Friday, April 27, 2007

A Trip to Ireland (whole thing!)

Apart from the title of this piece, I’ve named each chapter in the style of a tune or song. It seemed appropriate, somehow. One day I may even write the music to go with them.

Who the hell is Kerry?

Good start, eh? Well, as I don’t know who I am sometimes, it makes sense that I should encounter further confusion on my one trip to the country where I am known, by the very few that know me, by another name.

But, to start at the beginning (which is boring I know, but it will help make more sense in the long run), I will tell you about the night before we left, when I had to make vegetable curry for 30… but then again, maybe not, as it kind of detracts from this story.

Friday morning, up at 5am (myself and Penni, who stayed over), ready to fly to Belfast International Airport. Well, actually ready to go to Stansted so we can fly on a plane there – it’s too far to fly on our own, carrying guitars, after all. We had a ‘girls’ weekend away arranged: Penni needed some ‘I NEED TO GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!’ time, to put it mildly (yes, mildly)!

We drove to Bishop’s Stortford through the fog – only half an hour away from my home, and fifteen minutes away from the airport. I left my car there and my pal Shani gave us a lift to the airport, in more fog. For the last few days we’d had brilliant sunshine or cold but bright mornings. But the day we were flying there had to be fog. We met Penni’s husband at the airport, he works ‘airside’. Penni said ‘Buy us breakfast Bob’, which he dutifully did (which is ever so nice of him, especially as they have split).

The plane was, of course, delayed. The queue on the runway was like a motorway traffic jam … all the planes lined up one after the other and I was just waiting for ours to toot the one in front as if to say ‘Go on now, the runway’s clear, what are you waiting for?’ but it doesn’t work that way with planes, does it?

I explained to Penni that in Ireland I am ‘Carrie’, not Carolyn. She wanted to call me “Carriolyn”. That would confuse me even more! But because we were going to see friends that I met through the internet – and my internet name (and perhaps my favourite alter ego) is Carrie – then I should be Carrie when in Ireland.

We eventually landed and Cathy and her husband Paul were there within minutes to pick us up. Having left the English fog behind, we arrived in bright Northern Ireland sunshine – but I still kept my big coat on, my ‘matrix’ coat as Bryan calls it (long, black, leather).

Cathy and Paul picked us up from the airport. I’d only met Cathy once before (for just three hours, a few months previously) and I’d never met Paul – but it was like a homecoming. Penni had met neither, but there seemed to be a pretty instant rapport between us all. We broke the journey to our destination at a roadside café and stopped for tea (lots of very weak tea for me, coffee for the others) and a good breakfast. I was still full from the bun Bob bought us in Stansted, but Penni, Cathy and Paul had a small ‘Ulster Fry’: a cooked breakfast which included soda bread and potato cakes and pancakes (I think, I can’t remember for sure). They smoked… Penni (who I’ve been trying to get to give up for years now and was making good progress, got her down to just a few roll ups per day instead of packets of those tailor made, chemical laden paper wrapped nasty, smelly… er, you getting the hang of what I feel about smoking by any chance?), Cathy and Paul all smoked - after breakfast and in the car on the journey to Warrenpoint. “The kids think I’ve stopped smoking” Cathy had told me. And she had, for a while, but I guess the imminent invasion by one mad English Pillock (me) and an unknown English guest (Penni) was probably stress enough to start her off again. Me, I decided I’d start to drink alcohol this weekend, as I’d never done it before. Ahem. Well, that’s what I’ll write here, anyway.

We drove in to Newry and stopped for a music shop – Bryan wanted a proper Irish whistle! They had three types – the cheapo £3.99, some black ones at £10 and some very posh tunable ones at £29.00. He got a black one, and Penni bought one too. The sun shone on the shoulders of Newry Cathedral that stood with its back was to us. Big, grey, imposing. I was curious to see more of Newry at some point, but would not get the chance on this trip as it happened.

We reached Warrenpoint (our B&B was just outside in a place called Burren) and stopped first at Cathy’s parent’s house to pick up her youngest son, Patrick. We went in and were greeted by their ferocious dog – Molly. Well, not very ferocious – Yorkshire Terriers aren’t usually. It was small, rat like, furry and actually quite sweet. It had a rubber chew toy that was nearly as big as it was. We all sat in the kitchen and Cathy’s mum, Marie, showed us some embroidery she’d been doing (machine embroidery – very neat) and made more tea and coffee.

By this time we’d been up for quite a few hours and I was more than a little ‘warm’ (read ‘smelly’!) so we were kindly taken to our bed and breakfast by Cathy (once she’d dropped Paul at Patrick at their house, which was only a short bit away from her mother’s house). Penni felt unwell. The ‘small fry’ was dancing in her stomach, and she was tired too I guess, so she went for a lie down once our hosts, Dan and Mena Ryan, had settled us in our lovely rooms.

Oonagh’s Walk

I decided to go for a walk. I was, at last, getting a little hungry. I phoned Cathy and she told me how to get to the nearest shop (in a garage). “It’s opposite the cemetery.” She’d pointed out the cemetery to me on the way – it’s the one where her sister, Oonagh, is buried. I walked in the lovely sunshine, with the huge hills around me. Big scenery – mountains, hills, green, everything you’d imagine the Irish countryside to be. I drank in the freedom – the air, the scenery, the peace and the adventure; it was fun being out on my own. I walked down the road, along the main drag and after about a mile and a half the garage came into view. And beyond, on the other side of the road, was the cemetery. I walked past the garage and up into the churchyard. I wandered round, looked at lots and lots of gravestones. Big black marble ones with gold letters; grey marble with deep cut verse, crosses and wreaths. A very few were completely untended, but most were cared for like small gardens. Why did I visit the cemetery? I don’t know. The last grave I visited was over 25 years ago – my father’s. I’m not a one for graves or funerals, but I went, and I read the words on many of the gravestones. I saw the names of triplets who died within days of being born, of children, old men, beloved grandparents, devoted couples, those who died young, those who died after full lives… every stone a story. I found Oonagh’s grave, beautifully tended. I can’t easily express what I felt, standing by the graveside of a person who I had never known, to whom my connection was the most tenuous imaginable. But I’m glad I went. My aversion to funerals and gravesides is nothing to do with fear of death, but more to do with guilt I think. Visiting this grave was a good thing for me to do perhaps - it helped me to picture a place Cathy had talked about, and it helped me to respect what others treasure, even though I don’t understand.

I went to the garage in search of drink and lunch – but all I bought was a small chocolate bar. I walked back up to the B&B (about three miles in total I think) and Penni had recovered somewhat from her dodgy stomach. We played a little bit of music – enjoying the sunshine and the relaxed atmosphere.

Brandy in the glen

We took a taxi at about 6pm to the small town of Rostrevor (actually named after a man called Trevor Ross). Here we found food (chips) and drink (brandy) and we took our meal and our drink to the ‘Fairy Glen’. I found the brandy in a small off licence, but walking in with my bass guitar on my back I nearly wrecked the shop as it clattered into signs hanging from the ceiling. But the shop owner was friendly and didn’t mind my attempt at destruction. The Glen has a lovely little stream, green banks and is very pretty. The walk down to the Glen was the inspiration for CS Lewis’ Narnia apparently. I watched pied wagtails dance across the water, listened to the loud chatter of the wren, and the louder chatter of Penni. We sat and talked – not of shoes and ships and sealing wax, but of our ancestry. We had both come from what you could call aristocratic families – land owning gentry. “Yes,” said Penni, “and here we are drinking brandy from a tin lid and eating chips in the Fairy Glen.” It was a rather fun contradiction really. We are who we are now – not who our families were. For perhaps the first time in a very long time, I quite like being me.
We messed around by the river in the glen, chatting (Penni smoking – have I mentioned that she smokes?) and I crossed the river on huge stones that the water swirled round; not easy in my high-heeled boots but you’d not have stopped me. My friend from the US, Nadine, called while we were messing around in the Glen, and I tried to describe to her the tranquillity of the place, but I’m not sure I managed it.

The ‘Magners’ Opus

We walked back up the hill to the ‘Corner House’, the pub where we knew there was a session that evening. This had all been planned and we entered the pub to find it quite smoky (deep joy!) and fairly empty. We got our drinks and went into the bar where the music would be. The walls were covered in thick white plaster (browned with nicotine) and lintels painted dark green. Strange misshapen instruments made of twigs adorned the walls, a sign perhaps? The barman was polite, but not exactly welcoming. Our English accents maybe? I’d had a few nips of the brandy but the top to the bottle (our brandy ‘glass’) didn’t fit back on the bottle very tightly. Well, it was a cheap one. I moved on to cider (Magners), after all I was hoping to play (with some kind of competence) later. Cathy and Paul arrived and we carried on drinking and talking as if we’d known each other for all time. The pub slowly filled (and Penni said ‘so did we’) and eventually some musicians arrived. Gary was running the session and invited us to join them. We played Irish tunes, English tunes (‘Do you know ‘Jump at the sun?’ Yeah!), sang songs and we played along with them. I played my acoustic bass and sat next to Madonna (yes, I’ve played with Madonna!) who was a fine whistle player. There were bodhran players, a fabulous fiddle player called Deirdre, another guitarist or two as well as Gary, and the banjo came out too.

Meanwhile, secretly, the brandy bottle was seeping its contents into the fabric of my handbag. They were all excellent musicians and one chap had a fantastic resonant voice. He sang songs we knew, songs we didn’t. We joined in, we sang a couple of our own. The only song I sang was the one I’d written for Cathy, about her father. The rest of the time I played bass as best I could and they seemed to like it. They were all very talented and at one point I felt quite over-awed. What am I doing pretending I can play sessions with people like this? Penni plays at sessions all the time – I don’t. I’m not used to it. I went to the ladies (plenty of cider still coursing through my veins and making its way towards my bladder) and felt quite lost for a short while. When I went back into the bar I sat next to Cathy and she immediately asked me if I was OK. Surely I hadn’t shown my lack of confidence on my face so clearly? No, I just think she knows me too well. I told her I’d visited Oonagh’s grave. (I didn’t want her finding out by reading this, it would be insensitive.) She reacted as if she didn’t believe me. Perhaps I’d done the wrong thing – mentioning it at all, I don’t know. I didn’t play non-stop, I wandered back between the session and Cathy and Paul who were sitting outside the ‘musicians’ circle. We drank, laughed and people in the bar, Cathy, Penni and Paul smoked and smoked. Cathy’s older son Kris joined us for a brief while. He went for a cigarette and Cathy said “Why? You don’t smoke!” “Neither do you,” I reminded her – for her children thought she had given up. Both a pair of liars - when it came to smoking. I felt kippered and the rasp in my throat meant it was a good thing I wasn’t singing much, I’d have sounded like a sick goat. Nadine called again (she would have loved to have been there with us, I know) and Cathy held up the phone for her to ‘hear’ us playing in the background. Must have sounded a racket – five thousand miles and over a mobile phone too. At about 1.30am the session wound down, but a couple from Lincoln asked Penni to sing to them, so she sang ‘Green Laurel’ (she does a lovely version) and I accompanied her and sang harmony. The couple enjoyed it. We asked Madonna and Deirdre (the fiddle player) where we might play the following night, and they told us about ‘Peter Doran’s Bar’, which ran a session on a Saturday starting from about 9.30pm. That was the next night sorted! Penni talked to a man called Matthew – someone had rung him to come down to the session. He is on the committee for the local (well known internationally as it happens) music and arts festival, "Fiddler’s Green". There was a chance, just a chance, that we could go back and play at the festival. He seemed to like us.

Young bucks

Eventually (after a few more ciders, though we never managed to finish them all) we phoned for a taxi. After half an hour it had not appeared. We rang again – wait outside in case we had missed it first time round. After another half hour it still didn’t appear. Cathy phoned about four times, each time she was given the promise of ‘just a few minutes’ and every time we were disappointed. At one point a taxi pulled up and Paul went over to speak to the driver. “He’ll be back for us in about 20 minutes” he said. Paul knew the driver (John) and had gone to school with him. He could be relied upon. Whilst we waited out in the cold for nearly an hour, we had a show. About six young lads, full of the drink, were ‘sparring’. Not fighting, but rearing up and facing off like young bucks. One single punch was swung, but no further violence ensued and the funny thing was the crates of beer they were carrying which were put down, whilst a group swayed one way, then picked up and moved as the group circled and postured in another. They all faded away eventually – in taxis, or meandering down the road. I missed what happened to the beer crates though. John eventually returned and we were – at last – off ‘home’. We squeezed into the car – Paul in front, one guitar in the boot, one guitar and three women in the back. My handbag filled the car with brandy fumes. It was the handbag, honest!

We dropped Cathy and Paul at their house and then John took us to our B&B. As we reached Dan Ryan’s, a phone rang. Cathy’s phone! She had picked up Penni’s handbag and taken it by mistake (no chance of her taking mine now, was there?). We had Cathy’s bag and phone, so Penni returned in the taxi back to their house and did a bag swap. We paid the taxi driver with a brandy-soaked note.

When Cathy and Paul got home they had cheese on toast, which sadly made poor Paul very unwell. Of course it was the cheese on toast, couldn’t have been all that cider now, could it?

I slept like a log. Penni slept well for the first time in ages she told me next morning. Though I’d not been to bed till gone 3am following a day that had started at 5am, I woke prompt at 7.30am. Darn! I got up, showered and as breakfast was not scheduled till 9.30, I went for a walk. This time I went up the hill in Burren. I knew there were some interesting features in the place (I’d seen brown signs – sites of historical interest) but I never found them. I walked up and up the hill, through the town, past the enormous church (or is it a chapel?) and then out of the village and into the hills themselves. I looked down and could see the hazy mountains. I could breathe fine, clear air, and listen to the birds. I smiled and the few people I met said ‘good morning’. I saw a coal tit and a black cap, heard their calls in the clear, quiet morning air. I phoned Bryan for a brief chat and then walked back down the hill – probably about four miles in total. My boots were not made for walking, but I didn’t care.

Slim Pickings

Back at Ryan’s an hour later, I found Penni awake and we went up for breakfast. We had our first full ‘Ulster Fry’. I started with cereal (Penni had fruit) and then had soda bread, pancake, bacon, egg, toast, mushrooms (Penni had the mushrooms, I hate them!), sausage, tomato… and a plentiful helping of each. This was a lining for the stomach that would set us well for the day and was probably not a bad thing following the previous nigh’s drinking. Though not hung over because I had not drunk too much (just enough to drop the shutters I’d say), I appreciated the good breakfast, especially as I hadn’t eaten much the previous day. The day’s plan was made. First stop would be the music shop in Newry – because the whistle I’d bought for Bryan was out of tune! Penni didn’t seem bothered about hers, but I couldn’t take Bryan back a whistle that he couldn’t play.

We were picked up by Cathy’s mother who stopped to natter with Mena Ryan (old friends of course – it seemed everyone knew everybody else round here) and then drove down to Cathy’s. The plan was to leave the instruments at her house and go into Newry, shopping. Paul was at the house, preparing betting slips for the Grand National. We all had a bet – for Penni her first ever! Penni placed her bet according a recommendation from a nun – I chose the most musical name I could see – ‘Slim Pickings’ (I’m sure he’s a country singer…). Cathy showed us a photo album with pictures of Oonagh. I didn’t know how to react – pictures of a lovely young girl full of life and with her whole future ahead of her - killed in a motoring accident at just 19. I didn’t know what to say, I felt inadequate.

Mussel Beach

Our plans, however, were foiled. The Newry road was closed due to a traffic accident. We later found out that two French youngsters had been killed – tragic it is one of those roads that claims lives regularly. We tried to reach Newry by the back roads, but police had diverted lorries, caravans, all sorts of traffic the same way and they were small and impassable with the size and volume of traffic suddenly thrust upon them. We did an about turn and instead went into Warrenpoint.

No bad thing. We wandered round the town – the three of us – Cathy, Penni and myself. Into shops looking for trinkets (I found another whistle for Bryan, Penni bought some gifts for her children) and we enjoyed strolling round the small sea-side town that still had mussel boats and an active port. Across the bay was Southern Ireland, still shrouded in haze. Paul had told us that in times past when the pubs shut in Warrenpoint, people would take a boat across the bay because the pubs there were open longer, then come back in time for the pubs to open again back home. Many people may know the name of Warrenpoint for one reason – for the dreadful murder of 18 soldiers in 1979 – and indeed it will take many years for the stain of death to leave I am sure. But what I saw was a small town with beautiful countryside, wonderful views, small friendly shops and – something that I covet – a seashore. Warrenpoint is on a wide estuary, but as soon as you walk onto the beach, the salt tang of the sea hits powerfully. I love the sea – I’d love to live by the sea. To have it on your doorstep every day, in sun and storm, must be wonderful (well, I think so).

We stopped for a coffee and some cake in Linda’s – a small coffee bar that I knew of from Cathy’s emails. We chatted some more and decided that Penni and I would wander further round the town while Cathy headed back up the hill (after we’d bought dog food for Cathy’s Dexter - a bigger mutt than Molly). Penni and I wandered down to the beach itself – a shoreline of grey stones (slate and shale I guess) and mussels… hundreds and thousands of mussels. We walked a bit down on the stones, then when we realised we were walking on the mussels themselves, moved back up to the path. It was a lovely beach – not a towels and sunbathing type, but a real “hey, land – meet the sea!” type of coastline. We walked ‘round the shore’ as Paul called it, picking up some tiny bits of driftwood and a few stones to take home, then back up through the town and up the hill to Cathy’s house. The sun was still bright and the smell of the sea, the sound of the place, the atmosphere was relaxed and patient. People wore smiles in the sun like they’d wear coats in the rain.

When we got back to Cathy’s house, we sat in the sun and talked. Dexter the brown and white collie/spaniel mix raced round the garden excitedly and growled and Penni and I – strangers! – but he seemed happy enough to chase the ball and play with his bone, eventually ignoring us as nothing more than an inconvenient intrusion in his garden.

Hilltown’s High-spot

We enjoyed a relaxed afternoon, chatting drinking coffee (a little brandy for me, please) and just enjoying the day. Paul returned from the betting shop with the winnings (my horse came in third and my £2 bet resulted in £9 – not bad) and Cathy, her mother and I drove down to the town to pick up Chinese take-away for supper (via a quick stop at her friend Aileen’s house – she’d won about the same amount as much as she’d bet). We took the supper back to Cathy’s house and ate a wonderful selection of different dishes and still had plenty left over. Patrick was very keen on the prawns and Dexter enjoyed the rib bones. Penni and I enjoyed the bottle of wine too and the company was pleasant, relaxed and easy. The evening chilled as the sun set, and we called a cab to pick us up at about 9.10 as the pub in Hilltown for that evening’s session was about 20 minutes away.

Well, guess what? We waited for the taxi – and waited. So Cathy phoned again. We’d tried calling John, our rescuer from the previous night, but he was booked for the next hour solid. I wish we’d waited for him! In the meantime, Cathy’s brother Hugh called. “I can’t speak long,” she said to him. “Here, talk to Carrie.” And she passed the phone to me. I chatted to him for about 15 minutes (no sign of the taxi, after all) then passed him back to Cathy. Not bad, conversing with a complete stranger! Well, Cathy said about another three words, then passed him over to Penni, who spoke to him for another ten minutes. Poor man! Wanted to talk to his sister and got passed to two complete strangers. Ah well, he won’t be such a stranger if we do meet him now. After many calls and over an hour, our taxi eventually arrived. Oh boy – we were going to turn up late to the session that was for sure. On the way over in the taxi we booked the driver (David) to pick us up at 1.15am. No way we were going to be stranded again (especially as this pub was a little more rural than the last one).

All squeezed in again, and we went to Hilltown, then left Hilltown down some small country roads, to reach the bar. We ended up at Peter Doran’s and there was nothing around but the bar and a garage (I think, I can’t remember for sure). We walked into the front door in this big square block of a building (no idea what colour, it was dark and there was no ambient light as we were surrounded by fields). Inside were two more front doors! The one on the left was locked so I opened the one on the right. We walked in – to a long narrow room that was dark and smoky. Like in one of those horror films where you just know things are going to go wrong, the bar went silent as we entered and everyone lined up at the long narrow counter top turned to look at us. Gulp! But the landlady (steely grey hair) saw the instruments we carried and broke into an instant smile. “Er, where do we go?” I asked (the others backed up behind me). To my left was a small window through which I could see children – a window onto another world! Well, another front room anyway. The landlady pointed to a door on my right. “In there.” Grand! We were an hour late for the session. We went into the room: Empty!

Seats round the edge, stools up on the seats, very Hammer House… Um. Gulp again! We moved stools onto the floor, sat down and ordered drinks – two ciders, two lagers. The room was small, square, dark, and more than a little disconcerting. Over a closed up fire place was a dark picture – a seascape in cracked paint, layered in nicotine... I only knew it was a picture and not a very dark patch on the wall as I was standing very close. Our drinks came in, served by a nine year old girl – Jenny. We settled ourselves in (taking the stools off the chairs so we could sit down) and the landlady came in and welcomed us, and after about 15 minutes some musicians arrived. Phew! Firstly came the host for the evening who was a charming man – a bit like a game show host. He had a cheerful shirt on and played guitar. With him came an accordion player, and mandolin player and the little girl, Jenny, fetched out a violin too. She was one of Dierdre’s pupils. So Jenny was the fiddler for the evening. (I’d love to say she was a child genius, but she wasn’t, she was a good young learner with a natural feel though).

We introduced ourselves. “Penni, Paul, Cathy, Carrie…” – “Kerry?” no, Carrie! The evening started well, with tunes and songs, our host played lots of Hank Williams (in what I fondly call ‘Teddy Timing’ – a few extra bars here and there) and we played Penni’s songs, two of mine and – just for fun – we sang an unaccompanied a duet of Buddy Holly’s ‘I guess it doesn’t matter any more’. The young fiddle player also did some Irish dancing – and it made me smile because she danced to an English ceilidh tune. The landlady came in with a round of drinks for us – complimentary – and spent the evening in the room with the musicians. A few of the ‘seniors’ came and joined us too, lined up against one wall with their drinks on the table in front of them – in for the craic. At one point we played a very strange version of duelling banjos with our host – on banjo (him), bass (me) and guitar (Penni). A very bizarre version, but huge fun. At one point the accordion player and mandolin player did a tune that they both obviously knew, but in different keys. Didn’t stop them though.

The evening was surreal – and just as we were getting into the swing as it were, the taxi turned up – early! That wasn’t fair. So we said our farewells and were back at the B&B (having dropped Cathy and Paul off) by 2am. An early night. Well, it would have been if Penni and I hadn’t stayed up chatting for another hour.

Time to go

So – before it had begun it seemed, our trip was nearly over. Of course I woke up in good time, with no headache thankfully and decided to go for a walk after our final Ulster Fry. I’d packed (including the very, very smelly handbag) and walked down and along to the nearby reservoir. Along the way I met a young man walking with his toddler, Isabel, in her pram. He was originally from Manchester and we chatted briefly as we shared about half a mile of road. He took his daughter to the reservoir every day.

I asked him about the local ‘mound’ – he didn’t know about anything other than a standing stone on a nearby hill. That’d do me. I walked on – leaving him to parade his daughter round the mere, to watch the swans and other birds dancing on the water. I walked a half mile further and found a hill with a single standing stone. I couldn’t go up to it, so I snapped it with my camera. A trophy. The return journey was pleasant – and on a hill above me as I made my way back a horse stood against the skyline like a professional – posing for effect. Alas my poor disposable camera wouldn’t do him justice, but I snapped him anyway.

I made my way back down to the B&B and Penni was sitting enjoying the fading sun (consumed by a haze that was to cloud the day). In what seemed like no time at all, Cathy and Paul arrived to take us back to the airport. As we approached the outskirts of Belfast we passed the Maze prison again. Paul had pointed it out to us on the inward journey. This prison, which in Penni and my eyes had always been seen in aerial view (from news coverage), was now empty – deserted. We saw towers, distant buildings and fields surrounding they grey, crumbling walls - it was almost as if no great dramas had ever darkened these lands. Now, Cathy told us, they were thinking of building a leisure centre on the site. They’d knock it down, clear the land of this black mark in history, this stark reminder of the troubles, and replace it with a place where people had fun, enjoyed themselves – spent time together willingly. I didn’t know how to feel – I’d not been here, not lived under the regime during the troubles when sectarian rule had been vicious. I had not suffered the segregation, violence or desperation that has plagued this country. All we ever knew as children was the effect it had on us – bomb threats, news items, not the real human stories of the people in the country it affected most. I think back now to those times. A long time ago, when my father was alive, I remember him saying in response to a bombing ‘Should bomb the bloody lot of them in Ireland’. And that was the first time I remember thinking independently about politics: I thought – bomb the children? Bomb the mothers and fathers and those who are nothing to do with this violence? For the first time I challenged, internally, my father’s dictum. I was probably about 12 or 13 years old at most. But here I was, years later, enjoying the bounty of this beautiful country. Enjoying the hospitality of friends whose politics I did not quiz or question. Here I was in a land that has changed, and is changing, but still has such a long way to go. Peace is no easy journey.

When we reached the airport we checked our bags and spent a small time together in the café – Paul, Cathy, Penni and I. It was a great time we’d had, and now we had to leave and go back to our normal lives. It was a sad but fond farewell.

On the flight home we sat next to a man who lived in Ireland and worked in England – in print. He minded a 12-colour Heidelberg. Goodness! I remember being shown (and great awe expected, and reverence duly given) the first 8-colour at Cambridge University Press – now they do them 12? It must be huge! He loved the lifestyle in Ireland, but the work wasn’t there, so he commuted by plane to East London for three days a week. Not something I could do. As we left Ireland the sky was cloudy – when we hit England the sky was blue. After (anxiously) waiting for our baggage (the conveyor was rather brutal and we feared for our guitars) we exited and Shani was waiting for us, complete with a large box of doughnuts. She took us back to Bishop’s Stortford where we had tea (and doughnuts of course) before heading back to Royston.

A grand weekend. All of a sudden it seemed very short. But we’d done a lot in two and a half days. We’d played, we’d drunk a bit, I’d walked, we all talked and talked. Penni smoked too (a lot for her… all my good work of the past few years out the window in a single weekend!), that wasn’t supposed to happen.

When we eventually got back to my house, the men of the family were deeply engrossed in an important football game. After the welcome greetings and seeing Penni off in her car, I retired to sit in the garden. The sun was shining. It was quiet, peaceful. It was nice to be home. But it was nice to be in Ireland, too…
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