Last week I had the pleasure of five days teaching comics in Ireland, from Dungarvan to Wexford, Waterford to Enniscorthy and finally to Clongowes Wood school near Naas. A diverse and interesting bunch of mostly first and second years, and a week of hotels and public transport that reminded me of the little ways in which Ireland is different.
Smokey taxis. Maybe it was just the luck of the draw, but I got into three taxis this week which were the smokiest atmospheres I'd been in since the smoking ban in pubs ten years ago. The drivers weren't actually smoking while I was in there, but they seemingly just interrupted an interminable chain-smoking session to let each new fare in. I'm surprised I didn't reek of smoke for the rest of the day.
Bus Eireann. Bless its cotton socks, Irish public transport, with the bus company and its sister organisation Iarnod Eireann (which, on the tannoy, sounds for all the world like "Here Nor There"), is a world unto itself. It has timetables which are one part recommended serving suggestions and one part nice ideas, but in no regard do they resemble where the bus actually goes and when it arrives. After a few days of late buses and early buses, and bus stops which were nowhere near where they purported to be, my journey on Thursday night from Enniscorthy to Dublin took the prize.
If you check out Bus Eireann's timetable, and believe me I looked at it time and time again, mostly in disbelief, it shows quite clearly that the bus leaves Enniscorthy at 17.20 and goes up the East side of the Wicklow mountains, through Arklow, Ballincor and Kilmacanogue, to Dublin. There's no timetable that'll tell you otherwise.
So I get on my bus, from the right stop, at the right time. And luckily for me I have my iPhone with its Google maps on, so I am able to work out that, far from going up the right hand side through Gorey, Wicklow and Bray, we are in fact going up the left hand side of the Wicklow mountains, through Bunclody, Tullow and Baltinglass.
Now it's not as if there's a whole lot of difference between Irish small towns, which seem to be remarkably similar in their high streets of Irish-theme-pub-like-genuine-Irish-pubs, single storey cottages, local shops named after local people, green postboxes, understated bus stops and total lack of bypasses so every bus has to go right through the middle of town. But I was going through the wrong similar-looking-to-an-ignorant-foreigner small towns, with no idea of when I was going to arrive at my destination.
But it's an ill wind that blah blah blah, as this whole diversionary timetable-defying route-taking thing ended up getting me to my destination faster than I would otherwise have got there. For my aim was to get to Naas, and my original plan was to go into Dublin and back out again by train. Now I was unexpectedly passing so close to Naas that all I had to do was get out at Blessington, 13 miles away, catch a taxi, and I was in my hotel.
The bus journey was further enlivened by the lights going out - a Bus Eireann thing that I've experienced before, they turn the lights out throughout the journey, the better to enjoy the pitch dark fields as they pass by - then me being joined by Garrett, who joined me in my seat and chatted away about life, the universe and everything, and managed to get through two cans of Guinness and offer me a swig of gin ( I declined) as we went. No, I didn't think I was about to be mugged in the dark. Not for a second. And, don't worry, I wasn't. And thanks Gar for the tip of going into a pub to ask for a taxi. I did this, had a nice chat to Ethel the owner of her otherwise empty pub in Blessington, and got a friendly local taxi to my hotel. Hooray for the transport arrangements of rural Ireland.
Hotels. Monaghans hotel in Naas was the homeliest of the week's hotels, with Mrs Monagahan herself on the desk, a smell of both fag smoke and drains in the bedroom, and the longest wifi code I have yet seen (see below). But lovely. Whites of Wexford was the smartest, being the level of hotel I usually can't afford, with its giant picture windows and beautiful views over the sea (see below), which does great deals on prices in the off season; Lawlors in Dungarvan is sweet and cosy as always; and the Tower hotel in Waterford, which has always been a treat to stay in, well it really went out of its way to get a mention in this throwaway travelblog.
The Tower has previously put me in rooms at the front, overlooking the eponymous Tower, but this time I was at the back overlooking the function suite. Which was fair enough, I'm not over-fussed by the sound of the air conditioning vents. The country and western band was a different matter though. By the time I went to bed they were well audible through the floor, singing a succession of country classics to an audience of, well, mostly silent as far as I could tell. I couldn't hear the crowd, but boy could I hear that bass. Indeed as we approached midnight I was still enjoying the bassy vibrations of Coward Of The County and The Gambler. Then it was five past midnight and, increasingly aware that I had my alarm set for 6.30 the next morning, I was starting to get a little impatient with Islands In The Stream and Nine To Five (I may now be misremembering which classic country numbers they were pounding their way through, I was trying to get to sleep). I got to sleep, which is where that fascinating anecdote ends. The next day I was told by my librarian that Monday is a big night out in Ireland. So, now you know.
Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing Pansy Potter, Bananaman, Biffo The Bear et al in The Beano, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries and art centres - email for details, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. He's been writing and drawing comics for 25 years, he must know something.