This time last year a very good friend of mine and fellow ‘weight warrior’ completed a one-kilometre Reindeer Walk for the RNLI and kick started a life-changing year, in which her 50th birthday suit featured greatly and frequently! Get ready to raise your glass to my guest blogger -a lady who truly does ‘Dream, Dare and Do’ – Averil Larke.
Two days to go until the end of 2014 and I’m reflecting on the year I’ve had. A year filled with fun, madness and more fun. I started off 2014 following Greg Canty’s (PR Fuzion) New Year resolution advice which is to write “I had a great 2014 because I did / achieved / finished / ……” and then review it on the last working day of every month to see how things were or weren’t progressing. I had the usual culprits – be a specific weight on the scales, go swimming 2-3 times a week, walk up to 3km a few times a week, finish de-cluttering my house, mark my 50th birthday somehow, etc. My achievements for 2014 didn’t quite match what I wrote. In fact 2014 was more about socialising, having lots of fun, achieving a lifetime dream, and making new friends.
I registered in January to do five charity skinny dips – one to mark each decade. I did one skinny dip last year with dipinthenip.eu, and after lots of encouragement from friends I decided to register again but as doing one would be “boring”, I registered for all five. And all five I did, two of them with Teena Gates, and one with Teena & Maureen O’Halloran. Pink boas, pink glasses, cowboy hats, tiaras, etc adorned all. I was crowned Queen of the Dips in honour of the five dips for my 50th birthday. It is possibly the most liberating, maddest and bravest thing I did. My naked posterior featured (along with the rest of those dipping) in the print media including page seven of the Irish Times, the back of page three of The Sun, and twice in the Daily Star. Fame!
As many of my Ashton School Cork friends were also celebrating their 50th birthdays, visits to Cork were a-plenty and to celebrate my own 50th birthday I had two birthday ‘bashes’ – one in Dublin and one in Cork. My birthday gifts being primarily cash helped me to fund and achieve my dream of a lifetime, which was to see the Mariiynsky ballet company perform in their own theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. Little did I think at age seven when my deep love for ballet commenced, that I would actually be in Russia to see the best of the best in their own theatre.
I travelled to Russia in October with the Travel Department. A trip to the ballet was included in the itinerary. I didn’t do huge research before I went because I wanted to experience my holiday, rather than for it to be an educational trip. I was on an emotional journey literally. The itinerary was packed with many trips of palaces and churches to visit, along with some free time. We visited St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, viewed its opulent baroque interiors, and received a private audience with their singing priests. No photography and video recording was allowed, well they had a CD to sell! We viewed four bronze cats located beside two Egyptian sphinxes on the bank of the Neva river. Rather than climbing up a hundred steps and lying on your back as one does for the Blarney stone, we had to climb down a few steps to the edge of the river and rub a cat’s head whispering our wishes into its ear. I loved the unexpected additional visit to the St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral as it is a functioning church and while we were there a baptism was taking place. There were lots more amazing gilding and opulence features to be admired, but the reverence of the building resonated deeply within me and listening to the priests singing in harmony and unison during the baptism gave me shivers.
The ballet brought tears to my eyes and I’m sure my blood pressure rose with pure excitement and joy. The Mariiynsky Theatre II cost €500-million to build and opened in 2007. It can seat 1,100 patrons and I was there. The Mariiysnky Ballet Company danced the modern choreography of Cinderella (2003) and words fail me to say how happy I was and am, to have experienced it. Ballet dancers in Russia are revered like gods. Following the gong, a deep Russian voice bellows every ten minutes before the performance starts, and then during the two intervals reminding patrons of the time and calling them to their seats. The ballet was just out of this world.
On Saturday we visited Catherine’s Palace which is Catherine the Great’s summer residence. Located in the grounds are other buildings including her Love House. She had 87 lovers, and as her summer residence was too public a private building was required. She had a lady-in-waiting who was charged with meeting and greetings the gentlemen to ensure they could hold interesting conversations with Catherine and also perform when the time arose.
That evening we experienced the Russian version of Riverdance – Russian folklore night so lots of Russian folklore dancing, singing and cassocks. I will admit that Russian vodka and champagne were also consumed along with canapés and caviar during the interval. Well, it was included in the ticket!
Our visit to the Hermitage Museum five buildings was incredible. Fifteen percent of the three million artefacts are only displayed at any given time. We viewed rooms filled with original paintings by Picasso, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Monet and so many more. The opportunity arose and I took a selfie with one of the Da Vinci paintings. That evening we visited the Hermitage Theatre, which is Catherine the Great’s private theatre to see the performance of Swan Lake ballet. It seats only 250 people and is the home of classical ballet. It was so beautiful in such an intimate and ornate historic location.
My dream was achieved tenfold and 2014 was and is a year I will never forget. On return to Ireland, my friends, Janet Dillon, Tamsen McGarry, Teena and I travelled south, to sing in front of an audience with the Big Sing choir at the Cork Jazz Festival. I did that remembering, and in honour of, a very dear Cork friend who sadly suddenly died in early 2014. A few weeks later Janet brought Teena and I backstage and on stage at the Cork Opera House prior to Cork City Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker. The three of us walked the RNLI 5k Reindeer run at Fota House, an improvement on only being able to do the RNLI Santa Saunter 1k in 2013 and a short walk at the bottom of Spinc in March.