Bundoran is a great remedy for melancholy
‘Lounging around in pyjamas and watching a Vietnamese monk talking about suffering is no excuse for a life,’ a friend told me
Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell
I think I spend too much time in my pyjamas when I’m alone. For a few weeks now I have had the house to myself, except for the cat who doesn’t mind in the least what I wear.
One morning I filled the coffee pot as usual and put it on the hot ring. I heated milk in the microwave. I sat at the table scrolling through Facebook until I noticed one friend online.
“What U doing?” I typed.
“Working in Bundoran as a locum for the summer,” she replied. “What are you at?”
“I’m not dressed yet,” I typed, “though I was thinking of linking the computer to the television screen and watching a talk by Thich Nhat Hanh on Youtube about suffering, in my pyjamas.”
“You’re only fooling yourself with those videos,” she replied. “Lounging around in pyjamas and watching a Vietnamese monk talking about suffering is no excuse for a life. You need to go out and practise a bit of loving kindness with other people.”
“So should we meet?” I wondered. Because I know that a day out in Bundoran is a great remedy for melancholy.
She left the word hanging for a few minutes on my screen. I didn’t know if she meant “Yeah, I suppose that’s a good idea”, or “Yeah, are you mad or what?”
Then she added another line.
“There’s no bus from here to Leitrim.”
“I could drive up to Bundoran,” I suggested. “It would give me something to do.”
The truth is that I’ve noticed myself sliding into melancholy again recently and I get trapped indoors on wet summer days. I can almost see the grass growing outside, and I can do nothing about it except look out and feel guilty.
“Okay,” she replied. “You’re obviously not well. Ballyshannon. Lunch.”
So I headed off through the beautiful glens of north Leitrim.
When I was young, the buses in Cavan went to Longford and Granard, and stopped in small towns such as Crossdoney and Killeshandra, and at every laneway where some woman with a string shopping bag wanted to get off.
But one day in the yard of our primary school, an academy on a hill just above the bus station, the rumour went around that Cavan was getting an “express”. I didn’t know what an “express” was. I thought it might be a press, like the things in the kitchen where mammy hid the fig roll biscuits.
“Oh no,” a senior boy explained in the schoolyard, “the express is a new type of bus. It’s like a train. It doesn’t stop anywhere and it will go all the way from Dublin to Donegal. In fact, the only place it will stop is Cavan, so that they can cool the engine and people can go to the toilet. It wont even stop in Navan,” he added gleefully. He was a real encyclopedia.
In those days there were still boys who wore dickie bows and little grey suits at school to segregate them from the lower classes. Nobody knew what an express looked like and we wondered why it would be called a press or “an express”. Once again one of the posh boys enlightened us.
“The express is not its name,” he said, sneering at us. “In fact my daddy says it’s going to be called the Cu-Uladh. It’s named after Cú Chulainn’s dog, who was quite a fast dog.”
Smart boys were smart because they had parents who knew interesting things and they always started sentences with the phrases such as “my daddy says . . . ”
So it was a bus that looked like a dog, I concluded, and I lay awake at night thinking of a huge mechanical canine that would soon arrive in town.
When it did appear it was just an ordinary bus, except that the seats were furry and red, and we all scuttled on board for a few minutes when the first passengers were at the toilet.
For a long time I was very proud of this bus to Dublin. It assured me that Cavan was on the world map and that I lived in a place of significance.
“How do you like Bundoran?” I asked my friend at lunch as we nibbled our lasagnes.
“It‘s great for surfing,” she said. “And there’s an express from Ballyshannon to Dublin every day, so I’m not isolated.”
When I got home I realised that my melancholy had dissolved, and on the television screen Thich Nhat Hanh was still in freeze-frame, but I was ready to listen to him now.