7. The New Field

Old O’Driscoll’s cows had grazed the field by the deserted village for several years now. Some of his cows were six or seven years old, well past their peak but still capable of a few gallons a week. Today, he’d been reading a magazine. He went to school in the old chapel until he was 14, but when his father died he had to look after the farm, but he’d learned how to read and write and was proud to be the only farmer on the island who could do both. Pat O’Driscoll had been reading about rotation. He’d never even thought about it before. He had never even heard of it until now.

That morning he padlocked the gate to the meadow that led to the deserted village then opened the one to the cliff top meadow. The grass was lush in there, it was only about a foot high and there were wild flowers, patches of nettles and a few thistles. The earth was firm so it was perfect grazing land. The old cows would love it. As usual, just like he did at 7 minutes past 8 every morning, he flipped the large rusty hook off the barn door and let the cows trundle up the hill to the gate. There was one field to go through until they got to the next gate.

They slowly ate their way up the field towards their usual passage only to find it blocked. The one 10 yards to the right was wide open though, the one that led to the fresh cliff top pasture. The cows just stood and looked. O’Driscoll leant against the stone wall, pipe in mouth “Aye yer buggers, what yer going ter do now eh?”

The answer arrived in about one minute. The cows at the back were impatient, they slowly moved towards the front ones, pushing the front ones against the gate which with a loud crack, snapped the wooden gatepost like a matchstick, splinters of wood flying all over the cows. The herd walked en mass over the wooden gate then carried on as normal, except one which stopped to have a staccato shit and looked back at O’Driscoll with the indifference only a cow or a cat can display.

O’Driscoll took his pipe from his mouth, coughed and spit against the dry stone wall causing a spider to make a quick diversion, “Jaysus!” he mumbled to himself as if embarrassed someone might hear his disappointment.

“Mind’s of their own then?” a voice said. O’Driscoll fumbled his pipe then dropped it and all the tobacco spilled out on the stony ground. “Jaysus feck, yer should tell a man when yer sneak up on him” he said. “Oh, it’s you. Recovered then?”

Brian had recovered remarkably well and had dressed as he normally did except he couldn’t find his bow tie nor the neck tie with “Prestons” proudly embroidered on it in gold. He was glad to get out of Sean’s old clothes, they were “a bit fusty”, Brian thought, which was understandable since they had been in a black bin liner in the peat shed for a couple of years waiting to go to Oxfam.
“Sort of” he shouted, then wishing he hadn’t shouted.

His head was still delicate and the biting wind wasn’t helping. “I don’t normally do this sort of thing at home you know” he informed O’Driscoll. “Is that right?” yelled O’Driscoll disbelievingly, scooping up some of the rough shag he’d spilt on the ground, gatheriing up some sheep wool and a bolus or two of rabbit droppings at the same time, stuffing the whole lot into his pipe. “What do yer normally do then?” he coughed as he laughed.

Brian laughed as well.
The thought of what his wife would think made him laugh again, out loud. He lit a cigarette and blew the smoke skywards but it was picked up by the stiff breeze and disappeared in less than a second. “I don’t normally smoke either” he shouted to O’Driscoll over the gale that had suddenly whipped up.

O’Driscoll had wandered off and by now was quite a distance away in the field with his cows. “So I see” yelled O’Driscoll, he chuckled as he puffed on his pipe under his tatty jacket. He tried to light his pipe out of the wind to get it going again, eventually after 2 boxes of matches and having to extinguish minor fires to his coat on two occasions, he managed to light his pipe and a cloud of smoke came out from under his armpit where the hole in the jacket was. It had been a maroon velvet jacket in it’s better days. It belonged to a vet who came from the mainland but he managed to lose it in O’Driscoll’s kitchen. It was a sort of shiny black these days, with a green sheen where he shouldered stubborn cow’s bony backsides into the milking parlour.

O’Driscoll hobbled further and further up the long field towards the cliff top. Brian turned to go, then noticed an old bike propped up against the stone wall. He didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink and he definitely didn’t steal. So he had a quick glance in O’Driscolls direction, the old farmer was almost out of sight now, so he borrowed the bike instead, vowing to himself to return it.
It was downhill to the village, a bit bumpy, infact a lot bumpy as he found out three times. After his third fall, which was a particularly heavy one, the small front wheel buckled. He carried the bike down the rest of the hill then leant it against a pile of lobster pots.

“Pat lent yer his bike then?” shouted Brady the ferryman, happy to be trapped on the island until the gale abated. Everybody was shouting today, the wind was making hearing difficult. It was gusting and howling down by the harbour, away from the protection of the steep hillside. The bike fell over and two lobster pots bounced twice and then plopped into the squally harbour. A large wave collected them and they were gone. “Well, that’s last we’ll see of them for a day or two” yelled Brady. “What?” shouted Brian. “They’ll wash up on Banna Strand next week no doubt”.

They could see each others mouths moving as they drew closer to each other but the sound was just blown away. Brian decided to escape from the gale, he would pop into Egan’s but just have a pint or maybe a coffee. Anything to get out of the wind, which was getting up to storm force now. “Hair of the dog is it, I’ll join yer fer one then, mine’s a pint of Guinness” bawled Brady.

The wind dropped momentarily and Brian heard him clearly and wondered how he knew that, how did he know I was thinking of going for a pint. He heard himself involuntarily shouting “Cheeky bastard” to which Brady replied “Aye, a right bastard it is, mind, this is nowt, last November the pub sign got blown down and landed on Nora’s head but it didn’t take much repairing, it was a bolt that had sheared, that’s all”.

That day, Joe had “held the fort” for the lunchtime opening session. Nora had been out to a friends for the day and arrived back around 6pm around the time Joe went through the evening opening ritual. She’d timed it perfect. She was bored with the routine, check this check that, measure this, taste that, a ritual most pub landlords went through daily, Joe was no different except he only had one beer and one lager to look after and both of them were in sealed kegs. And then there was a the stout which was merely siphoned from the plastic buckets it had matured in. Most bars opened all day but there was no point opening when nobody came in so Joe closed for a few hours every afternoon except Sunday.

As she turned the corner by the phonebox she nearly crashed into a staggering Brian. “Good avvernoon Nooorah” slurred Brian and made to grab a drainpipe but missed and crashed momentarily onto a window ledge before sliding off in slow motion and hitting his head against the cast iron letter box with a sickening thud. “Oh Christ, not again” said Nora.

Sid was cycling at a precarious 45° angle, leaning into the wind, then fell off because the wind stopped for just one second. He limped over to see what the commotion was about. “Oh, it’s him again”. Just as Nora was trying to prop Brian up against the wall, Brady flew round the corner on his bike, a sudden gust whipped up and blew him out of control, straight over Brian’s legs, clipping the kerb and skidding sideways along the road, eventually came to a stop taking several layers of skin off his chin which inadvertently acted as a brake against the kerb edge.

At that moment, albeit in slow motion, O’Driscoll hobbled round the corner, his coat flapping in the gale. “Who’s done this to me bike?” glaring at Brian as if he didn’t know. “The fecker never asked, just staled it and now look at it, yer donkey”…… “Jaysus is he plastered again?”.

Brian tried to look to see who was talking but his eyes remained sunken at the bottom of his eye socket. Yet again, Nora bailed him out and took him home with her to sober up.
“I’m getting the hang of this drinking lark” Brian said to Nora a couple of hours later, head held high with pride. “If only my wife could see me now, ha ha, she’d have a fit”. “You’ve actually got a wife then?” said Nora “I’m surprised anyone was daft enough to marry you what with your drinking and all that”.
“I never drink at home, she doesn’t like it”.

He felt good after he’d said it, like a sort of confession.
“Well never mind for now” Nora said comfortingly.
“Ouch”, he shouted.
“Shut up yer big baby, it’s only a scratch” she said as she swabbed the gash on his head gently with a dishcloth. “In anycase, the letterbox came off worse than you did, you took some paint off the corner”.

Joe walked in at that moment “Oh aye, lookin’ fer sympathy are we? Ah’ll tell yer something, Peter O’Toole yer not. Ah’d pack that game in if I were you mate, you’re not good enough to play it”. Not that Joe could take his beer either, a couple of sniffs of the barmaid’s apron and like Sean, also thought he was God’s gift to women, notwithstanding his huge ears, for which he was affectionately nicknamed Dumbo and not just because of his ears. Brian accepted the fact he would never be a hard drinker or any sort of drinker if it came to the crunch, but looking on the bright side, he was still relishing his freedom. Tomorrow he would explore the island. All 6 square miles of it, storm or no storm. He’d borrow a coat.