In the convenience store in Keel village in Mayo, an elderly customer surveyed the options on the shelf.
“It’s hard to know what to eat in this weather” she says, finally.
When the woman established that I was a tourist/camper, she beamed with pride, pride in her place.
“We haven’t had weather like this in Achill for over twenty years” she said.
She was almost emotional. And I could understand that. Achill was getting a break, getting a break after all those wretched wet summers. It was too late for the boarded up premises’ we had passed earlier, some with forlorn and fading ‘For Sale’ signs outside them. But it was a timely boost for all the other businesses, for the community.
Achill was getting a break, like every other endlessly patient would-be tourist location in Ireland is these days. Life was good in Achill last week. Local businesses were buoyant…with holiday-makers in abundance and everyone in good humour. The glorious Achill beaches were busy, the stunning scenery at its most eye-catching.
It was like the summers of our childhood had been packaged into a greatest hits montage.
We’d arrived on Thursday evening, with our ‘home on our backs’. Our destination was the Sandybanks Caravan & Camping Park. It was after 7 pm when we got there, intent on getting in tent. This time, we got the tent up very quickly, and no poles or pegs left over!
‘Sandybanks’ is an excellent park. The facilities are top class and it’s located right beside a beautiful beach.
The weather was, of course, amazing. Thirsty after our tent assembling, I popped into the Amethyst Bar for a cool drink and met a Dublin man who relocated to Achill a number of years ago. Soon we were talking about the World Cup, the Mayo/Kildare venue controversy, the price of housing and anything else that two strangers could muse about on a hot evening.
Back ‘on site’ a half an hour later, and our son was now playing football with seven or eight newly-acquired friends. Kids on holidays…they evolve from strangers into friends within minutes. Suddenly the play area is full of young Messis, Neymars’ and Salahs.
It’s an absolutely glorious day – over 30 degrees – and Keel is magical. We take a drive around Achill Island. When I was a young lad, any trips to beaches in summer were usually to Enniscrone, Strandhill, or Salthill. It’s only in latter years that I’ve become familiar with Achill. It’s really beautiful…wild and wonderful. There’s none of that usual atmospheric rain-drenched or wind-battered ruggedness this time; now, in this record-setting summer of 2018, Achill is a stunning, sun-soaked sight.
There are sheep everywhere…including on all the narrow roads. We’re in a café, and two sheep suddenly walk slowly by. A few minutes later, four sheep hang around outside a quaint post office. Later, one crosses the road in front of our car, oblivious to the vehicle and indeed to anything else in the world.
We take the visually breathtaking drive to Keem beach, where there are huge crowds of people enjoying the glorious conditions. A beautiful place, Keem Bay is set against the background of the magnificent Croaghaun mountain, the sandy beach accessible only by a winding drive, cycle or walk along a clifftop, offering spectacular scenery and maybe even a nervous moment or two for any faint-hearted folk. Sheep that hadn’t scheduled a trip to the post office into their busy day ensured that our clifftop drive is suitably slow and focussed.
When we return to ‘Sandybanks’, the park is much busier than the previous evening. As it’s the weekend now, several more campers have arrived: caravans, camper vans and tents zig-zag into position across the lush greenery.
Across from us, a man – bizarrely – is mowing the grass around his caravan. This is not a private garden or rented area, it is very definitely ‘everyone’s grass,’ it just happens to be near his caravan. Serious Man has a small lawnmower plugged in and he’s very assiduously cutting a section in front of his abode.
Two German couples have arrived, with three small blonde children. We don’t mention the W. The World Cup. The Germans have exited tamely from the competition. Meanwhile, most of the sporting talk in Achill is of GAA, not soccer. Mayo flags fly proudly. A shed is painted green and red. There is nervousness, and hope, and yes, it’s the hope that’s killing…slowly.
As ever, life in a camping park is relaxed and leisurely. Everyone is friendly. It’s brilliant for small kids and relaxing for parents. There’s a sense of community here; two campers from either side of us ask if they can borrow our pump so they can inflate beds. ‘No problem, you’re welcome’ – although you’ll find that Serious Man probably has the latest super-pump in his collection of accessories!
Today we check out. The tent is taken down without any fuss. Small talk with strangers. The Germans are gone to the beach already. Serious Man nods and, make no mistake about it, I nod back. RN registrations and MO registrations, plus many visitors from abroad. We leave Sandybanks, Serious Man, the sheep, the surfers, and the sun worshippers. Beautiful place, Achill.
The drive home is in brilliant sunshine and against a landscape of gently fluttering Mayo flags. Even after that evening’s subsequent (and surprise) defeat in Newbridge, those flags can still fly proudly.
Crossing into Gortaganny country, a huge primrose and blue flag announces we’re back in Roscommon territory. I can already feel the hope – that damned hope – creeping closer, threatening to engulf us and toy with our dreams.
It’s a brilliant World Cup. It usually is. Even critics find the tournament usually grows on them. How can you not love it?
There’s so much drama, much of it in the closing stages of games. There have been some superb goals too.
Like most Irish people, I’ve had my own ‘conflict’ when it comes to English soccer teams over the years! There is, shall we say, a tendency for over-confidence/arrogance to go side by side with their many doomed campaigns. But that’s changing! I found myself cheering for England on Tuesday night. Columbia were extremely cynical. Also, I was delighted to see England finally win a penalty shoot-out. So, there you go: I cheered the Brits on!
Can they get to the final? Could they even win it? Truth is, England are hardly terrifying the other teams. But they are resilient, they’re well organised, they’re game…most of all, they have Harry. They also have a great draw. Their game with Sweden (quarter-final) is probably a 50-50. I think I’ll be cheering for the neighbours again.
The winners of this gripping tournament? As matters stand, you’d have to look to Brazil, France or maybe Belgium.
More thrills to come …
“It’s a local derby” Dublin footballer Ciara Trant commented on RTE Radio when Roscommon drew Armagh on Monday morning.
Well, anyone can make a mistake, and to be fair to Ciara she responded with good humour on Twitter…and pointed to the irony that she’s a Geography teacher!
Meanwhile, here’s wishing Kevin McStay and the Roscommon players well on Saturday when they play Armagh in Portlaoise. Win that one and we’re into the Super 8s…and even more ‘local derbies’!
Paranoid about an android…
It’s lovely when an old friend unexpectedly makes contact…
So imagine how thrilled I was when my old friend(s) in Vodafone sent me a text, right out of the blue.
After the customary warm ‘hello,’ Vodafone got straight to the point.
“We’d like to ask you three questions about your experience of using our network recently”.
This is very friendly – last time they only offered to ask me three questions after I had asked them to sort out a (Vodafone related) problem for me.
Now they were suddenly in touch, not on foot of a recent exchange between us, but quite randomly.
I was of course hesitant. I suspect a robot is ‘at work’ and that I may not be dealing with a human. Paranoid about the android? Plus, last time when I gave in and went along with their ‘three questions’, they pounced in dramatic circumstances at the very end of the ordeal.
“One final question…” they texted that time, to which I replied: “Nope! You said three”.
Life too short and all that.
Still, I decided to read the rest of this most recent text. It continued:
“Replies are free of charge, first question to follow”.
Free of charge?!!!
I reflected on this extra information. It seemed too good to be true. I collected my thoughts and tried to digest this extraordinary offer.
It seems that my friend(s) in Vodafone wanted to ask me three questions (and then sneak in a fourth) of mindboggling tediousness during the hottest week in living memory, questions which I’m expected to patiently respond to, and all with the guarantee that Vodafone would not charge me for my replies!
I decided to seek clarity. They had texted me, so surely I could text them?
‘Definitely no charge?” I asked sarcastically (that’s if you can convey sarcasm by text). Much to my dismay, my text wouldn’t even go through. This automated friend can give it, but can’t take it!
I feel a bit used. They asked me to oblige them, I asked them a simple question, they effectively broke off communication. They never even kept their promise; never sent on question one, like they had promised they would.
It was Tuesday afternoon. Probably gone to watch the soccer…