A woman on a bike stopped at traffic lights. Our eyes met


I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of a woman orgasming in the next room. I was in a hotel in Dublin. She was enjoying herself so much that I presumed she was sleeping with James Bond, or the General. But her partner was so silent that eventually I began to suspect Mr Bond might be merely making an appearance in her dreams.

The General prefers silence in bed. Or at least I presume he does because he’s always complaining about how visible and vocal the orgasm has become nowadays in television drama. “In the old days,” he says, “hotel bedrooms were silent during the night apart from the occasional creaking of springs, followed swiftly by a tiny masculine grunt. Nowadays it’s all noise. Even BBC Four is unwatchable.”

I told him he should go out more often.

“Where can I go in Leitrim ?” he asked.

“Try the Glens Centre,” I said, “in Manorhamilton.”

In fact, I had been there the previous night to watch Little John Nee performing a play about a woman living in a boat in the middle of a field in Donegal; a love story without any orgasms. Nee accompanied himself on various string and percussion instruments and created a mesmerising piece of theatre balanced somewhere between the stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and a Zen meditation session. The evening made me feel as if I was a child again, enthralled by a magical story, or as if I was again in my mother’s pram with its button-down plastic lid and chrome-encased hood on which was pinned a blue scapular of the Virgin Mary.

Long ago I would stretch myself in that pram and watch the world parade before me as mother wheeled me like a trophy through the streets of Cavan.

Maybe that’s where I first developed a relish for urban life, though it’s sad to admit that I still long for city streets as I sit in the hills above Lough Allen, without any oil to heat the radiators because some rogue siphoned off the €500 worth I bought in January.

Last week I endured the easterly wind at my little stove with a few briquettes, eating tubs of defrosted stew which the beloved left in the freezer before she headed for Warsaw, and I balanced a flagstone on top of the chimney to block the draught that sweeps across the lake.

But after two lonely days I fled to Dublin for a midweek break in a cheap hotel, where I heard the woman canoodling with James Bond. Early the following morning I had an interview with a journalist about my memoir.

I remember a crowded bus in Paris recently where everyone was holding the straps that dangle from the ceiling, and I was dangerously close to a young woman whose underarm was clearly shaved and perfumed, and I thought she must surely be offended by my unwashed old carcass. And she looked through me with cold indifference, like someone in the zoo who gets too close to a monkey. I think that’s the essence of urban sophistication; to be so close without feeling anything.

Dublin is different. Everyone pedals as if it were Shanghai except that occasionally the mask drops and you see the human being inside.

Young girls in yellow anoraks gave out free copies of Metro as I rambled up Grafton Street; men in suits and drenched in aftershave queued for sandwiches in a newsagents; a bag lady wearing golden slippers and swollen feet waddled past the Gaiety talking to herself – all in their own little worlds.

But then a woman on a bike stopped at the traffic lights on the Green and yawned as if she was still in bed. Our eyes met, and for a second there was a fierce intimacy between us, until the light went green and she vanished into the rush hour traffic.

The journalist texted to say she was running late so I rambled into Dunnes Stores. It was quiet and warm. And there was a delicious smell of cotton from racks of untouched frocks and blouses. Paul Costelloe’s communion dresses stood waiting to be filled by princesses. I was breathing it all in, like I do sometimes in quiet churches, when I want to assure the mother of God that I haven’t completely abandoned her.

I did the interview in a cafe. The young journalist began with a question.

“So what’s it like living in Leitrim?” she asked.

I said, “That’s hard to explain.”