Now that I have the free travel pass from a grateful nation I use it a lot. Below are two anecdotes of recent journeys on Irish Rail
Tattoos and travellers
Our family has a unique capacity to attract the generally afflicted. Our daughter Clare goes to Limerick, Belfast and Cork regularly, by train, and each time she says the biggest weirdo assesses all 10 carriages and plonks down opposite her to chat, ignoring her earphones, laptop and work papers spread on the table. I said she must have an invisible mark above her head, like in the Omen.
So. . . . . the other day this 3 got on at Dromod, a man in his 30s who sat beside me and two young ones, siblings, of about 15 or 16 opposite. They were on their way to a tattoo parlour in Longford and spent the whole time discussing the multiple range of tasteful tattoos all over his arms. “How much did tha' one cost?” "Had it done in Cork, cost me €50.” “And tha’ one?” “Nuttin, me friend did tha’ with India ink.”
I felt like offering him a month's antibiotics there and then. And so it went on. But he added he was having the ones on his hands burnt off. “Cos no-one’ll give ye a job with them”. Too right.
They were succeeded by a Traveller mother and 2 girls aged about 9 and 7, both immaculately turned out, clean hair, smart clothes, matching glasses. They began to work the carriage and were great fun, at first. They started with the girl on the other side of the carriage to me, found out she was an art student and thought the colours on her sheets of paper, highlighters, were “Luvly”.
Then they glanced over at me. “Is he yer dad?” they asked the mortified student at which I chipped in: “I’m not her dad but if I was I'd be sitting over there with her.” “Dads don't do that” they observed. Sad.
They moved on getting various degrees of reception until they began to climb on the 2 bikes perched precariously at the end of the carriage. One owner, a Middle Eastern lad, tried to talk them down as they took things off the bike and trotted down to where their mother sat and deposited them. Next they arrived with a screen and a pair of earphones which he had to negotiate back from them. Eventually he succeeded.
Then it was my turn. The younger one came to my table with a sheet of paper from a prescription medicine box and was trying to read the words on it, really hard language but she made a good attempt spotting words she knew and asking me about others. She started off with the paper upside down until I turned it round. The older one picked up my pen and began drawing on the paper which the younger one didn’t like. So they had a row about that, tore the paper in half at which the older one gave her 3 hard thumps on the back, which she accepted without a word.
Off the older one went with my pen and twice when she passed my seat I said: “I want my pen back” which drew the unambiguous response: “No”. So I stood up, walked back to the mother’s seat and without a word picked up the pen, turned and sat down.
Couple of minutes later back they came. “Where’s the pen?” they asked her and then turned to me to ask the same. “I took it back.” “Where is it?” “In my bag.” “Show it to me.” “No.”
They got off at Mullingar and for the entire journey the mother took no hand, act or part in any of their interactions in the carriage, it was as if they were someone else’s children.
All part of the rich tapestry of life.
Coming up from Wexford
Another time I went to Wexford to meet an author and took the train. There I was, minding my own business, dozing quietly on the way back when two noisy fellas of about 30 got on at Enniscorthy and sat the other side of the aisle. They threw a greeting across to me about the good weather, I responded with a smile and a “Yea it’s grand”.
Meanwhile in front of me were two lads of about 18 who produced a couple of 6-packs (beer not their solar plexus). The two buckoes across the aisle sprang into life: “Hyar, hyar, HYAR! Will ya sell us a can?”
The young boys were a bit taken aback but agreed, handfuls of coins passed over, I think they paid about €10 per can.
I snoozed on until suddenly: Crash! One of my thirsty travel buddies knocked his can to the floor and it rolled towards me spilling out toxic fizzy beer. It was some kind of sump oil like Budweiser.
I watched the foamy tsunami advancing slowly on my shoes as they muttered: “Soddy, soddy” and did nothing. So I picked up my jacket and said: “I’ll leave you to it, so” and found another seat further up the train, as the metallic sound of cans being crushed drifted up the carriage.
Resettled away from lads with the tinnies, in the seat in front of me were two men aged about 50 from Norn Iron. One had had a bad accident, his face covered in cuts, bruises and stitches. It had happened somewhere in Europe and because it was a head injury he was advised to travel home by surface rather than by air and they had taken the overnight ferry to Rosslare. They were hoping to catch the Belfast train at Connolly station Dublin with a very tight connection. The train guard came by regularly to update them on progress.
We were stopped at Wicklow for 5 minutes, a crossover point for the train from Dublin, when our driver arrived into the carriage and asked were they the two looking to connect for Belfast. He said we were running late but he’d do his best to make up the time and get them to Connolly. He added he’d been onto the station and they would hold the Belfast train for them. How about that for service? Can’t see that happening in many other countries.
The Leitrim Guardian, an annual voluntary community magazine, has just celebrated 51 years. The launch was in Manorhamilton.
As in the past 20 years or so, the Editor asked me to select the winners among the best prose and poetry pieces accepted for publication. There were 60+ submissions so choosing 2 prose and 2 poetry winners was not easy. The winners are announced on the night at the launch. The cash prizes are modest but the boost to a novice writer or a poet’s confidence is immeasurable.
A recent chance encounter at a lunch party confirmed this. Having established a Leitrim connection one guest asked about my role in the magazine. When I explained, she seemed slightly stunned, which I found disconcerting. Then she added: "You don't realise it but you changed my daughter's life!" I'd never met either of them before so this startled me.
It turned out that a few years ago I gave one of the literary prizes to her daughter and she was so delighted that after accepting the award at the launch she changed her chosen university course to English literature, was about to begin a postgrad in creative writing and hoped eventually to work in publishing.
This was great to hear and just shows you never know the full impact of your actions.
Have a look at www.leitrimguardian.ie.