Michael Harding: Country people have no grammar other than intimacy

There was no point explaining that we tell lies all the time. It’s called codding. 

“You’re the bull,” the Cavan woman said. Above, Michael Harding in The Field. Photograph: Patrick Redmond

“You’re the bull,” the Cavan woman said. Above, Michael Harding in The Field. Photograph: Patrick Redmond

 

A few weeks ago, the beloved was in Warsaw. In the evenings, the music of a cello on Radio 3 reminded me of her. The cello always draws me into a sublime longing for the beloved. It wraps itself around me on winter evenings, like tress around the house. The cello is a kind of shelter for a lonely soul.

 After a few days, I went to Ennis to read from my book. I stayed in an elegant hotel, where I met a big, deep-voiced Cavan woman in the lift.

“What are you doing here?” she wondered.

“Doing a reading,” I replied. “I’m just finished.” As if that explained the two pints of Guinness in my hands.

It was a small lift and there was a petite woman squashed against the wall behind us.

“Where are you going with the drinks?” the Cavan woman wondered.

The truth is that I never take a solitary drink to my room in any hotel because I don’t want people thinking I’m a sad old man drinking alone. But I didn’t tell her that. I just offered a wan smile that I hoped might imply something naughty going on in my de-luxe boudoir. 

“Oh, you’re the bull,” the Cavan woman exclaimed, laughing, and making a strange guttural sound as she rubbed up against me.

Of course she was only teasing, referring to my role in the Gaiety two years ago as the Bull McCabe in The Field.

Strangers

I felt stupid because by insinuating that I had company in my room, I cut myself off from any further possibility of social interaction with her.

 The woman in the corner had silver glasses perched on the end of her nose and she looked through them, inspecting her shoes, trying to be invisible in this moment of rustic intimacy between me and my old friend.

And being confined in a small space with a man hailed as a bull didn’t have a positive effect on her.

She’s probably from some large city, I guessed, where strangers don’t do intimacy. But there was no point in trying to explain that country people have no grammar other than intimacy and that we tell each other lies all the time.

It’s called codding. 

“This is my floor,” the lady announced suddenly, in a crisp American accent when the lift staggered to a halt on the fourth level.

In fact it was everyone’s floor and we all got out and the Cavan woman winked at me as she marched away down the corridor, and continued to laugh and chant – “You’re the bull!”

The American lady went in the opposite direction, clopping at a brisk dainty clop towards her room.

Unfortunately, my room was up the American side of the corridor, and I couldn’t help noticing a certain trepidation in her hands as she pushed her keycard into the lock and fled inside her room.

The following morning I went for breakfast, where stiff, starchy linen covered every table and music played in the background.

The only available table was close to the American.

“Am I hearing incorrectly,” she was asking a waitress, slightly horrified, “or is that song about a grave?”

The singer was giving it socks with a doleful intensity that would freeze the milk in anyone’s bowl of cornflakes.

“Yeah,” the waitress said, “that’s called I Am Stretched on your Grave. It’s a love song.”

Unease

The American exuded such unease that I decided to forgo a hot breakfast and, after my cornflakes, I guzzled down a cup of lukewarm coffee and left the room.

On my way home I bought six eggs under the counter at a shop.

The sale of free-range eggs is so tangled up in European regulations that the farmer at the top of the hill in Tullycreeve, whose hens still sit up on the chairs in his kitchen, is not properly registered as a seller of free-range eggs so he drops in an occasional harvest to the shop, where they’re kept under the counter for me. No money gets exchanged.

I was making an omelette when the phone rang.

It was the beloved.

She had been trying to get me on Skype. I said I was having an omelette and that I’d open my computer in 10 minutes.

When I got back to the pan, the arse was burned out of the omelette. But I didn’t care. I sat by the fire, found another cello concerto on Spotify, opened my laptop and waited with the quiet joy of a mature husband for his beloved’s face to appear on the screen.

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