Paddy (18) wants to visit Galway City. He hasn’t been in town for three months, whereas we used to go once every couple of weeks. “I just want to go in and get a quiche from the Gourmet Tart Company,” he says in such a wistful voice that I cannot refuse, and so I have promised to drive him and his sister Liv (15) into Galway today. We will park, get a quiche from the shop near the car park and come home again. In the morning, Paddy is eager. “What time are we going?” he asks. I tell him around lunchtime. This is enough to force me to do something productive in the meantime, so Reuben the terrier and I go up the road some 100 metres, enter a field of long wavy grass and settle down. It’s next to Tyrone House, which I have drawn umpteen times, but never from this field. I think it looks majestic with the estuary behind it. In its day, it overlooked its own private oyster beds: I think their bit of water was this side of the spit of seaweed in the sketch. They say that when the house was built in 1789 it had the finest of everything, and the best sunsets in Europe. Time and resentment have taken care of the finest of everything, but we still have the best sunsets in Europe. Still, the St. George’s family’s loss is the rooks’ gain, and countless generations of corvid families have been reared in the ramparts, squabbling and cawing. There are rolling green fields sweeping from the house to the water, and today there is a small herd of Charolais cattle taking their ease. They loll about, their heads resting on each others’ flanks. I haven’t drawn them well, but the pale one in the middle turns out to be a huge bull. I wonder if it’s the same bull I drew last week, and I wonder if the lady cow he is getting cosy with is the same one to whom he appeared so devoted when I sketched in that nearby field. The elderflower trees you see on the right will soon provide me with blossoms for more cordial, and indeed featured in a sketch from a few days ago.
Reuben is loyal but bored. He starts the sketching session with some happy rollovers in the grass; once I have been there a while and am in the thick of sketching he sits on my art kit briefly, then on my feet, then pressed against my side, which are all his polite way of saying “okay, can we go now?” I ignore him. He goes for a short walk. He comes back. He stands up like a meerkat just in case there’s anything interesting to see above the long grass. There isn’t, and he’s not allowed wander far because we’re too close to the road, which although quiet, represents a danger for a dog with zero car-sense. At last I pack up, Reuben perks up, and soon I’m driving two excited teenagers into Galway City.
On a normal warm June day, Galway would be so packed it would be hard to get down the street. Today the main street is very quiet. There are people, but you can easily get up and down the street, and there are no holidaymakers. I insist on my teenagers wearing masks, which they very reluctantly do (it’s a condition of the quiche). Sadly, Liv and I estimate that only about 3% of people are wearing masks, whether indoors or out. Sadder still, the Gourmet Tart Company is closed, as are all the other places the kids would have liked to go for food instead. All they can do is get a sandwich from a deli counter (crammed, no social distancing, no masks). I ask Liv if she’s happy she came out. “I’m glad I’ve seen it like this,” she says, “with the shops shut and very few people.” “Because now you know you’re not missing anything?” I ask. “No,” she says, “more because now I’m not as fearful of a second wave, if everything is shut and no one is around.” Liv is nothing if not sensible.
We drive home, the kids munching enormous rolls stuffed with un-vegan type things. We stop for ice-cream on the way home, Paddy puts up the ads he has made advertising the garden labouring business he and his friend Jordan have started, and to be honest, while it was lovely to be out with the kids, I realise I haven’t missed a thing.
Prepare for rather a lot more sketches from the fields, hedgerows and seashore around me.