A Journey Around the British Isles … Part 72
And so we continue, in tandem when the road demands, side by side in the sunshine when traffic allows. I like serendipity. I like the word; one of the many beautiful things we have to thank Sri Lanka for. I like the meaning of the word. OED: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way:a fortunate stroke of serendipity. I like the fact that the word was first coined by Horace Walpole, a man who wrote a rather brilliant but entirely bizarre gothic novel (The Castle of Otranto) and was the son of Britain’s first ever prime minister. Most of all I like serendipitous events and meeting my fellow cyclist was entirely that. The modern word would be happenstance which is fine, but it isn’t serendipity.
If he hadn’t set off two hours later than his normal time; if I hadn’t decided to make a run for the coast; if the ladies in the New Ross tourist office had been either more (quite easy) or less (virtually impossible) helpful, I would have been either five minutes in front (in which case he would easily have caught me up) or five minutes behind (in which case he would have needed to suffer several punctures to allow me to catch up), we never would have met. I cannot remember his name; I obviously knew it well enough not to make a special note of it; and we haven’t kept in touch. It was an example of a friendship that sprang up out of common ground and disappeared as we went our separate ways. That’s perhaps the way it ought to be. But I include a photograph. If you read this I’d be delighted to say thank you for your companionship, your conversation, your insights into Ireland that I gained along the way and largely lost through fading powers of recall, and for your kind hospitality in Wexford.
My notes simply say, “I’ll detail the conversation elsewhere”. The notes were written in the small hours of the night in a deserted Welsh ferry port after no sleep and an 80 mile fast cycle. The details were never written down and eighteen months have passed. I’ve tried to use a mixture of memory and imagination to re-capture it but it doesn’t work. This was a real conversation between two real people and I enjoyed it enormously because of that. I’ve written it out as an entertaining dialogue between two cyclists on the road across County Wexford but it is a work of fiction and I admired this man too much to put words into his mouth. The dialogue may have some future use but it won’t work here.
I do remember that we talked of our families, of both going through times of hardship and both finding that the supposed bottom was a lot better place to be than the top we had been cheated of. He’d been offered contracts that would have left him wealthy and then found wealth in his family and the charitable work he does with old people. He could tell a tale that had a wheezing cyclist bursting his sides with laughter. He had a bead on the Irish economy. He’d understood the tiger and withstood its demise.
If anything we covered the second part of the journey even faster than the first. “Follow me home if you fancy a hot cup of tea and a place to park your bicycle for an hour or two. You can have a walk around Wexford and add another city to your list. You’d be most welcome. If you don’t fancy it, just keep on this big road. It’ll bring you round to Rosslare Harbour. But you’re hours before your sailing, and I can tell you, there isn’t a great deal once you get out there.”
I take the only option I was ever going to take and follow him off the bypass and down a thunderingly fast descent towards the city centre. Or try to follow him. Before I’ve gone a hundred yards he’s disappeared out of sight and I’m wondering if I’ve been the victim of a practical joke when he bobs up again to my left.
“You took a wrong turning there. Follow me down this way.”
I wasn’t aware that I had taken any turning at all. But I followed him more closely this time. We were flying and the panniers were rattling fit to fall. Left, right, right, left and we’re passing a church with an elegant spire and a chip shop with a very Italian name and he’s pulling up and immediately finding himself in a fight with his daughters.
They’d been worried about him. He hadn’t told them he was away out on his bike and they hadn’t a clue where he was. The strong admonishments are a sign of caring but the gormless twerp he’d brought home with him was an obvious target for their spleen. I feel a strong desire to be elsewhere. Daughter number one is curt and censorious. Daughter number two is quicker to see that there really are no villains in the situation. My cycling friend is unfussed, genial and calmly invites me in. The kettle goes on and daughter number one is able to get on with her day safe in the knowledge that her dad isn’t lying under a lorry on the side of a Wexford highway.
The tea is wonderful and the conversation rolls on. The youngest daughter, who is studying nursing in Leeds hand has just completed a placement at Huddersfield, makes me tea while yer man is busy with the stove and the grill and soon presents two plates of bacon, sausage and burger with rounds of bread and butter. I must admit that I feel a hint of being a nuisance but the hospitality is so warm and natural. They both seem more than happy that I am there and in need of a spot of lunch.
“I was saying to Simon that he could leave his bicycle here and go and have a look around the town. His boat isn’t sailing until tonight.”
“He’s more than welcome. Now, would you like a nice shower while you’re here? I’ll look you out a towel.”
Once again the offer is without condition and the shower feels wonderful. I have new boxers and socks in my bag and they feel like putting on a new skin.The only drawback is having to put the dirty polo shirt back on afterwards. The brilliant yellow shirt, that proclaims my allegiance to Kilkenny, has lost some of its morning newness in looks and a great deal in texture. I’m waved off by two fine people as I make my way into the town of Wexford with directions to the nearest clothing store.