herald

Friday 19 December 2014

Why I summer in Dublin and winter in Oz

DUBLIN, I love you... but you're bringing me down. Between the economy, the dismal sub-zero weather and the mild depression that has gripped the entire nation, my beloved city sometimes feels like it's on the ropes.

My Twitter and Facebook timelines are an unending carnival of complaints, complacency and folk wishing they were elsewhere. Heading Down Under for an extended break seems like perfect common sense, given the circumstances. A couple of years ago, I interviewed Louis Walsh. In the manner of a man who makes life work for him (rather than the other way around), he informed me that he 'winters' in Miami. Sure, the man has money to burn, but I thought it was an inspired idea. Enjoy the vibrancy of a Dublin summer and hotfoot it in the winter when temperatures and morale plummet.

Sure, I'm missing the cosy firesides, the climax of the X Factor, the tinselly run-up to Christmas on Moore Street, the Christmas parties. Yet I'm writing this from a beachside apartment, in the 38-degree Australian heat. Sod the X Factor.

Last year, about five weeks after my mother died in October, I escaped to Melbourne for an extended 'sabbatical'. Grief counsellors would subsequently tell me that I was delaying the grief process, but it made perfect sense at the time. I survived Christmas and New Year in my sunny bubble, surrounded by new friends and people for whom NAMA, negative equity and the threat of redundancy were far-off concepts.

Vibrant

All things considered, life was pretty good Down Under. The sun makes everything look better. And in a city where everything works well and there's a vibrant arts/culture/leisure scene, it seems even more so.

Australia definitely brings out the best in everyone. At home, I languish in my office, checking Facebook and Twitter lest I miss something. In Melbourne, with an amazing city waiting to be discovered, I wake at the crack of dawn, eager to attack the day. Much as we all do when we're in 'holiday' mode, I accept any and all social invites.

That feeling of pure contentment that occasionally washes over you is a daily occurrence here. Why can't this happen in Ireland? No idea. When everyone around you has a sunny outlook, you can't help but absorb it.

In Dublin, there is a group of people who are railing against the torpor and the ennui. They have arranged pop-up shops, new restaurants, creative events and club nights. Even in this economic climate, Dublin is a largely creative city. Dublin is tapped into Europe in a way Australia isn't. Yet in Melbourne, where people are largely unburdened by the looming threat of redundancy, everyone has a creative sideline.

Two months in Australia is enough to blow away the cobwebs and return to Dublin with renewed vim and vigour. Besides, you haven't lived if you haven't spent Christmas Day in the blistering sun (it does mean that the telly is dismal, mind). Orphans' Christmases are rife over here, as so many people are without their families.

Far from being sad or melancholic, a family-free Christmas has many advantages. Since last year, Christmas has become a very different monster: it used to be about being a child, and as an adult then it became about being someone's child.

Now, I have the freedom to create my own rules about Christmas. I might even spend it alone eating salad ... who knows? But it's not something I will worry about, or get depressed over.

Life's too good over here to needlessly cloud it with worry.

Some friends reckon that the gruelling 24-hour flight to Australia isn't worth the trek. Frankly, I feel sorry for anyone with that sort of outlook on life. This year, I flew with Emirates. Granted, I am lucky as a writer as I can bring some of my work wherever I go. Yet I bet that the dream of wintering in the sun is closer for most people than they think. I also managed to find a short-term tenant who doesn't mind that my personal possessions are in the house and will pay towards the mortgage. Inspired by my move, one friend negotiated a six-week holiday from her office job, and plans to spend that time living it up in London.

In Ireland, we've somehow been conditioned to believe that if we don't toe the line and keep our heads down at work, our jobs are in jeopardy.

We want to be off-radar and we don't want to stick our heads above the parapet at work.

All very understandable ... but it doesn't mean that you can't make your job work for you from time to time.

Folly

Why not ask for a lengthy break if it's what you want? The worst a boss can say is 'no'. One pal observed that I was 'ballsy' to pick up and head to a country on my own ... but in my mind there's nothing brave about wanting an extended break in the sun.

Seizing the day is just good common sense to me. As former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland famously intoned: "There's only one very good life and that's the life you know you want and you make it yourself".

"Isn't it well for some," people would whinny at me, not altogether kindly. 'Wintering in Australia' definitely sounds glam, like the folly of a harebrained Celtic cub with more money than sense, but here's the thing. I have friends in Dublin who shop for clothes, shoes, bags and jewellery incessantly. Once I realised that I wanted to travel at the end of the year, I curbed my enthusiasm for supermarket sweeps in TopShop.

By my reckoning, one pal drops a good €500 a month on new wares. I don't blame her one bit -- I've often fallen prey to the emotional salve that a good spending spree brings, too.

SPREE

But that €6,000-a-year could provide a pretty luxurious month -- possibly even two -- in Australia.

When I asked her to accompany me to Australia, the same girl made noises about debts and credit cards.

Take it from me ... the high of a spending spree in Dublin wears off pretty quickly. Yet the joy of spending your money on fantastic memories and having experiences out in the world lasts for ever.

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