I had two choices: book a romantic hotel or dig the potatoes
I could choose between a desperate act of escape from real life and a ritual that would allow me to enter deeper into real life. I went for the escape
I GOT OVEREXCITED by the thought of a ballerina in Mayo, a woman who dances more beautifully than the moon’s reflection shimmering on water, a soul alive in human form. She rang me after such a long time, and suggested coffee later that evening, and I said, “Where are you now?” “Ballina,” she said. “Where are you?” “Not far away,” I lied.
Then I lay on the couch to calm down. I wanted a doze. But dozes never come when you want them. A doze only comes unexpectedly and sideways. When you’re thinking of something else the doze slithers up the spinal cord and drags the mind down into the unconscious twilight where all our dreams are stored like a pile of old moons lying behind the blue curtain at the end of the world.
I was too excited to doze. I just lay there thinking about bills I need to pay, and direct debits that are out of control, and the price of hotels in Ballina, until eventually I realised I was wasting the day.
I had two choices. Book a hotel or dig the potatoes. Booking a hotel might be just a desperate act of escape from real life, whereas digging potatoes might be a ritual allowing me to enter deeper into real life. So I decided for the hotel.
And as I got up from the couch I noticed my toenails required attention, especially if intimacy with a ballerina was on the cards. Cutting toenails is not something people talk about, but we all do it. I imagine Martin McGuinness and Bono and Kate Middleton must cut their toenails, unless they get someone else to do it for them. And by the time I was finished scooping the dead nails into an old newspaper it was 2pm.
I Googled Ballina hotels and up came a new Ramada, with balconies and views of the river, and spa baths in every room. I didn’t know there was a new Ramada in Ballina, but it seemed so perfect that I booked it immediately, and when the ballerina phoned and said she had finished work I said I’d be in Mayo in two hours.
“Where will we meet?” she asked. “The Ramada,” I suggested. “They have three restaurants.” Of course I didn’t mention the room. I said, “I’ll text you the location.” I did. I texted the hotel link, and she phoned back and said, “I don’t think this is such a good idea.” “Why not?” I asked. She said, “That hotel is in Australia.”
I was dumbstruck. After a confused silence she said, “Actually I was only thinking of a quick coffee, before I get the bus to Dublin.” Her tone of voice was flat and lifeless, and I could sense all hope of a romantic evening withering.
My overenthusiasm had cost me €130, but there’s nothing like shame for bringing on a doze. I lay on the couch and dreamed of Mongolia.
I went there years ago, with a Tibetan lama to look for monasteries. He was a wise man and didn’t talk much to me on the long trek through the wilderness where old monastic ruins were once used by Soviet tanks for target practice during the Afghan war.
One day I was admiring a nun. I was transfixed. She was only 21, a slight creature with a shaved head and soft maroon robes, but that didn’t deter me from admiring the back of her neck all day as I sat in the back of the jeep.
In the evening the lama asked me to cut his fingernails. I got a scissors and held his hand, which was fragile and warm like a bird, and it reminded me of my father’s hand resting on the starched linen of his hospital bed many years earlier. The Lama said he once knew a monk in India who thought a shampoo bottle was a bottle of sauce, so he poured it into his soup.
“But,” said the lama, “it didn’t improve the soup,” and he looked through me and smiled.
The rest of the evening didn’t turn out so bad. The Ramada in Ballina, Australia, returned my money because they realised it was a mistake, and outside my window the wind was battering the trees. The ballerina was probably on the Dublin bus, and once again life had passed me by. But dozing is like a small eternity wherein the time lines of real life don’t matter all that much.