Remembering mum

Monday 16 April

Well here we go.  One year on.  365 days ago today mum passed away leaving a big hole and a lot of questions, some of which I don’t think will ever be answered.  I still hear her call my name.  I still don’t understand why I didn’t go straight away.  Tonight I raised a G&T and said a few silent words.  I miss her so much.

I was working in a horrible job as a night support worker for the elderly and infirm.  I would basically sit in a room in an old folks home from 11pm until 7am waiting for the phone to ring.  When it rang, we would need to drive somewhere in the Oban area and clean up mess.  Bodily mess.  It wasn’t pleasant.  The fact that the phone rang three times in three months was both a blessing and a curse.  Sit in a room all night, or wipe someones arse.  It was torture.

On one such occasion I came home at 7am nearly in tears.  I’d had enough.  No friends, no social life, no contact with girls, living with my mum at 31 years of age.  My face had developed a massive outbreak of acne not seen since my teenage years, possibly as a result of working a night shift, possibly as a result of my massive change of diet and 5×2 sessions per week of weights and cardio in the gym.  This due to a vain pressure to look decent with my shirt off at an American summer camp in June.  I was manically depressed.  No sunlight, no vitamin B, horrible face and body spots, knocking back disgusting weight gain milkshakes, terrible job, not earning or saving enough money for the US and generally feeling sorry for myself.  A heated discussion with mum ensued.

I woke around 7pm, and as usual switched on the laptop to see if anyone was thinking about me.  I remember streaming the Manchester UTD Vs Manchester City derby when mum called out.


“Yeah!  Hang on!  I’ll be there in a bit.”

I continued to watch the game.  As usual the lazy kid who doesn’t come when their parents call.  How many times I let my dinner go cold I’ll never know, too busy on my Super Nintendo.  It must have been ten minutes before I went downstairs to find her lying on the kitchen floor.

I’m first aid trained until it’s coming out my ears.  I like to think I’d know what to do in an emergency, but this was different.  This was mum.  I grabbed the phone, stabbed 999 and gave the required information.  The woman on the end of the line told me to disregard everything I’d learned, and give 600 chest compressions to two rescue breaths.  It didn’t feel right, I was afraid I would hurt her.  I’d only ever done this on a plastic dummy.  Nonetheless I started the resuscitation, trying to keep a tail wagging Jack out the way of what was going on.  I broke her ribs and couldn’t get any signs of life.  I kept going until I was exhausted, then I kept going some more.

Twenty minutes went by before help arrived, the voice on the line informing me two ambulances had pulled up outside.  I raced to open the door, and was nearly bowled over by the team that flew in.  They went to work, I dragged the dog away and provided more light by ripping a lamp down from upstairs.  Then I walked out the front door and blasted through the first cigarette I’d had in 5 months.  It did little to control my shaking hands.

They decided to make a break for the hospital, some fifteen miles from home.  I followed in the second ambulance, hunched forward, sobbing my eyes out and damning myself that I didn’t go when she called.  Within 5 minutes of reaching A&E, a doctor approached with that kind-sombre look everyone dreads.  After twelve months of Chemotherapy to beat Hodgkin’s disease, losing her hair and wasting away, she was in remission, and the future was looking a little brighter.  Mum was gone before she hit the ground.

There are five stages of grief, according to renowned psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.  Anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  They don’t always come in that order.  I cried the night my dad died, I cried the night my mum died.  The day I made the decision to have our dog put down and held his head in my hands as he went, I was inconsolable.  After three days, the dust settled, and I became the man I am today.  For better or worse.  Yet I still can’t help but think things would have been different if I’d gone downstairs sooner, and I wish our last words were not spoken in anger due to my own selfishness.  I don’t think I’ll ever be at peace with that.

Still the world turns, and they would want me to be happy and doing the things I most loved to do in life.  It’s better they are with each other somewhere, although I don’t necessarily believe that, it gives comfort yet through the darker times.  Mum certainly would never been the same after the loss of dad, and she always said when she goes this is the way she would want it.  Perhaps then this was the only way it should or could have been.  There isn’t a day goes by though where I wish I had just one moment to say I’m sorry, I love you, and I promise I’ll always come as soon as you call.  I would have had a lot more hot dinners that way.

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Sunday 15 April

Paddy and I are knocking our heads off brick walls wondering how on earth we failed to meet girls last night.  Apparently he made a play for his dance partner and was shown a wagging finger for his trouble, while I managed to get facebook details but that’s not really going to do me any good.  Once again we ruined it for ourselves by knocking back the rum and cokes.  “I didn’t order that one” claims I while settling the bill, only to discover that it’s in my hand.  Useless.  Inept.  Flaccid.  Like a wet penis in Alaska.

We wake when we do, and mustle the strength through the disappointment to see the town.  Cuenca is a picturesque place with plenty of colonial architecture to keep you interested.  It’s a very pretty town steeped in history, and boasts many an excellent museum.  However as it’s Sunday nothing is open, so we’re left to take a few snaps, potter around a local market, then return to the hostel to faff around for a couple of hours before eating the worst Indian food imaginableThe Taj Mahal certainly looks the part, nice decor, Indian owned, Bollywood on the TV, appropriate music playing for atmosphere.  This is where any association with the country ends, as out come two truly horrible curries, Korma and Jalfrazi, that look and taste exactly the same.  The fact that the staff are sitting down in the middle of their own restaurant eating pizza speaks volumes.    I’ve had better for £1 from a freezer in Farmfoods.

Upon returning to base some ethnic music is in full flow, which in our current state we really can’t be arsed with.  I’ve settled in to learn some Spanish in the dorm room only to be interrupted by a huffing and puffing German girl who has gone to bed early and is trying to sleep.  The bongos are making more noise than I am with my pronunciation practice, but she’s still heaving deep, melodramatic sighs from her top bunk.  If you’re going to bed that early in a dorm love, you need to be prepared that everyone else is likely to be awake and active.  Pipe down, buy some ear plugs, get a private room or don’t stay in a party hostel.  Nonce.

Paddy retires to bed with the fear, and I’m not up too late sorting photo’s and writing.  We plan to visit a beautiful national park tomorrow, but that all depends on our ability to get up in the morning.  I’m not holding out much hope, especially as the old hag is likely to visit, and I’m fully prepared to hear Paddy’s screams echoing through the hostel corridors.

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200 days abroad and a crap day out

Saturday 14 April

I have been away for 200 days.  I just thought I would share that with you.  We’re on the move early to try and make ‘La Nariz del Diablo’ train journey, which we’ve heard is pretty spectacular.  It means rising for 5am, and bussing it to the station town of Alausi.  Since we both haven’t had a great deal of sleep, we’re spark out as soon as we board, so much so the driver has to wake us when we reach our destination.  We step off the bus into blazing morning sun and wander down the one main street to purchase train tickets, of which there are none, because they’ve sold out.  Paddy is raging as he could have gone out last night and hooked up with a local girl, which probably wouldn’t of happened.

We’re encouraged to wait around in case something becomes available, so we spend the next couple of hours wandering the small and unremarkable little town.  It’s quaint to say the least, and pretty much revolves around the train station and tourist dollars as a result.  The next (and only) train is at 11am.  Once again the Lonely Planet cocks it up, but perhaps they just canceled the 9am journey today.  Either way there was no need to get up so early.

Our luck is in and we manage to squeeze two tickets.  It doesn’t take too long before we wish we hadn’t.  As this was my decision to do the trip, Paddy isn’t going to let it go lightly and will continue to lambast me for it.  I’ve never written anything for trip advisor, thinking that people should just find out for themselves what something is like.  Even a bad experience is still and experience, and one mans dream is another nightmare.  This was more of a nightmare.

Admittedly the scenery is nice, but it’s nothing you won’t already have seen from a bus window in Colombia and Ecuador so far.  What makes it nearly unbearable and smacking of utter tedium, is the blatant tourist trap that it is.  I feel dirty.  The seats are filled up with loud French and Americans, with screaming children and massive cameras they have no idea how to use.  I thought it was simply a train that goes from A to B via beautiful scenery.  It’s a round trip with the express purpose of seeing how many dollars they can con out of you, and at twenty bucks for the privilege, they’re doing pretty well.  By contrast a 5 hour bus journey costs just four, so this should be a buck and a half.  They are laughing all the way to the bank.

We pull into what appears to be a brand new train station.  Upon arrival and on cue “native” people begin dancing a “traditional” dance.  It’s basically a load of folk in Ecuadorian dress doing the four step.  Badly.  The tourists suck it up, shutters clicking and audible gasps of wonder.  We’re ferried in for a plastic ham sandwich and horrible coffee in a polystyrene cup, then given an hour to look around a terrible museum with not much in it.  We’re keeping ourselves amused at the sheer audacity of the operation.  By the look of the extensive work going on, within a few years this place will be like Blackpool, complete with ferris wheel and crap sweets wrapped in a bag with an Ecuadorian flag slapped on it.  Please stay away, unless you’re an easily duped fat American with a Cannon DSLR and a hole in your wallet.

I’m out cold for the trip to Cuenca.  The sunburn on my back has been keeping me awake, so I clearly needed the sleep.  I miss some cracking scenery too by Paddy’s account, but at least I feel refreshed when we step off the bus in less time than anticipated.  I make my second bad decision and choose to stay in El Cafecito hostel, which is rammed with hipsters.  The great unwashed, complete with “ethnic” woven clothing, friendship beads and bracelets, half shaved heads, dreadlocks and bongos.  Go and get a shower, pack in your dope smoking, Bob Marley was shit.

We make our escape into town and have an entertaining if somewhat unsuccessful night.  Paddy is dancing like an idiot with a pretty German girl which not surprisingly ensures a swift rejection.  I’m wandering the club looking for ‘the one’ and before I know it the lights are on, it’s all over and I’ve missed the opportunity.  I grab the hottest girl I can see, pull her aside and talk at her for ten minutes, explaining all the different parts of the kilt, with her not really understanding English.  I’m royally cock-blocked by a friend of hers who sits in front of us and wants to practice his grasp of my language.  The bill comes to $80, Paddy loses his best shirt, we walk home alone.  It’s safe to say that yesterday was a hell of a lot better.

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All downhill from here

Friday 13 April

We’re collected from the hostel by Fernando at 8am in a Chrysler jeep sporting two mountain bikes on it’s back.  The mission today is to conquer Chimborazo, a dormant volcano that has not erupted for 10,000 years.  It’s due one then.  We’re not going to attempt to climb it, as at 20,564 ft we’d be asking for trouble.  It is of course possible, but you need mountaineering experience, a knowledgeable guide and climbing gear.  None of which I have.  I find it difficult getting up the stairs.

It’s a bright start to the day and you can clearly see the imposing grandeur of the volcano.  The clouds are gathering though, and they appear to want to hug the peak.  It’s one of those sights you really need a bright clear day to fully appreciate it, and get National Geographic worthy photographs.  I’m getting my usual cranky self when I see the weather changing to poor camera conditions.  Perhaps as we get closer the dream shot will present itself.  It is absolutely stunning.

And totally freezing.  The temperature drops dramatically as we climb to the base camp.  The windows are down and we’re breathing steadily to get used to the altitude.  I don’t want to be keeling over and vomiting while doing 40mph downhill.  Fernando drops us at the refuge which sits at 1500 ft.  The air is tight and breathing sharp, and as is my usual want, I’ve come totally unprepared.  Trying to take photographs with my fingers falling off isn’t pleasant.  It’s a damn good job Fernando is used to stupid gringos and has packed gloves and snoods.  Now I look like a pro.  All the gear, no idea.

Fernando as also packed cocaine tea.  Now I have to get myself some of this.  Apparently it’s very good for you for these heights, but not nearly as exciting as it might sound.  I’m not buzzing round freaking out the local school children paying a visit to their neighbour, but it does seem to wake me up with a little boost.  Just what I need for caining it down steep, icy slopes on a machine I’ve only just become comfortable with again.  Paddy and I have taken to humming the BBC program ‘999’ theme tune whenever we’re entering the realms of stupidity.  “I didn’t realise I couldn’t climb Everest without a coat.”  NINE NINE NINE. I guess you need to be there.

So the intrepid adventurers set off at crazy speeds back down the volcano, and into the local town of San Jose, totally doomed if there is an eruption.  It’s 40k of downhill exhilaration, seeing landscape I’ve never imagined, the kind you only see while watching Attenborough’s Planet Earth on the tellybox.  Literally breathtaking at these heights and speeds, and one of the best things I’ve ever done.  Paddy wants to take up the sport when he gets home, and I would too if I wasn’t so afraid of falling off and breaking my face.  I’ve seen the mangled injuries of friends who put their lives on the line in a vertical decent.  Admittedly my fingers are covering the break leavers a little more readily than my companion, who disappears round the corners and switchbacks in front of me.  I’ll claim I was stopping to take photographs later.

The adrenaline is rushing as we eventually pull into the town square.  Grinning like coke tea heads, we both acknowledge that was a pretty damn cool thing to do.  One off the bucket list, and certainly more life affirming than getting pissed up in bars for seven weeks.  We make a promise to keep this sort of thing up, new experiences at every turn, adventure and exhilaration.  Danger and risk.  I’m going back to the hostel to lie down.

An afternoon of faffing is required, and I manage to catch up with my writings and plan the next few days.  We’re going to travel South and visit the “Devils Nose” railway, then take the bus to Cuenca, which promises charming architecture and a good night out.  Riobamba is coming to life though, and as we wander it’s streets in search of another steak house, we’re aware of it’s student town status.  It’s tempting to hit up the nightlife here, as we’re the only gringo’s we’ve come across for the duration of our stay.  Most people seem to pass through rather than bed down for a night or two.  In the end I’m very happy we did, created another wonderful memory, and took photo’s of Lamas.  The hour draws near where I get to ride one.

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The right choice

Thursday 12 April

I’ve fallen out with myself this morning as I acknowledge coming off the wagon last night was a terrible idea, and one that bore no fruit at all.  I basically undid all my good work with the bike trek and waterfall hikes and I’m turning into a fatty.  I should be ashamed, so to cheer up I have two fried eggs for breakfast.

Paddy and I have been discussing our next move, and we’ve settled on heading the short distance to the town of Riobamba.  From here we can catch the bus south and, if it’s running, take the famous train up La Nariz del Diablo (The Devils Nose).  This is a series of switchbacks up through mountains with some glorious views.  We would then head south to Cuenca and push for Peru.  The alternative is to hit a beach town and chase women, fail miserably, get drunk, sun burnt, don’t try surfing and waste days doing sod all.  We make the right choice.

Riobamba is pretty unspectacular as a town, and we’ve managed to conquer it within the hour.  It’s people are friendly and Hostel Oasis a comfortable stay however, and it serves as a good staging point for our next attack. The town is situated close to the shadow of Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest peak and a dormant volcano.  Paddy is interested in a downhill mountain bike ride from the base camp, so we shut up shop early doors and set the alarm for a dawn start.  I feel we’ve made a good call on skipping the beach party.
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Argentinian meat

Wednesday 11 April

After the healthy excursions of yesterday’s mountain bike trek, today is a day of R&R.  There isn’t much on the agenda, except repair my back pack, buy a couple of laundry bags, lift some money, get some new contact lenses, and pick up a pair of wacky green European Championship Irish supporting pants for Paddy.  We manage to accomplish everything except for the contact lenses, which you always need to order in.  I’m beginning to think I should have got my eyes lasered.

As usual following a day of more faffing, the urge to go out is uncontrollable.  We’ve been good little boys for a couple of days now, but simply noticing the ratio of girls to boys here mean we should have a few drinks, nay, we need to.  The evening begins eating at an Argentinian restaurant called Quilombo.  I kid you not, it is here that I have the finest steak I’ve ever eaten in my life.  Only open Wednesday to Sunday, if you’re coming this way and you’re a meat eater then you need to experience this.  If you’re a vegetarian you can fuck off.

Paddy has somehow managed to start talking to two, ridiculously gorgeous Argentinian girls at a bar a short time later.  We might as well continue the theme for the evening.  I have no idea how he’s managed this, as it surely can’t be down to the hideous travel tash monstrosity that is adorning his top lip.  Still, all credit is due and soon we’re paired off with the lovely ladies and knocking back the beers.  They’re both heading to the Galapagos Islands, and they both need to be up early in the morning to go rafting.  My one is up for staying out, but Paddy’s one wants to go to bed because she is tired.  I told you it was the mustache.

By this time we’ve quaffed enough beers to potentially make fools of ourselves as we peck the girls’ cheeks goodnight.  We’re trumped only by a coked up 38 year old Australian who really needs to call is a night.  “Where did you guys go?!  I’ve got two massive bags of coke and we’re going to get fuuuucked up!”  He slobbers in our faces.  When he letches onto another girl at the bar, we beat a hasty retreat and search for the scraps from the Banos table.

Long story short, we need to stop buying drinks for people who will never get one back, nor actually spend any time talking to you.  This time it’s Paddy’s turn to make the school boy error, and he produces five rum and cokes for more Argentinians.  It’s a fruitless but valiant effort and we’re forced to settle for the trusty sobering walk home hot dog.  Once again I sign into facebook and make a fool of myself when completely inebriated.  I apologise if I asked anyone to show me their breasts on webcam.

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