I’m not sexy in a rustic way – my cap frightens the horses

Wearing an ‘Irish’ cap, Michael Harding was sneered at on the Dart. He should have had a copy of Waiting for Godot under his arm

Michael Harding as Bull McCabe in John B Keane’s ‘The Field’

Michael Harding as Bull McCabe in John B Keane’s ‘The Field’

 

 I was getting off the Dart in Bray one night wearing a big peaked cap that I bought in Warsaw last winter for the snow. It had ear flaps and was made of soft leather. It sat on my head like a large cake of dough. 

The kind of goofy hat that a model might look fantastic in, on the catwalks of Milan, because goofy is a look that models can wear beautifully. But not me. 

I don’t look sexy in a rustic way. Far from it. A rustic cap on my head frightens the horses. Although I felt comfortable in it all evening, because I had been at a rustic musical called Paddy, in the Bord Gais Theatre; the story of a culchie who emigrated to London and never came home for many years. He neglected his mammy, drank his life away and ended up badly. At the interval I met a woman from Drumshanbo.

“What do you think of it so far?” she wondered.

I said, “The actress playing the wife of the main character is brilliant. She’s a friend of mine.”  There was one scene where she verbally abused poor Paddy with such power and force that I was a bit disappointed the story wasn’t about her and the other women, instead of just the drunken Paddies.

 “Do you not find it a bit depressing?” the woman from Drumshanbo wondered, chewing a potato crisp. “I mean we were in London for years and we had great fun. That’s where we met.”

She pointed at a big bald man in a cardigan standing beside her. He had a dainty little potbelly and he smiled like a delightedly pregnant woman. 

I enjoyed the show so much that I forgot about the goofy cap until I got on the Dart. By the time I arrived in Bray the carriage was empty apart from two young college students who had been staring at me on and off since Booterstown.

Their lips were glossed and their hair blown dry and they wore dainty well-fitting lap-tops on their backs. As I got off they walked beside me, one each side, and I felt intimidated as the three of us moved along the platform.

“We love your cap,” one of them said, sneering. 

“It’s a real Irish hat,” the other one declared.

And they both giggled.

I didn’t answer because I was a bit nervous. Not of being assaulted but simply of being humiliated. I looked goofy but it hadn’t bothered me all evening. Now in the company of two young articulate Dubliners, I felt ashamed. My silence prompted the next question.

 “Are you Irish?” one of them inquired.

I nodded in the affirmative. Then the other fellow came in for the kill.

“Are you up from the country?” he wondered.

I wished I had a copy of Waiting for Godot under my arm. That would have put manners on them. 

 “Dalkey,” I declared suddenly, eyeing each boy like I was a professor in a university because university professors wear goofy hats with impunity. “Dalkey,” I repeated.

And it worked. The jizz went out of their faces like air leaking from tyres and they quickened their step so that by the time I reached the exit they had vanished into the night.

With enormous relief I walked up town and found refuge in the foyer of my hotel where two stout women of Ulster origin with strong rustic accents were hugging the reception desk. 

“We thought lek, yis would have had country music in the bar,” one of them said to the receptionist.

I’m safe at last, I thought.

The Lithuanian receptionist suggested a particular bar down the street that might have music.

“Aye,” the women said, “we tried yawn place, but it’s lek all young people and rock music. Lek we’re here for the weekend and we’re looking for ‘country’. Do ye know lek?”

I intervened. 

“Excuse me ladies but I believe I may be of some assistance.”

They turned instantly and demanded to know where I was from.

“Cavan,” I replied, “and I take it you ladies are from Fermanagh,” because their accents were unmistakable. We had a round of drinks, sitting on the sofas in the foyer and spoke about the days of Susan McCann and Ray Lynam.

 “And I believe you‘re looking for country music,” I said. “Well I can tell you now there is a splendid show in town called Paddy, starring Tommy Flemming.”

I might as well have said God was doing a gig. And one of them gazed at me lovingly and said, “Dye know fella, I love your hat.”

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