Monday 22 June 2009

"Are you eating your own hand, Charlie?" "No shanks, I'm fine!"

The Irish habit of leaving Ireland when times get tough appears strange to this Englishman. Maybe the English stay in England because they love a grumble, while their Irish counterparts mutter only:
“Sure, I’d complain, but what’d be the point?”
Maybe it’s because the Irish are broadly welcomed anywhere in the world, while the English have to overcome post-colonial loathing in so many countries.
Then there’s the two things that Paddy loves best: the leaving of Ireland and the coming back to Ireland. Personally, apart from a couple of weeks’ hols abroad, I hate leaving ireland, but Galway City is another matter.
With Galway I suffer a similar paradoxical conundrum to Paddy’s. I have left it and returned to it three times, each stay being an absolute pleasure, until it becomes unbearable.
Now, as another Summer of festivals approaches, my mind wanders back to the Spring of 1994, the first time I left Galway City.
Truly, it was one of the happiest days of my life.
Two years before I had left England, and arrived at Galway after a few months spent wandering, wondering whether I might live in either Granada, Barcelona, Roscoff, Cork and Kinsale.
Sharing in a tiny house in Salthill, I had partied like a mad thing for two years, but not as madly as the 24-hour party people living next door. My nerves were shot to shit, my liver was the size of Cyprus, and I yearned for privacy and peace. Each weekend I’d hitch out to Connemara, and recharge my soul, gradually realising that what I really wanted was to live out there, alone.
Some things are just meant to be. Through a bizarre twist of fate I called a certain Pat from Ballyconneely on the phone about a house I’d heard he was renting and got through to a completely different Pat from Ballyconneely, who purely coincidentally just happened to have a house to rent, but hadn’t even advertised it yet.
Off the main road, by a lake, with nearby beaches on three sides. the tiny housesheen was perfect, and as I loaded my life’s belongings into my transit van, I was aware that this was indeed a seminal moment in my life: the end of a very long road which ran from the leaving of London 5 years previously, downsizing to Bradford, Galway and finally to the townland of Bunowen.
The sun shone as I drove out of the city, the silhouettes of my broom handle, upturned chairs and boxes of books appearing in my rear view mirror. I’d never had a house to myself before, and was amazed how easy it was to move my stuff into it. There were no parking problems; plenty of space, and unlike flats in the cities of my past, no flights of steps to struggle up and down up and down, with all my stuff.
Within an hour it was all in the house, and I was off to the pub to celebrate.
The next morning I awoke to the sound of grass being ripped from the ground by cows outside my bedroom window. I was in a state of bliss. After walking to the beach I started to prepare my first proper meal in my first solitary house. In honour of the occasion I was treating myself to a lamb shank, with roast spuds and crunchy green things.
As I took the meat out of the oven my stomach growled with hunger as my heart swelled with pride.
I was plain full of myself, so happy I could burst. I had done so well, to get away from all the madness of it all, to be alone at last, wanting nothing from nobody, anywhere, ever.
The sun shone in the blue sky. A hare sat on the gravel outside my house. A soft breeze whispered a scented zephyr through my open windows and the carving knife slid slowly but surely through the tender lamb, out the other side and right through my hand, at the base of my thumb and finger.
Instantly I knew it was a deep cut, and my body settled straight into shock.
Fuck fuck fucketty fuck. Not now please please not now. No no no.
Being a most basic beast, my main concern was for my dinner. All I had wanted was to sit and eat a fine meal in my fine house and feel fine.
My roast lamb was pink, but I was looking increasingly crimson. Having washed the wound and caught sight of something white that hopefully wasn’t bone, I considered asking for help.
Clearly I needed to go up to the farmhouse and ask them to take me to a hospital for stitches.
And then again, maybe if I did, I’d look like an idiot incapable of lasting 24 hours on his own without managing to dismember himself.
No. Nobody needed to know.
Screw it. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Instead of being sensible, I wrapped my gaping bloodied wound in acres of toilet paper, and holding it high above my head in an effort to staunch the bleeding, I stubbornly proceeded to try to eat my dinner.
Clearly a knife and fork were out of the question, but who cared? I was all alone in the middle of nowhere, and still had four good fingers and one opposable thumb.
The veggies and spuds went down in three or four hand scoops, and as I lifted the shank to my mouth and started ripping into it like a cross between Fred Flintstone and Henry VIII, my young landlord just happened to put his head round the door to make sure his new tenant was settling in alright.
In place of the calm clean Englishman he had welcomed 24 hours previously, he was greeted by the site of an insane gravy-smeared carnivore, holding a blood-soaked arm high above his head, muttering through a lamby mouthful:
“Yesh yesh hime fine, danksh Pat! Good ash gold, shanks!”
Afterwards I wondered if he thought I had chopped off one hand to eat it with the other. Poor guy probably still has nightmares about that. Sorry Pat!
Having once again learned that pride comes before a fall, I proceeded to live a splendid life in that house.
But every two weeks I made an excited dash to Galway City, to see my mates, make sure I still had the power of speech and could behave like a human being in public.


Paz said...

love the column in the paper, don't always get to read it due to local shops being sold out on hurling weeks, glad I can read here too.
keep up the good work

Charlie Adley said...

Thanks Paz, much appreciated! Where can I find your photos?

Paz said...