The Open Road

Entry by: writerSVTMLJBMPU

6th October 2017

The Marina Waltz

I was there because of an absence. Well, not quite; it was because of a refusal really. When the lads pulled up and knocked on the door Donard had said,

"Youse can fuck off - don't call for me 'til the bee hits the window."

But spring was two long months away.
You can't beat a wise old head.

I was young then, of course, and I'd worked with Tommy and the Nipper before. This one was for a stone retaining wall on the North-eastern side of the lough next to the new marina. I had recently returned from a job in what was then West Germany and I needed work to keep me occupied. I wasn't really seeking money as much as I was seeking, I don't know, engagement I suppose; an escape from introspection perhaps.
Most days were the same.
We would drive in and park up.
In grim silence, punctuated by sudden heavy squalls of sleet, we would survey our battlefield. Usually the swans would tell me all I needed to know. They were beautiful; smaller cousins of the Whooper. I thought of them as Tsars and Tsarinas escaping the white death of a Russian winter to dance here on our inland sea.
If they were in the shelter of the marina - it was for good reason.

"No waltzes today ladies and gentlemen." I said.
"The swans boys - look."
"Fuck the swans."

Out we would stumble, valiantly trying to resist the gales, and bend double - at the double - like troops exiting a hovering helicopter. Nothing could be heard above the tumult unless you roared directly into someone's face. Every morning the sheet of zinc we hid the buckets and starting handle under would be playing the intro of 'Voodoo Chile'. The wave spume from the lough and the driving sleet soaked us in minutes. We would then retreat to the confines of our vehicle once more.
Always it was the same,

"Ah, we'll give it an hour."

I would look at the Nipper and he would look at me, and we would roll our eyes. Then all of us would steam gently until nothing could be discerned through the windows as the car succumbed to its wind induced epilepsy.
This, then, was the 'portion of our cup'.
The tar squad had the unenviable task of finishing the roadway that ended in the teardrop shaped 'car-park' where we anchored our vehicle with our own combined body weight. We passed these poor buggers every morning on the way in. I used to imagine that survivors of incendiary blasts would look like them. They would morph in and out of our vision like pipe-cleaner models; bright yellow oilskins whipped by slashes of black; tigers on their hind-legs.
They had no choice but to work through all weathers; we couldn't - and wouldn't.
Their fresh liquorice river lengthened inexorably, day by day, as our wall collapsed at the same pace. The crashing waves would wash out the mortar joints long before they had a chance to hold.
On one memorable occasion I was dispatched to steal tarpaulins that we might cover our work overnight to give it a chance to dry.
As I zig-zagged across the open ground to the cement hut howls of consternation could be heard as our sheet of zinc buckarooed up into the leaden sky with the velocity of a hard back-hander - within half a minute it had disappeared into the blizzard.
That was the first thing.
Later, a soldier from a foot patrol knocked on the window and asked us what we were doing there.
"We're havin' a fuckin' picnic." The Nipper replied.
Ordered out of the car, sandwiches abandoned, we stood at rifle-point as the rest of the squad ripped the seats to pieces.
That was the second thing.
About an hour later, frozen to the bone, we covered our work as best we could against the latest assault of a screaming north-westerly - and something shattered.
Well, two things shattered actually; one was the front windscreen of McCann's bile-green Hymac digger - from an unusually accurate strike by a stone thrown by the Nipper.
( He had previous in this regard.)
"I was trying to wake that lazy bastard Maguire." He said.
And the second was Tommy's composure.
Usually fairly laconic, he erupted into a maelstrom of violence that corresponded nicely with the raging storm around us.
That was the third thing.
They do say that things generally come in threes. Well, they do were I come from anyway. I laughed until I could see lights. It was the hilarity of a youth with little to lose; even the swans joined in.
In short, we abandoned operations for a month - until the weather improved.
Many years later I would regale my sons with the tale, and it was nice to see that paroxysms of laughter could still ensue.
Echoes of my own, and just as carefree.
When we eventually returned to the job, the winter was reeling on its feet like a punch-drunk fighter. We made progress. We executed our art.
The swans never came inshore now. I would watch them dance far out in the lough, bowing and preening like the lords and ladies they were. They would soon be off; and so would I.
They would journey into the sun's eye, dozing on the wing; led by the shimmer of the stars to their ancestral home.
And I would prevaricate, and run, and fall, and totter further on into the maw of the open road.