Gardening: A poorer world. Poor us

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The Independent Online
Stan Gebler Davies died in Dublin on Thursday, aged 51. For the last four years he had been sharing his scrapes and squabbles (there were many), tragedies and triumphs (there were a few) with the readers of Weekend; and to miss any of his columns was to miss a treat. Right from the start (as this early column shows), reality conspired against him, but succeeded only in looking silly - as it always did.

MISSED the plane at Dublin Airport for only the second time in my life. This was largely due to its taking off at 6.50am, an unnatural hour for anybody, but preternatural for me. I have taken to flying back and forth between Cork and Dublin for the pleasure of looking at the scenery out of the window and counting the cows, for it is usually an aeroplane with propellors and flies low. A relatively cheap fare is available if one consents to travel at the unholy hour aforementioned.

As it happened, I got to the airport with, I thought, some seven minutes to spare, thanks to the daredevil tactics of my elderly taxi-driver, who sped me shortly after dawn through numerous red lights in the deserted streets of Dublin. The Irish, like the English, loathe getting up in the morning, another reason why neither of us will ever make satisfactory Europeans.

'The flight is closed,' said the lady at the airport.

'It can't be,' I said. 'It hasn't taken off yet.' I was employing provincial logic, of course, which does not necessarily work on the urban sophisticates of Dublin.

'For you,' the lady said firmly, 'the flight is closed,' which had an ominous air of finality about it. I suppose they could use it on my tombstone.

I got the train instead, which was full of pubescent girls on some school outing. Why do pubescent girls giggle so inordinately at dishevelled middle- aged men? I did not giggle at middle- aged women when I was 14, no matter how attractive I found them. Possibly it is because of our habit of drinking beer for breakfast. But what else is one to drink when one is suffering from a raging thirst?

THIS THIRST had a lot to do with Wicklow. I was strolling down Lower Baggot Street last Sunday lunchtime to get a taxi to that place when whom should I espy coming out of O'Donoghue's public house but Muirtean Byrnes, instantly recognisable by his white mane and beard and his fiddle.

Muirtean was, anciently, fiddler to the Honourable Garech and the Princess Purna, a Wicklow couple. When he was serving in that capacity I gave him a fiddle I had in my possession. It had been given to me by Paddy Frost, a red-headed female from New Zealand who thought I might be able to coax some sweet sound out of it, but it was too subtle and pliant for my style of playing, which is robust. This fiddle, I think, Muirtean may have used for airs, for which it was suitable, but I can't be certain, for I am one of the worst musicians in Ireland and that is a very considerable admission.

I have still got a fiddle. I practise when I am quite sure nobody is in earshot. If the O'Sullivans, across the hall, have heard me they have had the good grace not to complain, though I understand they intend moving.

Muirtean and I got into a taxi outside the Shelbourne Hotel. I asked the driver if he knew the way to Roundwood, in Wicklow. He said he had never heard of it, which is rather as if a fellow from Soho said he did not know of Putney or some person from Manhattan had never heard of Brooklyn. I approved of him immediately.

We got there eventually. The driver drove his taxi very slowly. He said he would require pounds 21 for his trouble. In the event he demanded, and got, pounds 35, which means I have spent, for travel, some pounds 180 in the last five days without getting anywhere in particular.

Muirtean no more drives motor cars than I do, and so his advice from the back seat was somewhat useless, but at Enniskerry I requested a halt, recognising the place. It is a village in the Wicklow mountains. There I bought a map and, taking it back across the road, spread it with some satisfaction across the bonnet of the taxi. 'That is where we are,' I said emphatically to the driver, 'and that is where we are going.'

'Is that so?' said the driver.

'Yes, it is.' I was troubled, for I know the tone of voice of Dubliners.

'It is a simple matter of following that road down there,' I emphasised, pointing to the road we were to follow if we were to get to the place we were supposed to be going to.

'I will do that,' said the driver, 'if you can indicate which road it is. I have not been able to read maps since my sight failed.'

This took a while to sink in. 'You are not, by any chance,' I ventured, 'blind?' I had been wondering why we had gone at such a leisurely pace.

'I am not,' said the driver. 'If I was blind, I wouldn't be driving a taxi.'

One could not argue with this logic. I did not. Quite right, and just as well, as we drove subsequently over some of the most precipitous roads in Ireland without coming to grief. We met some excellent people in Wicklow, as is inevitable, but Muirtean did not play his fiddle, claiming incapacity because I had given him whiskey. I never found Paddy Moloney either, who lives at Annamoe, a mile or two down the road in Wicklow, because I forgot to ring him. He is notoriously the best piper in the world and Muirtean is the greatest fiddler. One should really make more of an effort.