Saint Patrick’s Day

They say that in Ireland Spring begins on February 1st. Saint Brigid’s day. I’d say they’re talking a lot of bull, considering that six weeks later I’m standing here on the side of this mountain on Saint Patrick’s Day, and the wind coming down from the Wicklow Gap would cut you in half. Brass monkeys, as my late father used to say. I can see why they never built houses on this hillside. They’d have had to call it Siberia Heights.

Anyway, here I am in my allotment, and I have the spuds planted, which gives me a warm feeling, whatever about my numb hands. You’re supposed to get the early ones in on Patricks Day, for the Summer harvest. I put in Maris Pipers. They’re reliable, unless the blight hits them. Time for a cuppa, I think. I edge into the ramshackle hut on the corner of my patch, to get a bit of respite from that wind, and I open my flask. God, you can’t beat a cup of tea to warm the soul. My sandwiches are a bit battered from being in my coat pocket. I have to make them myself these days, no Mary to attend to my needs. Ah well. 

I look around at my little kingdom. Ten metres squared. There’s times I think what’s the point of it, considering I give away most of what I grow. But sure, it gets me out of the house and into the fresh air. Very fresh air, at times. The view looking North across Dublin is good, if it’s not raining that is. And you can have the odd chat with people up here too. I miss seeing Joe Conroy. He used to have the patch next to mine, going down the hill. Now to be honest, he never grew too much on it. Mostly weeds. But he gave up last year, said “his back was gone” and that was that. Joe was alright, you could have a bit of craic with him, and he never seemed to run out of dirty jokes. I wonder how he’s doing these days.

There’s a young guy I’ve seen once or twice up here, scouting Joe’s patch. Maybe he took it over. But no sign of him today. It’s only the hardy bucks like me that are up here. I suppose the parade in town would be pulling the crowds in today anyway. I couldn’t be bothered. For what? To watch a bunch of posers in tights running up and down O’Connell Street to stop themselves from freezing?

There’s not a lot more I can do here today. I won’t be planting the rest of the beds for another month or so, when it warms up. I think I’ll call in and see Mary on my way home. She’s down at the foot of the hill, back corner of the graveyard. Coming up soon on her first anniversary. Jesus, where did that year go? At least I got the headstone up a few weeks back. Deeply regretted by her husband and son. Says it all really.

Maybe I’ll give Barry a call when I get home. I think it’s an eight-hour time difference to San Francisco, so he should be up. You’d wonder all the same how they can afford to run this Whatsapp thing. I remember when you needed to save up for a week to make a call – any call – to overseas. All those special “phone after 6pm deals.” Sure, they must have been ripping us off wholesale, the phone companies. How do they survive now, I wonder?

Anyway, Barry’s been out there for about five years now, has a good steady job in IT. At least he got home when his mam was sick, before she passed away. Sometimes I think she hung on so she could see him one last time. He lives with his partner Chris. Chris is a fella, in case you were wondering. We got over that “my son is gay” speedbump a few years back. Now it’s just a fact. Funny how you get used to how things are. Like heading home to a cold empty house. Not much point heating it when I’m up here all day. Still, give it another month and we should be over the worst of this bitter cold. Not much sign of global warming up here on Siberia Heights. 

June 21st

Midsummer’s day, still bright up here at 11pm. Sure why would you be going home when you can sit up here and watch the fading light over the city? All is shipshape in my little kingdom. I rotated the crops this year. Courgettes over to the left, where the runner beans were last year. A good crop of lettuce and scallions in the middle bed. Or spring onions as the new fancy name goes. Runner beans in full bloom all along the border, snaking up the canes I put in, with their red blooms. Should be a good crop this year, I think. The dry spell in late April and most of May helped, but your back would be broken with all the watering. My spuds are looking healthy and the few raspberry bushes I put in are flowering, another encouraging sign.

My new neighbour introduced himself about a month ago. I was beginning to wonder if he could speak at all, then one evening we more or less walked into one another, so it was unavoidable. 

“Howya,” he goes. “I’m Kevin, Kevin Kelly.”

Jesus, I thought, one more K and you’d probably be riding around with a burning cross. But, of course, I didn’t say that, just introduced myself right back. 

“Do you come up here often?” he says next. 

Last time I heard that line I was trying to chat up a young one in a disco, forty years ago. Anyway, I just told him that I was up most days, especially at this time of the year.

“Good crop coming,” he says, pointing at my patch.

“Hope so,” says I, cautiously. 

Don’t want to get too close to this guy. Could be a dodgy character, for all I know.

Now I have to admit that I’d been looking at the way he was setting stuff up. It was a bit different, to say the least. In particular, he had set up a rectangle of clear plastic to trap the rainwater, and direct it into a plastic barrel. Clever. Plus, I reckoned from the stinky smell that he’d been digging in real manure to some of the beds.

“That’s a very fancy looking water system you have there,” says I.

“Ah yeah. I saw that in a gardening magazine. I reckoned it might take some of the hardship out of watering up here. We’re kinda into organic gardening, you see. Try to avoid chemicals, use recycled water, no peat compost. That kind of stuff.”

Well, I thought, we have a right one here. Wet behind the ears but thinks he knows it all. Just what I needed. Bring back Joe Conroy. I’d seen a girl up with this guy once or twice, and a young child, maybe three years old. All dressed in hippy sort of gear. That was the “we”, I supposed.

“Tell me,” says I. “What are you doing with the slugs? I thought I saw you out picking them up or something the other day, when it was raining.”

“Ah I just was collecting them to bring them up to the big composter on the edge of the complex. They’re great for bringing a bit of oxygen to the soil.”

Jesus, I’d heard it all now. The only good slug is a dead slug. On wet nights, you can nearly hear them sliding all over the mountainside up here.

“You know they’re like salmon and pigeons,” says I. “They return to where they were born. It’ll take them about a week, cos they’re so slow. But mark my words, they’ll be back. Back to start feasting on your lettuce.”

I thought he was going to cry. I have to admit I got a bit of malicious pleasure out of the look on him. Not so cock-sure now, eh? But maybe I’d gone a bit too far.

“Ah don’t mind me,” says I. “Sure I’m only taking the piss.” 

His little earnest face lit up.

“Well I better get back to my chores,” says he. “Nice to meet you.”

“Same here,” says I. 

I decided I’d call in to tell Mary about my new know-it-all neighbour in the morning, when I’d be coming up. She’d be amused, I reckoned. I remembered when she was going down-hill health-wise, she stopped me in my tracks one day.

“You know when I’m gone, you should find a young one to look after you.”

“Jesus” says I, “what would I be doing with a young one. Or more to the point, what would a young one be doing with me? I’ve enough problems already, without adding to them.”

But maybe she had a point. Sometimes when I go home to the house, it’d be nice to hear another voice. Ah well, enough of this feeling sorry for myself. Time to get home and put out the bins for the morning. Always something to be done.

October 1st

If I have a favourite time of year, I think it’s now. All the hard work is done, the weeds are finally dying back, and the crops are begging to be picked. The courgettes were great this year, the raspberries are still coming, and I’m up to my armpits in runner beans. I can hardly give them away. I need to plant less of them next year, I reckon. 

My birthday is a few weeks away. Just another number for the headstone at this stage. If I’m lucky I’ll get a phone call and a card from Barry. No Mary around to pamper me with a Chinese takeaway, our little treat.

I’m a bit worried about the big patch of weeds that your man next door is growing. I wouldn’t mind, but he seems to actually be watering them, like he’s trying to make them bigger, rather than ripping them out. When I asked him about it, he told me that he was creating a “natural habitat” to pull in lots of pollinators. Another fancy idea. I’m just worried that when the wind blows the seeds, they’ll all end up in my patch. The Chernobyl effect, as I think of it. Still, I can’t tell him how to run his bed. As much as I’d like to. 

He finally introduced me to his partner, as he calls her. No wedding ring or anything, of course. Her name is Linda, and the kid is called Sky. Jesus Christ, imagine calling your kid after a TV channel. They seem ok on the surface, but obviously they must be all a bit mad with a name like that.

Then of course, everything went to hell in a handcart. 

One minute I’m digging a few spuds for my dinner. I sort of remember my legs going from under me. Then, nothing.

I wake up and there’s a kid in a yellow jacket clamping an oxygen mask on my face. I’m on a stretcher, and next thing four hefty young men are carrying me down to the Dublin Fire Brigade Ambulance that’s parked below at the bottom of the path. Of course, every head in the allotments is turned to take in the drama. I’m mortified, but there’s no way off this thing, I’m strapped in.

The ambulance takes off with all the blue lights flashing. Into A&E and I get priority because I’m on a stretcher. Soon I’m being quizzed by an Indian doctor. Without going into all the ins and outs of it, it seems I forgot to take my blood pressure tablets. So, my blood pressure dropped, and I went down like a sack of spuds in my potato drills. Ironic really. Mary used to be great at organising my pills. Every Sunday night she’d stack them into that little pillbox. A set for every day. Nowadays, I’m not sure I always follow the regime. Some days I just forget. We’re all human, after all. Even me.

After a night on a trolley – “under observation” as they put it – an ambulance brings me home. I’m surprised to see my old banger parked outside. Looks like some good Samaritan brought it home. I’m even more surprised when none other than Kevin opens my door. Seems he found my keys in the coat I had thrown into the shed, figured out which was my car, and brought it home. My address was on the keys, I recalled. 

Of course, at this stage I’m dying of embarrassment. I’m also shattered from my adventure. 

“Thanks a lot,” I say, “but I really need to get some rest now, I’m grand.”

He asks me for my phone number, and once I’ve given it to him, I close the door and head for my bed. I need to sleep for a week, maybe even more.

New Year’s Day

January 1, and as usual I’ve paid Mary a visit. The frost was just about melted when I got to the cemetery, so on a whim I decided to slip up the mountain to the allotment. I’m the only one here, everything is white in Siberia. And it’s quiet. You can hear a dog barking a mile away. I suppose everyone is still sleeping off their hangovers from last night. Today the whole kingdom is mine.

Gives me a chance to reflect I suppose. After my little “episode” Kevin called me and asked how I was doing. Turned out that for the week or so I’d been laid up, he’d been watering my plants, and probably saving my slugs from their usual fate. I met him up on the hill one evening. Jesus, I was so embarrassed. But as luck would have it, when he’d been in my house it turns out he’d seen my Liverpool calendar in the kitchen.

“Pool fan, are we?” he says.

“Ever since I was a toddler,” says I. “Just waiting for them to win the league so I can die happy.”

“Well, you know I’m called after Kevin Keegan? I never had a chance.”

“No way.”

“Yeah, ‘fraid so. By the way, you can call me Kev, all my mates do.”

So, I’m a mate now, I think to myself. Is that the new thing? Anyway, long story short, next time I see him I have a few bottles of wine to give him. Organic wine, obviously. And some chocolates for the missus. A little “thank you” for calling the ambulance, and the other stuff.

They seem to go down well, because next thing I know we’re having the chats every time he’s up here. Discussing the latest transfer rumours, and what Liverpool’s best formation should be. The important stuff. Next thing, to my surprise he invites me over to his place for Christmas dinner.

“It’ll just be us,” he says. “No need to panic.”

Turns out they don’t live too far away from my own house. I hesitate, but decide what the hell, it’s not like the alternative is too attractive either. And the day is pleasant. I go over around 2pm, after I come back from the cemetery, and I’m home around nine o’clock, with a nice warm glow. The turkey was lovely I must say. Free range and organic, as I was informed more than once. 

When I was leaving to stroll home, Kev told me they have another kid on the way. Seems I’m the first one to know outside the family, which is nice. It was on the tip of my tongue to suggest to him that the poor child would benefit from a more normal name, but for once I bit my lip and did the decent thing. Maybe I’m learning.

The other thing Kev has got me started on now is Fantasy Football. Every Monday night he drops over here, and we compare notes. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I get a massive kick out of always being ahead of him in the table. 

“You can’t buy years of experience,” as I put it, grinning.

He has me convinced now to put up one of his rain harvesting setups next year. Says he’ll help me with the structure, and that it’ll save me a lot of work. I’m also thinking of trying that stinky manure. His courgettes this year were massive, and I think the fertiliser made a big difference. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

It was funny yesterday, when I rang Barry to wish him and Chris a Happy New Year.

“Jesus, Dad,” he goes. “Who is this guy Kev? This is starting to sound like a bromance. Should I be worried.” 

“You know what son?” I said. “Life’s for living, and we might as well get on with it. Live and let live I say.” 

It’s New Year’s Day, might even be Liverpool’s year. Let’s get this show on the road.

Adrian Fingleton

Adrian Fingleton lives in Dublin and is recently retired. He has done some blogging – mostly about travel – in the past, but never tried writing fiction. He has recently started a creative writing course with the Irish Writers Centre, which is both challenging and interesting. He has many interests, including reading – all genres.

CategoriesIssue I