So how did you get over the Christmas?

Displaced in Mullingar: The carvery lunches were flying in all directions. Countrymen with paws around tumblers of whiskey

Displaced in Mullingar:The carvery lunches were flying in all directions. Countrymen with paws around tumblers of whiskey. Everyone collapsing into armchairs as if shopping were a sport for the young.

And into that blur of Christmas lights, and dark corners, and glowing whiskey bottles behind the bar, I noticed a little grey-haired woman in a black coat, being minded by her daughters. And they seated her, and the daughters queued for the beef, and took it down to her, and they all ate in silence.

And then a wild-looking man with a big overcoat, but rugged, looking like the wind might have blown him all the way from Athlone, came across the foyer and spoke to the old lady.

How did you get over the Christmas? She said she was at a funeral.


And when he realised he knew the deceased, they dug into the gory details of how the poor creature had died.

The daddy was from Waterford, she said.

Oh I know them now, he said. They were one of the happiest families going.

That's them, she said. Mary was the blonde


She was, he agreed. And there was a brunette as well.

Agnes, she said.

And having finished with that subject she perked up her head like a chicken eyeing a fox.

How old is your Oliver? She wanted to know.

He said, Oliver is the eldest.

He's a very failed man, she said, since he got that thing.

I know, he said, dejected. I know.

And then she made a confession to him.

Do you know, she said, I can't remember your first name? He just blinked. It obviously didn't bother him.

And she added a warm afterthought; maybe in bed tonight I'll remember it. Did you ever do that? Rather than answer her, he just said his name was Thomas. And he gave her a clue.


And she said, Oh, are you wee Tommy? Well I declare to God!

He bought her a drink.

She had a Crested Ten with water, and the daughters, who had been sitting like docile cardinals around a pope for the entire interview, had minerals because they were driving, and the big man from Birmingham planted

himself in an armchair that barely held up his

weight and supped his Guinness like a calf with a bucket of milk.

How did you get over the Christmas? She wanted to know.

It was quiet, he said, and he fell into a silence as devastating as an empty fire grate.

Nobody spoke for a long while.

It can be a stressful time, she said.

He gulped the dregs of his pint.

Nothing more to be said. He was clearly a man under pressure.

Later that afternoon, I had a bath. One of the great indulgences of Western civilisation is to soak in a bath with the door to the bedroom ajar, and Emmylou Harris singing Love Hurts on the CD player.

I'm a great believer in Emmylou Harris and Radox.

Nothing better for keeping the stress levels down.

Unfortunately I locked the bathroom door, which was odd, since I was alone, and Emmylou was only a voice on a CD. But when I tried to open it, the key broke off, and I was locked in.

I don't mind saying that I was fairly fragile when I got my way out of that tight spot.

In the bar later, I had a bone to pluck with the barman.

I said, you sent me on a wild goose chase the other day.

How is that? He wondered.

Well I've been up and down the road like a yoyo looking for Aldi, I said.

It's Lidl, he said.

What is? The Aldi: It's Lidl.

I said, Aldi and Lidl are two different words; two different shops.

I know that, he said. But some people say Aldi. They mean Lidl. What's the problem? I didn't tell him that I had just spent four hours in the bathroom, naked, with a nail scissors, trying to pick the lock.

But perhaps he noticed that I wasn't in the best of form. That the stress levels were rising.

Did the Christmas go alright for ye? he inquired.

I said it had its surprises.

You don't look so hot, he said. Maybe you should go home and soak in a bath.

No no, I said, I've tried that. I'm just under a bit of pressure.

He leaned across the counter. Eyeballed me.

Looka! He declared. Pressure is for tyres!

Michael Harding

Michael Harding

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