When I was young boy I spent time in my Grandparents house in a tiny village in County Galway on the west coast of Ireland. I would stay in the guest’s room upstairs, sharing a bed with my older brother. At night there would be no noise at all, save the rain that would gently patter on the skylight, or the odd car making its way to some remote, far flung home. By day there would be little going on. There were fields filled with corpulent cows, sleepy sheep and dirty dogs. There were little lane ways filled with massive tractor tire markings. There were tree’s that belonged to the witches we were told. There were old men who shuffled slowly from shop to pub and home again. They would wear tweed caps, with long brown macs and have a pipe with tussled tobacco hanging limply from their mouths. They would nod to you slowly as you hopped past. Some might stop you and tell you they were friends of your family and that you were the bulb of your Mother.
We found neglected farm yards and forests and rivers to gallivant in and imagination allowed us the freedom to live a thousand lives. When time came we would head home for tea and sit with our Granny. She would be nodding off by the fire and would wake with a little start when we came bounding in. The smell of fresh peat burning would fill your lungs and coupled with the smell of cured Irish ham roasting in the oven, you would be in olfactory heaven. We would tell her of our conquests and near death escapes of the days encountering and she would smile serenely and egg us on to tell her more, scolding us if we crossed the line, laughing when we made her laugh. Our granddad would come in with fresh turf from the shed and poke the fire a little, stoking the flames and fixing the heat. He would chat to us about the local men, telling us stories of yore when young men performed great feats for their country and their loves. He taught us of their virtues and their good habits. We listened glued, too young to take it all in, too scared to look away. They were simple times when the world stood still.
Now read on….
I have the good fortune of working in a humble modern day tavern in sunny Australia. It is here where I hear the ramblings of the people, the tales of the past and the promise of the future. Thirsty tuneful tongues guzzle the glorious gargle we purvey. Elbows prop the heads of the men and women who unify and scour their collective consciousness for tales of transgressions, folly and bravery. Old folk and young alike prick their ears for the story new or old, cocked like tomcat prowling down an alleyway late at night.
It is only now, as the antipodean summer launches that legends begin to emerge. The egg shaped rugby and AFL ball have been stored away, and it is hurting the common man. They have been left with the gormless parade which is cricket and the alien game of soccer to entertain them. But entertained they are not. And so they regress. They shut down slowly and revert back to a distant, childhood way. They begin to recount stories and listen to them. Their imaginations shake awake like a penguin dunking itself in the frozen Antarctic waters. They tell of being in school with now international stars. They tell of how they would have made it too if it hadn’t been for the gangrene in their right leg they contracted one year or for their natural proficiency in the arts, which sent them on a different path. They tell of how one so called star once called in for tea after an U/17 school match. They tell of how they met the All Blacks once on a training camp in The Gold Coast, how they were humble and gregarious. They get to listening. I listen too, marvelling at the intricacies of their stories. The truth never gets in the way of a good story. We hear accounts of men with arms big as redwoods, legs thick as two cars and chests you could run a small music festival on. We hear about them pounding through sand dunes at times when even the early bird is resting his eyes and wings. We hear of their conquests with women so beautiful they could break your heart by even considering casting you a second glance. We hear that they devour beer by the keg yet ne’er be too drunk. The tales get told and believed, and their magic lives on until….
Until the next season begins…. Until the first ball is thrown up and kicked and the sweat, blood and tears of the hibernating months injects itself with the vitality of the modern coliseum and the gladiators wage war again. I will pour the beer again and the men and women will drink. There will be little to say as they savour the battle of the present, assimilating statistics and thrills. They will imagine themselves to be with their hero’s in spirit, that their screaming at an inanimate object in the corner of pub two thousand miles from where the game ensues makes a difference. Of course it does. I know. It’s part of the synchronicity of things. It’s like how my grandparents’ house is now lived in by my Aunty, who is now the Granny and by my Uncle, who is now the Grandad. The grandchildren still come over and run helter skelter till they tire by the fire and are told stories of distant relations and long past local hero’s. They too will listen in quiet awe. Too young to look away, too scared not to believe. And so the story goes….