Saturday 22 February 2014

Rolling home

It’s been more than a week without the car since she lost an argument with a wall.  One car is plenty for any family unless, like us, you have two people working at least occasionally at the same time in different directions.  It seemed logistically too difficult to try to juggle wheels, so I debunked to Tramore which has a) a free gaff at the Out-laws b) a direct connexion by bus with The Institute.  That’s how I planned it anyway, but it turned out that the direct connexion by bus didn’t start until 0800hrs and so it wasn’t going to work for any working day that started at 9am.  That's worked out okay through Rag Week when the timetable tolerates a fair amount of slack. 

The plan last night was to do a day’s, and end the week's, work and then take a bus to Waterford to rendezvous with Dau.II who was coming back from Cork for a few days.  The timing seemed rather good as our respective were scheduled to arrive on the Quay in Waterford within 20 minutes of each other. But my bus broke down in Dublin and the replacement was delayed and by the time I boarded the bus I was a whole hour adrift from my idealised (fantasy) timetable and chilled to the marrow.  So, rather than delay everybody else in Waterford waiting for me to appear, I bailed out of the bus as near as I could get to home and walked into the metropolis of Bagenalstown.  That’s 22km from home, so I thought I’d give it 5 minutes hitch-hiking to see if I couldn’t make it nearer before the darkness brought down its shutters on the day. The 6th car stopped and inevitably it was a chap who, same as me, back in the day had thumbed every which way across the length of Ireland.  Such people have promised themselves that, now they have a car, they’ll pay back the credit they got on their travels back in the 1970s.  Several times I hitched out of Holyhead in Wales at midnight to go to London rather than take the boat-train and The Beloved and I hitched from Dublin to Provence to celebrate our 21st birthday with my twin sister.  At the time it seemed normal to be walking along the wide median strip of a French autoroute at 0200hrs.

But there are very few opportunities to give anybody a lift nowadays.  It is just not done. On Friday afternoons back in the 1970s you’d take a bus out to Newland’s cross on the Naas Road (Waterford, Kilkenny, Cork, Limerick) or to the Spa Hotel in Lucan (Galway, Mayo, Sligo) and try your luck in a Mill of people all trying to get home for the weekend. Chancers would just thrust out their thumb. The organised would have made a destination sign with a felt-tip on a bit of cardboard.  It was believed that lower-case letters were more legible that capitals at 40-30-20-10m distance and 50km/h.  We had debates about what classes of people travelled fastest: two girls, especially if looking reasonably fit, were considered sprinters, a boy&girl were also likely to make progress.  Two fellers did not travel so fast.  A rucksack labelled you as a genuine student traveller or an interesting foreign tourist, while a couple of plastic bags made you look indigent or likely to smell bad.

I can’t figure out when that culture stopped, because we left the country in 1979 and didn’t come back for a decade, so we missed the 1980s.  In the interim the rural bus service had improved immeasurably and the point-to-point express buses could whisk you between Dublin and the big towns faster than any train for about 5p/km.  As the Celtic tiger woke up and started to roar even students had money in their pockets and less time to dawdle across the country to wherever they were going.  Fewer people were thumbin' so the few that engaged in the practice looked less normal. The media also put the frighteners on everyone by suggesting that every rucksack had a special pocket for a bayonet and every driver kept a razor-sharp axe concealed under his seat.  Indeed one middle-aged driver from the North told me that he was once on his way back from target practice with his pistol in a cardboard box under the seat of his van when he picked up a hitcher.  After a few miles this young feller started to make some dodgy suggestions about how unsafe hitchers could make it for drivers.  My chap stopped at the next wide part of the road, pulled this huge gun out from under him, pointed it at his passenger and asked the wannabe thug to get out.  It maybe true, it maybe a story: exchanging tales was the currency that lubricated the hitching network.  I told some whoppers myself.

Meanwhile back in the present, last night I was dropped outside the warm and inviting door of O'Shea's of Borris, made a phone call to the rest of my family and plunged into the warmth for pint.  It was almost like being back in the 1970s except that the pint cost about half of my first weekly wage-packet.  And it was wonderful to see the warm and inviting door of home - when I left we had been four days without power.

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