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The yard light snapped on. Pat peered out, but the yard was empty. The dog was still by the range, her long snout on her paws. Her steady brown eyes regarded him.
‘Sure, Mikey. No, nothing at all, I have everything I need. Sure I will, of course. Take it handy now, will you? Give my love to Anne. I will, I will. Goodbye, Mikey.’
Pat replaced the handset. Motioning the dog to stay, he lifted his coat from the hook and stepped outside. The harsh light glittered on the puddled ground. Pat stood on the threshold, scanning the yard but nothing moved in the hazy wetness of the South Tipperary winter night. He sniffed the air, a hint of turf from the hummock of sods tied over with blue plastic sheeting by the wall. He’d footed his own turf these past twenty years. Still a strong man, he was nevertheless finding it harder. Sixty this year, by God. On a whim he went back into the kitchen and lifted the white plastic feed bucket he used to carry the turf indoors. He would have his ease and a fire with a hot whiskey tonight. He went back outside, pulling his heavy coat around him.
Pat plucked aside the tarpaulin and dumped the musty oblongs into the bucket. Straightening, his hand on his back, he was stilled by the strong sense of a presence he felt when the yard light came on. He pushed the kitchen door open with his back and dropped the bucket just inside. He whistled for Kirstie. She bounded past him.
He strode along the wall of the house, following the edge of the light. He wanted to call out, just for the reassurance of sound. The darkness beyond was absolute, no light pollution here on the hillside, his farm the only building for a mile and more around. Kirstie returned to pad by his side. The cow shed was all bovine warmth and hay. The cows shifted, their tails swishing and hooves thumping dully on the muddy concrete.
Back into the drizzle, past the milking shed. The dog whined, pushed ahead then halted, growling. Pat shouted. ‘What’s your business?’
Sometimes it was pretty hard trying to squeeze my head into a winter's night in South Tipperary or a drizzly Dublin day. Surrounded by blue skies, sand and sun there were times when the smell of turf smoke and the sound of rain dripping from rooftops would come easily and times when it was maddeningly elusive.
I was frequently rescued from this dilemma by a Grooveshark playlist put together by bro-in-law Brian. You just slip on the cans, hit play on the iPad and, yessss, here we are again. I'm sure someone cleverer than I would identify it as a form of neuro-linguistic programming - a sort of proto-Pavlovian experience, but it worked like a wonder. Dropkick Murphys, Thin Lizzy, The Stunning, Fight Like Monkeys, The Frames and others would propel me back to the drizzle and dark of an Irish night, the creak of a farmyard door and feet on flagstones, a turf fire and a hot whiskey.
Music's always been a big deal for me writing, a given tune playing in the car while I'm thinking about a scene will influence the way things develop; sometimes a piece will shape the development of a whole chapter or sub-plot. L'autre Endoit by Silence shaped the Aleppo souk scenes in Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy more than I did, while George Winston's music created the moods of Olives - A Violent Romance as surely as if he'd been tapping the keys on my notebook.
The winter countryside in Ireland still smells of turf fires and people still 'foot' their own sods of turf up in the bogs. It's back-breaking work, little pyramids of turf left out to dry and then stacked in reeks by the side of the house or in a shed for winter. You can buy Bord Na Móna briquettes, but they're not the same, although one bloke is gleefully selling them to the Americans for a staggering $49 a bale so their houses can 'smell like Ireland'. There's no smell quite like the smell of turf, mind.
Of course, all this talk of turf fires and whiskey leaves one open to the accusation of writing up life in Ireland as a 'Darby O'Gill' sort of thing, especially when you're talking to city types. I recall one Dublin paper snootily referring to Tipperary-born comedian Pat Shortt as 'the hick comedian Shortt', as if Ireland needed to excise its rural character or was in some way ashamed of its 'culchies'.
Shortt's 'hick' comedy is, although admittedly and unabashedly slapstick, remarkably observed and enjoyed precisely because we've all met 'mountainy men', loudramans stuck to the local bar and the other characters that populate the enjoyable world of his Tipperary village of Killinaskully. Here's a taste of the stuff - a warning, you might find this utterly impenetrable.
But the one thing you're guaranteed to find in A Decent Bomber* (apart from bombs, of course) is rain. When we were married, in June, our wedding day was the first sunny day of the year. And one of the first quaint madnesses to strike me visiting Ireland was someone looking out across a landscape of unremitting drizzly grey and proclaiming, 'Soft day, thank God.'
* Available now on pre-order from all good book retailers such as Amazon.com. Ahem.