Why was it so difficult?
With Blue Bag sitting snug on Bennett’s back seat, I jump into my car and drive off. It’s 7:10 on Saturday morning. Yahoo! That time of year again, when the World visits Galway and I feel a strong desire to leave.
I do recall though that last year’s trip was bathed in sunshine. I think I was off waxing all lyrical and poetic about the gold and the green of the Irish Summer landscape.
This year it’s a proper Irish Summer landscape: you can’t see it. Impossible to tell if it’s a downpour, low cloud or that old fave: a soft day, the water is all around. If the Eskimos can have their words for snow, the Irish should have 40 shades of delay for their windscreen wipers.
South, through the tunnel through the clouds, into Cork and then the capital of the rebel county, where you have to do that mad going east to go west Ring Road thing. Although I do get lost in the Burren, for some reason forever sucked back to Miltown Malbay, I’ve a strong sense of direction muscle.
So as that cries “No! You are going the wrong way, you fool!” from my substantial gut, I do as advised by Cork City’s planners, and after a mind-stretching maze of filters and bewildering junctions that makes Galway look mildly sensible, I make it to the Guru’s house.
The rain is lashing and just as I hoped, my friend has no plans We need go nowhere, do nothing, so we will talk. We met in 1969, becoming firm friends in the early 1980s. Since then strands geographic, spiritual and emotional have intertwined our lives. We need not say much to find out a lot of each other, yet sometimes one will rant for hours.
On this trip, as the cloud touched the ground, the wind whipping up just enough to light a fire, we played cards for a day and a half, pausing between random hands to look round the Guru’s garden.
He is a man who knows how to work with the land and gradually, bewitchingly, his patch is looking splendid.
First though we decide to make up the sofa bed. There, now that pulls out there and oh - lift - there, that’s it. Now this cushion here, and that one there, great.
The bed is out, secure and two of the three cushions are on it. There only remains the wedge cushion that runs along the top, where the pillows go.
There can only be so many different combinations of how that cushion might fit across the sofa bed, but I think it’s safe to say that over the next twenty minutes we tried each of them seven times, as we gradually collapsed with laughter.
No idea where it started. A glimpse in the eye maybe, acknowledging that this really should be very a very simple task, yet now there was the potential for absurdism and humour.
Who cares why? We laughed our socks off for ages, knees wobbling, lungs gasping, eyes squirting, until he - because, after all, he is the Guru - found a little slot of wood on a hinge that, if raised, might support the cushion.
Evidently the makers of the bed had discovered a design flaw beyond the last minute so this was their only solution. Thankfully, our souls benefited from their inefficiency. By the time we finally sat down at his kitchen table, to drink the first cup of legion teas, we felt as if not a minute had elapsed since our last time together.
A very special feature of my Blue Bag trips is the moving on. Instead of this being a flying visit to see my mate, I am on the road.
In the dank darkness of a July Monday morning I drive through more clouds, dripping countryside, watching forlorn tourists clutching the doors of their rental cars in car parks, staring at the relentless grey, wondering what the hell they’re going to do with the kids today.
Around midday I arrive at a mobile home atop a Kerry cliff, where I’m spending the night with my excellent friend Angel. More tea is drunk, more gentle man to man, biscuits dunked, chins nodded in mutual support and appreciation.
As we sit and chat I watch out of his window as the cloud gradually lifts, until I’m looking at his everyday view, across the Atlantic ocean to the Kingdom’s rugged and sensual coastline. My friend has been through much, so it is truly wonderful to see that the smile on his face now reaches the far corners of his eyes.
The following day I head off to secure a solitary night for my own head, stopping off in Tralee for what I hope might be a leisurely lunch.
Instead I rage belligerent from pub to pub as I find it impossible to get a pint of Guinness and a cheese and ham toastie. Place after place try to sell me something I don't want, until I become a grumpy bastard, obsessed with getting exactly what I do want.
Obviously, the Guinness is no bother, but all the pubs want me to eat something they rate as ‘gourmet.’
Finally I find an old pub, in which the darkness promises much. Surely here, where local blokes are lounging around all casual like, nobody is trying to impress anybody in particular.
With his black apron around his waist he walks up to me.
“You look like a man on a mission!” he says, flashing his teeth at me.
“I am!” I reply. “I would like a pint of Guinness and a cheese and ham toastie, please.”
He turns to the bar and shouts for the pint and then he’s spreading his hands and telling me he’ll bring me the menu.
“Did you here what I asked for?’
“I did, but we have so much more to offer!” he declares.
“Not to me you don’t. Cancel that pint, I’m off to find somewhere you can get what you ask for!”
© Charlie Adley