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A Ride Around the British Isles … Part 66

The little streets of Kilkenny are full of people in town for the festival, and finding somewhere to leave a bicycle, that isn’t blocking a pavement, isn’t easy. Eventually I park it and follow a ginnel or two and find myself in the tourist office. It’s upstairs in a handsome greystone building next to a bookshop. The two women have been accommodating tourists all day and have every reason to be fed up of the sight of us. The appearance of a road weary fellow in baggy shorts and immoderate perspiration, just as they were getting ready to pull down their closed signs, does nothing to dampen their enthusiasm.

Few questions are required. My appearance tells her that I need somewhere to stay and that I’m not looking for a penthouse or bridal suite. Two quick phone calls confirm that small hotels and guest houses are experiencing a little bonanza in trade. The third one spears me a room. “Oh yes, nice looking fellow with a bicycle. He’d like to know if you have a bath tub. Oh dear. No. That’s no problem. A shower will do him fine.” A price is agreed. She takes some money off my card but leaves the rest to pay at the place. A map of the city with the guesthouse circled and instructions for the prettiest way. “You want to just follow the river up to the bridge. You can’t miss it. No. Not far at all. You’ll like it there. The lady is very nice. She’ll make you most welcome.”

On the way out there is just time to become the last customer of the day in the bookshop next door. I choose quickly. The word Pulitzer on the cover and the price reduction makes me the proud owner of a novel called Tinkers by Paul Harding, and I enjoy pushing the bicycle slowly the few hundred yards to where I will be staying the night.

The room would be a bit of a squeeze for two but is plenty big enough for me. It has an en suite bathroom with a decent shower. The landlady shows me round. She is as friendly and welcoming as she is genuinely beautiful. She looks like one of the Corrs and fills a pair of Levis in a manner reminiscent of the young Shelby Lynne. I try very hard to take in the room and the explanation of facilities and where to make myself a cup of tea. I think she might be used to talking to people with failing concentration. She opens up the yard and lets me wheel the bicycle into the back shed. “My husband like to ride his bicycle”. (There is an altogether lighter, faster, more modern velocipede already in the shed.) I’m pleased there is a husband. I bet the husband is pleased too!

“You’ve a fine tan there.” she says.

“It’s mostly face and arms.” I say.

“Just the farmers’ tan then. You make yourself at home now and if you need anything, don’t be frightened to ask.”

I need a shower and happily spend half an hour letting the hot water and suds soak into, onto and off me. I shampoo my hair three times before it comes into a lather. It’s just a pity I have no clean clothes to put on once I’ve dried myself.

I wander back into town intending to soak up the evening ambiance but find it still open for business. Dunne and Co disappeared from English High Streets thirty years ago. It sold overcoats to flashers, cardigans to smokers and string vests. The Irish version is altogether livelier. A big department store with everything the stinking cyclist could wish for. I buy packs of boxers and t shirts and a bright yellow polo shirt emblazoned with the crest of the Kilkenny Hurling team. It is on special offer at E5. I grow fond of it and can be seen sporting it on my photo on the about page of this blog. I also treat myself to new socks and a towel.

A late night fruiterer supplies me with enough grapes and plums to see me through to breakfast and I mosey back to the B&B via little venues where I could see Nanci Griffith and Sam Baker if I came on the right night; or Dean Friedman or Julian Lloyd Webber if I got it wrong.

I’m too tired to seek out further entertainment and turn down an offer from a small party to try a pint in a dozen different bars with a dozen different live musicians. That’s the problem of pedalling the whole way. You get to see the beauty of the mornings but you are in no condition to enjoy the delights of the evenings. I’m happy to eat fruit, drink mugs of tea and immerse myself in the quite considerable writing skills of a man I hadn’t heard of three hours ago. I’m soon in the dying company of George Washington Crosby and experiencing the sort of feelings that early readers of William Faulkner must have felt. This is a book you feel every bit as much as one you intellectually digest. I’d planned on a chapter or two to send me to sleep and find myself pretty much completing the whole novel. It is a captivating read and I feel that luck has been on my side with ribbons on since I arrived in the tourist office. A fine sleep follows.

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I cannot make my mind up  whether to have my second shower before writing up my notes or after. The temptation of a clean towel is quite a lure. I’ve already taken an early morning walk around the sleeping city, enjoying close up views of castle and black abbey as well as a fine looking brewery. My sojourn had been to find a bin and a bag full of serviceable, but smelly, clothes had been given over to the city’s refuse department.

My notes include a detailed health check. I was concerned about the continuing infection in my lungs and predict that a week from now I’ll be on a course of antibiotics. (This proved true. I was also on steroids and remained on both for longer than I would have wanted. The chest problems remained a background threat but no more than a foreground nuisance. I couldn’t pedal as far or as fast but it didn’t stop me cycling). I made a note that nose and throat problems had cured themselves. I even wondered if all the exercise had churned up my lungs to such an extent that they were evicting the mess left by nearly forty years of smoking. As I pedal along I almost expect to expectorate masses of black tar and blood. Happily that never happens.

What does happen is a very happy breakfast, cooked by Andrea and served by a very sunny Jim.