Sunday, 14 March 2010

Shamrock and Roll

Well if you ever plan to motor west
Just take my way that's the highway that's the best
Get your kicks on Route 66
Well it winds from Chicago to L.A.
More than 2000 miles all the way
Get your kicks on Route 66

Bobby Troup (Route 66)

TODAY IS MOTHERING SUNDAY in the United Kingdom. This afternoon there were some lovely bunches of flowers for sale outside the two shops that normally have them in Amble, and a few unopened daffodils in jars outside the hardware store. Now it seems to me that mothers probably would have appreciated any floral arrangements first thing this morning, perhaps even last night. The shops were not doing any business.

When Cailean and I walked to the open-air market (every Sunday on the Amble docks) not only our main shopping street was quiet, but there were few stalls and shoppers on the docks (despite glorious weather). A week ago every man and his dog was there. Among the few stalls was the wagon that sells hotdogs. This wagon has flying over it a large American flag. I did try one of their hotdogs once, and it was watery, salty, and vile. No amount of condiments could save the thing. We don’t even do sauces and relishes well here. Hotdogs are often offered with soft, slippery fried bits of onion. Frankly, they are best avoided.

On the way home we bumped into one of Cailean’s dog friends, Humphrey, who is also a black-and-tan miniature dachshund. He’s a bit smaller than Cailean, more-mini. Lovely little fellow. And today, to our surprise and delight, we met Humphrey’s younger brother, only five months old (Humphrey, from an earlier litter, is Cailean’s age, two). The new wiener in town is called Bo, short for Bogart, and he’s a black-and-silver dapple. When three miniature dachshunds get together for a scratch-and-sniff, it’s a bit like a family of otters on a riverbank.

Passing the florists' shops again I noticed that no flowers had been sold. I was tempted to buy some, but they were awfully expensive. I might get a leftover bunch tomorrow for a fraction of the price.

We had St David’s Day on 1 March. The Welsh flag was flying in Amble’s Town Square (no sign of the Union Flag that day, or the bloody EU banner) for the day. There were a few forced daffodils on sale, and we’ve always got leeks to spare. The saintly David was actually Welsh, born in about the year 500 AD.

St George’s Day is on 23 April. He’s the patron saint of England, noted for slaying a dragon. I tend to confuse St George with St Michael because there’s a wonderful sculpture by Jacob Epstein of St Michael overcoming Satan on the outside of Coventry Cathedral. England’s patron saint, George, was not English. He was born in Palestine in roughly 275 AD. Happens George is the patron saint of a fair number of countries including Ethiopia, Greece and Russia. And Georgia. 23 April is said to be the day, in 1564, that Shakespeare was born. Actually, nobody knows that for sure, but he was baptised on 26 April that year. He died on 23 April 1616, which may have been his fifty-second birthday.

The Scottish patron saint is Andrew. Now he was, apparently, the brother of Simon Peter, and like him one of the Apostles associated with Jesus. I’m guessing he was born in the Middle East in about the year zero. 30 November is St Andrew’s feast day, and the national day of the Scots.

The Irish celebrate St Patrick’s Day. He was not Irish, but was born over the Pennines from where I live in Cumbria. He was a Roman-Briton and may have been born in 387 AD. His feast day, the national day of the Irish the world over, is 17 March. On that day the beer turns green, as if by magic, and one might see someone wearing the traditional headdress with the words "Kiss Me I’m Irish" written across it.

Now, I have no idea whether our florists will have shamrocks for sale. I don’t know if many Irish folks live around here now that there’s no industry. We do have Irish Travellers (you’ve heard them rudely called “Pikeys” or “Knackers”) that pause in this part of the northeast, and they are generally not welcomed with open arms. Will the pubs in town have green beer? I’ll look for signs of this. Now that one must smoke outside of any public building, glasses and mugs are often left on the pavement outside the Waterloo, the Dock, Pier 81, and so on. There may be a green residue in those. Perhaps green vomit in the gutters.

In late October of 1979 I was the designated passenger (and map-reader in those days before the SAT-NAV) as a friend drove us across North America from east to west. We were following the old Route 66 once we moved inland from the Carolinas. My friend had one of those enormous gas-guzzling Fords, eleven years old, and it was heaped with things we thought we’d need for a winter in the Rocky Mountains. That included, for the journey, a pup-tent.

We used the tent for the first time just outside Oklahoma City, setting it up in a grassy field that seemed to be owned by the KOA. It was dark when we walked into the field and got the tent up. We’d had a meal at a roadside cafe called The Picket Fence. It had a jukebox and I put in a quarter and we listened to the Rolling Stones’ song “Miss You” ... Not one of their best, but it was played in the discos, and a cafe in Oklahoma.

When I woke in the morning, I pushed open the flap of the tent and saw, close up, a spider doing the arachnid equivalent. A trap-door spider. And then, to my horror, I realised that we were sharing the field with a herd of cows. This would not be a KOA! No wonder there had been no office, no toilets, and no showers.

We hustled ourselves out of the field, closing the gate behind us.
On the Interstate we made good time heading west until we reached the Texas Panhandle. Suddenly, as we came over a rise in the highway, the car’s bonnet started steaming, then billowing, and the car began to lurch about. My friend got it onto the shoulder of the road where the engine gave up completely. We pried the bonnet open and boiling liquids sprayed about.

I’m sure we were cussing, but I don’t recall. I would have been panicking, I reckon. There was, however, a sign by the highway indicating a service station not far ahead. My friend set off in that direction on foot, and I quivered with fright in the car. At least it was a sunny afternoon.

My friend returned in a tow-truck sort of vehicle driven by someone from the garage up ahead. The mechanic hitched up the dead Ford and we all drove into the nearest town. It turned out to be Shamrock, Texas.

Shamrock, Texas, in 1979, looked a bit like the end of the Earth to me. I’d been accustomed to beaches in Bermuda, not dust and tumbleweeds and wooden, raised sidewalks. There were a fair number of boarded-up store-fronts; everything needed a lick of paint. The mechanic said he’d look at the car, and we went looking for a Coca-Cola. When we returned to the garage the mechanic said things looked pretty bad: The Ford’s radiator had completely disintegrated. What’s more, that model and year the radiators had been peculiar. It would not be possible to get hold of a new radiator to fit the eleven-years-old car. We were buggered.

At that moment, I said something odd and, at that time, not unexpected. I told my friend that if he quit smoking then and there (something I’d done recently, so I was insufferable on that subject) everything would work out. My friend agreed, though not happily, and we wandered around Shamrock waiting for the miracle. An hour later, back at the garage, our mechanic was smiling. He’d been to the town’s dump and had actually found a 1968 Ford, our model. He’d been able to cut the radiator out of it.

I think we paid about $100 for our afternoon in Shamrock, Texas, which was a fair bit in 1979. I’d asked what exactly the people in Shamrock did, with it being little more than a service station. The oddest thing, it turned out.

Every March the Shamrock Post Office receives many, many cards and letters to be posted on from there with the Shamrock cancellation mark on the envelope. Cards and letters celebrating St Patrick’s Day, going all over the world.

It was late October, as I mentioned, and the town was quiet and dusty as we drove back to the Interstate.

We pushed on to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and then into Colorado, sleeping that night in a genuine KOA near Durango. Durango was (and is) a resort town, quite upscale in an historic way. The scenery is exquisite with rivers and waterfalls and mountains. It seemed very much like the Promised Land after the Texas Panhandle. We should have stayed there. But that’s another story.

Every St Patrick’s Day I think of shamrocks, and 1968 Fords in Texas. Season of the Hitch.

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