It's cold, it's wet, it's grey in the month of August . . . Oh my God, I must be back home in Galway.
After five months in South East Asia and two fabulous months in Spain, it's been good to get home and see friends and family even if a couple of dark, dank days have reminded me of why I felt a need to get out of Ireland in 2010 in the first place.
I'm home to have a medical check-up, sort out vaccines for Central America, review my finances, and organise my pending return to work in January (sob, sob), but especially to catch up with the people who are so important in my life.
My faith in humanity and planet earth has been hugely enhanced by all the new friends I've made in Koh Lanta and San Sebastian this year, but there is nothing quite like hooking up with the people who I have shared joys and tears with for so many years.
This November is the 20th anniversary of the death of my good friend, Joe Seale, in an accident in India, less than a year after my sister Cliona had lost her life to cancer. A second sad waste in the space of 11 months, another tragedy which took me years to get over, and a terrible loss for his parents, siblings, and buddies.
But with age has come a great awareness of the richness of the friendships I've kept with the old buddies I've managed to stay friends with through thick and thin over the intervening two decades.
At the time, I could see only dark clouds. Life was unfair, and offered no sense of adventure. When I listened to bands like Killing Joke and The Sisters of Mercy in the early 1990s I really felt that this was a black, black planet, which took good young people away too young.
And I lost my sense of adventure, my desire to live on a tropical island or scuba dive with sharks and manta rays, for too long.
Now I see that my friend Joe at least lived to fulfil his dream (he lived in India for 12 months before he died) and not too many people can say that even if they live to be 90 in this crazy, messed up world.
Since January, I've become a Divemaster on my favourite tropical island and lived in my favourite city, in Spain. At 42, I finally found the light to follow some of my own dreams, thanks to an opportunity given to me due to Ireland's financial woes.
Joe's brother, Hugo, has been in touch. He's organising a 'tribute night' to mark Joe's 20th anniversary and he's put it off by three weeks so that I will be home from Central America.
What a lovely way that will be for me to mark the end of my own 12 month break from 'reality', meeting a host of good friends from the old days in a Galway bar a week before Christmas. And a fitting tribute to Joe, too.
It's strange to be home for two weeks and not to have a job to go to. Strange, but good too. It means I can spend three hours playing a manic and silly game with my little niece, Sofia, on a drizzly Wednesday afternoon . . . the kind of activity I'd never have time for if I was working full-time in Galway.
In the space of a week, I've met a couple of people who have lost their jobs this year, some in very unfair or unfortunate circumstances, a proud new dad or two, and people who've been coming to terms with long-term unemployment after being laid off a year or two ago. Life never stands still.
Yes, Ireland is in depression, or recession. Those who have jobs are counting their blessings and those who don't are worried about mortgages and where the future might take them. And there's silly old selfish me, complaining about the weather when I walk the prom!
Spain is in recession, too, with 20% unemployment compared to Ireland's 13%, but somehow I think it's easier to deal with when it's gloriously sunny every day at this time of year.
But, as I plan the last quarter of my year, I'm suddenly filled with appreciation for what I have.
Nobody close to me is dying of a terminal illness, nobody I know in Galway has to go without food every day, and few people anywhere have a chance to enjoy the rich variety of life I've experienced this year . . . with the 'safety net' of a job to go back to in Galway, for all its faults, at the end of the year.
In Nicaragua, I won't be surrounded by close friends and family. I will meet people every day who are struggling to eat, or to put clothes on their backs, and they won't be worrying about a few clouds in the sky or a bit of 'bitchiness' in their offices.
In Ireland, we had it very good for many years, and greed swept through the land like a virus, from the bankers, politicians, and property developers, to the ordinary people who suddenly felt that they needed two houses, holiday apartments, or brand new cars.
Perhaps, for our country right now, a bit of introspection is a good thing after so many years of blatant greed.
And, perhaps, for me too, this 12 month break from my career and my home town is offering me a great opportunity to reflect on all the good things in my life.
Why we left the classrooms: by Pauline
3 weeks ago