Tralee Life Life In An Irish Town


The Laughing Undertaker


This morning is beautiful and if I lean back in my chair I can just see the tips of the town park’s trees catching the early morning sun. I’m reminded of such a morning, a few weeks back, the last time the weather was as good.

Daisy and I were walking in the park. I had her off the lead, and she was darting in and out of the trees, chasing shadows and yapping at other small dogs. As we were coming up to the Rose Garden, a most beautiful, carefully maintained spot which at the moment is full of colour, I spotted a man, sitting on a bench, drinking a can. It was only 11 am, the bells of the nearby St John’s were ringing and the sight made me smile. Dressed in shorts and a polo shirt, can of beer on the go and his bike leaning gently against the back of the bench and now soaking up the sun, the man just looked so happy. And why wouldn’t he be? He obviously felt he deserved the beer, he’d done his exercise and now he was being rewarded. As it was a bit early to have bought the can, he must have brought it with him; he was planning this treat, possibly well in advance.

Daisy ran up to him and around his legs. I called her back and the man turned to see who was behind the voice. As he saw me he got up.

“Terrible day for a hangover,” he said.

“It’s never a great day for a hangover,” I answered.

“True,” he said laughing.

We were by now side by side and I stopped walking.

“I’m wrecked,” he said, “I’ve been in England for the last four days and I’m still all over the place.”

He didn’t look too bad, considering he was necking a can at 11 on a Sunday morning and had been on the beer for the last four days.

“Good time?” I asked.

“Great. Over visiting the brother, the cousin came with me.  We got the bus and the boat, non-stop drinking.”

Getting the bus and boat used to be the standard way of getting to England but to do it for a four-day trip seemed very time consuming but I think the travel was half of their fun.

“You know how much they charged for two whiskies on the boat coming back?” he asked.

I shook my head but I remember in my day drinking on the boat was very cheap.

“Thirty euros,” was his answer.

“Thirty euros?”

I was genuinely shocked.

“As true as I’m standing here.”

“Wow,” I said, not doubting him but at the same time not believing that two whiskies could cost so much.

“Look,” he said, rummaging in the back pocket of his shorts, pulling out a piece of paper and giving it to me.

I opened the scrunched up receipt and there it read €30.00 for his two whiskies, with the time and date of 4.11 AM the previous morning.

“I hope they were worth it,” I said.

He looked at me.

“I wasn’t paying that, I told him to feck off and left them on the counter. We went off down the duty-free. A slab of Tennant's for €9.99. Perfect I said.”

“Better value there,” I laughed.

“But you know what? I paid the money and then the girl said you can’t take them out of the shop till we get to port. We were caught.”

“What did ye do then?”

“Went to the other bar and had a pint.”

We both laughed.

“I’ve been drinking those cans since I came home,” he nodded towards the one on the bench.

Two men then passed by, one was the local undertaker.

“Hey,” my man said, “I don’t want to be seeing you for a while yet.”

“If you can see me you’re doing fine,” laughed the undertaker, “it’s when you can’t see me is when you’re having the trouble.”

'Perfect', I thought, 'just perfect.'

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Back in Bed

Imagen 5

Being self-employed and working from home makes it difficult to enjoy a bank holiday. After all how can you have a day off from yourself? This morning over breakfast Lisa was looking at me as if waiting for something. I was consciously not looking at her, as all I wanted to do was go back to bed, drink my coffee, enjoy the silence and read my unfinished magazine.

“Are you finished? Lisa asks.

“Ah no, not yet, why?” I answer hesitantly, not wanting it to slip what I wanted to do.

“Cos I want to finish my coffee and have a read in bed,” comes the answer.

Thank all that is good in our world that I have married such a practical person, one who knows how much a small indulgence can mean and how to take one when it comes along.

On finishing my coffee and magazine it's nearly nine o’clock. Back downstairs I rinse my cup and look out the window. The drizzle hasn’t lifted, the cars of fellow residents are still outside their doors and the dog is looking at me is if she’d rather be in bed than go for a walk. So do I.

It’s then that I remember the book beside my bed and how I got it.

Ten days ago I was in the library with Freddie. He was looking for a book and I was strolling between the aisles looking at titles. Going down the B’s I met one of the librarians. A friendly woman, with straight, bobbed hair who always has a smile. We often pass each other with a familiar nod of recognition from another place when walking the canal or around town. As we are in the B’s I asked her about a writer I like but whose books weren’t to be seen.

“Have all the Maeve Brennan books gone back?” I ask, referring to the collection of her writings they had on loan from different libraries a couple of months ago.

“Yes they all had to go back” she answered, “we do have one or two of our own but they must be out. But you know you can order one?”

“Grand, will do,” I say, “I only discovered her in the last year and she’s such a great writer it’s amazing how little she is known.”

“It is,” my librarian friend says.

Maeve Brennan was an amazing woman. If she were a man we’d all know her name and be praising her as one of the great Irish writers. From Dublin, she made her way, on her own, in the New York of the late 1940’s. Living in hotels around the city she soon had stories published in The New Yorker magazine, the home of great writing and still today almost impossible to get into. Not only that but she had a regular column by the early 50’s, becoming part of Manhattan life and is thought to be the inspiration for Holly Golightly in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. Her beautiful observational pieces get as much into one page as I would into twenty. Her constantly changing city is seen usually over a martini but sometimes from just a glimpse out of a twelveth-storey window. That this beautiful, intelligent woman ended up living on the streets and suffering all the indignities of alcoholism and mental illness adds the tragic ending that shouldn’t happen, but does, to so many creative Irish people.

Two days later I get an email from Tralee Library. A standard one saying that the book I ordered was in stock, waiting to be collected. This surprises me as I have two books on the go and hadn’t any on order. Reading down the email I see that my book is one by Maeve Brennan, a collection of her New Yorker columns. Last Monday I took my book from the shelf of orders. They wrap them in white paper with the title and your name. I often look this over to see what others are reading. My friend was at the checking desk and I waited for her to be free.

“Did you order this for me?” I asked, “cos I don’t remember doing it?”

She started laughing.

“About an hour after you were in the other day a woman brought this one back. I immediately thought of you and put it aside,” she smiled up at me.

I was genuinely touched. Who wouldn’t be?

“Thank you very much,” was all I could say “you know this is the one I really wanted too.”

Back in bed again I read some wonderful, beautiful writing by a woman who deserves so much more recognition and all because of the thoughtfulness from an employee of a great public service.

Not so bad a bank holiday after all.

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