During this trip, we left a lot of things behind. You’re always having to keep track of so many things.
In a pub in the 13th-century weavers’ town of Bradford on Avon, we sat down at the Dandylion Pub and ate a lovely cottage pie dinner, which is a meat pie with mashed potatoes on top, “mash,” as they call it. Leaving the restaurant, Claire left behind her rust-colored scarf. We sauntered back to our room through narrow and winding cobblestone streets, then discovered our mistake. Turning around, it was our pleasure to take the 10-minute walk back in the falling dusk. When we arrived again, the 16-year-old girl who was working the tables gladly handed it back to us.
Loovely, as the British say.
At the Shipwright Inn in Dublin, which was barely a hotel, not even a motel, more like a working-class pub with rooms and no front desk, I was starting to get seriously sick. So I ducked into its pub at midnight for some lemon wedges and honey, to mix with some hot water in order to stave off my oncoming sickness. Waiting in the pub, it was so terribly attractive to see a 60-year-old woman, probably newly divorced from her dock worker husband, strut her stuff to old Bee Gee disco songs, and the fact that she was drunk and stupid was just a bonus. The next morning upon leaving, my mother neglected to collect her three-legged cane. Four days later, we called from England and they held it in Lost and Found.
Grand, as the Irish say.
We stumbled, as well. Upon arriving in London, we made our way during a crushing rush hour through the London Underground with baggage. Each of us was pulling a suitcase and a carry-on, plus a couple bags, a major camera, and other bits. Given my mother’s arthritic hips, she tended to lag behind. At several points, we encountered stairs, which were an immense effort. I had to do all the lifting. I would carry two suitcases at a time up the stairs, my mother would guard them at the top and Claire at the bottom, and then I would return back down to haul another couple suitcases, and so on.
At one point, I looked back at my mother, who was attempting to swing her heavy suitcase around, and standing right next to her was a rasta man, his face as black as midnight, his dreadlocks hanging out of his knitted Jamaican snood, looking tough in his black leather jacket. If Mom had seen him, she would have been frightened. She’s not used to rasta men. I was trying to gauge whether he was a threat. My mother continued to struggle with the bag. Gradually, rasta man began to move towards her. I watched closely. I saw him lean towards her. I was ready. I was waiting. Finally, he lent a hand. He helped her disentangle her bag’s wheels and straighten it out. She thanked him and continued on her way. Helpful rasta dude.
In all, four London strangers within the space of an hour offered to help my mother with her bags.
Another day, two waiters and a cab driver within the span of eight hours ran outside after us with articles we had left behind.
When things like that happen, you ponder people’s intentions.
It brings to mind Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England starting in 1653. He was more a dictator than anything else. The English considered the Irish savages, and that was justification for all manner of rudeness. John Milton, for example, decried the country’s “absurd and savage customs” who had been made “devils by popery.” In 1649, Cromwell led the English army against the strategic Irish town of Drogheda, bringing it to its knees within a week.
Cromwell sent a note to the Drogheda commander, Sir Henry Aston, ordering immediate surrender. Aston refused. In response, Cromwell brought his artillery to bear on Drogheda’s medieval fortifications. The next day, the English poured into the town and 2,500 Irish were killed, including men, women, and children. A thousand civilians had taken refuge in St. Peter’s Church, and Cromwell ordered it set afire, burning alive all who were inside. He beat Sir Aston to death with his own wooden leg.
Those English were not so accommodating. Perhaps they would not have run outside with Claire’s scarf.
Over 350 years later, we visited Drogheda. I drove our rental car through the frighteningly narrow streets. We parked in front of the medieval gate while a hen party (their term for bachelorette party) was passing by. We found a fabulous hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant named Antica Toscana and I had a fabulous dish of ravioli while the first glimmerings of sickness began to descend upon me. It took me three days to learn how to pronounce the town’s name correctly. Drogheda. DRAW-ha-da, not Dro-HEY-da.
I wonder sometimes whether the state of humanity is getting better. There’s a new Stephen Pinker book that documents how the tragedy of war has lessened immeasurably over the last half of the 20th century, and one wants to concur. More people are getting educated. Racism is no longer acceptable. Diversity and tolerance are now considered positive traits. Calling somebody stupid or fat or retarded is socially wrong. It seems like progress.
Then yesterday, we arrived back in Dublin not having booked a hotel. I left Claire and my mother at a bus stop on Parnell Street and went out in search of a vacancy. While I was gone, they were confronted with a disheveled homeless man who loomed higher than six feet. He was mumbling and holding out his hand, which contained an array of coins.
“…All I need is 60 pence, and then I can….”
“No, I don’t have it,” Claire said.
“…But if you just gave me 60 pence….”
And that’s when my mother butted in, and she’s never been a wilting pansy.
“She said no!” Mom said.
The man took two steps back. For a moment, a storm gathered on his face. Then he started yelling at them.
“You fucking English!” he said.
Claire and my mother were stunned. The man continued his verbal abuse, but that’s when another Irish man intervened. He, too, was over six feet tall, and he stepped in between the man and the girls. He eased the homeless man back until the homeless man had wandered away.
One might be discouraged by such an incident. Then again, one might think about the second man, as well as the several Irish people who immediately stepped up to apologize.
“I’m so sorry,” one woman said. “We’re not all like that.”
I choose to see the pint not just as half full, but nearly up to the brim, ready for drinking. It is Ireland, after all.