Summer 1995, Galway; I guess this could be the sequel to the “Fleá na bPratai” story. Having moved a couple of months before to the City of Tribes, I had tried to work in some of the multiple cafés and small “restaurants” the town had to offer, without too much luck. Lack of confidence and experience in the domain surely played a role in my misfortune, but believe it or not, the summer that year was so hot, that there was very little trade during day time. Our landlord Mícheál was a nice guy, he popped in sometimes for a cuppa – and to pick up the rent- , a former Irish Army Peace Keeper, a “Blue Helmet” with squinting blue eyes; he would suss you out, like a Blade Runner before you could even open your mouth.
– “I hear you are finding it hard to get a job in our fine City; how are you on a ladder?”
“That was it; “how are you on a ladder”! That was my interview; the following Monday I found myself on board a red 1990 Nissan van, heading for south Connemara, towards An Spidéal and An Cheathrú Rua ( Spiddal and Carraroe), the Irish-speaking region, the Gaeltacht; home of the beautiful Galway Hookers and their famous red sails. I couldn’t believe my luck. “I was going to be a chimney sweeper in Connemara!” said the “Voice Over” in my head, every time I got overwhelmed by a touch of Stendhal Syndrome, it read the script of my life. As we drove through Salthill and the glistening waters of the bay, Mícheál abruptly ended my private projection:
– “Do you wanna a fry? I am starving, we’ll go for a fry”
– “Sure, I am hungry too, but I have feck all money on me!”
– “So I have to feed you too? Hahaha… Don’t worry, it’s part of the package!”
And so, Mícheál burst into one of his long and greasy laughs, almost as greasy and rich as the plates that had just landed, a fare locals called so poetically “Irish Breakfast”; there was everything on that plate, sausages, black and white pudding, bacon, eggs, tomatoes, beans and mushrooms! The conversation was punctuated by grand stories, often starting by a “Did you know?”, when once he was a Chef in the Army, or how, single handed, got out of a tricky situation at a check point in Lebanon while being shot at… I must say, I liked the guy.
The days around Carraroe and South Connemara were always the same, yet heteroclite, so full of colours from the amazing scenery, right down to the natives’ way of life. We would walk in to a house or a cottage, cover the floor with newspapers and Mícheál would go on the roof with the brush (he had second thoughts about me climbing on a ladder); I would stay downstairs with the “Dalek” from Dr Who, aka “The Hoover”, by the fire place or by the Aga range, waiting for my instructions. Once the job done, £10 for the fire, £10 for the range, “go raibh maith agat” and thank you very much, we were invited to a cup of tea and a plate of salad sandwiches… I have never eaten so many of these or drunk as many mugs of tea as back then!
One day, we did a job further West, in “The Islands”, Lettermore and Lettermullan; this was deep inside native territory; English was a second language if not alien altogether. An old lady welcomed us and started asking a lot of questions about me. For the reason I now understand, Mícheál didn’t want to say that his “apprentice” was from the continent, main land Europe. She was quite insistent and finally asked bluntly: “Is the young lad from Athenry as well Mícheál?” “Oh yes he is, near enough, near enough anyway” he said vaguely. As he climbed up the ladder, I felt trapped, sick and angry… What did he just say? Why the hell did he say that! I’ll kill him, I’ll freakin’ kill him!!! As I kneeled in front of the open fire place, like a proverbial sinner praying, a condemned convict to the gallows, staying silent for some mercy… It didn’t work.
– “Cad is ainm duit?”
– “Franck is ainm dom”
– “Cé as thú?”
– “Sorry Lady, my Irish is a bit rusty, yes, like Mícheál said, just outside Athenry!”
– [Smiling reassured] …
After ingurgitating a couple of salad sandwiches, I finished my milky tea quickly and jumped in the van. I wouldn’t talk for miles.
– “What’s wrong with you anyway?”
– “Why did you tell the auld one I was from freakin’ Athenry?”
– “Have a cigarette…”
– “I am fine”
– “Have a cigarette! You’re gonna have to die of something anyway, you may as well have a cigarette!”
– “Fine… I looked like a fuckin’ idiot, you know that!”
– “Hahahaha… Yes, you did! Hahaha! You should have seen your face! Hahahaha!!!
– [chuckling finally] “Freaking eejit! Why did you say that?
– “Relax; some of them get pretty touchy if I don’t take an Irish lad with me, that’s all…”
– “… I guess…”
– “Plus your English is still better than theirs… Hahaha!!!
Keep Well, Eat Happy