Remember the curly haired man that I watched in Douglas Public Library?
He was at a Book Club meeting and wasn’t used to the ways of Ireland.
Well I met him again last night. He’s still not used to the ways of Ireland. He got clamped in Galway.
After the Island Theatre Company’s performance of “Under Milk Wood“, I ran into him in a Murphy’s pub outside the Opera House. He had a story of woe to relate.
…I’ve recently come back to Ireland after living in the UK and I’m in two minds about whether there’s a welcome here for me, he started after I’d sat on the bar stool beside him.
Things were going well until I went into Galway city. That’s where my nightmare began. I was staying in a B&B in Oranmore, six or seven miles out from the centre. I did a day’s work there for the local authority, and I’d been warned about the traffic.
This was the man I’d watched with six women in the Library. Up close, he made a different impression on me.
So I waited until after seven before driving in to get a bit of food and sample the streets. Even though I grew up in Limerick, I’d never walked the streets of Galway. I’d been in the Great Southern Hotel once as a child, and that was a grand place. Eyre Square that was on. So that’s where I headed for.
They’re digging up Eyre Square, pedestrianising it. That was the first thing that struck me: it’s a magnificent square. I’d love to see the model they keep in the City Hall. Apparently some builder ran off with 15 million euros of public money and didn’t finish the job and now it’s still undone.
The curley man speech seemed to slip between the tone of nostagia and a gathering agitation. I sensed something dramatic was coming.
I loved the cobbled streets lined with small shops. I was mad about the fact that the big brands weren’t visible or dominating. The place has character.
To cut a long story short, I had a pint and a long conversation with a guy who’d lived in Bath and come back to Cork after ten years away. That’s the great thing about Ireland: you can talk to people, easily, and they like to talk. Even I’ve been able to find people to talk to. In fact it is hard to sit and observe people, like you can do all the time in the UK. Irish people won’t leave you alone.
Oh, almost forgot… I parked the car in a bus lay-by. No obstruction, but I shouldn’t have been there. I knew it but I thought the worse that could happen would be a parking ticket. How fuckin’ wrong I was.
Suddenly I knew he wasn’t used to swearing. You know how people who swear do it all the time; they use “fuckin’” like a pause for breath. This man was angry; that was what his “fuckin’” was about.
His speech would speed up and slow down, as if he was speeding in and out of penalty point zones.
I know it was my own fault, but how was I to know they’d steal my car and not give it back to me until the next day? How could I know that they’d close their phones at 2200 and not take calls until 0800? How could I know that I’d be stranded in Galway at 2205?
This was a man half alive with ire and half dead with despair.
I got back to the car, found it clamped and my mobile phone out of battery. If it hadn’t been for a guy in the Victoria Hotel (tell everyone will you that that’s a great hotel…), I don’t know how I’d have escaped sane. No car, no phone, no directions… and my B&B a long taxi drive away.
I was so upset that I was half way to Oranmore in the taxi when I realised I’d left my suitcase with the laptop, that I needed for work the next day, in the boot of the clamped Saab. That cost me more and by the time I got to bed I’d happily have left the city and never have darkened its door again.
They were shites. They were deliberate shysters, closing down overnight so that they could same a bit of cost and screw the eejit they’s trapped.
Do you know that they close their phones on a Sunday at 1500 and aren’t open on Bank Holidays. This means that you could have your car impounded for 40 hours, and they what would you do about driving home to the UK with your children after a holiday in Ireland!
The man was in full flight. He mouth would not be clamped. But every now and again he’d mutter about it being all his own fault. He should have known. He kept muttering something about “raw” Ireland…
I thought that was the end of it. He got his car after work next day, paid 85 euros (on top of the 30 euros the taxi cost), and left Galway. All the way to Cork he wrote indignant letters to the Council, the local TD (MP), the CEO of the clamping company (probaby wanted to buy shares).
But the returned emigrant hadn’t finished his story. But he needed a pint before he went on.
I slipped in my appreciation of Island Theatre from Limerick. D’Unbelievable production: that’s a play on the fact that one of the two actors was from D’Unbelievables, a fantastically successful comic duo.
I wish I could say that cured me. But I’m ashamed to say that I got clamped in Cork the following day. On my way to get a National Insurance number, I parked without a parking disc, half on a double yellow line, and I had to take another taxi, this time to the pound.
But, in Cork, they really screw you: it cost me 160 euros. The only good thing about it was that the taxidriver told me the system: they give you a ticket, and their machine is linked to the clampers and they whisk you off to the pound. They don’t mess around.
I’m so embarassed about this second time that I daren’t tell the wiffe. I suppose this is a kind of confession I’m making to you. What did you say your name was anyway?
With this he collapsed exhaused, sank his nose into the unstarted pint and caused it to overflow while dripping tears into it. He looked a broken man.
Are you going to stay in Ireland? I asked him.
Are you going to stay in Ireland? He whispered
These fuckers aren’t going to drive me out.
Vicious words: I realised that he was far from broken. It was more that he was planning revenge or something. Maybe I was wrong about that, but he had a look in his blue that I’d seen before in a released convict.
Jesus, he said. What time do they shut the parking lots here?
It was 2325. You’re all right, I assured him.
How do you know they won’t shut early? They might lock me in. Jesus I can’t go home without a car.
With that he was gone. And I still can’t remember if he ever told me his name.