EEL PIE DHARMA - a memoir / haibun - © 1990 Chris Faiers
Chapter 25 - IrelandDriving back to London in a borrowed mini, wearing only light cotton shirts with the breeze whipping by, gave me a bad dose of flu. Somehow Scotch John and I ended up living with a bunch of students in a commune / residence / crash pad in Kingston. The flu was so bad I was knocked out for several days, and even had mild hallucinations. One day I woke up feeling better, and as I hadn't eaten for several days I wandered out into the streets of Kingston. I bought a carton of milk and wolfed it down.
I decided at that moment to hitchhike through Ireland, with fantasies of finding a croft cottage to use as a home base. I hitchhiked to Liverpool, where I met a seedy character on a back street who wanted to trade his leather shoes for my runners. I stumbled into the Liverpool ferry docks, and caught the all night ferry to Belfast. There were some Irish nursing students on the trip, and I stayed up all night flirting with them. One of them gave me her school address, and told me to look her up.
We docked in Belfast in early dawn light, and I stumbled off groggy from lack of sleep into the war torn streets. There were signs of the violence everywhere, although the shopkeeper in the little grocery where I bought some food was very friendly.
Belfast was no place for a longhaired pacifist, and quickly I hitched a ride with a respectable-looking young guy with short hair and a suit. As we were pulling into the outskirts of Belfast, we got stuck in traffic behind a lorry load of British troops. To torment us, they aimed their mounted machinegun at us. Perhaps we looked like a mismatched couple of guys, but my feeling was that they were doing it for enjoyment rather than for their protection.
The young businessman was only going as far as Armagh, the notorious border county which had been the scene of many IRA and counter IRA bombings and shootings. I was let out by a truck stop, and although it was early evening, I was exhausted from the ferry ride and the experiences of the war zone which is Belfast.
I crossed the road into the brush at the edge of the truck stop, and curled up to sleep about twenty feet from the road. As I was dozing off, I noticed a sinister omen next to me, the skeleton of a bat hanging from a bush. Despite the clinging bat skeleton, I fell into a sound sleep, only being awakened once when a truck motor started up. Then in the dead of the night a screaming howl woke me up with the shivers! It was like nothing I had ever heard. It was longer and louder than a human scream, more painful and mournful and dangerous. All I could thinnk of was a Banshee! I quivered in my sleeping bag, not daring to move, and not feeling secure hidden in the bushes with the hanging bat. Thank God the scream didn't repeat, and I finally fell back asleep:
Finally a car stopped for me. Two sexy Danish hitchhikers had insisted that the young Irish lad driving stop for me, and they drove me into Galway. The girls and I headed for the nearest pub, and had a pint. All the locals gathered round, and several of them performed their pub tricks. One played the flute, another sang, and one even danced for us. They were disappointed that we didn't have any special talents to show them, and they seemed sad that their exotic looking visitors weren't really very entertaining.
The girls and I headed for the outskirts of town, and I thought a very exciting evening was shaping up. Unfortunately every male hitchhiker for miles around had the same idea, and we all crowded into their little tent like good brothers and sisters of the road, and nobody got lucky.
The next morning we all started hitching. I got a lift on the back of a motorbike for five or six miles, but it turned out to be my next to last lift in Ireland. For days I walked the central road crossing back from Galway in the west to Dublin in the east. At night I slept in ditches, except once outside a town halfway to Dublin I slept in a tent with some local schoolboys.
I wandered on along the lonely highway. Althought it was a major road, there wasn't a lot of traffic. The few pounds I had started with had run out, and I hadn't eaten a full meal in weeks. Just as evening fell, I met a nice middle-aged lady who took me to her house and fed me dinner. I think it was some sort of retribution on her husband - I probably got to eat his dinner while he was in a pub. Luckily for me he didn't materialize, or my bones would probably be in an Irish graveyard.
I thanked her for the very welcome meal, and ambled to the outskirts of town to find my usual resting place in a ditch. I chose a spot several hundred yards from a deserted-looking house, and fell asleep with a full stomach. Around midnight I was awakened by the noises of a loud party from the house. For a moment I even thought of joining the wild goings-on, but I was so stuffed I fell back asleep.
When I next awoke it was dawn. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, and peered through the thinning mist at the house where the rowdy party had taken place all night. It was deserted! No cars, no drunken bodies strewn on the lawn, nothing. The house was as deserted-looking as when I had first seen it the evening before. God knows what had transpired all night in the old house, or had it all been my imagination, the result of indigestion caused by my first real meal in weeks?
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