Gordon Ferris is a Ballyshannon poet and writer, originally from Dublin but has lived in Donegal for thirty-eight years. He has had poetry and short stories published in A New Ulster, the Galway Review, Impspired Magazine and Hidden Channel ezine.
On the way.
I’m at the entrance to a busy Connolly Station looking in through the door at the top of the escalator above the Luas line terminus. The information-ticket office and ticket vending machines are in through the doors to my left.
My eyes are squinting trying to look up the hall at the timetable above the turnstile type gate to see how long I had to spare before the Sligo train departed.
I wanted coffee, strong coffee, one of those little leprechaun cups of pure energy you see in foreign films, I was bollixed from overdoing it on the gargle in the Belfry, Stoneybatter the night before.
Couldn’t see the figures on the clock from where I was, so I moved closer dodging the numerous commuters of every age, sex, and speed of movement, from infuriatingly slow to, like Harry the rabbit on speed.
Thank you, young man, a nun said to me, as I let her pass with her huge suitcase making sure she wasn’t going to lash me across the back of the legs with the long leather belt thing that hung around her waist. Ah school memories, never far away.
Over in the corner to my left, beside the gates where you insert your ticket, I spot a little coffee shop, I venture over and ask the lady behind the counter for one of those little cups of coffee, making a gesture with my thumb and index finger, she replies “expresso”
“No, no hurry I have an hour to spare”, I said moving off wondering what she was smiling at and what Pirla meant.
I sat down at the table and soon became engrossed with the coming and goings of all the people putting their tickets through the machine at the turnstile type gates. The number of people who put their ticket in the wrong way is amazing, they should colour the different ends of the tickets for egits and gobshites. Coffee had the desired effect, cartoon-like in the way it hit me, the suddenness of its effect. Eyes wide open, with invisible matchsticks holding them open.
Suddenly feeling the urge to start moving. I headed to the shop just across from where I was sitting to get some munchies and something to read, for the journey.
I was feeling full of beans now, had loads of energy, maybe getting that coffee was a mistake, perhaps it would have been better to just get the head down for the three hours on the train and, God I hope I get a seat to myself. My head was flying now, and I didn’t want to be stuck with a chatterbox I was stuck with the last time I used the train.
The culprits name was Private Martin Wogan, and months earlier he decided to plant himself beside me and yap the head off me most of the way to Sligo. He had entertained me with the fascinating story of his several disciplinary hearings and eventual discharge from the Irish Army. Something, he thought was impossible, until he got kicked out.
Apparently, he had been disciplined numerous times for drink-related instances and insubordination to his superior officers, “Officers, maybe so, superior, bolox, that man doesn’t exist” He said.
The final straw for his commanding officers came during his time stationed at Finnar Army Camp in the late seventies. The army camp is positioned between Bundoran and Ballyshannon in the south of Donegal. He bemoaned the fact that he lived in Ballyshannon, but Soldiers weren’t served in the pubs there and had to go to Bundoran to drink.
During these times, the troubles brought bitter hatred to certain sections of the community on our island. One of the potential targets for the terrorists in Ballyshannon was Cathleen Falls, the hydro power station on the Belleek Road. There had already been one attempt to blow up the dam at the power station, this would have been devastating to the town had it been successful, releasing all the dammed waters of the River Erne on to the town leaving a trail of destruction. The man who tried to plant the bomb failed miserably, blowing himself up in the process. Is there any cause worth the loss of a single life, no matter how unjust or downtrodden you feel?
Anyway, the reason for his expulsion was when Ex Private Wogan, on duty one weekend, and of course, it being the weekend and he fond of a drink, just couldn’t stay out of the pub. What he hadn’t expected was for there to be an inspection by some visiting dignitary, accompanied by his commanding officers who were checking the security of the power station and asking, in his opinion, silly questions, Private Wogan took offence at this, thinking, ‘I’ve been in the army since boyhood, where does he get off, telling me how to do my job, who does he think he is’
The commanding officer and his entourage came to where the two sentries were standing guard. They went to the first private, looked him up and down, asked some questions which the nervous private answered with loud emphases on the Yes Sir. They came to Private Wogan now, they looked him up and down, when their head was bowed looking down, he mockingly looked them up and down, to which the sergeant in the background nearly choked. They came to the questions now, the commanding officer addressed him, Private Wogan, he began.
“In the event of an enemy attack on this power station, what would your first reaction be?”
“Sir, that would depend on the nature of the attack,” Wogan replied.
“Well, suppose there was a submarine coming up the estuary to blow up the power station, how would you stop it.”
The General asked, Wogan, who was looking away, annoyed, trying to behave, but not able to keep his mouth shut.
“Well,” He began. “I would reach down and grab my hand-held rocket launcher and blow the fucker out of the water” Everyone was silent at this, trying to hold in the laughter.
“But” the officer, furiously snapped,
“Where would you get the rocket launcher from, tell me that, will you”
To which, Wogan looked him straight in the eye and said,
“I would get the launcher from the same feckin place you got your Submarine”.
And that was how he eventually got kicked out of the Irish army. Believe that or not, but stranger lies have been fiction and stranger fiction been lies.
In the shop, distracted by my thoughts, I didn’t notice the bit of commotion going on at the back entrance. Apparently, some junkie, off his face on whatever the trend for getting, off one’s face, these days, could be dog biscuit or Oxo cubes for all I knew. He was stuffing his pockets with Crunchies and packets of Rolo. Hardly objects that will get him the price of a fix, can you picture him going to his dealer, “Hey what kinda bag can I get for three crunchies and a mars bar” “Ye’ll be getting your legs broke if ye don’t get away from me with that shite” he would be told.
Last I saw of the incident, was of the junkie being approached by two security guards and him trying to dump the bars in what he thought was a discreet manner, but in was fact making it appear more obvious. He was unceremoniously thrown out
I go on down to the front of the building to get my train ticket and returned to the gate to join the que.
“It’s not the same in real life”, someone was saying as I joined the queue for the five past nine train to Sligo. Wondered what they were on about, sounds interesting. Now at the gate with the ticket in hand, if only the woman in front of me would put the tickets through herself, instead of letting her children insert the tickets and using the machine as a toy.
At last, I get to the machine and of course, guess what I do? Yes, I put the ticket in the wrong way and dropped it before I could reinsert it, embarrassed, I can feel myself overheat, starting to sweat, hate drawing attention to myself, more than one person’s attention freaks me out.
I’m heading down platform four now, I got on at the rear of the train. My thinking being. Everybody will be heading for the front of the train to be nearer the exit when they arrive. So, I’ll do the opposite and get a seat to myself. That’s the plan boarding the train, Minding the Gap, as the announcer advises, wondering how blind people manage, there being such a wide gap between train and platform, could be dangerous.
I get on board, seated near the toilets, well three seats away, just before the seats with a table between. I didn’t want anyone opposite me engaging me in conversation, I’m not a snob, just a bit shy. The announcer listed all the towns the train will be stopping at,
“Departing Connolly Station via, Maynooth, Kilcock, Enfield, Mullingar, Longford, Dromod, Boyle, Ballymote, Collooney and arriving at Sligo.”
Then he would repeat the same announcement, only in Irish this time, ending with Shligeach, pronouncing it as Shligoch, with him stressing the Gogh. This made me smile, remembering my kids on the train when they were small, giggling at what they thought was a dirty word.
I get a seat at the window, impatient for the train to start moving. I observe a steady stream of passengers vying for the best seats, far more than I expected. The train seemed to be busier than usual. Couldn’t think of any event scheduled that would have people heading for Sligo. Especially on a Monday morning. In the opposite direction to Dublin, maybe, but not going to Sligo. Thursday or Friday would be the busy days going to Sligo, towards the end of the week when people’s work and college is over and there going home. At last, the train started to move, to my relief, I have a seat to myself.
The train gently pulled out of the station passing all the familiar sites of Dublin city, Croke Park being the last before I became distracted by the other people on the train. On the opposite aisle, one seat up, a man and women with their two excited girls sit, one about four, the other, about seven…
The woman telling the kids in a hushed angry voice to Sit and be quiet or there getting nothing off the trolley when it comes around. She turned to the Man and scolded him for ignoring the kid’s behaviour. He just said in whisper back that, it was normal for kids to be excited on a train. This only made her more frustrated. Saying through clenched lipped whispers something I wouldn’t like to be on the receiving end of, even though I couldn’t hear the exact words being said, the tone said it all. They finally settled sitting opposite each other, with one of the girls each.
Seated in front of me, two nuns with their backs to me and an aged wise looking man with a bushy white beard reading the Irish Times opposite them, facing me.
I can’t see the people behind me but could hear their voices. How are you supposed to mind your own business, when some people insist on having conversations in public? I suppose some people don’t realise they’re doing it, getting carried away in public. Or maybe I’m just a nosy bastard.
They were the people from the train station who passed the remark, it’s not the same in real life, I recognized the voice. They sounded like a Mother and Daughter and what they seemed to be talking about was the daughter’s romantic life. The mother was telling her daughter, how in reality, romance never turns out the way we are led to believe. In all fiction, be it TV Literature, there always is a vast difference in how romance works out. They only show the meeting, falling in love. They never show you the twenty years after they joined together, after working hard, rearing a family, see then if they still stare lovingly into each other’s eyes.
At this stage, I could feel my eyes starting to close with the train’s motion and the din of the conversation, next thing I knew it was time to get off at Sligo.