Icelandic craic, culchies and driving it like you stole it…
I was descending the Atlas mountains, driving a pick up with three passengers, the vehicle only just managing to stay on the dusty track as I steered along the edge of a precarious drop off, on what was for me the wrong side of the road, while my co-pilot blasted out a hideous Irish country and western trucker song, called Hit the Diff. To say it was nerve-racking would be an understatement. It was a redneck dream and a nightmare for an urbanite like me.
Three of us were Irish with a lone Icelander in the back, nervously smiling at our cruel sense of national humour and perhaps cringing like me, at Hit the Diff. To him I’m sure we sounded like we were arguing but of course we weren’t. We Irish are quite self-deprecating and along with that comes the outward expression of the same, which we call slagging among our friends.
I was the only Dub (from Dublin) in the car and my other 2 compatriots were Culchies (from the country). My Icelandic friend was a city boy from Reykjavik. I’d spent the previous day with 3 ultra religious Israelis and a couple of Russians, one of whom modelled himself as a young Vladimir Putin, so all things considered, day 2 was still looking like more fun.
Now if you’ve ever been to Ireland you will know that everyone outside of the pale is a Culchie and while each of the 32 counties in Ireland have huge local rivalries, especially when it comes to sport, 31 of them band together in their abuse of people like me from the capital of the Republic, Dublin. It is all good fun, but in a car careening along a cliff edge dirt track, with country and western music blaring, the last thing our poor Icelandic colleague needed, was us abusing each other over the sound of slide guitars.
Mowing, lifting, sowing, bailing, drawing, hauling and buckraking. Being a man of eclectic musical taste, I still struggled with the guitar twangs and the lyrical torture that my 2 Culchie cousins were subjecting me to, and I wasn’t behind about coming forward.
“Turn that shite off, I’m beginning to hope there’s some Jihadi sniper out here somewhere that will put me out of my misery!”
I should have known better. It only encouraged them to hire it up. I hated apple air play in that moment. Unfortunately the road was so precarious, that I needed both hands on the wheel at all times or I would have taken control of the audio. The best I could do was lower it down from the steering wheel, but that just started a childish game of hi-low.
“You Jackeens don’t know good music.” my front passenger laughed and the two of them sang along to the chorus. “Drive her like ya stole her…”
“O hit the diff and pray, that she goes all the way…
‘Kill me now’ I thought. But then I had a better idea. Like I stole her eh?… I stepped on the accelerator, edged my right wheels as close to the terrifying cliff as I could, and my countrymen on the right hand side of the pick up, nearly soiled themselves. The drop was horrifying and there was nothing but a couple of inches of gravel and sand keeping us from tumbling down to our death.
My co-pilot leaned away from the door and grabbed the handle above his head with both hands. Not so funny now I thought.
“I can’t concentrate with that shite blasting in my ear.”
He lowered it down and having been defeated he had to change tack. He criticised my driving.
“Have you never driven a left-hand drive before? The gap to the edge is tighter than a duck’s arse…and that’s water tight!”
“I have” says I, but I’ve never driven one this big on such a narrow track along a cliff edge while being tortured” I emphasised the last word, “TORTURED by bog man music. Did the 80’s even come to Tipperary?”
On and on we went, slagging the bejesus out of each other until we came to our rest spot. The legs that got out of that car were nervous ones. We were all a little bit shaky, me less so, because at least I had been ‘in control’ at the wheel.
That Moroccan trip was hugely enlightening and while it was at times a bit scary, our Icelandic colleague had a great time, which he put down to the fun he had with a bunch of strangers who welcomed him as one of our own. He joined our group as a lone outsider and we made him comfortable, by treating him like he was one of us. No special treatment or allowances. By the end of the day he was jumping in, slagging the rest of us like a native.
Everywhere I have travelled, the locals have their own way about them. Things about which they are proud and somethings they like to complain about. The arrival of Covid-19 has hit us in Ireland in a way that was unexpected. We are very social animals. We are renowned for our love of gatherings in the pub, sing-songs, telling stories, partying whenever we get a sniff of a chance, and our weddings and funerals are a thing to behold.
Being forced to isolate, has been a wound to our national psyche. An Irish wake is perhaps one of the most important rituals we have. I’ve never laughed so much as I have at Irish funerals. Now, people pass quietly, alone, and we are not able to comfort those who mourn their loved ones.
There is no house full of people in the days leading up to the funeral, people coming to the funeral home or house the night before to comfort, pray with, and chat to those who have lost someone. There is no proper funeral Mass, no church filled with sympathy, the crush of the gathering outside where everyone jostles to make their presence known. There is no crowd around the grave as prayers are said, and sometimes there might even be a song. There is no going to a venue afterwards for soup and ‘sangwiches’ as they say. No party atmosphere as everyone shares stories about the dear departed, quite often retelling stories like the one I just told, only with some exaggeration and slagging the loved and lost. All done with a twinkle in the eye and a nod to how much craic the person was, so that the chief mourners could get to see how much others, shared their love for those who had died. Pints are not drunk, nor glasses raised and worst of all, at the end of the day, there is no one to call around to comfort in the saddest days after the funeral is over. Death brings loneliness at the best of times…but now…
It is a cruel virus no doubt and it has impacted us all in ways we never even contemplated when all this began. Here in Ireland, we begin the first phase of withdrawal from full lockdown on 18th May. By then it will be 80 days of this and it’s been tough. But that date is just for a few. For others it will be June July and even August or September before we get out of these restrictions, all things going well.
Victory will be strange in the circumstances, for what will we have won other than that which we surrendered in the first place. But then, will it be even that. Victory for me, will be that we learn from this and that the world and everyone in it, will move on to a better level. It is wishful thinking and probably unlikely, for despite our best intentions, it is human nature to fall back on that which is easiest. We are a lazy species. But I will be positive and hopeful. By staying apart, by not being ‘Vectors’ transmitting the virus, we have started to shut this down in Ireland and hopefully soon across the world. The remaining message is simple, stay safe, stay at home for now at least, and let’s be Victors not Vectors.
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