It was a wonderful sunny day in St.Louis, and there’s always that little voice inside me on days like this that says “You need to go out and make the most of it”. Fortunately I’ve got really good at ignoring that voice, as it can result in a perfectly good relaxing day being spoiled by some pointless trip and vain attempt to wring joy from it. Much better to sit on the deck in the sun and fritter away the afternoon aimlessly. To be fair, I didn’t ignore the little voice which said “You need to go to the gym and do your leg workout”, which was why I only had the afternoon to fritter.
What I really like to do on a day like this, or indeed any day with nothing better to do, is to sit with a good book. Unfortunately I am shit at buying good books; I can wander into Borders with the best of intentions, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t find anything remotely worth reading. It’s all trashy fiction, deep meaningful treatises on feminist thinking and nineteenth century drama by people who you get to study in literature classes. (And don’t we remember how shit they were?)
For good reading I have to rely on gifts from my in-laws, who periodically send me excellent books, and without whom I’d be reduced to reading the back of cereal boxes. Sure, I don’t get many books from my in-laws, but that’s not a problem because I can re-read the good ones. In fact, in a couple of decades I probably won’t even know I’ve read them at all, so I’ll never be short of a good book.
Today I sat in the sun with McCarthy’s Bar, an outstanding gentle travel/comedy book by Pete McCarthy which I’ve had for years but which never gets old. It’s about his travels in Ireland, the country of his ancestry, and his attempt to see if he belonged there by virtue of his Irish roots, even though he grew up in England. I strongly recommend you get a copy.
I always enjoyed going to Ireland because of all the great people I met there (and not because of the weather, which was invariably shit). I can’t stand St.Patrick’s Day, and all that pseudo-Irish green shamrock bullshit, paraded by fat Americans who had a great, great grandfather who once drank a pint of Guinness, and who consequently believe they’re all refugees of the potato famine. Fortunately Ireland isn’t like that, apart from the touristy bits which cater to all the visiting fat Americans, of course.
I used to travel regularly to Mullingar, which I’ve never seen mentioned in any travel guide. It’s about two hours West of Dublin, assuming you know where you’re going and you avoid the highway. I always went on the back roads, using directions I’d copied on a cardboard rental car sign while being driven at night by the bloke whose job I was taking over, while suffering from the after-effects of food poisoning. (I’d spent the better part of the previous night riding the porcelain bus in a hotel in Manchester.) When we arrived in Mullingar we went to the Bloomfield House hotel, which had been a convent in the past (there was only one other place to stay at the time, the Greville Arms I think, and it was always risky because loud parties could be taking place right under your room.) As we left the check-in desk and walked upstairs all noises faded away and suddenly you felt a weird silence, kind of creepy and ominous. Every time I walked up there alone I half-expected to see a ghostly nun sweeping down the corridor.
On this occasion my colleague was walking with me and as he opened the door to his room he beckoned me in. “See? Can you smell that? It is the menstruation of the nuns!” Frankly I think that says more about him than the hotel, which was always excellent, and never smelled of nun menstruation as far as I could tell (although I’m hardly an expert).
Anyway, in spite of my careful directions I got lost the first time I tried to drive to Mullingar by myself, on account of following a sign to the town of Trim (which was on the way) that actually directed me off the road to Trim. I drove down the narrow lane and came to a junction where five lanes came together. There were no signs to give me a hint, but there was a man standing there with a herd of cows. I wound down my window and asked him where Trim was; he directed me back the way I’d come, but then he asked me if I wouldn’t mind putting my car across one lane and standing in front of another so he could drive the cows without them wandering off in the wrong direction. That’s when I realized that I was really in Ireland.
It’ll soon be St.Paddy’s Day, and wankers everywhere will be drinking pissy green beer, wearing ridiculous shamrock crap and pretending they’re “Oirish”. I won’t be among them – the whole thing is bollocks, and dangerous bollocks at that, used in the past by Irish Republican terrorists to cadge cash for weapons from fat gullible Americans so they could kill kids in the streets of England. But I always enjoyed the real Ireland, regardless of the personal hygiene habits of its nuns…
Copyright © 2009 Edward Bison