skye: A wee trip to Scotland

Travel, Uncategorized

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Going to the north of Scotland is a risky move in March. Like the Irish, the Scots are accustomed to chilly gales, pouring rain, and even snow well into spring, so Gavin and I took a gamble choosing to holiday there before the spring equinox had begun (and yes, I know we learned spring starts on February 1st, but did the persistence of Baltic weather ever really convince you of it?). Lucky for us, our premature holidaying paid off – we got three days of glorious sunshine.

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Driving north

Getting to Glasgow was a breeze from Dublin city: one bus, one overpriced airport breakfast and an hour-long flight later and I was setting up the satnav in our Vauxhall Corsa rental. The way up to the Isle of Skye was significantly longer; it’s a six-hour drive, more or less, to the west coast of the island where we stayed. I wasn’t an insured driver so Gavin took the wheel for the duration of our trip. While I gazed out at the snow-topped peaks and flicked between six temperamental BBC radio stations, he navigated the narrow, undulating corkscrew roads, stopping occasionally at designated ‘Passing Places’ to squeeze by other cars and buses.

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The mist-covered landscape was dramatic on the way northwards, and we marvelled at the sheer size of the peaks. It had a familiarity of Connemara, though (bearing in mind I don’t like to belittle our beautiful western scenery) the whole place was just a bit more magnificent: huge and open, with sweeping valleys and vast, calm lochs.
From the kitchen in our Waternish cabin in the view was no less impressive: the garden, which overlooked a farmer’s patch of land, oversaw interlocking headlands dotted with little white houses. In the distance the islands of Harris and North Uist gave the horizon a craggy outline. To top it off, little rabbits hopped around the garden during the day. As we saw more of the island I thought there wasn’t an inch of land that wouldn’t boast an incredible view.

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From the garden during the day

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From the garden at night

The clouds brought scattered rain and fog sat on the highlands on our first full day. We took a trip south to the Fairy Pools by Glen Brittle and walked the winding path beside the stream, stopping occasionally to take photographs of the waterfalls. When, about 3km later, we arrived at the foot of the looming hills, we made a quick stab at reaching the snow but scrapped the idea on the realisation that its nearness was merely a trick of the imagination. So we took a picture to prove how far we’d come and hiked back to the car.

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At the Fairy Pools

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On the second day we planned to visit the famous ‘Old Man of Storr’ viewpoint. I’d say this was the most impressive (and probably most difficult) of the walks we did. A sheer climb from the car park left us slightly breathless as the path evened out. From there, faint but colourful human-sized dots at the base of the jagged rock came into view and the cliffs loomed even larger above our heads.

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Weathered down from five million years of erosion, the Old Man of Storr towers over its surroundings for miles around. It’s easy to see how these worn-away layers of rock have become one of Skye’s most important sights, and though popular, it only took a little detour away from the crowd until we were alone and it was quiet. We descended on a different path, admiring the jagged horizons and sparkling lakes of a timeless landscape.

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On our way home we stopped into Portree, Skye’s largest town with a population of about two and a half thousand people. Monday is a quiet day: shops were shut, and the café we had planned to eat in also had its doors closed. Next door was a chippy (aptly named ‘The Chippy’) and we settled on having fish for lunch. The lady working alone behind the counter was battering the fresh fish when we stepped inside, and the smell of the fried food was enough get our stomachs going. We got a token Irn Bru to wash it down with and sat outside to enjoy the sunshine before taking a stroll by the colourful houses on the pier.

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Having bought our groceries on the first day and cooked most meals, we treated ourselves to an evening in The Three Chimneys, an acclaimed restaurant on the west of the island. Not before we took the near-lethal roads to Neist lighthouse for the sunset though, and had a quiet beer on the cliffs there. I was glad for my hiking boots then as much as ever, as the grass was spotted with patches of squashy mud. In fact, if you do plan to visit, make sure hiking boots are on the packing list!

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Once the sun dipped below the horizon we drove back and checked in for dinner, where the host escorted us for a predrink in the cosy adjacent bar. We opted for the tasting menu and it did not disappoint: there were so many courses I could barely recall half of them afterwards. Rather thoughtfully, there was a little menu placed between us on the table, and a lovely waitress gave us a brief overview of each plate as it arrived. From the heather and seaweed butter and mousses that began the meal to the final petit fours, I was absolutely stuffed by dessert. It was a very pleasant experience overall, although (expectedly) even the wine was expensive, and it’s definitely going to be a rare occurrence in the foreseeable future!

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Presents and a guidebook from our gracious hosts on arrival

On our last full day the weather stayed sunny and warm as forecast. We drove north along the east side of the isle to The Quiraing walk, and followed the marked path for about 3 kilometres to halfway before stopping for a break and turning back. The scenery was just a beautiful as previous days: golden eagles soared overhead and cyclists pedaled their way up the steep path to the hike’s starting point.

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That evening we didn’t venture far from the house. Only ten minutes up the road was a little place called Trumpan with a well-known church ruin. An information post at the site tells the story of warring families, the McLeods and McDonalds. The story goes that one family trapped the other in the church and burned it down. When a young girl who managed to escape through a window warned the rest of the clan, they swore revenge and slaughtered the arsonists as they fled back to their boats. It’s clear enough why Scotland is famous for its bloody history when you stumble upon sites like those!

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Sunset at Trumpan

At dusk we drove towards home and stopped in the Stein Inn, the oldest pub in Skye, for a drink. Customers were sparse: there was one burly man sitting at the bar waiting for his dinner, and two other couples sitting down. A fire was burning and it was warm, so we ordered two cask ales and some starters. Wooden beams, framed maps and patterned carpet reflected the inn’s traditional roots, as did the somewhat ambivalent treatment of the obvious blow-ins. From the reel-like music on the sound system to the Gaelic signs posted on the walls, I noticed the similarities in our Celtic cultures more than ever, though I got the feeling that the Americans who arrived at 7.58pm – two minutes before the kitchen closed – might not have been turned away with empty bellies at home in Ireland.

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The Quiraing: most of my photos are of Gavin taking photos

On our final day the weather held once again and we drove back to Glasgow airport in very different conditions to when we arrived. After forty-minute detour down to the ferry crossing (untrustworthy satnav!) we crossed Skye bridge and made our last tourist stop at Eilean Donan Castle in Kyle of Lochalsh. Dating back to the 13th century, its likeness has featured in everything from Scottish products to films, while the castle’s interior decor is a tribute to its 20th century restorer, Lt. Col. John MacRae Gilstrap. It was forbidden to photograph inside, so in summary: lots of tartan and portraits, and a very realistic kitchen complete with a freeze-frame of of a dummy maid catching some falling pots.

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Skye is an true gem. For a place that wasn’t on my radar until recently, I would recommend it to anyone who wants an outdoor break – rain or shine, the walks are enjoyable but not strenuous, rewarding you with beautiful scenery for just a little effort.

Have you been to Skye before, or would you like to go? Let me know in the comments below!

Words by Cathy Carey. Photos by Cathy Carey and Gavin Hartigan.

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The Untold Want: Thoughts on the Exhibition

Art, Culture, Literature, Opinion, Review

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“The untold want by life and land ne’er granted,

Now, Voyager sail thou forth to seek and find.”

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1871-1872)

This concisely written couplet forms the basis for a wonderfully curated exhibition currently housed at the Royal Hibernian Academy. Running until April 26th, The Untold Want takes a captivating look at a common theme that likens the physical, life-affirming mettle of Whitman’s revolutionary poetry to Irish and international artists’ own perspectives. Even if you have never read a verse penned by the poet, you’ll probably still enjoy it.

From my experience, modern art can sometimes seem obscure or gloom-ridden, while classical works often need historic and cultural grounding. Leaning more towards the conceptual than the contextual, and close enough to our time to remain relevant, this art isn’t only for historians or art aficionados to extract meaning from: it really is for anyone to enjoy.

Taking on positive significance in an information-rich era where we can sometimes feel lost and devoid of purpose, it reminds us to refocus our lens on the good stuff.

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One of my favourites was Cuban artist Felix Gonzalez-Torrez, who caught my imagination with his unusually placed sculptures. With work created from commonplace objects, he undertook to occupy the unwanted gallery space. That is, corners and skirting boards rather than coveted walls. Walking around the gallery, my eye was drawn to these converted areas.

Just as life changes, and we let go of people and things we love, Gonzalez-Torrez challenged himself to let go of his own work. His quote denotes a sense of generosity, of excitement at the possibility of the audience plucking a piece of his work to take away. And physically it can be taken, even consumed — as evidenced by the empty wrappers lying at the foot of one piece composed entirely of individually wrapped mints.

Another series that caught my eye both visually and in terms of the artist’s approach to her work was Nan Goldin’s photo series The Other Side. This selection of about ten images documents drag performers over twenty year period. Although perhaps less remarkable now than when they were taken, these raw portraits give us a peek into lives lived in the exotic glamour of an underground subculture that is only recently coming to the fore.

As highlighted in her artist’s statement, Goldin’s practice of capturing a moment in time in order to leave it behind is a compelling thought. Often we record our lives to spend undue emotional energy grappling with memories, be they nostalgic or unsavoury. Goldin freezes milliseconds in time so she doesn’t have to conjure and recall, and deal with moments already lived. These images exist tangibly so the “now” can be fully enjoyed.

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Like any exhibition, there were a few bum notes for me. My powers of artistic understanding are limited, and, try as I might to extract meaning, I never succeed on all counts. One work in particular by Donegal native Vivienne Dick was mystifying.

Located in a small wooden cabin in the centre of the room, the overarching message behind its dissonant music coupled with smooth pans of rural Irish countryside remained firmly out of my grasp. Though I found it hard to connect with this piece or to pin it to the collection in general, I did take pleasure in the attempt. (On a side note, comment and let me know if I missed something!)

As The Untold Want only runs for one more week, here are a few words of advice. Wander over to the RHA any time until 5pm, or until 8pm on Wednesday. Pick up the laminated leaflet just inside the door and give yourself at least an hour to fully appreciate the well-spaced art and bright, airy surroundings. Read the artists’ statements. Look closely at the leaves of the plant sculpture. And don’t forget to pop a mint in your pocket before they’re all gone.

Photo credits: Gavin Hartigan

Pageant Queens: My First Drag Show

Celebrity, Entertainment, Gigs, Style

The clock strikes twelve and I’m perched on a stool in the dimly lit basement of Break for the Border, a fresh pint in hand. Another electro-pop anthem begins its bassy intro and a couple from the group beside me jump and scream as the beat kicks in, booty shaking and bopping their heads from side to side like the sassy black women they aren’t. Above the stage hangs a single makeshift curtain and a banner printed with the words ‘DRAGGED UP’.

The crowd seems as earnest as I am: some sip their drinks and stare intently at the stage, others like me flick their eyes only occasionally towards the dim light for signs of life. Admittedly, mine go more often to my watch. I stare at a six foot three blonde wig making its way to the bar, and will these disorganised queens to get their voluptuously padded asses out of the dressing room and onto the stage. Come on Haus of Edwards — I’m sure there are other people in here who would like to be tucked up in bed by about half past two. I scan the room again. Maybe not.

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For anyone who isn’t familiar with Haus of Edwards, they are trio of American drag performers: wonderfully narcissistic, loud-mouthed, and undeniably fabulous contenders of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. What’s Ru Paul’s Drag Race, you ask? It’s basically America’s Next Top Model for cross-dressers but without Tyra Bank’s tiresome ‘smizing’ and way more addictive catchphrases. ‘ConDRAGulations’, and ‘sashay away’ are two of my favourites, so I’ll give you those for free.

Across three separate seasons these veterans of the show respectively competed, none of them crowned, but each rising to international fame with plenty of shade-throwing and melodramatic rivalries tossed in for good measure. And here I am, about to see them live in all their glory, with two girls from work who have no idea what’s going on, but are soaking it all in anyway.

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At about twenty past midnight there is a shift in the lights and a flutter in the audience. The larger-than-life Pixie Woo struts onto the stage and begins her first warm-up number: not singing of course, but lip-syncing. Fascinated and amused, my colleague whips out her phone and starts filming. The crowd dances and sings along enthusiastically, I assume they’re all feeling the same relief as I am: the hour and 20 minute wait is over.

The song finishes, and the tension mounts. There’s a burst of whooping applause with the introduction and ‘Bang Bang’ pulses out of the speakers. One by one, Alyssa Edwards, Laganja Estranja, and Shangela storm out looking fierce, lustrous locks flowing, face and body contouring that would put Kim K to shame. My colleagues laugh at me as a big smile breaks over my face and I clutch my hands to my chest, I’m genuinely delighted to be here.

Those who have paid to stand in the small barriered VIP section up the front get a great view of the limber Laganja doing her gymnastic splits and death drops. I can’t help but feel hard-done-by for being left out of the action. The two-tiered pricing makes sense to me now. When we arrived, there was an impressive queue winding around the corner and up the adjacent street, a line which we gratefully skipped because we were holding standard tickets; others, who gained access for a pricier fare, queued for about an hour. But it makes sense, you pay a little more, you get a little closer.

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Ru Paul’s Drag Race Season 6

A couple more lip-sync numbers ensue, and I bop along, sipping my third pint, wishing for something else to happen. Alyssa Edwards takes a minute to talk passionately about being proud of the person you are, a central tenet of Drag Race, and one I think is worth offering up. Then someone else with a shaved head skips on for a lip-and-chin wag and it’s time for a smoking break.

We climb the stairs to the outer patio and breathe in the cool air. I ask a hulking ginger biker to take our picture when I notice he’s holding one of the stamped red cups that the hour-queuers are toting around inside. I ask him whether he’s here to see the show. “Oh yeah,” he replies, “my girlfriend loves it.” He takes a drink and I discreetly inspect his prison tattoos. “We went to another one over in England and she met the performers backstage.” And what’s with the cup? I say. “All you can drink refills for the night.” One last question and I excuse myself before asking. How much does that cost? “40 euro” he says. Worth it? This guy looks like he could make it so, but I don’t remember that option on the price list.

Meeting and greeting with fans

Haus of Edwards meeting and greeting with fans

We make our way back downstairs where the music is still blasting, and Shangela’s onstage for an impassioned solo effort that reminds me of the last moments of Drag Race: the bottom two queens, desperate to stay in the competition, perform a ‘Lip-Sync For Your Life’ battle (cue Ru Paul wearing a gigantic peroxide wig and peering past the camera with wide-eyed intensity).

This is possibly the most emotional part of the show. Faced with elimination, each woman clings to the chance of winning. It occurs to me what is absent from this performance that I expected, or at the very least what I had hoped to see. The skits, the impressions, the reading and the shade-throwing aren’t there. Instead, it feels like a rehash of the last two minutes of any episode. The creative and comedic ingredients that are such a fundamental part of the show are limp and lacking. And when it comes down to it, the whole set up smacks a bit of dressed-up money-grubbing.

It’s 2.10am and we step outside. The night is still. Nearby pubs are shutting their doors, but inside the party is showing no signs of dying down. I walk home with my ears ringing slightly and consider the possibility that I’m being too critical. I could have paid more money and stood closer to the stage. I might have chosen to see comedy queens instead of pageant queens for a bit more personality and comedic value — maybe I will, Alaska Thunderfuck plays in May.

I later check out some shaky live videos on You Tube of the notoriously quick-witted Bianca Del Rio doing her tour routine. It’s a totally different kind of show — a hilarious, thoroughly un-PC piss-take of what I have just seen. That’s more my kind of thing. My first try has a been a mild disappointment, but I’m not ready to sashay away just yet. Every drag queen has her style, and every fan their preference, so I’ll keep looking for one I like. My next stop? Pantibar.

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8 Bright and Beautiful Outerwear Pieces for Spring 2015

Fashion, Style

Hello all of my faithful blog followers (and welcome to anyone who has clicked on my scribblemash link for the first time), my apologies for making you wait this long, my well-intentioned head has been firmly out of the game.

Since my current calling has put a few months between me and my last blog post (I will admit to some idleness on my part), I reckon it’s only appropriate to make this revival a fashion-oriented comeback. So, without further ado…

London Fashion Week is well underway, and with spring weather still loitering around the corner, now is the perfect time to open up your laptop, launch a fresh tab on your browser and select this season’s outerwear essential from the comfort of your couch.

After the dull winter months it can be a relief to inject some colour back into your outfits, so sit back and feast your eyes on some bright and beautiful high street pieces you could be donning in the coming weeks.

& Other Stories – Mulberry Silk Jacket

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A softer version of the utility look, this emerald green jacket from & Other Stories is made from pure mulberry silk. A great choice for for taller frames, its loose structure cinches to the back for a more graceful fall. Pretty elegant, right? And you may be able to browse instore sometime soon, which is great news from where I’m blogging.

This is Welcome at UO – The Duvet Days Denim Coat

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If you’re looking to up your game on last winter’s ubiquitous down jacket, This is Welcome’s denim coat could be your most stylish bet. More unique than the padded outerwear you’ve seen (and slightly less voluptuous than other duvet coats) it works the denim trend of the moment into a fresh aesthetic.

Zara – Side Gathered Leather Jacket

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A wardrobe staple over the past seasons, the leather biker jacket is making a mini resurgence on the high street this spring. This bold red model from Zara is a great choice for edgy day-to-night style. Its flattering crop means it works just as well with mom jeans as a little black dress.

The White Pepper – Long Line Blazer with Bean Embroidery

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No wardrobe should be without its tailored pieces, and if they happen to be covered in embroidered beans, all the better! From quirky London label The White Pepper, this navy blazer works a long silhouette that’s great for any torso. A superb choice for introducing a fun dynamic in your look, it gives the phrase ‘cool beans’ a whole new meaning.

Topshop – Lightweight Duffle Coat

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Traditionally a winter coat, Topshop’s designers have done a vernal update on the time-honoured duffle style. This edition is made in cobalt blue with contrasting grey trims and cute extended patch pockets. Pared-back and simple, they’ve replaced the classic wooden toggle with concealed buttoning and exchanged weather-ready wool for lightweight jersey.

H&M – Padded Bomber Jacket

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Behold! A sports-luxe jacket with a fetching feminine twist. Perfectly on-trend, it’s as if Acne’s pricy Fuel Shine Jacket and Stine Goya’s even pricier Kate Jacket have had a badget-friendly baby. This glossy favourite is guaranteed head-turner that will instantly up the style stakes. Unfortunately, it is no longer available on the Irish H&M site, but it may still be in a store near you.

This is Welcome at UO – Cooperative A-Line Fishing Jacket

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A delightful update on the classic yellow rain coat, this retro-inspired look is a realistic choice for springtime showers. In a slightly darker yellow that will wear well in autumn too, it features big patch pockets and concealed buttoning for a contemporary finish.

The White Pepper – Oversized Pink Wool Coat

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Last but not least from my best in show is this dreamy pastel pink coat from The White Pepper. Oversized yet cute, masculinely tailored but with feminine appeal, this paradoxical coat creates a girlie look that doesn’t take it too far. Team it with slim separates for a favourable finish.

Quantity Over Quality and the Irish ESL Sector

Culture, Education, Opinion

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Dublin’s language schools have been hitting the news a lot recently, with the school closure number now totaling at seven since last May. While the government launches a reform of measures to prevent the abuse of immigration procedures, the spotlight is on English language education. But there are other elements that badly need revision too.

Something in the ESL education sector isn’t working. A recent revelation that seven Dublin-based schools have failed to enforce proper immigration procedures for foreigners on student visas has meant they have had to shut their doors for good. Privately, this is having a knock-on effect for international students, many of whom are finding themselves in increasingly frustrating situations with regards to procuring reliable schools and securing decent, affordable accommodation. Publicly, this is causing a nightmare for the Department of Education and Skills, which must reform immigration measures while finding support for displaced students who are out on their ear, without a school or insurance.

One group that has been underrepresented by the media are teachers who have been affected in the process. After all, searching for work in a saturated market is never a desirable task. Teacher training courses could see a drop in applicants in the next few months with the dwindling of employment prospects. And apart from immediate worries of the fate of their institutions, there are other challenges facing ESL teachers at the moment. These challenges, though less discernible to those outside the system, are nonetheless serious setbacks for establishing a well-trained, longstanding workforce.

The first major challenge lies with the educational expectations for English teachers. ACELS, the governing body charged with ensuring standards are kept in the ESL sector, states it is a requisite that in order to work in one of its accredited, more reputable schools, one must have received at least a level 7 degree from a university or IT. It aims to ensure that teachers are positioned on a certain rung of the educational ladder, having dedicated time and effort to qualifying in their chosen discipline, and ostensibly, it makes sense try to establish a certain standard quality test. In reality however, it is an arbitrary and limiting requirement that’s trying to compensate for the fact that the TEFL course can be condensed into a mere four weeks, an inadequately short space of time given that the government has recently stretched the secondary school teaching qualification to span two years instead of one, due to new requirements.

As an English Literature degree holder who has taught English as a Foreign Language for over a year, I have no problem saying that, by and large, my bachelors qualification was of little assistance in teaching the nitty-gritty grammatical details of the English language to foreign students. Most of my training was done alone, by course of trial and error, on the job. And if, as I assume it is, my degree is the closest it comes to a transferable skill-set to ESL teaching, what bearing must 4 years studying science, art or engineering have on one’s ability to do the job in question? Probably none at all. In contrast, a person who has been teaching English for a few years, but who is lacking in a primary degree, will find their career prospects limited no matter how dedicated or hard working they may be because of a senseless, lazy criterion.

The second challenge which plagues the sector is the bad mobility factor and static pay-rate. While conducting some internet research on this topic, I read-tell of Dublin schools that pay 20 euro an hour, but I have yet to come across these fabled institutions. In my real-life experience, the norm is about 15 euro, which can increase slightly if the hours are part-time. That doesn’t work out very high for someone trying to fund themselves to live in one of the most expensive cities in Europe.

Furthermore, the amount of experience a teacher has racked up in many cases doesn’t factor into pay rate. I have heard of teachers with more than two years experience working off the same rates as those fresh out of their 4-week course. This provides little encouragement for those who wish to dedicate themselves to English teaching as a profession. It is for this reason that many of those who are serious about it leave, to Europe, South America, and especially to Asia, where motivations are higher and respect is a given.

For a sector that is worth 800 million euro to the economy every year, there are inevitably schools who’s chief intent is to fill up classrooms and little else. Undoubtedly ESL is a lucrative business, but it does not equate that teachers and students should be taken advantage of accordingly in terms of pay, respect, and quality of education. Of course, to some educators it is a transitory, part-time gig. But to others, it is their livelihood no matter how we may choose to treat it.

In light of recent revelations it is important now to focus on quality; marketing, student turnover and making a quick buck needs to take the back seat. This could be achieved by rethinking the training process, implementing fairer measures to support mobility and giving everyone an equal, visible, concrete path to progression – including those without a third-level qualification. Meanwhile, schools would do well to focus on encouraging teachers to train up-and-comers, and to make them feel valued and full of prospects for the future. Education is important, and should be treated as such.

Water Under the Bridge: Reflections on Budapest

Culture, Travel

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One of the most worthwhile things I did on a recent trip to Budapest was take time to walk around the city and admire its diverse architecture.

In the past, like much of central and Eastern Europe, the city endured occupation by fascist and communist forces, suffered countless deaths to these totalitarian regimes, and was destroyed and rebuilt during and after WWII. Unlike some other places though, that are so palpably aware and painfully remorseful for their own tragic history that you can sense a determined distance from it, Budapest didn’t just acknowledge or betoken bygone times. It allowed me to feel for a moment that I had stepped back into the past, and entered into a reality that no longer exists.

On the first evening, Gavin and I strolled across Margaret Bridge and looked out southward on the Danube. From there, we had a perfect view of the Hungarian Parliament on the East side of the river, and Castle Hill, the Fisherman’s Bastions, and the Royal Palace to the West. Their lofty, pointed towers and rounded domes were mirrored in the still, wide channel, the reflected image occasionally obscured by a passing tour boat. They were the configurations of a fairytale. After taking some pictures that could surely do the view only a little justice, we turned and walked down to Margaret Park: a large island that rests between the divided city of Buda and Pest.

In the darkness we sat with other tourists by the park’s fountain, waiting for the evening music and lights show to begin. We settled ourselves facing a backdrop of tall trees with rich canopies that craned over the pool of water, reflecting the changing lights of the fountains. At a minute before 9 o’clock, the water dropped suddenly, and tension mounted.

Then, the first few bars of Vivaldi’s Spring from The Four Seasons rushed from the speakers, the central jet rose slowly in vivid red, smaller green ambient spouts sprang into the air, crashed and broke into little sparkling droplets, and I was hypnotised. With a motley repertoire that included pop-hits from Simon and Garfunkel, The Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival and X-Factor finalist Rebecca Ferguson (definitely an interesting choice) along with Brahm’s Hungarian Dance No. 1, Strauss, and Verdi’s Chorus of the Slaves, the mood shifted after every song, captivating the audience for the best part of an hour.

Afterward, we chatted about how moving the spectacle had been. We were both a little embarrassed to admit we’d gotten shivers during different parts of the performance. When it came down to it, it was just a fountain with some lights and spouts programmed to keep time with music, so why were we so intensely thrilled? The answer was simple: the transformative, cathartic, spell-bindingly graceful movement of water.

It was the circular pops and surges that piped in with each short note of the violin that delighted us, the burst of sparkling waterworks that enchanted us, and the cloaked white watery figures with their heads bowed to a stoically erect centerpiece that gave us quiet reverence.

In a city famous for its baths, built on and divided by the second-longest river in Europe, that has only recently beaten the raised fist of communism, it seems fitting that answer should come in the form of the weaving, shoulder-shaking, head-bobbing streams of sparkling liquid, the grand head-sways, and the gush of the mighty central geyser rising slowly with the orchestra’s crescendo.

To every observer dotted on the surrounding park benches, it was the cyclical journey of the water that kept us suspended together momentarily. And it wasn’t until the cycle returned to the tapping percussion of the second rendition of “Cecelia” that the spell broke and we slowly made our way back to the bridge.