Making a bed in a camper van after six pints? It’s dangerous
Michael Harding: Songs and music in a west of Ireland pub provide nourishment for the soul
What’s the point of having a camper van if you end up inside it on your own?
I went deep into the west of Ireland last week in a camper van, hoping for a sociable evening in some country pub. At nine o’clock I stepped into a cosy bar in a quiet village as the evening news began on the big screen TV.
Men were lined up in front of black pints, keeping their eyes on the door, and chatting about football. But not a woman in sight. And as the nine o’clock news came on, they all got up and left. One at a time at first until finally they had all vanished, with no farewells.
I was desolate and abandoned. The boy behind the counter leaned over a newspaper, scrutinising the sports pages, with a pencil stuck between his teeth. The weather woman was still on the big screen above his head, describing low pressure in the wild Atlantic. I went to the toilet but one of the lights wasn’t working so I had to manage as best I could in the half dark.
Terrified that the empty bar would swallow all my joy, I fled back to the camper van, which was stationed in a little amenity area beside the river. I lay on the couch inside for an hour listening to the rain battering the side panels of the vehicle.
There’s no point in having a camper van, I thought, if I end up inside alone. So I went out again, through the sheets of rain on every street, until I found a pub with a music session.
A woman on a stool at the fringe of the musicians circle was singing Caledonia as I entered. I tiptoed around her and whispered at the barman to get me a pint and a packet of peanuts.
The woman’s voice was as full as the notes of a cello and when the song was over she was followed by a man on a guitar who sang A Rainy Night in Soho.
Not a bad choice, I thought, considering the weather outside.
But those sweet songs were only the beginning. The session was wonderful, and extended well past midnight. I fell into a lovely Irish form of meditation wherein jigs and reels and slow airs close down all agitation in the mind, and the heart grows strong with longing.
The clientele were mostly couples, or men my own age with peaked caps who had come from other counties, just to sing their ballads. There was a terrible absence of young people in the room. And when anyone sang of London streets or the shores of America the clapping was as gentle as a funeral handshake.
The amenity area was at the end of the village and the camper van was parked under the trees beside garden benches and a few exercise machines. I could hear the sound of a river close by, thundering across rocks on its way out to the sea.
Unfortunately I forgot to make the bed before going to the pub. And making a bed is not an easy task at the best of times, but in a little camper van, after consuming six pints, it’s positively dangerous.
And as I slid the van door open and climbed into the back, I realised the lights weren’t working. I won’t recount the expletives I used, struggling to pull the bed from under the seats and negotiate my way into a sleeping bag.
Although it was worth it when I heard two ladies the following morning, as hardy as ducks, using the exercise machines in the rain. They were so close I could hear them whispering.
One of them was talking about her daughter.
“She has a new man in Florida,” the woman said, as she pedalled. “And she’s bought a house and I don’t know about that, because the new man has two children and, as you well know, she’s a giver. She’s very generous; but she’s not smart. And of course I can’t say anything.”
“You just have to leave them to God,” the other woman said.
It was still raining later as I drove home. And the winter morning felt like a winter’s evening. It was 10am, although I knew that somewhere far away it might be 7pm or midnight.
I drove past little bungalows and pebble-dashed mansions lacing the edges of every town; and I was well aware that inside there were more grey-haired parents in the kitchens microwaving their porridge, and waiting for a ring tone on the laptop to bring a little sunshine into their morning.