Monday 7 September 2015

It's not about the money

Years and years ago, I left England to go to university in Trinity College Dublin.  My father was then retired from the Royal Navy and selling missile-guidance systems. He had a meeting in Liverpool a week before college started and gave me a lift, suggesting that I spend the week with an elderly female relative living deep in rural Wexford. After exhausting the local sights - visiting my Grandfather's grave; walking the 10km to Duncannon Strand; exploring the jungle around Tintern Abbey [now getting restored and civilised]; reading ancient tomes in the rellie's library on wet days - it was arranged that the postman would give me a lift into New Ross.  This was totally against regulations but the postman would rather be nice than be told what he couldn't do. He wasn't going to push his rebel yell in anybody's face, however, so me and a small woman with a basket of eggs-for-sale made the journey hunkered down on mail sacks in the back of his mail-van.  You could do that then and you could also catch a bus back in the evening.

Slow forward 20+ years and we landed in our present gaff deep in rural Co Carlow.  No buses there, indeed you can't get further [20km] from a bus-stop and still be in Leinster. The house was in ruins - hole and 10 bee-nests in the roof, hole in the front door, no gutters, outhouses like an archaeological dig. The Beloved and Daus.I&II were still sleeping in beds back in Dublin while her father and a very good friend from England made a start on tidying the site up.  We were camping in the yard and The Girls would come down periodically with supplies - we only had one [crappy] car as all available money was ear-marked for the house. In our first week, she had the cunning plan of sending me a postcard which was delivered the next day by the postman.  A rural postman didn't need a street address or an eircode to know where the recent blow-ins had settled and the postcard was delivered the next day. With an appraising and event-recording glance he took in our situation and said that, if we needed anything, we were to put a list in a feed-sack and tie it to the hedge at the bottom of our lane.  He would deliver the following day on his round.

That was above and beyond the call of duty and completely against regulations but some people are naturally compassionate and helpful. Later, when I was back at work in Dublin and The Beloved was stuck at home with two youngsters at foot, she would occasionally phone Pat-the-Post before he left town with the mail and ask if he could ever bring up a litre of milk: he'd offered to do that because he knew it was a huge expedition to get the kids washed, dressed and belted into the car.  And of course he'd take letters for delivery, even without stamps [sure, you can pay me later], although that too wasn't part of his job description. He was also instrumental in repatriating my cell-phone after it fell from my shirt-pocket in a miles-away lane. Pat retired this Spring and now seems to be frequently in Spain; and why not, he deserves the break and a bit of sun.

At about the same time, we were getting to know the neighbours, before we fell out with them so that they don't speak to us [we've arrived in the community!].  I agreed to go halves on concreting the drain at the bottom of the lane so it was less likely to wash the lane to buggery in a rainstorm. We ordered a few 'metres' [cu.m] of concrete and a load of 10cm limestone lumps for foundation and arranged for PJ, the local handyman, to come supervise the engineering; neighbour and I were the shovels; and I think we must have had Nolan-the-digger on board as well.  PJ was quite extraordinary, there was nothing he couldn't do: butcher a hog, build a wall, pitch manure. Later than year, for example, I bought a heavy-duty car trailer bricolaged from an old car-axle, springs from a truck, angle iron and some larch planks which PJ had cobbled together.  For any part of his capacious skill-set, PJ charged £35 per day in 1996.  At the end of the drain-day we offered him more and he said "No thanks, I'd only drink it".  He was the last of that kind but was eventually corrupted into the money economy by the Celtic Tiger where he became a building contractor and presumably took home more than the chippies and block-layers whom he employed.  And he didn't have time to weld-up trailers anymore; sad really.

The sense of doing things together or 'for free' rather than for money is still around in our neighborhood as it is in other remote parts of the country like Sherkin.  It's not always the way we'd want it. A neighbour will do us a big favour and refuse to take money for the act . . . and then appear at the door, at a really inconvenient time, asking for help holding the tails of a herd of scouring cows while he inserts suppositories.

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