On Tuesday, I wandered down to the slipway in Coliemore Harbour for a swim. There lay the sea, as it always is, my greatest comfort. It looked like mirrored glass and Dalkey Island loomed up before me in all its ancient earthiness, the smell of seaweed everywhere. It was what the locals would call a pet day.
Who did I bump into? Ken the Ferryman. My comrades in the Dalkey Rowing Club recently hosted a charity race in memory of Ken’s lovely brother Ger Cunningham, who died suddenly in Spain.
“I’m delighted so many people came out to support us,” said Ken. “We raised a good bit of money for the Kevin Ball Repatriation Trust. They brought his body home for us, did everything, got through all the red tape. We’d have been lost without them.”
He’s right. It was an amazing day, despite the sadness and grief, and it was absolutely breath-taking to see the lines of rowing boats dotting the Dalkey Sound. There was great excitement as the rowers, from all over the east Dublin coast, left from Coliemore and back. Bless you, Ger.
“We would love if you could come to Rathfarnham and talk to our ICA members about your life,” says Breda Ahern, vice-president of the Marlay ICA. “My husband John can pick you up.”
“I’d be delighted,” says I.
Some people hate public speaking – but I have to say I love it. I don’t get nervous at all. It’s almost cathartic.
And do you know something? ’Twas a great night altogether. The Irish Countrywomen’s Association is an incredible organisation, 15,000 members in all, these amazing ladies promote the Irish language, revive traditional crafts and improve the standard of living in rural and urban Ireland. Love what they do.
I was just leaving for the airport for my little trip to Milan when there was an almighty knock on the door. It was the Broken-Hearted Russian.
Oh no, I thought. This is going to delay me, big time.
“Can I come in for minute?” says he, bubbling with his usual vitality. “I want to show you something.”
“Jesus, you really pick your moments,” says I. “I’ll be getting a taxi to the airport in an hour, so you better be quick.”
I put the kettle on.
“Well, what’s new? That’s a mighty big haversack you have on your back.”
“I have new plan for my life,” says he.
“I left my apartment. I refuse to pay €1,200 a month for a tiny room in Glenageary,” says he, staring up at my cosy loft.
“Where are you going to stay?” says I, eyeing the aul’ lock on my half door.
“In a tent in the forest,” says he.
“You’ll freeze your arse off,” says I, handing him a coffee and one of my homemade oatcakes.
“Nyet, nyet, I am survivor,” says he, munching away. While I nipped into the bedroom to get my passport, I heard an almighty thud in the front room, the Russian was unloading a mountain of
stuff from his haversack.
I couldn’t believe the array he had laid out on the floor.
“Look at what I have to survive,” says he, carefully, meticulously separating his belongings. “First, a cone of organic honey, good for energy, nut tools for climbing, a pair of waterproof Patagonia trousers, a reverse compass, and Indian toothpaste.”
He won’t let fluoride pass his lips and only drinks raw milk.
“’Twill be hard to find raw milk in a forest,” says I. “And what are those little tins?”
“Burt’s Bees cream for my chaffed knees, Badger Balm for my lips,” says he, as the stuff kept coming.
I watched, intrigued, as he unloaded a blue plastic shoehorn, a pink file for his feet, a tiny thermostat, a micro-pump for his inflatable bed, a wooden comb, a radiator key, a large Moleskine notebook, spare batteries in case he runs out, the side of a broken pair of Tom Ford glasses so he knows the exact model to reorder, one fishing knife, a black belt with silver studs by Sendra, a lethal-looking American-made Estwing hatchet, and polishing brushes for his boots.
“Last but not least,” says he, “two external hard drives. These hold 500 black and white films for me to watch on iPad.”
How’s the new girlfriend with the move?
“She not happy that I live in forest. She has a room in her house for me. It very cosy, but as you know I like solitude and nature,” says he. “I will save €7,200 by early March and I will add that to my savings to buy site and build me a wooden hut. Rent is killing me and everyone else in Ireland.”
He’s right about that. Then he put all his belongings tenderly away, one on top of the other. You would know he had been in the military. But what he really wanted soon became clear.
“Biddy, did you ever think of putting an outside shower at the side of the cottage?” says he. “Every time you come from Coliemore after swim, you could have a quick shower outside? I could install one for you when you are away in Milan.”
Jesus, he’s deadly. The Russian always knows what he wants, what will benefit him even if it’s not plainly asserted. Sure I’m way ahead of him. And he knows it.
“No thanks,” says I, knowing damn well that himself would be outside, soaping himself like the lad in the ad for Levi’s.
After clearing out my fridge and armed with four bags of my oatcakes, he then slung his bulging haversack across his shoulder and sauntered down Coliemore, whistling. God bless him.
When I told the taxi man I was heading off to Italy on a blind date, he started quizzing me.
“What kind of bloke are you looking for?”
“Well, he’s got to have a sense of humour,” says I, “and a robust appetite, the kind of lad that loves his grub so much he’d almost lift the pattern off the plate. Oh, and he’d have to like wine and hugs.”
“What about looks?”
“That doesn’t bother me at all,” says I. “Sure an ugly Italian might try harder. I could just close my eyes and listen to that lovely accent.”
“Would he have to be wealthy?” asked the driver.
“Oh God yes,” says I, “preferably wealthy with a bad aul’ cough.”
While we sped off to the airport I cudgelled my brain trying to remember what my Italian looked like. I’ve only ever seen him once, the night he FaceTimed me after the wine tasting in Barnhill Stores. He wasn’t bad at all.
“What happens if you don’t like him?” says the taxi man. “Would you not be very disappointed?”
“Oh begod no,” says I. Back to the rear view mirror…