In 1979 I took the job of bar manager in the Ardilaun House Hotel in Galway city.
In order to be able to visit my folks in Moyard, (around 50 or 60 miles away) I bought a brand new blue and white Honda 175cc. Now I’d never ridden a motorcycle before but that would not deter me. One of the guys I worked with had a Honda 50 and so, a week before pick up, he gave me a couple of lessons…how hard can it be huh?
The following week I walked to the bike shop and purchased my first motorcycle. Yee haa..etc etc. I stalled out leaving the shop, stalled out in Eyre Square, stalled out at the top of Shop Street and stalled about 20 more times before finally coasting into the hotel carpark. Not that hard!!
You know how people say when you haven’t met someone “ah she’s great” or “he’s a great boss”? That usually sends shivers up my spine. As was the case at the Ardilaun. The first day, I met two of the bar staff and wanted to get an idea of what the bosses were like.
My boss, the assistant hotel manager was named ..er…Miss Mc C..we’ll call her for now.
“Ah sure, you’ll love her! Everyone loves her!” said one girl
“She’d do anything for you. She’s a grand lady” said the other.
I met her the next day and we hit it off like finger nails on a blackboard, like having a root canal and she was the dentist. She was the only person to this day who could shrivel my nuts with a look…yuk….a woman who’s condescending righteous attitude made me dislike her more and more as the weeks progressed.
We really rubbed each other the wrong way. And not in a nice sexual way. She made a tough job tougher and so after 3 months I moved on once more.
I called a family friend who owned a farm in Cleggan and he told me I could come work for him for July and August, herding sheep, antagonising the prime Hereford bull and building a fence.
It was a lot of fun but I also worked a couple of nights a week in Clifden at the Celtic Hotel bartending. The owner was Val Knight, a madman by all accounts, but we hit it off.
It was then, first week of August, that I met Catherine and Mimi, two beautiful sisters from La Rochelle, France.
And no, the term “menage a trois” never entered my head…at that time anyway.
They told me they were camping on Salerna beach outside Cleggan, for a couple of weeks. Looking back now, I feel bad for Mimi, I was smitten by Catherine instantly even after she said,
“No Summer Romances!!”
That didn’t work so well after several motorcycle rides around Connemara, just the two of us.
One day I took her to the top of The Sky Road above Clifden, where one could have a commanding view of the west coast of Ireland. That was hardly my intent. My mind was focused mainly on another view entirely. We took each other’s hands and walked down the slope below the tourist carpark. Lying down on the bog grass and heather we got stuck in. I do remember sitting up a few times glancing back toward the road to see if we were being observed. But I never did see anyone.
The next day I arrived at the farm refreshed and ready for work. A literal skip in my step. Terence and I loaded the tractor’s trailer and headed out onto the headland to continue the fence.
At coffee time I asked him if he had a good weekend. He nodded, pondering for a few seconds before replying,
“Not as good as you.” he said winking.
This caught me off guard a little.
“What do you mean?” I asked innocently enough but already knowing what he was going to say.
“Er..Alan, you were seen…with the French girl…showing her..em…your sights.” he said almost as if asking a question.
At that we both burst out laughing.
“By whom?” I asked him.
“By a lot of people, according to my source. You either ruined or made a bus load of tourists holiday.”
“Huh” was all I said.
I Couldn’t really think of anything else. Needless to say there were many smirks and comments directed at me over the next few days. But I was not bothered. I was a man in love.
Ten days later the girls packed their tent and headed for Dublin and then on to Paris. Catherine and I had an emotional farewell at the bus stop in Clifden and that should have been that. But it wasn’t.
In only two weeks we had fallen in love, but because of time restraints we hadn’t realised where in the relationship we were. The brain hadn’t clicked in, if you know what I mean.
So I went back to work and missed her every day reasoning time cures all heartache. Besides, I had money saved and was heading for California…permanently I hoped, at the end of summer. But then the phone rang one evening at my parents’ house a few days later.
Yes, you guessed it! She was back in Clifden..on her own. Mimi had gone home to France. I jumped on my bike and met her in Foyles Hotel. After many drinks and much petting we went to a campsite outside of town. I stayed the night and many more of the following ones too. It was a wonderful wonderful time. When I wasn’t on the farm I was with Catherine.
Then, like all good things, it was coming to the end. She had to go back to La Rochelle. I had to move to LA.
I said I’d follow her to France. She said,
“don’t, it won’t work”.
But I did follow her a few days later. I met her in Paris and we stayed in her grandmother’s apartment for a few days, exploring Paris. It was a magical time.
Then we headed south to meet her mother and father. The mother was very sweet and kind and I moved into Catherine’s room. The divorced father lived elsewhere so I did meet him a couple of times, he seemed to be a very unhappy man, but then again I was over the moon….in love…with his daughter, not sure if I’d be happy either.
After a few weeks dossing around the city I found a job in Saintes as a tractoriste in a vineyard. Basically I drove the tractor and trailer between the vines as people threw the cut grapes into the back. Catherine was heading off to Paris to college and so we agreed to meet in the La Rochelle train station on Friday nights and have the weekend together at her mums across the street.
Of course when you are that head over heels in love you miss so many little things that are obvious now. I missed them all. To this day I still feel the happiness and heartache whenever I’m in a train station. All went great for the first month, I stayed on at the farm after “La Vandage” driving the big Lamborghini tractor around the country lanes, ploughing and tilling the land. Every Friday the Mauret family would take me to the station for my 1-hour journey back to Catherine.
On this particular Sunday night at the station we held each other tight, kissing deeply until her train was called.
“I’ll write to you every day and see you on Friday cheri” she shouted from the train, waving.
I took my train back to the farm an hour later, unaware anything had changed.
Normally I would receive letters Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Letters full of amorous platitudes from my love. Only this week there wasn’t a letter to be seen. I became so worried by the Wednesday evening that I got the Maurets to call the police and hospitals from La Rochelle to Paris, convinced something bad had occurred….but nothing.
So I finished work Friday and pulled into La Rochelle around 7pm. Catherine’s train arrived at 7.45. My heart was in my stomach as the doors opened. There was no sign of her! I walked across the road ten minutes later and buzzed the mothers apartment hoping somehow I’d missed her. No reply. I was beyond myself. Knowing nobody else in France sent panic to my core. Where was she? What was happening? I was terrified.
I Went back to the station and checked for the next arrival from Paris…in 35 minutes.
“Come on Catherine.” I repeated to myself in an almost prayer like fashion.
No, she wasn’t on that one either. Fuck! The next one wasn’t for an hour. I sat at the cafe and had a coffee while glancing up at the arrival/departure board every minute.
Nope, not on that one either. Two more came and went. The last train from Paris was due in at midnight. By now my heart was beating at Mach One and my heart had moved to my big toes. I was imagining all the horrific things that might have happened to my beautiful Catherine.
The last train from Paris approached. My heart was in my mouth.
Is she on it? Is that her? Please! Please be here. I begged to every and any God who would listen.
Lo and behold there she was walking casually toward me. I ran to her with my arms wide open and all I got was a “Hi”. No hug. No kiss. It felt like I was in the twilight zone. Of course if you don’t realise by now, my world revolved totally around this girl…stupid boy.
When we entered the apartment across the street, her mother and sister were there after all. Catherine took my hand and led me into the bedroom and we sat. We talked for hours but the message was clear.
She wasn’t in love with me anymore and I should go back to Ireland…..in 2 weeks. I never even contemplated that this was the end of our relationship…I couldn’t fathom that. Weird world we live in, non?
We continued to sleep together until that one miserable morning, I took the train to Paris/Calais, the ferry to Dover, the train to London/Holyhead, the ferry to Rosslare.
It was on that ferry that I nearly did the “Titanic” dive. The waters churning beneath me and my heart in pieces. I was broke, the money for LA and Catherine gone, I was a wreck.
Then a voice came from behind me,
“Would you like a coffee?” It sang out and so I turned.
There stood two beautiful blonde girls with the bluest of eyes. Their skin was like milk and their smiles radiated a kindness that I desperately, in that moment needed.
“Sure” I spluttered as a reply, not too sure if this was a dream or not. If I had in fact made that dive into the cold sea and this was just one last cruel prank played on an oxygen starved brain.
I later learned that, not only were they real, but that they were from Sweden. They were really kind and sat and chatted with me. When I arrived in Rosslare I was feeling much better, until I realised I couldn’t afford the ticket to my aunt’s house in Bray. They gave me the money without a moments hesitation.
I’ve always remembered those two girls, their kindness toward me on the gloomiest of days. I asked them for their addresses so I could repay the money they gave me for the ticket but they smiled and said it wasn’t necessary.
Before I went my way and they went theirs, they gave me a kiss on the cheek and a hug. Without their positivity and kindness I doubt I’d be writing today.
Thank you, whoever you are.