At The Edge Of Europe

Galway is one of those places where everyone celebrates how it’s a thriving, exciting 21st century city. Scratch the surface, though, and its true character is right there.

I watched a busker today in Galway City. He’s a guy I’ve seen a million times. His pitch is opposite Eason’s bookshop; sometimes he’s on his own, other times he’s with a band. He plays banjo and has a powerful voice that reminds me of the great Luke Kelly, who sang with the Dubliners back in the day. This guy belts out the ballads: I caught him mid-Dirty Old Town. He has red hair – which he has currently cultivated into a thick beard – and his skin is florid. His shirt is always open more than the top two buttons, and I sometimes wonder if he’s feeling a bit draughty. He has very distinctive taste in clothes: Aran jumpers, flared jeans with rips, corduroy jackets and heavy boots. Sort of Makem and Clancy-chic. But I wouldn’t have noticed any of it if weren’t for his amazing voice, which fills the street without any need of amplification. He’s a real fixture in Galway, a year-round entertainer.

I sat across the street and drew him. I watched as men greatly his senior stopped to talk to him, leaned against the wall and smoked beside him, generally behaving with familiarity. That’s what I mean about Galway’s true character being just there under the surface. It’s the casualness, the informality. A few minutes later I saw some Guards (gardaí, cops) attend to a disturbance in a clothes shop. I hung around and rubbernecked in the hope of seeing some aggro. Nothing really. Then the guards, who are unarmed in Ireland, were in a little posse outside on the street. One of them was on his phone. Now, he was probably looking up something to do with the perp, but the way he was on it he looked for all the world like he was Snapchatting. Which I’m sure he wasn’t. Either way, the vibe was very chill. At the end of the day, Galway is a small town at the edge of Europe…

Later I was waiting for my youngest in Gort, which is an even smaller town deep in the heart of Galway county. I had about an hour to wait while she did Taekwon-do and I was limited as to subjects because it was dark, though dry. I drew this shop window.

Here is the explanation for the signs in the window:

Ewe Lamb Ration: food for sheep. I only found out a few months ago that it’s called “ration”.
Gort GAA Lotto: the sports organisation lottery.
Wood pellets: Fuel for burning in the home.
Guaire magazine: the Irish name for Gort is Guaire
Quality records: tasty potato variety ( I think it might be seed it refers to)
Square bales hay: self-evident
Gas Heater Very Special Offer: grab it quick
Ash can – including lid: that’s useful, I know because I have the same one
For sale, 2 wheel car trailer: very useful in these parts
Dangerous chemicals: someone needs it, clearly

More nice gentle country fare next time…unless I find out what was going down in that clothes shop. I’ll let you know!

Don’t Worry

In my work as an art teacher to primary school children, I make the occasional mistake. I’ve been teaching art for about eighteen years, on and off, so hopefully I know what I’m doing by now. This week, two things happened in class that I hope won’t come around again too soon. First, a little girl who has just turned 8 spilled a full jar of water all over her work and that of the little girl opposite her, who’s also 8. In the slow-motion sequence of events that immediately followed, she stood there transfixed as the water did more and more damage, while I belted over to the sink to get dishcloths and paper towels. The very careful little girl sitting across from her did her best not to appear annoyed, as she surveyed a painting of an orca she’d had on top of her kit folder, which was now getting very smeared.
“it’s ruined,” she kept saying.
“Don’t worry,” I said, “It’ll dry off in a sec and I can fix it.”
We were just drying off the table when – whoops! The careful little girl spilled her jar too. Over the table it went and all over her damp painting and the first little girl’s work. I can count the number of jars that have been knocked over on one hand – and that’s in 18 years – I hope two jars in as many minutes isn’t the start of something.

The other thing that happened was a bit more stupid, and it was on my part.
“I see you’ve tried to rub it out,” I said to a little girl whose drawing of a reindeer was still a bit visible. “Don’t worry, I have a way to rub it out so that you can’t see the lines.”
The children are always struggling to get the traces of pencil off. I got rubbing, methodically but vigorously. The little girl kept looking at me as I leaned over her. I couldn’t figure out why – did I smell funny? It was that kind of look. Finally I got the last trace of pencil off.
“Now!” I said. “Isn’t that great! No lines at all!”
“I hadn’t rubbed it out,” said the little girl.
Oh no. I had just rubbed out a carefully-drawn reindeer that she was clearly very happy with.
“Don’t worry!” I said, mortified. “See those lines? We can just about see them well enough to put them back on.”

What an eejit.

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