Chapter 75: Bobo the Greyhound
Galway - Headford
There are some days when I wish I didn’t hitchhike. It was one of those days. The rain was ceaseless. The weather forecast a dark blue smear smothering the whole of Ireland. I left the Galway hostel and trekked to the edge of town. To begin with I didn’t think it was that heavy, at least, not heavy enough to dig out my waterproof from the bottom of my bag. Once walking the thought of stopping to find it seemed more hassle than it was worth. I was wrong.
It was several miles to the spot I was aiming for, a bus stop lay-by on the main road to Castlebar. My hair was tangled and frizzy by the time I got there, blown into knots. The rain formed epaulettes on my shoulders and they spread slowly wider. The trouble was my coat was an old army surplus one, a huge, oversized thing that was more like a tent than a coat. Though it was as waterproof as anything you’d find, it was dark green camo, the kind I thought people would immediately associate with the British Army or the Troubles. I was nervous about wearing it but the rain was too heavy by now. I compromised and turned it inside out.
The traffic took no notice of me. A lorry surged past, screaming in the rain, a fury of water. Its rear looked like the stern of a boat. It took all my conviction to step back and let the bus pass 20 minutes later. I didn’t have anywhere in particular to go anyway so getting on it was pointless, tempting as it was. I watched a pair of old ladies hobble onto the pavement. They looked at me sympathetically.
It was another half an hour before someone stopped. It was a blue van and the owner had a blue jacket. He leapt out, hunching against the rain to run around and open the boot. A beautiful black greyhound inquired from the passenger seat. He hopped into the back so I could get in and I rubbed his nose in thanks. The smell of wet dog filled the car but I soon realised it was me, not the dog.
Owen had a beard, glasses and a cap. He was convivial and curious. I told him about my coat and how I’d turned it inside out. He laughed and assured me no one would have cared. Most people weren’t bothered by that kind of thing anymore.
He told me he loved hitchhiking. “I’m 40 and I still do it,” he grinned. We shared our experiences. I said it was interesting that in Ireland I’d only been picked up by men. Owen thought it was mostly relatively well-off men who picked him up, people who had come from little but done well in life. He’d done a lot of hitchhiking in America too and we both agreed it was crazy over there. Owen reckoned he was picked by 10% nutters, 10% women, 10% other and 70% blokes who’d say well you don’t look homeless, what’s your story?
“Ahh I love it,” he concluded, “It’s such a great way to get the…pulse of society.”
I agreed, saying I’d been surprised at how morose many people were about the state of Ireland. The country’s supposedly doing well at the moment and I’d assumed you would be able to feel it. Instead I’d found people were angry and frustrated. Much like in Britain, I’d got a sense that things felt broken and there was no clear way to fix them. Housing seemed to be the biggest issue.
“Owh it’s a nightmare at the minute,” he shook his head gravely. Owen knew all about it though he had been lucky himself. He was driving to the new house he’d just bought with his girlfriend. “It’s gorgeous,” he admired, “Lovely garden, lovely house, we were lucky.” I congratulated him. “You know, most places in Ireland are overpriced and they’ve got 500 people bidding on them. But this one we were the only ones interested. We offered way below the asking price but the owner snapped it up! Couldn’t believe it.”
What’s more, the derelict pub next door had just reopened. “What could be better?” he asked. There was a nice community and he wanted to be open with them. Owen thought it was important to get to know his neighbours. “In rural areas, they’ll talk about you anyway so you might as well be part of the conversation!”
Bobo the greyhound poked his snout in right on cue. He was clearly listening. We both laughed and said hello.
Owen needed to pick up some concrete mix on the way. He hoped I didn’t mind. The shop was a big DIY store, the kind I used to love as a kid. You can get lost in them. I always liked the model kitchens or bathrooms. Somehow they made you feel like you were in a strange other world, I’m not really sure why. I suddenly realised I’d lost Owen. I felt like a kid again as I peered down the aisles, nervously looking for him as if he were my dad. My bag was in his car after all…
We found each other and went outside to load some bags of concrete into the van. The rain had settled by the time we got back on the road. It had returned to the normal state of mizzle that in Ireland both sunshine and storms regress to eventually. Owen told me about his catering business as we went. It was much better than being a chef. Less stressful and way more money. He was loving life at the minute. It was nice to be around.
I said if he needed any help that afternoon I’d be more than happy to lend a hand. The weather wasn’t great for hitchhiking. He thanked me but said he’d be alright. If I needed a place to stay though I’d be more than welcome. “There’s only a portaloo but it’ll be dry at least.”
I thanked him but fancied kicking on. He had suggested I go to Westport so now I had somewhere to aim for.
I walked through the rain-stained streets of Headford towards another lay-by. There was a strange feeling in the town. A painted electrical box had a blue butterfly that said, Family. Like branches on a tree, we all grow in different directions but our roots remain the same. Further out all the buildings were deserted. One had a colourful mural of Australia with kangaroos and koalas. On others the drab paint peeled, their drives puddled and empty. The gate to the churchyard creaked as I entered. There was no roof on the church, just vines and ivy consuming it from within. It was creepy though not as creepy as the house opposite. The front door swung on its latch and I could see the staircase inside. The clock was mouldy, its hands stuck fast at quarter to five.
It seemed odd there was a housing crisis despite there being so many empty buildings. You see them all through the country. Someone told me many of them were inherited by people who’d long since emigrated. They probably didn’t even know they owned them. I’m sure there were many other reasons too.
I found a place to stand opposite the crumbling church. This time I didn’t wish I wasn’t hitchhiking. My ride with Owen and Bobo had been more than enough to restore my faith. Now all I had to do was wait.
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