‘Wanted! Customers! No experience necessary. Apply within’

Hilary Fannin: On a different day I would have offered my custom

The rain beat down on a foggy cafe where, just visible through the steamy window, people were cautiously gathered over cups of tea. Photograph: iStock

The rain beat down on a foggy cafe where, just visible through the steamy window, people were cautiously gathered over cups of tea. Photograph: iStock

 

It was raining in Skibbereen, that straight-down, no-messing kind of rain that makes mincemeat of your not entirely waterproof jacket and sticks your shirt to your back. It was raining over colourful shopfronts selling arty trinkets and stoneware pots and pagan potions and dangly earrings and fragrant elixirs and gentle watercolours and picture postcards of sunnier, brighter, distantly remembered days. 

The rain beat down on the window of the shoe shop, plump rivulets obscuring the display of summer sandals, of shocking pink sliders and yellow canvas runners. It beat down on darkened bars and on a foggy cafe where, just visible through the steamy window, people were cautiously gathered over chocolate-tongued eclairs and solid mugs of tea.

A blackboard outside another of the town’s cafes read: “Wanted! Customers! No experience necessary. Please apply within.” It was a humorous plea. On a different day I would have offered my custom, but having become more self-sufficient during the recent time of firmly closed hostelries, and planning a walk around Lough Hyne when the rain abated, I’d already packed a sandwich and a flask.

It wasn’t lough weather though, not unless you were a seal or an oystercatcher or an eel or a peacock butterfly. 

Playing for time, I sought shelter in a shop I like, which sells everything from machinery to haberdashery to nutmeg graters and egg timers. Upstairs in that fine establishment, there are rugs and cushions and tasselled things and tasteful table lamps and woven baskets born in a souk and boxes of decorative doorknobs and coat hooks that might cheer up a tired house in the city suburbs, a house you might be grateful to escape from for a short break in west Cork after long months of lockdown.

While I was contemplating the coat hangers, a mother and her young daughter, aged maybe 11 or 12, came upstairs. The mother was well dressed for the weather, her rain jacket appearing unpunctured, her footwear elegant yet dry. The child, too, was comfortably attired. 

I was aware of my dripping coat and the mascara running like toxic waste down my face. I realised, also, the absurdity of my optimistically bare legs, ending in flimsy red suede shoes, bought for a tenner last summer in a rural Spanish market where all that’s expected of footwear is that it stays on while you’re lashing into the sangria.

The mother and daughter were looking at soft furnishings and at lampshades for the child’s bedroom. It was clear from their conversation that the purchases were being made for their holiday home. 

“I don’t know if I should disrupt the colour scheme,” the mother mused, considering some beautiful throws.

“Maybe not, Mummy,” her daughter replied confidently. “Perhaps you should stick to white?” 

“Yes, darling, perhaps you’re right.”

I perhaps-ed my way back down the stairs.

Pigeon feathers symbolise peace, love and communication. (And there was I thinking that pigeons were put on this earth solely to shit on the statuary)

Further along the street, there was what appeared to be the wing of a pigeon in the window of a shop. It looked real, although that seemed unlikely. Maybe it was some kind of witchy thing, a charm or amulet or talisman. When I got back to my accommodation, I looked up its meaning. According to the gods of hippiedom, pigeon feathers symbolise peace, love and communication. (And there was I thinking that pigeons were put on this earth solely to shit on the statuary.) 

I read, too, that other feathers have different meanings, that some kinds may even float into your airspace to tell you something. Magpie feathers, for example, indicate magic and divination skills and are portents of wisdom and change, which is better press than those omnipresent avian marauders usually get.

Apparently, the next time you find a feather you should ask yourself a few significant questions. What were you thinking about just beforehand? What was your initial thought when you saw it? What words popped into your head? What is going on in your life at the moment?

In my case, for what it’s worth, my last thoughts prior to seeing the pigeon wing were when will the rain stop, has my flask leaked and how come I don’t have a second home in the country with a colour scheme capable of disruption.

I drove to Lough Hyne, windscreen wipers whipping. The drive took me through wild greenery, past wooded slopes dense and cross-hatched with fallen trees. 

I parked, looked out over the inland sea lake, a marine aquarium in a landscape shaped and reshaped by erosion, a place alive with geological ghosts. So beautiful, so still.

I left my red shoes in the car, sat on the rocks overlooking the drowned landscape, drank in the softening rain. 

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