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'This hardware store will probably do you a lightly boiled egg and a few slices of toast if you are stuck'

SO there I was, cycling in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, during a visit to Mount Juliet (which must be one of the most beautiful and enchanting places in this entire island, and which would develop an irresistible allure for me if I let it) and I got a puncture.

Did I have the required spanners and a replacement tube? I most certainly did -- back home in Dublin, where they were safe and warm and damn all use to me in Thomastown.

A trip to a bicycle shop in Kilkenny seemed indicated, an appalling vista, because I know the parking in Kilkenny is diabolically awful, until I thought of asking the first fellow I met on the road if there was anywhere closer where I might get help?

And the first fellow I met told me to try Tracey's Hardware in the town. Now, "hardware" and "bicycles" don't fit well together, in my experience, but I rambled in, anyway.

It is a truly old-style grandad's hardware shop, a positive cornucopia of hidden treasures, with things in boxes and shelves and hanging from the ceiling and stacked high on the floor and hidden away in corners and which haven't been disturbed in 40 years. With one promising note: a superb state-of-the-art, brand-new racing bike for sale in the window. Why would it be there, I pondered, if they didn't sell the things?

One man behind the counter, three customers having a chat, and a chap sitting aimlessly on a stool. I told him my problem and asked if help might be at hand?

He asked where the bike was, and I said it was on the back of the car up the street. He said he'd come and collect it with me, which he did.

He wheeled the bike back to the shop for me and I started to tell him what was required. At which stage he told me that he didn't work in the shop -- he'd just come in to buy a three-amp fuse. And when I asked him why he'd taken the trouble to help me with the bike, he replied: "Sure, why wouldn't I?"

He took his three-amp fuse and left.

I still don't know who he was, apart from being a decent man.

Mr Tracey had the rear wheel off the bike, the new tube in, tyre back on and the wheel replaced in roughly 10 minutes -- and that included the chat. The cost was €5, and that included the new tube.

Anywhere in Dublin, as no doubt you'll know if you're a member of the biking fraternity, that would have cost me at least €25.

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Next day, cycling out of Bennettsbridge, my pedal clip broke (yeah, I guess it was one of those weeks). I don't want to suggest that I was doing a Sean Kelly or Stephen Roche, but the bike is 20 years old, and so is the pedal clip. Metal fatigue eventually gets us all. There was no way Tracey's Hardware, Thomastown, would have a replacement pedal clip, 20 years' vintage. But I asked, anyway. It took a little search, but so help me God he had a pair of the damn things -- so long in stock that they were priced in punts!

We had to do a long computation to convert to euro. That was on a calculator, they don't have a computer. Everything else goes in the ledger, by hand, and I'll take bets not a penny -- oops, a cent -- goes astray.

Tracey's Hardware, Thomastown, for all your needs. And I do mean all. Call in anytime. They'd probably do you a lightly boiled egg and a few slices of buttered toast if you were stuck. Use my name, freely.

*******

SO there was Dr Maurice Gueret, in the magazine of this very newspaper, having a right old go at poor unfortunate Gay Byrne and the Road Safety Authority, for the many sins of omission of which he reckons we stand guilty.

Such as the looney speed limits imposed on roads all over the country, the lack of service and rest areas on our motorways, the appalling state of our roads generally (subsidence, manhole covers, potholes and general lack of maintenance), warning signs so often obscured by overhanging trees and foliage and the general neglect of the whole damn system.

And the esteemed doctor hoped that in the next five-year term of the authority, we might do a bit better under these headings. Or, more specifically, Gay Byrne might do a little better.

And I totally agree with every single word the good doctor uttered and assure him that he is completely justified in every complaint he makes.

Most of the complaints we get, and certainly most of the complaints that I -- personally -- get are about the speed limits in this country. And their daftness. Unfortunately, the doctor and all those people who write angry letters to me, are targeting the wrong guy. So, once more with feeling, and for the 9,000th weary time, all together now: part of the basket-case which we inherited in the RSA from set-up was that the speed limits for all motorways and major roads in this country are set by the National Roads Authority -- a completely different outfit from us.

For all the other roads -- secondary, tertiary, and all those roads that you and I would describe as little country roads, the limits are set by the county council in each case (a function, may I say, which they jealously guard, for some reason best known to themselves). And in many cases, the limits are set, not by the engineering division of the county council, but by the individual councillors themselves, which has always seemed odd to me.

We, the RSA, have no input to this process, apart from regularly passing on complaints to them. The NRA are also the boys who built the motorways without the rest and service areas and who are now busily trying to catch up -- which is just as well, because they won't be building anything else for the next 20 years because there ain't no money. As reported this week.

The same situation applies to all the other remarks made by Dr Gueret, and I assure him that we in the RSA are just as frustrated by all this as he (and countless others) are. But we've spent five years catching up on 30 years of neglect in this whole area and we've attended to matters on a priority basis so far. The next five years will see us progressing on those building blocks which we've put in place.

It seems sensible to me that there should be one organisation setting speed limits countrywide, in order to get some uniformity and consistency into the thing. But when did "sensible" ever win an argument in this country?

So all hail to Dr Gueret, right every time. Pity about the wrong address.

He did finish his piece by advising his readers to write to Gay Byrne to say that his Lyric FM programme on Sunday afternoons, 2pm to 4pm, was the best thing on the air. With which, needless to say, I also totally agree. With just the slightest suggestion of a blush, you understand. Modesty and all that.

*******

Returning from London, and the security check. I had my toiletries dutifully out of my toilet bag and into the see-through plastic thing.

The rather angry lady on the desk said that my aerosol of shaving foam was over the limit, and she took it out. I apologised and said, reasonably charmingly: "Alright then -- you want to keep it, yes?"

She said: "No sir, we do not want to keep it. We shall dispose of it -- on your behalf!"

I thought my nose was gone. She'd clearly said this to a million people before and it angered her every time she had to say it.

I smiled sweetly and walked on. You don't argue with anyone at airports any more, not if you want to get on your plane.

*******

To Studio Six, Montrose, to do a special Christmas For One Night Only (known in the jargon of television as FONO). Some 25 years ago, we did a special birthday Late Late Show to celebrate 25 years of The Dubliners, which turned out to be one of the most spectacularly popular shows of all time. And now, here we were taking the leap again, to celebrate their 50th year in business. We did not forget absent friends -- Ciaran Bourke, Ronnie Drew and Luke Kelly.

It is nothing less than a small miracle that such an outfit, negotiating many changes of personnel through the years, should still be entertaining the masses, both here and abroad, all those years later, and that John Sheehan (looking as fresh and lively and easy as ever) and Barney McKenna (a bit shook because of his diabetes) should be as keen to get out there and do it, as ever they were.

Eamonn Campbell, Sean Cannon and Patsy Watchorn all agreed on the show that they still love doing it, and look forward to every live show with expectation.

The band changes, the songs are mostly the old reliables, which have stood the test of time. An adoring studio audience were doing the sing-along bit, sprinkled with a young crowd who didn't even know that they know all the words!

Joined by members of the Kelly and Drew families, and a bunch of musical colleagues and admirers, I'll say no more: the show is on a screen near you just after Christmas, and it's a must for all Dubliners fans and especially for those who were with us on that memorable night 25 years ago.

Have a small wan on me, to celebrate.

Tune into Gay Byrne every Sunday on Lyric FM from 2pm to 4pm


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