Going Solo

I was having a bad time at work, infact nobody was enjoying working in the steel industry at the time, due to low morale brought on by poor management along with job uncertainty. I had been moved into another department against my wishes and the general dictatorial attitude of all my so-called superiors was beginning to bug me. My immediate desire was to lash out, but all I knew was the filthy old steel industry and in any case, they paid my wages.

Our wonderfully astute leaders had reduced our year’s holiday entitlement by 6 days then imposed Easter week upon us, which nobody wanted and which didn’t so much as help morale rather than lower it even further. Even those with kids preferred to have their holidays out of school term time. There had been talk about it for months but eventually after much dithering we were given just three weeks notice and our trades unions consented to it. They were not very strong mentally, more a sponge buffer to absorb increasingly draconian management blows on our behalf. The weight was biased heavily against us so we just got on with it grudgingly despite our union’s feeble attempts at the only viable being of a union; worker protection. We had come to expect no less. After all, they are there to protect our best interests and we pay them to do so. However it is at times like this when you realise that some people have more faces than the town hall clock! I’m guessing you are feeling my bitterness by now?

Sick of the bickering and bitchiness, which emanates from the possibilities of job redundancies, I took the decision to spend some money I had not got. I picked up the phone and rang Angler’s World Holidays. I required a ferry crossing from Holyhead to Dún Laoghaire. I gave them Nonie’s address and telephone number and the date I wanted to leave and when I wished to return. (I had no real wish to return but it was it was from this side of the Irish Sea whence the money came!) Within one hour all the relevant bookings had been made. They said they would send the documents as soon as they received a cheque and it had cleared. I said to them not to bother, as I would drive over right now with £400 cash to pay the whole lot off. As soon as the money left my hands, as far as I was concerned I was in Roscommon.
The next three weeks would drag but if I focused only on my holiday instead of work, while in the office, then the time would soon pass. My boss at the time me told me I couldn’t go because I hadn’t booked my holidays with work even though nobody else had any holidays booked at the time. I said “tough” and he said I wouldn’t have a job when I came back so I replied “good”. He was the typical “I’m the boss and you do what I say” type of manager, all bark and no bite so I ignored him for the next couple of weeks. Every time he asked me to do something out of my job description, I reminded him I wouldn’t have a job soon, according to him. I left a note with my union rep explaining the threat.

It soon passed and before I knew it I was on the Woodhead Pass crossing the Pennines. The only minus point to the whole operation was my having to work a Mornings shift prior to my night crossing to Ireland. Getting up at 5 am, doing a shifts’ work, travelling through the night then arriving at Roscommon at 8 am the next morning, I had visions of waking up in a ditch on the road to Kinnegad.
As I was passing through Anglesey I was pushing her a bit. I had a bit of a wobble and knew the wheels required balancing but was confident it would all be okay. And it was except when I arrived back in England I found I had some gearbox and bearing damage, which cost me £280 to get repaired.

As always, once I had arrived at Holyhead I didn’t give a toss what happened from there on. As far as I was concerned the holiday had started and I was as near as damn it in Ireland. Even stood next to a broken down car in pouring rain would be better than sat in a filthy dusty steelworks office. As luck would have it, the car behaved itself until I got back home. This particular time I was told I could go on the earlier 0215 hrs ferry if I liked. This meant I would be in Roscommon for 8.00am, all being well. I had a flask of coffee and a packet of cigars and decided if I was too early I would park the car on Ballymoe Bridge and pour myself a cup, have an early morning choke and listen to the river running over the rocks.

Nothing normally went to plan, something always happened to cock things up, but at 7.55 a.m. I was parked up on Ballymoe Bridge having a lukewarm coffee, a choke and listening to moving water. For some strange reason everything had worked out perfectly. I felt like singing to proclaim my sudden freedom. It was so quiet and peaceful and this was exactly what I had come for so I didn’t want to spoil it with my singing. The birds were singing anyway, and it was a far finer sound than I could make. So, here I was, no hassle for a week and nobody but myself to worry about. Two fingers up to the world!

It disturbed me slightly however that the river levels were well up, which would make fishing far more difficult, but I had coped with this before. However, I had decided that this time I was going to do things and see things I had not done before, so if I didn’t fish it would not be the end of the world. When I arrived at Lisheen, Jim had just got up. He made me a cup of tea and we had a chat. It took me a while to adjust to the harsh dialect, he must have got fed up with me saying “sorry, what was that?”  but I soon slotted in and by the time Nonie came down I felt well at home. Nonie made me breakfast and a wonderful week began.

I was determined to explore new parts of the area. I had bought an Ordinance Survey map of the area and just by looking at it knew I had only scratched the surface on previous visits. Access to the river in the past had been difficult and had involved long hikes across rough scrubland. Now I was virtually getting right down to the rivers edge in my car, at places I would have had difficulty finding without the OS map. Although, like I said, the water was well up, I was now better equipped to find slack backwaters and eddies, holding areas for fish in these conditions. The Fisheries Board had been round the area recently and they had constructed several new stiles and wooden bridges, along with large new platforms on Hollygrove Lough (my favourite) and on Lough Loung, access to this one however still entailed a long walk over a field.

I was very surprised to find out that roach were colonising the River Suck in such enormous numbers. Some of the fish were well over a pound in weight; this was a throwback to the Erne system in the early days. When I first came to Roscommon, the River Suck was famous for big bream, rudd and big pike. Now the roach were taking over, much to the disgust of Nonie, but I told here that the roach were there to stay and that some fisherman would come to this area to fish for roach alone. I was in my element, just pottering about. I had fished at Walkers stretch of the River Suck for a few hours and at about 3 p.m. I decided to have a drive around. As I parked up at Blacks Lough I switched the radio on, my team Sheffield Wednesday, were winning 1-0 against Man Utd at Old Trafford.

Almost immediately the Pavlov’s Dog switch was activated. Joe, who worked the bar in Golden’s, was a Man Utd fan, so I could go and get a pint of Guinness and wind him up at the same time. Simply brilliant. As I was getting into the car Steve Bruce equalised in the 94th minute. Never mind, I would still have a nice cool glass of Guinness. As I walked into the bar, Joe called out, “Hard luck Michael, the championship is ours”. Apparently, whilst I was driving the short distance down to the bar, Steve Bruce had scored another goal for Manchester United in the 98th minute.

Wednesday lost 2-1 and the title was well and truly on it’s way to Old Trafford. They always were jammy sods Man Utd. Where the referee got 8 minutes extra time from is anyone’s’ guess, perhaps he was wearing a duplicate Alex Ferguson watch! Joe wished my team all the best against Arsenal in the League Cup Final the following Sunday for which I had been lucky enough to get a ticket. I would be going to Wembley and would be travelling down the same day I returned from Ireland.

The Guinness went down fairly well. In fact it went down so well that I had another three pints. What the hell and anyway, who was counting, I was free as a bird. The Bar was being refurbished in the back to accommodate pool tables and a dance floor. It used to be just a small cosy bar and was called The Rovers Return. I never went in it before Nonie bought it but I am told it is a lot better now than it once was. After my fourth pint I could not find fault with it either. It was wise to stop at four; I still had my tea to eat, so I just had another one for the road.

I was still a bit tired after my long day, but having retired to bed after tea, managed to drag myself out, shower off and mosey on down to the bar. As I sat there, I was reflecting on why I was there and how much more relaxed and laid back I already was after just one day. The locals were very friendly towards me and many of them remembered the first time I visited the bar. The topic of conversation was invariably fishing but I usually managed to turn it around to something a little more interesting. I had not planned anything from here on and wondered what tomorrow would bring. I slept soundly that night, but this was only the first day so I had better slow down. I had come to recharge my tired batteries, not to wear them down! But I was so incredibly relaxed.

On the Wednesday evening a small group of locals gathered in the main bar and occasionally someone would sing a ballad, the themes were all traditional, you know, emigrating to America, the famine, getting the crops in, the struggle to exist etc. Nonie asked me to play my tin whistle, which I did but to this day I cannot remember what tune I played, but they all clapped me as I finished, maybe it was a polite way of saying “phew, thank God he’s finished” who knows, but I was just part of a group of people, slowly imbibing our alcohol enjoying a night out.

On Thursday nights they play “25”. It is a card game played by most of the locals and there is a prize for the overall winner. They are very serious about it and it sometimes lasts longer than expected. If it hasn’t been completed on Thursday, then the game will be played to a finish on Friday night. I loved being part of the local fabric even though it was for just 6 days.