“Boxin the fox”: Irish slang for “stealing from an orchard”.
It was the end of September 1991; I was saying my goodbyes to county Donegal where I had worked for two months on a Rhododendron removal project, on the hills… “Slán Tamall Mín an Lábáin agus An Earagail “. Goodbye until later! I stepped onto the bus bound for Dublin after hugging a couple of newly made friends. It felt like yesterday when I landed in Ringaskiddy in co. Cork; I had got a free ride on a school bus trip, back from Brittany, all the way to Sligo; I hitchhiked the rest to Donegal Town, and now I was heading back the long way around. I crossed “The North” for the first time, Enniskillen and the intimidating British Army checkpoint – now long gone – before Belturbet in County Cavan. What a ride!
My first time in Dublin, the Guinness factory overlooking the Liffey River, the smell of roasted malt, the darken buildings, I fell in love. The City reminded me of Rennes, the Breton Capital but on a bigger scale. Not too big though, just nice! I stayed a couple of nights, bus surfing at random, a few pints in the Bruxelles Pub where a barman gave me a free basket of cheese sandwiches… On a bright morning, I found myself on the side of the road, hoping to catch a lift for Cork or at least half way through. It came in the form of a friendly gentleman:
– “I am going as far as Carlow, is that any good to you?”
– “Sure, that’s great, thank you!” I said, I didn’t even have to wait too long.
As we were doing the usual hitchhiker-driver small talks, he explained to me that he was an entertainer. My English wasn’t great at the time and the word wasn’t really familiar to me:
He handed me a cassette, with his name on it and the cover was a car and a giant pothole if I can remember well.
– “Ahhh… it’s you yeah?” I asked candidly.
– “That’s me!”
He dropped me in the centre of Carlow, where I was looking for a field or a camp site to spend the night. I had saved most of my money to buy my Ferry ticket home, so I had to be careful. For the anecdote, I realised well over ten years later, that the driver of the car was the singer and comedian Richie Kavanagh, who became famous with his song Aon Focal Eile (not another word) in the late 90’s. Well at least I am pretty sure he was: how many entertainers from Carlow with a song about potholes must there be? I mean come on!
I spent the night by the River Barrow and resumed my hitchhiking adventure the following morning where I got a lift from a young German tourist who brought me all the way to the Ferry port outside Cork City; unfortunately, there was no Ferry for another few days. Damn it! I found out that another boat was leaving for France the next day, but only from Rosslare Harbour, 200kms east. We were well into the afternoon and the price of the ticket was £30 more expensive; money that I didn’t have. I rang a friend of mine who luckily worked in a bank in Donegal Town and he wired me the extra few bob almost instantly to the Cork branch, just after closing time. They were kind enough to let me in, and quite amused at the whole situation judging by the smiles they all shared in the empty bank. I said thank you and started walking towards the end of the city hoping to get to my destination that night. Dungarvan, Waterford, New Ross, almost there… Shy of 10 miles I gave up before midnight, on the Wexford/ Rosslare roundabout where I planted my tent. Well, in the nearest field to be safer. I was hungry but optimistic. Up at sunrise, I made it well in time to catch my boat, a long 18 hours crossing to Normandy. I had enough money for a bowl of baked beans at 50 pence; I slept a lot too. A French expression says: “Qui dort dine”, meaning “Who sleeps dine”.
Cherbourg at last; apart from a massive hunger cramping my stomach, I was doing great on the road; the 150 miles separating me from my Aunt’s house in Rennes were rolling nicely until I got to the town of Lessay… The famous Lessay Fair was on… The town was closed to traffic and I had to cross it by foot, with thousands of people clucking in a deafening cacophony, I was dizzy… Hell with you Normandy, I want to be home now! Gentle madness started to make me laugh… I thought: Fair of Lessay… Lessay Fair… Laissez-faire… Haha… Good one! It would be so easy to let it go. I sat on my rucksack; finally reaching the edge of town and about to start crying with emptiness and fatigue, waiting for a happy fair goer to bring me home a bit closer. I realised, that behind the old stone wall where I was waiting, was a beautiful and lush orchard. I couldn’t believe it! I looked left, I looked right… The locals were all at the fair. I climbed the wall with my heavy back pack and gorged myself with apples. It sure felt nice, the crunch, the crisp, the sweet flavours of my youth, I could see my grandparents, taste Pépé’s cider… It gave me a boost! I was thinking again, I was alert, I wanted this!
An old man – who had way too much to drink – brought me to Avranches; I could see the Mont St Michel in the distance and the “Breton Border” therefore. Saved by apples in a Normand orchard on a September afternoon, there are worse crimes to be guilty of! My Auntie Dan was waiting for me with open arms; all I could taste now, was a glass of Fouesnant cider! No hard feelings Normandy, you know… You’re alright!
P.S: No foxes were injured in the making of this story
Keep Well, Eat Happy