Monday, 27 June 2011

This is my Jerusalem!



‘Happy Ever After’ is a pointless ambition. Happiness comes like a swallow in Summer, like a snowflake landing on warm grass. Happiness lasts for a second or two years, and the only important thing is to realise it, feel it while it lasts.

I felt happiness for a few precious minutes last week, and I drank deeply of it.

A brief hiatus appeared in the midst of the maelstrom that has been life in recent times, so I packed Blue Bag and headed off to Newport. Co. Mayo.

Walking into the first Bed and Breakfast I came upon in the small town, I lingered in an empty reception area as an older man and an invisible woman had a heated discussion in the kitchen. I walked up and down, knowing that they knew I was there, slightly irked that they were ignoring a potential customer, but patient; grateful to be there at all while the Snapper was back in Galway at work.

Eventually the older man decided to acknowledge me, walking towards me asking what I wanted. I was standing by a reception desk with a bag on my shoulder, so I was just a tad surprised when he raised his eyebrow at my request for a room.

He called for Herself, and out she came. Lined fifty year-old skin on the face of a forty year-old smoker, she refused to return the smile I was pumping at her, instead telling me she had to check her book to see if she had a room. While she did that I cast an eye into the Visitors Book, wherein the last entry had been made two days previously.

She had a room. She was just looking for the least good room she could award to this single traveller. On the ground floor, two single beds and a tiny en suite, but fine, I’ll take it, I said. How much? Oooh, er emm, bit steep, but okay. I was tired and even though she pitched her price at the top end of the B&B marketplace, I wasn’t going to argue.

So I unpacked, put on my trackies and a fleece and lay back on the bed. The wall opposite was one huge window that opened out onto the rear car park, so anybody and everybody could see me. I boiled the kettle and found in the fridge in the hallway some nasty rank milk. The little pre-wrapped 3-pack of Custard Creams on my room’s tea tray were beyond their Best Before date.

Refusing to let anything get me down, I lay back on the bed.
Peace and quiet, hoo yeh baby. I never ever nap or take a siesta, but here, now, I had a chance.

No I didn’t. Outside my door, noisy as if in my face, fresh B&B guests had arrived. Herself was laughing and chatting and being generally lovely with them and I wondered why I’d lost out on her charm. She showed them into the room next door and was oh ho ho having a good old laugh with them, so she was, ho ho.

They went to their loo and took a shower and I swear I felt like I was immersed inside the runway of a major airport. Explosive noises shot over under and around me as symphonic plumbing went mental in my lug holes.

I felt miserable. All I’d wanted was to find a quiet clean place  The place was clean alright but it was neither cheap, friendly, quiet nor private.

Facing Herself again would be a pain, but screw it.
So I dressed and packed and headed back to reception, where I had to knock on doors and wait for ages. I could’ve just left but wanted to be polite, offer her a couple of quid for her trouble and the cup of tea with off milk and stale biscuits (oh come on, of course I ate them - it was only a Best Before date!).

Her face was a picture as I mumbled some ill-thought out excuse as to why I had to go.
She shook her grim chin at my couple of Euro and headed off at high speed to the room I’d been in, doubtless to see if I’d stolen from her.

As I climbed back into the car I laughed. What was I going to nick? Her bedspreads? I think not.

At the top of the hill I headed into the hotel, where Roisin quoted me a price ten euro more than the B&B (ignore any rate cards you ever see in Irish hotels, absolutely). She listened to my needs and gave me a quiet room tucked away far from the bar. As I opened the door I let out a whoop! It was huge and modern and clean and way well worth the extra tenner. The skin-piercing shower alone was worth the extra dosh. All of a sudden I wanted to sing out loud.

Feeling for the first time that I might be on holiday, I started at the furthest point from the hotel, hitting each of the five pubs in town, ordering a Jameson in each and being given exactly that. No urban enquiries of whether I’d like ice or water or essence of Christian Dior in my whiskey, just a simple glass with a neat Jamie.

Many evenings of my life have been spent in rural pubs and small town bars in the West of Ireland, but that night I didn’t really feel like chasing the craic. I hadn’t the energy, so after I ran out of bars, and while the sun was still above the distant dark hills, I walked up the road to the church.

Having reached the top of the hill, I leaned on the stone wall and realised it was June 23rd, St. John’s Eve: bonfire night in Catholic countries. Below green fields fell away toward the windy wee road, twisting its way to somewhere. Beyond the road the valley rose with stone walls and lush fields, blending into the black distant Nephin Beg range of hills.

Bonfires, everywhere, how many? 12, 13, 17, every house that might have been invisible in the fading evening light became a point on the map. Smoke spires dotted the landscape, as if a thousand new popes had been announced.

Small clouds clipped the fading sun’s dazzle, as it started to slip below the hills, and I found peace.

This is my green and pleasant land. This is my Jerusalem. This was my moment to be happy. I know how to spot it now. So many people miss their own happiness. It’s gone before their next bad time hits them over the head. They might then wonder why life is worth it, and that is a tragedy.

The only thing I didn’t know was how long this happiness would last, but I didn’t care. The sun was gone, the sky purple and pink as I turned away from the stone wall and took a wander around the church. Recently restored with shiny pointing and a mini round tower, it was lovely.

A woman in a house behind me suddenly said hello. She was having a ciggie out of her window and I said hello back.

Hello, lovely evening isn’t it.

Strangers who say hello, just because you’re there.

Around the far side of the church I came across a door with a sign that said

'Sacristy and Toilets’

and behind it, I heard a young man singing. He had no idea that I was there, but I could tell he was writing a song. Maybe he was a young priest, composing something for his Sunday sermon. He sang as a priest might, with a strong steady falsetto voice, ecclesiastical, lyrical and ethereal.

"La la laaaaaaaa..."

He was writing a song. I wondered what it was about?

"Laaa laal la la laaaa..."

He coughed and then sang the words of his song for the first time.

“Property Tax, Property Tax,
They’re going to give us a Property Tax,
I’m looking forward to the Property Tax.

“Water Tax, Water Tax, 
How will we pay the Water Tax?
I’m looking forward to the Water Tax...
We’ll all go to jail for the Property Tax....
lal la laaa...”

and then he was wordless again, doubtless penning the lyrics to a second verse.
But it was perfect.
A priest in touch with the plight of his flock.
A scribbler at one with the splendour of rural Ireland.
Happiness, for which I am grateful.

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