In 1965 I ordered a copy of Tom Paxton’s first LP from America. I was impressed by this initiative. I have no idea what it cost, other than that if I had waited a couple of months I could have bought it in Paterson’s music shop in Buchanan Street for a lot less. The American sleeve, I told myself, was superior to the one here. (It was identical.) Anyhow one recent rambling reverie had me muttering ‘Rambling Boy’ and other TP songs (as if I was Lee Marvin) as I ambled up Darleith Road and rambled down the Red Road. At St. Mahew’s chapel I lingered amongst the ancient headstones, so ancient they are horizontal and covered with moss and lichen. I mixed some McDiarmid in with the Paxton. “The warl’ like an eemis stane / wags I’ the lift / an’ ma eerie memories fa’ / like a yowdendrift.”
By the time I reached the shore at Ardmore and trauchled along the stony beach, wondering where I was bound was the last thing on my mind. Especially when I stood on a rock that wasn’t there and found myself falling. Nothing I do these days is quick – so I went down in instalments and had a soft landing, with only my dignity (that poor old thing) bruised.
Later, over the daily coffee next door we struggled to finish the crossword. ‘Remove a length from the waste, nearly half an inch’. Blank t blank a blank.
I had a colleague whose remit was (1) the timetable and (2) the cryptic crossword in the Herald. He had several ‘Wee Stinker’ tee-shirts (equivalent to CBEs). He made The Longest Retirement Speech in the history of education. By the time he sat down the bar was shut. I believe in forgiveness, but there are limits.
Reverie of Inis Mor, Aran Islands
I first visited Inishmore in the summer of 2004. I had a vague but mistaken notion that this was the setting for Synge’s ‘The Playboy of the Western World’. There was a riot in the Abbey Theatre when it was performed in 1907, objection being taken to the suggestion that Irishmen were given to patricide and that Irishwomen were ‘a drift of females standing in their shifts’. (I learned soon enough that the trials of Christy and Pegeen were set in Mayo.) Anyhow the Aran Islands seemed as grand a remote place as one could wish. I went on a daytrip.
The bus was on the dilapidated side. It took a dozen of us along the northern edge of Galway Bay into west Connemara. Bleak and beautiful, half-built bungalows next to ruined cottages. At Rossaveal we boarded a launch that was a class above the bus. Classy enough for you not to notice the swell, waves rolling in from Massachusetts, until you stood up and found yourself several feet away from where you expected to be. At Kilronan the local entrepreneurs were awaiting the Arrival of Tourists. Taxis in a row. The shop selling Aran sweaters with certificates of authenticity.
I strode beyond the kerfuffle on the shore and by one of these dry-stone dyke enclosed lanes onto the higher ground which was home to great limestone slabs like the Burren in Co. Clare. Here at last was the sense of wilderness, wild with a salty tang. I had a venison burger in a bar.
Two years later, Charlie, Al and I returned. (A cricket trip, on which hurling was a ferocious substitute for cricket. Made rugby look tame.) This time we took a taxi and visited Dun Aengus, an iron age fort, three semi circles built on the top of hundred-foot cliffs, a breath-taking place. Later we sat outside a bar and sipped glasses of Guinness or maybe wine.
There was a sense that Tourism had turned the Remote into a Theme Park. Inishmore was by then home to the annual ‘Father Ted’ convention, at which the island stood in for Craggy Island. (Is there a father worth his salt who has not been called ‘Father Jack’ by impertinent offspring? On the other hand, no one has ever called me ‘Playboy of the Western World’).
Reluctantly reclusive? I am not so sure. Lockdown is not awfully awful. I feel twinges of guilt. I quite enjoy easing myself through the days. I have a licence to be lazy. Let the attic remain un-decluttered. These are Days of Desiderata. Reveries take me from the Armchair of Dreams hither and thither.
The Daily Walks demonstrate that there are beautiful, remote places close to home. The Granddaughters educate and entertain (and exhaust). Anti-social by nature, the absence of large gatherings is no hardship. I was a shy shilpit wee boy. (I recall being taken aback when a friend said that shyness was a form of selfishness. What? Me, selfish? Hmm.) Re-joining society may not be as straightforward as all that, like a bird that refuses to leave its cage when the door is left ajar. A refresher course in conversation?
But there are also days that belong to Hallux Valgus. I am bullied by the burgeoning bunion.