I missed last week's blog post - life got in the way a bit and I didn't get the chance really to sit down with my thoughts. It's only now I've had that opportunity. Mind you, my thoughts at the moment are fairly mundane. So instead of boring you, I've decided to write a short story. I write this as I'm sitting on the train to Tralee, on my way to see a friend in lovely Dingle, or God's Country as it should be rightly called. I'll be staying in a cottage in Dún Chaon overlooking the Blaskett Islands. What a privilege in fairness. I've decided to spend the journey writing some memories I have of the train and the different encounters I've had. Conor O'Brien once wrote a song called Twenty Seven Strangers. I had the same idea for a song once upon a time, and only realised O'Brien had bet me to it. I have a fondness for public transport, although that only developed out of necessity. I spent much of my college life on buses, trams and trains, looking out windows at suburban havens, inner city sociality and the Irish countryside.
I've just pulled out of Charleville, Co. Cork. I know the view would be immense if only the trees would get out of the way. There's two elderly women sitting across from me discussing everything and anything, personal and otherwise. They're a little bit posh. It annoyed me at first but my earwagging has endeared me to them. There's an African lady with a fantastic laugh sitting behind me playing with her child. They both seem happy, outwardly happy. It's making me smile once in a while. There's a family tired of travelling sitting in front of me. A young mother attempting to keep two young children entertained while the father looks on with no input. There's more minding on him than the children. My admiration for that women has grown since we left Heuston Station.
One of the first times I got the train was when I was about 17, for a day out in Dublin with some friends from home. Our company expanded as the journey progressed. We, four, sat around a table playing Heads Up. You know the game where you put a flashcard on your forehead, with a person, place or thing written on it, and people have to try and explain who, where or what it is? Great way of killing time. Sitting across from us were three men and a woman, all in business attire, their briefcases stored above their heads, clearly tired from a day of meetings and other important businessy things. They joined in. It was gas. We later learned one was the Mayor of Carlow. Before we knew it people in the seats behind us wanted to play. Half the carriage got involved in the end. It passed the time, but it also created a great sense of community. All the people were already there, it just took some innocent teenagers playing a stupid game to unite them.
On one of my first trips home to Waterford in first year in college, an elderly woman sat in the seat across from me when we got in in Heuston Station. I was reading a book for college - something on early medieval Ireland - and she asked me about it. I told her about my new adventure and explained that this wasn't my preferred area of history and a conversation began that lasted until her stop in Kilkenny. She told me about her treatment. She had been diagnosed with some sort of illness, one I can't recall, and had to go to James' hospital for regular treatment. She told me how her husband had died a few years previously and if anything, travelling to Dublin each week was giving her a social outlet. She bought me a cup of tea when the cart came around and thanked me for my company. I got off the train that day wishing I could have helped her in some way. Then I realised I had. I think of her every time I get on a train.
Another day, on the train to Waterford from Galway - a gruelling enough journey - a overheard a conversation behind me about a girl going to a gig that her boyfriend was playing in Kilkenny. The more detailed the conversation got, I realised I knew her boyfriend. I turned around and was invited to join their conversation. We spoke about her boyfriend's music and the venue he was playing in. Eventually it came up that Conor O'Brien - Villagers - was headlining the gig. Immediately, the girl sitting across the aisle turned around and said 'sorry to interrupt, but my boyfriend is actually doing sound for that gig.' The music community in Ireland is small, but that was ridiculous. I have a feeling Conor O'Brien would have been proud of that train journey.
Not too long ago, I was on a train from Dublin to Waterford early in the morning. The train left Dublin at 7.20am. I sat down and pulled out my laptop to work away on one of my final college assignments. I was at a table by myself. There was a young couple across the aisle from me. The train was quiet. Everyone was being respectful of the fact that I'm not very used to that hour of the morning. I appreciated it. The man chose this moment to reveal to his girlfriend that he had been offered a job in England. The conversation that ensued was heartbreaking, but also somewhat fulfilling. Although it was upsetting, hearing the two of them work through the situation, so respectful of each other's wants and desires and the love they had for each other, it gave me a lot of hope that they'd be just fine. It was a dramatic snippet of two people's lives together that I couldn't help but be a part of, despite not having any involvement whatsoever.
One journey back to Waterford presented me with a demonstration of the gulf in social class in Ireland. And this time I was very much involved. I got on the train and before I knew it, I was surrounded by six women ranging in age from 40 to 60 travelling to Kilkenny to see Rod Steward in Nowlan Park. They were intent on making sure their train journey was as much craic as possible. Rod was on the bluetooth speaker, the cans were being drank in great quantities and a bottle of vodka was produced. They were hilarious. They said I looked like Joe McElderry, a former X Factor winner, and insisted on giving me a can of Coors Light. I didn't refuse it. Sitting opposite me was a man dressed quite well, with a slicked back haircut, his earphones in and very intent on not even making eye contact with these women. When the women left, the man congratulated me on 'putting up with them' for the journey, called them a 'pack of howyas' and proceeded to tell me that he was travelling to Waterford to pick up a van for his father's company. The women had offered him a can as well. They gave him the same treatment as me. He chose to ignore it and then be critical of them for having fun. What a sod.
This journey has been prolonged by twenty minutes due to a delay outside Killarney. I'm getting tired and can already taste the pint I'll have in Tralee while I'm waiting for the bus to Dingle. The two posh women have left. They got off at the last stop. I'm now sandwiched between two mothers trying to look after their children. I admire them. The best thing I can do for them is leave them alone and not seek out conversation. I have no earphones with me. I'll probably continue to earwag. I might give the expert difficulty level a go on the Sudoku app on my phone.
Mind yerselves, keep in by the wall and mind the trains.
All the best,