Lace in the launderette, languor by laburnums


I SAW TWO OLD men in Bray last week sitting outside a coffee shop, their walking sticks on the ground, as they chatted like jolly pirates.

I had just bought a CD of Verdi’s Nabucco in a charity shop, for €1, so I wasn’t too depressed either. And then a dark-haired American woman waved at me from the grocery shop next to the coffee shop, where she was buying an apple.

She waved because we had met earlier in the launderette where she had been stuffing clothes into a machine. She was about to put a €1 coin in the slot when I stopped her and explained that she needed to buy tokens at the counter.

I averted my eyes from the delicate lace items she was stuffing into the mouth of the machine, but the intimacy of the moment made us friends, and she said she was travelling with her family and that they were all up in the Royal Hotel. She agreed to join me for coffee later while she waited for her wash to finish. I showed her my CD and she said “Ahhh,” and smiled. So I had a lot to be jolly about.

At the next table the conversation rattled on.

“You’re looking good,” one old man said.

“Yes,” replied his friend, “but you should see the insides.” And they both laughed. In fact, the pair of them looked as jaundiced as dandelions.

I finished my coffee with the American lady who was waiting for her clothes to be washed and then I headed off. I wanted to get beyond the M50 before rush hour.

I had been invited to a swanky barbecue in Westmeath, to celebrate an 18th birthday. The teenage queen in question was standing under a laburnum tree in her summer dress gazing into the eyes of a lanky English boy who plays bongo drums for a living, and was in turn gawking at the world like a nervous meerkat. Elegant Bosch speakers were pumping out the jagged rhythms of some dysfunctional rapper. As I approached the laburnum tree the lanky boy vanished into a white marquee and the young queen seemed unbearably melancholic, so I sidled up to her and said in a jolly fashion: “Methinks he has bewitched your bosom!” To which she gave no reply. I think she thought bosom was a dirty word that old people use.

I handed over the CD but she looked at it in some bewilderment. “It’s probably not your kind of music,” I said, “but I recommend it.” “Thanks,” she said, reading Verdi’s name with her lips. “I’ve heard of them.”

I tried a final time at communication.

“No fire tonight,” I observed.

This she may have construed as a reference to her emotional lethargy, for she replied in what I thought an aggressive tone that there was plenty of fire in her, and then she headed off towards the tent of sausages where the bongo boy had gone, and I hadn’t time to explain that in the old days midsummer parties were often accompanied by bonfires.

But there were certainly no fires on her daddy’s property, where despite the recession the lawns were cut and the gardens resplendent with roses, as girls danced in the white marquee and boys hung around a dainty clay chiminea on the patio, smoking and gawking at the marquee like an entire battalion of stunned meerkats.

I didn’t stay long because I find it hard to sustain a mask of jollity among young people.

And as the General often tells me there are those that are jolly and those that are sad, and nothing can be done about it.

It’s a long time ago since a midsummer fling filled me with fire, one evening in Donegal just outside a youth hostel on Aranmore Island. A college girl from Galway with sandy hair parted in the middle and large ice-blue eyes was singing Anachie Gordon.

“For Anachie Gordon, he’s bonnie and he’s rough, he’d entice any woman that ever he saw. He’d entice any woman, and so he has done me.” And with that she glanced at me, and my world was changed forever.

Because I was passing through Mullingar, I dropped into the nursing home where my mother sleeps and dreams all day in her cot bed, and I confessed once again that I loved her, but she didn’t seem to recognise me. Maybe she too was dreaming of the songs that shaped her, in summers long ago.

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