Life Mind Yourself

Wednesday 18 September 2019

#MindYourself: So what's your happy place?

When we're feeling frazzled or worn out, it's important to have a stress-free zone. We asked some well-known Irish names where they go to escape

The open road: Comedian PJ Gallagher's happy place is anywhere he can ride his motorbike or cycle his bike. Photo: Mark Condren
The open road: Comedian PJ Gallagher's happy place is anywhere he can ride his motorbike or cycle his bike. Photo: Mark Condren
Chupi Sweetman
June Rodgers
Andrea Smith and her dogs

Andrea Smith

Getting up at 6.30am at the weekend to go for a walk would not be most people's idea of fun, but as the owner of seven bouncy rescue dogs, it's my favourite time of the week. As I can't manage seven leads, we have to snatch walks at odd times or in smaller groups during the week. But at weekends, when everyone else is sleeping off the rigours of the working week or the fun of the night before, myself and the gang are up and about, whether it's a clear, beautiful morning or pelting from the heavens.

To get to my happy place, I have to go through hell first. With unfailing instinct, Poppy, Tatty, Rosie, Lenny, Toby, Tiny and Noah know the sounds of me getting into my walking gear upstairs and the excited yelps begin. It's a mad dash to get dressed and bundle them out the door and into the Jeep, before they wake up the neighbours.

Then they jump around and yap excitedly all the way at a pitch that goes right through my brain, and once we arrive, usually still in the dark, I have to scout around and make sure there's nobody else around. Then I let them out and they explode into the field in seven different directions. As they wee and poop with gay abandon, I run around with a big red face and a roll of nappy sacks to clean up after them.

And then, the magic begins. I put on my headphones and stroll along listening to my favourite songs, while the dogs zip on ahead. They're secure in the field as it has railings on all sides, and I smile at the seven wagging tails as they chase each other, roll around the place and joyfully bound up and down. It gladdens my heart to see them having so much fun, as they sniff every flower and jump into puddles.

As a writer-for-hire who spends the week worrying about commissions and deadlines, walking the dogs at the crack of dawn chills me out. It's great to have nothing more pressing to worry about for a while than preventing them rolling in sh*te or running out the pedestrian gates that are dotted around the place.

And as the sun rises and the world begins to wake, I always feel invigorated and any stupid problems or issues I'm worrying about lessen and melt away. Once the dogs are rounded up and bundled back into the car, I stop off at the local garage and buy the papers to take home. As I sit on the sofa having breakfast and reading the papers, the dogs flake out all around me, exhausted and happy.

That's a perfect start to the day for me, but as everyone has their own thing, I asked some well-known people about their happy place.

Chupi Sweetman-Pell

Chupi Sweetman

As a very successful jewellery designer, Chupi Sweetman-Pell lives in Dublin city centre with her husband Brian Durney and their two rescue terriers, Rufus and Poppy. As Christmas draws nearer, she and her team are in full production mode. "It's like Santa's workshop," she says. "We have to make sure all the presents get out in time for Christmas."

With a life she describes as "insanely busy but incredibly exciting," cooking and baking are what Chupi does to relax. The kitchen is her happy place, as all she has to concentrate on are the taste, flavour and ingredients going into the food and the cooking process itself. She finds it very therapeutic, and happily for family and friends, she regularly bakes trays of cookies and chocolate brownies to give away.

After studying fashion design, Chupi started making jewellery in 2011. Her collection of delicate, affordable pieces in gold, silver and semi-precious gems took off with a bang, and she now has a team of nine. "We have been in Japan, New York, London, Paris, Sweden and Latvia for work this year, and we always use Airbnb," she says. "We choose places based on how good the kitchen is."

When it comes to mindfulness and mental health awareness, Chupi is a huge advocate for doing whatever makes you feel better when you're not feeling good.

"I always say there's no problem that can't be solved by eating," she laughs. "You never cook a meal and feel worse afterwards. Being down at times is part of the human condition, so we should acknowledge that and give ourselves a little time to get over it, rather than feeling guilty for being low. Sometimes, if I'm feeling miserable, I just have to bake and eat some dirty chocolate chip cookies and I feel great."

PJ Gallagher

The open road: Comedian PJ Gallagher's happy place is anywhere he can ride his motorbike or cycle his bike. Photo: Mark Condren

He chats away on live radio every morning and can hold a crowd in the palm of his hand during his comedy shows, but PJ Gallagher (40) is never happier than when he's out on the open road on two wheels. From a simple bicycle to a mountain bike and his beloved Tiger Triumph motorbike, the funny man from Marino says that bikes are the number one passion in his life.

"I absolutely love them," he admits. "I don't think I've ever had a problem in my entire life that I couldn't ride away from - for a short time anyway."

When he was six, PJ's love affair with ordinary bikes began, and he became smitten with motorbikes when fellow comedian Jason Byrne offered him a go on his own one in 1999. "My dad had died a few months earlier, and for the first time, I felt I was stuck in the moment again and I really enjoyed it," says PJ, who is married to his hairdresser wife Elaine. "After that, I was really hooked."

PJ's comedy career really took off when RTÉ's hidden camera show, Naked Camera aired. He also started as a breakfast show presenter on Classic Hits 4fm a year ago, co-presenting with Damian Farrelly. "I only tell jokes to be able to afford to buy bike parts and I'd say that will always be the way," he laughs.

"It's a sort of high-speed meditation for me," he says. "It's a different world inside that helmet to the world outside, and every time I'm on a bike, I feel locked into the moment and stress-free. Even when it's pissing rain and freezing cold, there's something great about being out on a motorcycle. There's literally nothing you can think about, apart from doing everything on the bike properly like taking the corners right, and it's ultimately the most peaceful thing I do."

PJ also loves to cycle on his mountain bike, hail, rain or shine. "I took the mountain bike to the cliffs of Howth the other day and rode around the quarry," he recalls. "It was stormy and I felt amazing riding around in the rain and feeling the wind battering me on the back. I was getting muddy and dirty, but I loved it. I find it hard to put into words, but I always feel amazing cycling around and not thinking or worrying about anything else. I get completely lost in the moment and come back feeling great."

PJ & Damian in the Morning, Classic Hits 4fm, weekdays from 6am-10am.

June Rodgers

June Rodgers

At this time of the year, June Rodgers' (pictured above) life goes into full production mode, as she gears up for her annual Christmas show at the Red Cow Moran Hotel. She is not only the star of the show, which contains the hilarious ­routines and parodies that she is famous for, but also its director and co-producer.

With costume fittings and hundreds of lines and songs to learn, not to mention working with a cast of seven singers and dancers, the popular comedian's phone is constantly ringing.

"Spending time in the garden clears my mind and recharges my brain, and I can kind of lose myself in it," she says.

"It rests my mind and I don't think about work when I'm weeding and tidying, which is great because my mind is working overtime these days and I'm not sleeping at night."

After her mum died, June bought the gorgeous old stone cottage in Firhouse with her dad Alex, and the big garden was one of the principal attractions for both of them. Sadly, Alex died six months later aged 63, but June continued planning out the garden and it has evolved into a gorgeous oasis of calm and colour, particularly in the summer, when everything is in full bloom.

She went on to marry her husband, Peter Lane, and they live in the house with their two dogs, Beauty and Poppy. Peter is also keenly interested in the garden.

"I hate weeding as it's hard on the old knees and hips, but it has to be done," says June. "I find the garden such a lovely place to relax and calm my mind."

As a famed nature and animal lover, June loves that she has some wildlife in the garden as well, and she loves the verbena plant as it attracts butterflies.

"We have frogs in the pond and hedgehogs and a few squirrels," she says.

"A new member of our family is the tortoise Kitty, who was owned by Peter's dad David who sadly passed away recently. We put niger seed in the garden, and now we have goldfinches and blue tits that we've never had before. I could sit there all day watching them, and it totally relaxes and chills me out."

June Rodgers Strictly Christmas Show runs from November 27 to December 29 at the Red Cow Moran Hotel. Dinner and show from €55. Bookings (01) 459-3650 or

Irish Independent

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