Wearing Kate Middleton’s tights cheered me right up

The friendliness of Westport helped rescue me from that November feeling


We should all be hibernating, a friend told me recently. Outside, the sky was a scowling mass of grey on grey; I was sitting at the table moaning at her. I’ve been waking up tired, I told her, and going to bed tired, and being tired for all the bits in between, and recently, I confessed, I’ve been feeding my writing habit chocolate biscuits. And toast. And chocolate spread on toast. And sometimes not even bothering with the toast.

I’m eating chocolate to wake myself up, inject a bit of zip, and I don’t even really like chocolate. I’m going to be 30 stone by Christmas, I went on, I’ll need a hoist to get myself off the floor, a wardrobe full of tent dresses, and a very large Santa hat to disguise my matted locks. And I still won’t have met my deadline.

The truth? In the last week or two I get halfway through a sentence and develop sudden-onset narcolepsy. I’ve spent more time lying on the floor with my legs under the desk (it’s a very small room) than I do sitting at it. I can spend 20 minutes trying to locate my own pulse; I’m so cold I’ve started to look for second-hand extremities in preparation for losing my own.

“We should all go to bed for November,” my friend said, in that rather authoritative tone that people with large dogs and small children use.

“We can’t,” I replied. “Unless we swaddle our elected representatives in Bri-nylon pyjamas and tuck a duvet over our State institutions, our schools, our hospitals and our workplaces, the world is going to keep turning and demand some level of participation.”

“In that case,” she replied, “you’d better eat up your Bonio and get back to work.”

Energised in Westport
Instead I got into the car and drove across the puddled country, traversing a landscape of wet sheep and sodden gables all the way to Westport in Co Mayo, the town that, last summer, was named the best place to live in Ireland by The Irish Times.

“The Venice of the west” was as mist-heavy and saturated as the rest of the country, but it lit a fire under me. It is an energising town: pastel-coloured
store fronts tumble down Shop Street, the choppy river flows under stone bridges, the bars are falling over themselves with talkers and revellers, the streets are solidly purposeful and pleasingly lovely.

At the top of the town the Octagon houses a conscientious clocktower that watches, sentinel-like, over the whole endeavour. There is a warmth about the place, a friendliness that can be hard to find on city streets that have been whipped by recession and darkened by closures and bankruptcies.

Scenes from the hunt
I stood outside a charity shop in the rain, peering at the demanding window display. Among the plastic toys and paperbacks and hardly-worn-at-all-at-all shoes were three antique dinner plates, depicting scenes from the hunt. A woman appeared by my side in a trifle-coloured hat.

“Fifteen euro apiece,” she informed me. “Magnificent. Mind you, you’d need a man to hang them, and they’re scarce enough on the ground.” And off she bustled underneath her confection.

I was to read at a weekend event in the town called the Rolling Sun Festival, named for the way the sun appears to roll down the shoulder of Croagh Patrick, which is as good a reason to have a party as any.

I have a navy-blue dress that has become a multifunctional friend to shrug into for any occasion. Giddy with my freedom from fatigue and the sheer burst of energy you can get from a change of scenery, I bought brand new navy-blue tights to match, in a demurely respectable shop in the middle of town.

“They’re the ones Kate Middleton wears,” the assistant informed me, with a degree of confidentiality usually reserved for test results.

“These exact ones?” I asked.

Later, locals and festival folk gathered in the lovely hotel’s function room to drink tea and eat cake, to listen to the readings and talk about life and ageing and religion and rain and sex.

The conviviality of the afternoon, combined with the future queen of England’s hosiery, the stirring song of the high river rushing along outside the windows, and the generosity of the welcome from that Co Mayo town, winched the weight of November from my shoulders.

In truth, I don’t think we need to retreat when skies are leaden and the nights crowd into the days; instead, I suspect we need to congregate.

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