Chapter 70: Passing It On
I was first to breakfast at the B&B. Peter, the proprietor, was in a much better mood this morning. He stood proudly by the buffet and took me through the spread. “Tea of coffee, sir?” He wheeled to his corner and diligently prepared a pot. “Juice?” He inquired, "Apple or orange?” He swept a hand over the two perfectly placed jugs. I took a seat and opened my diary.
I was in Fishguard on the western Welsh seaboard. The rain hadn’t stopped all night. We seemed to be in the clouds it fell from and they clung like smoke to the sodden buildings. I hadn’t hitchhiked there, I’d driven. My great-grandmother bought a Series II Landrover in 1970 and it has been in the family ever since. The previous day had been long. 300 miles rattling at 45 miles an hour. The noise was beautiful, driving it was a dance, and it had run perfectly, barely a splutter to hear or a drop of oil to blemish the road beneath. But 11 hours in any vehicle is long, let alone one that essentially doesn’t have suspension. I could see it waiting in the car park, shining wet, cocked on its axis as usual. The dent in the back still there.
A Mancunian entered. He had a reddish face and a yellow shirt. Peter took him through the menu. He ordered a full Welsh, same as me. Peter made him a cafetière and placed a glass of orange juice on a folded napkin next to him. “There you go sir,” he said as he released it. “Is it just you joining us, sir?” The Mancunian said it was. His wife was upstairs but she had lung cancer so sometimes didn’t feel well enough for these things.
Another couple came down. They were Irish. A lady with a long mane of blonde hair accompanied an older man. He had a bald head and a hooked nose with a mouth that curved around it. The lady said the breakfast looked gorgeous. “Ohh, we like to put on a spread here, madam,” Peter proclaimed.
The last to enter was a Canadian. He was spending his retirement riding a motorbike through Europe. It transpired he’d been on the same crossing as the Irish the day before. The lady explained they were from Mid Ireland and that she worked in a centre for the minorly disabled. Francis, by now enjoying his breakfast quietly, had always wanted to go on a ferry so here they were. The Canadian told them about his trip as Peter swept over graciously and the lady exclaimed again how wonderful the breakfast was. She said it was a dream come true for them. Peter glowed with the praise.
Amiable conversation mixed with the tinkle of cutlery. The Mancunian and the Irish lady recommended places on the Irish west coast, the Ring of Kerry or the Healy Pass. She said I could have a horse-drawn carriage in Killarney, it felt like you were going back a hundred years. She asked the Canadian what the weather was like in Toronto. “Oh!” She exclaimed in response, “That’s fierce extreme!”
Soon our breakfast party dissolved and Peter, with his head held high, wandered whistling into the kitchen. I heard him joking with the cook. I discovered the Irish couple were on the same ferry as me so I offered to drive them to the port. If they liked we could go now and drive around a little before. “Oh!” Yvonne - as I learnt her name was - cried, “That would be deadly!” From the enthusiasm with which she said it I knew she meant it in a good way, but looking at the car I might have thought the opposite. Francis nodded a firm approval. We got our things and loaded up. I shut the door behind Yvonne with a clang and Francis sat in the front with me. He had a Guinness cap on and his grin nearly touched it.
We set off, werring through the town. They admired the sound of the car and laughed at every exaggerated bump. I told Yvonne to hold on. The suspension was old and it could send you flying, especially in the back. She said it was the highlight of Francis’ trip and I replied that I was genuinely honoured to be giving someone a ride after all the kindness I’d received. “That’s deadly!” Yvonne said when I told her about my hitchhiking adventures.
Yvonne told me she liked to travel too. She wanted to go to northern Norway next year. She’d done some research and said in the winter between 11 and 2 o’clock it was basically twilight but they still ran tours. She’d been to Iceland last year and loved it there. She said when you’re my age it’s not worth tying yourself down with a mortgage, you should go and see the world.
We came through Fishguard and climbed up the steep hills beyond. The engine rose an octave. Francis growled happily and said, “I’m not getting any younger!” From the cliff tops, we could see across the town and the coin-grey sea. I pulled into a dairy to turn around and there was a model of a pink cow with strawberries all over it. By now the windows had steamed up from the rain and Francis clutched his cuff and rubbed the windscreen. Old flotsam rattled on the metal shelf beneath, screwdrivers, coins and scraps of paper that had probably been there 50 years. Nothing about the car had changed.
We stopped on the cliff tops and got out. Yvonne said Francis hadn’t travelled much. He’d been looked after by the Brothers Charity before and she asked if I’d heard of them. I wasn’t sure. “Well, if you had,” she said gravely, “You’ll know he wouldn’t have been treated very well.” He’d come to her centre a few years before and every year they do a make-a-wish for the residents. Francis had always wanted to go on a boat. They went on a small one first but he wanted a proper one so they came down to Rosslare and got the ferry to Fishguard.
We walked slowly to the viewpoint, helping Francis down the steps one by one. The hills were copper brown and we could see the Stenna ferry sliding silently towards the cleft in the cliffs. Francis said we might miss it but Yvonne said he shouldn’t worry. “You’re always worrying about time,” she said.
We took our time going back to the car. Yvonne said Ireland, like Britain, was having a crisis of care. Nobody wants to do it. She said if I ever wanted a few extra pounds it was worth it, it’s really good. “Grrr very stressful,” Francis beamed.
On the drive back Yvonne explained how expensive things have got in Ireland recently. It was the small things. Paraffin in Tesco is 45p. In Ireland, it was 6-7 euros. The houses in Fishguard were pretty and colourful. We bounced past them to Goodwill and the ferry terminal. I took them on to the foot passenger entrance and we said our goodbyes. For now, at least, I’d see them on the ferry. Yvonne said again that it was the highlight of his trip and she took out a pink ten euro note. I refused but she insisted until I accepted. I was a bit embarrassed that the one time I’d given someone a lift I’d been paid for it. Quite handsomely in fact. She said I should buy myself a drink but I resolved to pass it on somewhere.
I saw them again on the ferry. Francis was grinning. He clung to the side with one hand and he held a bottle of beer with the other. “Aghh I’m feckin sea sick!” He glowed then hobbled cheerfully back to his seat by the window. I could rarely understand a word Francis said, it was all grumble and growl, but he was never without a smile or a wide mouth cackle. Yvonne said he’d been looking out of the window all the way. “Have you seen a whale yet?” She asked. No, he replied and laughed.
The cloud had gone and there was only burning white sky by the time we reached Ireland. We said farewell on the deck, our goodbyes carried in the bright breeze. I’d have to come and visit they said. I said I’d love to.
I got back to the Landrover. The analogue clunk of the door was deadened by the din of the ferry. The ramp was lowered and the light streamed into the dark. I wobbled the tall, thin gear stick and click-clunked into gear. Then I pulled away to Ireland.
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