The beauty of Kerry couldn’t erase the memory of angry dad in the Topaz station

Michael Harding: The man, as devoid of emotion as Clint Eastwood on a bad day, looked at me as though he might break my arms

I remembered the man staring at me through the glass window of a Topaz filling station earlier in the day

I remembered the man staring at me through the glass window of a Topaz filling station earlier in the day

 

I went back to Kerry last week to see if it was still there. Kerry’s mountains and beaches are so beautiful that sometimes, as is the case with god, the possibility of their existence seems absurd. So back I went, all the way down through the midlands, just to reassure myself that even if god was a delusion, at least I still had the strands of Inch and Banna to hold on to, as the ontological ground of my being.

On my way I stopped in a Topaz Station in the midlands with a seating area and a food counter.

I had a bowl of soup and sat at the window admiring a fancy Audi with 171 plates.

At a low sofa beside me a couple were lounging over the remains of a chicken wrap. She sat upright and tried to sound cheerful on her phone. He was wearing a tracksuit that hadn’t been washed in a few months and he slumped on the sofa while two children climbed all over him without apparently noticing he existed. He looked angry. The woman looked nervous. And I tried not to look too closely or to make judgments, although I suspect they were hanging out in a filling station because they had no home of their own to hang out in.

When I finished my tomato soup I returned to my Yeti, across the apron of petrol and diesel pumps where happy mummies were loading up with coffees and passing ice creams to infants in rear seats.

As I drove away I took a final glance at the family inside the window. The little girl was in a flood of tears and the mother was wiping her face with a tissue while the man, as devoid of emotion as Clint Eastwood on a bad day, looked at me as though he might break my arms.

But by the time I got to Cahersiveen I had forgotten all about them, and I strolled down the street trying to find a pub where I once passed an afternoon when I was a boy.  The bakery window was well stocked with apple pies and rhubarb tarts.  

“Lovely day,” I said to a lady in the hardware store.

“Magic,” she said.

“Do you sell straw hats?” I wondered. She said, “no but do you see the red canopy over that shop on the corner,” and she pointed down the street. “Go in there,” she said “and Mary will probably have one for you.”

That’s the kind of robust friendliness is not uncommon in the Kingdom and I am of the view that Kerry people are superior to all other varieties of the human species on the island. It’s just that nobody wants to admit it. They have a reassuring authority in the way they give directions based on their uncanny certainty about the cosmos. Just take a look at The Irish Times video of Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh making a sandwich. I mean a sandwich is not rocket science. But Muircheartaigh transforms the task into a Zen-like finger-dance of simplicity that contains more wisdom than there is in volumes of Greek philosophy. And of course he was renowned for his ability to explain the complete theory of quantum physics in that space of time between a stick hitting a sliotar and the sliotar landing in the back of the net.

I went into an electrical shop looking for a flex for my computer, in Cahersiveen. 

“Are you on holidays?” The lady wondered. I said, “I was hoping to do some writing in the retreat centre in Cill Rialaig.” 

She recommended walking. She said there were beautiful walks around Bolus head.

Then I explained that I had left the flex for my computer at home, and asked her did she have such a thing for sale. 

She didn’t. I was devastated. It was the last electrical shop before the ocean.

“But I have a flex for a kettle,” she announced, “and they’re both the same.” 

I was thrilled. 

“How much do I owe you?” I wondered.

“Sure you can take the loan of it,” she said, “and drop it in when you’re passing.”  

All that happened even before I got to the ocean. But I was determined to make Cill Rialaig before nightfall. Which I did. The sea was silver beneath a full moon as I parked beside the cottage. I lit the stove and plugged in my computer and it would have been heaven, apart from a faint unease as I remembered the man staring at me through the glass window of a Topaz filling station earlier in the day. 

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