Friendly exchange while out on the town

Displaced in Mullingar:   The Christmas rush hasn't quite begun, but even now, there's an awful lot of people shopping in Mullingar…

Displaced in Mullingar:  The Christmas rush hasn't quite begun, but even now, there's an awful lot of people shopping in Mullingar. Mullingar has Tescos and SuperValu, Dunnes Stores and Aldi. They all have car parks. They're all full.

A continuous stream of men, women and children flows through the aisles pushing over-loaded trollies. Men, women and children from Lagos and Kilbeggan, and Riga and Krakow. Young couples holding hands and whispering Russian phrases in the frozen foods section; Westmeath widows and widowers with sore eyes, working through the shelves to find single portions.

Standing in the queue waiting for my coupons, I can overhear a lanky man chatting with two women who are waiting patiently with full trollies behind me. He has slightly long grey hair and a sporty cream jacket.

"I can't understand all this shopping," he says.


"Well," replies one of them, "it's better than walking around the fields after a small ball."

But, he protests, he isn't a golfer.

"What are ye?" one of them inquires.

"I'm a musician," he declares.

"There you are," she says. "Giving people headaches!"

"Come here to me," he says then. "Is it true that some people go out and buy clothes, and then go back the next day and return them? Just for the comfort of shopping?"

The ladies have no comment.

He says his own wife went to shop one Sunday at nine o'clock in the morning and wasn't back till six that evening. And she brought nothing home with her.

"And I says 'In the name of God, did you not buy anything?' 'No,' she said. 'I didn't see anything.' She didn't see anything! She must have been walking about with her eyes closed," he says.

My coupons arrive too soon and I have to waddle off pushing my trolley, but a few minutes later I am in the clothes section, queuing for slippers and I can see the two ladies bent over with laughter, and the man who reminds me of a detective on the television years ago, who used to ride a horse, still talking into the backs of their necks.

On my way home, I go to the post office. I ask for a stamp for Paris. The lady is enchanted.

"Well," she says, "we don't actually have a special stamp for Paris but I could give you a European one."

That suits me fine and gets me in good humour. So I go to the cash machine up the street to take out a few more euro. But it isn't working. I am standing there like an idiot, when a lady speaks over my shoulder.

"It's not working," she says, as if she is delighted.

"I can see that," says I.

"And do you know why?" says she.


"Vandals," she says. "Vandals."

I can see she is about to have a conversation.

"I'm sorry to hear that," I say and walk off abruptly, down Dominick Street towards the canal, because vandals made me think of the six o'clock news, and so I remember to go to a hardware shop and see if they have a plug for the sink and a rabbit's ears for the television.

I pick an aerial from the stand and walk over to a quiet checkout. The girl in blue is writing something on the back of a receipt.

"Does this work?" I ask, holding up the package.

"Well," she says, "where are you?"

In the middle of the town, I tell her.

"Well" she says, "it might not work in the middle of town. Because the signal is from Longford and it gets interrupted by the hospital on that side of town. So it might not work."

"I see," says I.

"But", says she, "if you be careful when you are opening it, you could bring it back tomorrow if it doesn't do ye."

"Can I get cable?"

"No problem. In fact," says she, "I have the cable myself, and there's 80 channels. You can't watch them all but it's not too expensive. I could give you the number," she adds. "If you want it."

And she writes out the number for cable TV on the back of another receipt, my receipt, and I don't even bother with the rabbit's ears when I go home. I phone the cable people immediately and they say sure, they could get me 20 channels by tomorrow morning. By jingo, I'm in the fast lane at last. Maybe I should get the broadband for Christmas.

Michael Harding

Michael Harding

Michael Harding is a playwright, novelist and contributor to The Irish Times