The child tugged my arm and said: ‘You are like Mr Bean!’

Michael Harding: I had a go at speaking Mandarin but I managed to mangle the words

She tugged my arm and said - You are like Mister Bean!

She tugged my arm and said - You are like Mister Bean!

 

I was standing on the street in Carrick-on-Shannon when a car slowed down, the window opened and a man asked me where he could find the Sligo road. 

“Do you not have a Sat-Nav?” I wondered, and he looked at me like I had two heads. But I was only trying to be pleasant. Because good communication requires a certain lightness.

When I was a child my mother used to say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” whenever I was trying to explain something to her. And ever since then I’ve been trying to improve my communication skills, which is why I love encountering tourists on the street.  

Many farmers ended up in the 'Leitrm Hotel', worn out by poverty, chastity and servile obedience to fields of dirty brown rushes

It’s amazing the amount of foreigners I’ve met wandering around Carrick-on-Shannon looking for Yeats’ grave. I usually tell them it’s in Sligo which is too far away, and that they’d be better off to stay where they are. 

“We have lots of other graves you can look at here in Leitrim,” I assure them. Because Leitrim needs tourists. There was a time when a tourist in Leitrim was a rare bird.

In those days Leitrim was poor and Sligo was a merchant town with a port to the sea and a big mental hospital that was affectionately known as the Leitrim Hotel; because so many Leitrim farmers ended up there, worn out by poverty, chastity and servile obedience to fields of dirty brown rushes.

But now Leitrim thrives. The roads are excellent. The county is dotted with artistic dwellings. And Carrick-on-Shannon buzzes with restaurants, coffee houses, and the gleaming white decks of one hundred holiday cruisers drifting beneath the arches of the bridge.

Little Lotus 

I was in a Chinese restaurant recently with my friend Little Lotus. She was treating her parents to dinner. They had arrived from China to spend the summer with their daughter, grand children and the extended family, and we were all gathered at a round table with a glass wheel in the centre on which were seven plates of delicious food. Chicken and pork in various sauces and a salty hake wrapped in batter.

The couple who had recently arrived from China, didn’t speak a word of English so I used my iPhone under the table to find phrases on Google Translate.

You are welcome to Ireland. 

I am happy to eat with you. 

Let us drink to our two great nations.

Nothing too complicated. I leaned across the food dishes towards the visitors and read out each phrase in phonetic Mandarin, slowly, like I was delivering an important speech at the United Nations. Each time this happened a child beside me at the table laughed out loud. She is a daughter of Little Lotus and she is fluent in Chinese and English. She tugged my arm and said: “You are like Mister Bean!”

The following morning I called to see the General on my way home. He was on the porch with a shotgun, his belly bursting out through his shirt buttons like an alien egg.

For a moment in silence I contemplated the image of Mr Trump slicing a cuckoo in two halves with a mighty sword

“Why are you nursing a shotgun?” I wondered.

“Cuckoos,” he said.

“What about them?” I wondered.

 “I can’t stand their incessant call,” he said.

“But surely the cuckoo’s call is a pleasant indication of summer,” I suggested. The General’s eyebrow rose above his right eye, a clump of hair as thick as a small gorse bush and so I knew he was not amused.

 “Before midsummer I shall hang one of them from the apple tree,” he whispered.  

And because I am so adept at the art of communication I knew it was wise to change the subject.

“Any news on Trump?” I wondered, which is always a question that brings a smile to his face.

But he frowned. 

“I saw him dancing with Saudis in Arabia a few weeks ago,” the General declared. “All of them in a beautiful line with their swords, moving back and forward in such a fine display of masculinity that I was almost moved to tears. And may I say that if he were here beside me now, he would silence those cuckoos with a single swing of that sword.

“Is he good with a sabre?” I wondered.

“He’s good with a golf club,” the General said. “He has a fine swing.” 

For a moment in silence I contemplated the image of Mr Trump slicing a cuckoo in two halves with a mighty sword and I couldn’t resist remembering YouTube images of how effectively those Saudi blades can slice all manner of things in handy slices. Although sometimes good communication is a matter of knowing when to speak, and when to remain silent.

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