Chicken and Pea Soup
It soon became a biannual event to go fishing to Ireland. Another trek was planned to the Emerald Isle. With all the precision of a Himalayan expedition we gathered together what we needed and threw it all into the car. I’d checked the oil and the tyre pressures, the cigarettes were on the dashboard, the lighters were easy to hand, the radio was pre-tuned into RTL2 and the tickets were in the glove compartment. Why is it called a glove compartment? Who on earth ever puts gloves in there? De-icer, bag of sweets and car manual compartment yes, but gloves? Come on!
However, all the essentials were sorted out. That was it, we were ready. I had just enough petrol to get us to Holyhead and the plan was ingeniously simple. We would fill the tank up to the top at Holyhead on Anglesey because petrol was so expensive in Ireland at the time. How times change. Off we go then, Holyhead here we come. It was the usual trip, Sheffield to Stockport via the Woodhead Pass, onto the M56 to Queensferry, then the long drag across the North Wales coast on the A55. Everything was fine. We stopped at our usual haunt at St. George near Abergele for a couple of pints, then drove into Old Colwyn Bay to what had become our regular fish and chip shop. It was a well-rehearsed routine and suited us nicely.
We left via Llanfairfechan and just as the streetlights were becoming history in my rear view mirror, I was alarmed to see a trail of sparks following me. I turned the sound of the music down only to hear a horrible scraping noise coming from under the car. I pulled up and Ado and myself jumped out and looked underneath. The middle box bush had snapped and the weld had given way. The tailpipe was consequently held on solely by its own bush and was scraping along the road causing the sparks. It was 11.30pm and naturally it was dark and of course almost inevitably, it was raining. I drove the car, sparks and all, back to the village and rang the R.A.C. for assistance. We waited for an hour. Nothing! It was half past midnight by now. We had to be at the ferry terminal by 2:40 am and we were still 44 miles from Holyhead.
Ah well, there was nothing for it but scrapyard surgery. Sod the R.A.C. if they can’t get here within an hour. We unloaded everything from the car in 2 minutes flat (the same stuff had taken 30 minutes to load). I jacked up the offside rear and stuck an axle stand under the trailing arm. I carried all sorts of tools about with me in those days! Ado proceeded to saw through the remaining piece of exhaust until the tailpipe was free. I pulled the tailpipe off, threw it on the grass verge then fixed the middle box to its hook with the tailpipe bush. Easy peasy, job and done. It was a tad noisy, well really bloody noisy if truth were known with only one silencer box but at least we were mobile again.
We were both scruffed up to the eyeballs and soaked to the skin after rolling about under the car. Just as Ado was manoeuvering himself out, a Welsh person came staggering past, much the worse for wear from one too many Grünhalle lagers. “Your hegsaust pipe has dropped hoff” he casually informed us and laughed. At this point Ado picked up the now redundant tailpipe. The drunken Welsh dragon’s flames went out in a flash. He looked a miff alarmed at this sudden reaction and started to quicken his stagger. Ado slowly edged towards him waving the still hot “hegsaust” pipe above his head. Somehow or other the Welshman managed to get his legs working in the correct sequence and set off running, closely followed by a cackling Ado, still wielding the tailpipe above his head. Breathless, he returned and we both collapsed into fits of laughter.
I jacked the car up a bit, took out the axle stand and lowered the jack. It only took us five minutes to load up the car. Practice makes perfect they say. When I started the car, it sounded more like a Formula One Stock Car instead of a Triumph Dolomite. I had always wanted to drive a Stock Car anyway. I knew it would be noisy but this was brilliant, even better than I expected. Arriving at the ferry terminal with five minutes to spare, we were last onto the car deck of the St. Columba. We parked up next to a big American Buick, picked up our coats from the back seat and proceeded to find a couple of seats on the passenger deck. The ferry hummed a bit, it was sort of a cross between Parmesan cheese and disinfectant. It might have been a rough crossing over eh?
We were sitting in the bar, sipping a beer and reflecting on our little bit of misfortune, when this character came out of the blue and sat down with us at our table. “Mind if I sit down lads” he said in broad Scouse. “I work for British Rail I do” he announced. “Security’s crap on here” he announced, “ I do three trips a week to Dublin and back, only on my days off like”, he said. “Duty Free, huh, don’t know why they bother, nobody checks.” All this time Ado and myself were nodding and saying “Oh ah” and suchlike. A psychic bond between Ado and myself was also saying, “I wish he would piss off and annoy somebody else”.
“I go to Andersonstown for my holiday fortnight every year. That’s up in West Belfast you know,” he informed us. What on earth was he on? “ I’ve got some friends who live up there. Do you want to know what “fuck off” is in Ulster Gaelic?” The coincidence was, we wanted to know if he knew what fuck off meant as well! We weren’t over enthusiastic about knowing his version, but he old us anyway. “It’s crop sewis like, good eh?” or so it sounded to us.
It sounded like chop suey, so Ado and me were walking around all week telling each other, and anyone else within earshot to “chop suey”.
“I’ve just been to the duty free. I’m going again now like. Watch me stuff”, he said and with that parting shot off he went. What a pain! We had a look in the bags from his first visit, there were 400 fags and 4 bottles of Jameson Whiskey. We could have walked off with them and saved a bob or two. He was hardly a Mafia big shot in the making this fellow, not to mention incurring the wrath and worse of the IRA, for stepping on their toes in West Belfast. Leaving £60 worth of stuff with two total strangers. We must have looked like two mugs to him.
When he returned he was carrying two more Sealink bags and he had a long grey coat on which I could not recall him wearing previously. Within seconds he was back into the verbal diarrhoea. “Most of me mates in Liverpool are doing time, Walton Hotel like, you know, cars, drugs, burglary, that sort of thing”. By ‘eck he was a man of the world wasn’t he?
He left his “contraband” with us and went to the bar for a Guinness. He came back, “I once got caught but I gave them the run about and shook ‘em off”, he blagged. “That’s the only time though”, “They hardly ever check, waste of time really, security’s crap like I told yer”. By this time Ado and myself were beginning to see a prize clown with a scouse accent sitting next to us.
As we were heading west and the sun rose in the east, the Wicklow mountains and Dublin Bay were still silhouettes. You could see all the street lights flickering all along the front from Howth Head on the right to Dalkey Island on our left. Shortly before we docked our “Freebooter” scouse disappeared. Two minutes later he returned minus the bags and looking not unlike one of Sherpa Tensing’s heavily laden mules trying to escape from a giant potato sack. Hilarious! He turned to the wall and beckoned to us, “Look at this!” he exclaimed, and unbuttoned his coat. He had 6 bottles of whiskey in pockets, which were stitched around the inside of the coat and 5 boxes of cigarettes in elastic straps at regular intervals between the bottles. “They never check over here you know. I’ll walk straight through the customs and nobody will bother” he said confidently. He bloody clanked when he moved! He quickly buttoned up his coat and with a “See you lads” clanked off towards the passenger exit. The clank factor was even louder when he walked. We never did find out whether he had made another successful “home run”. I hope so, in retrospect, he was so entertaining he deserved it.
We made our own way down to the car deck behind a big fellah with a large brown Stetson on his head. He just had to be the driver of the Yank tank! Sure enough he got into the Buick. We got into our tiny Dolomite, dwarfed by this beast of a car. As we docked and the bow doors opened, the first cars fired up their engines. Then the Yank tank fired up. The noise was awesome. All eyes were on the Buick. Then I fired mine up minus half my exhaust, giving it a few quick extra pokes of the accelerator for good measure. The noise was awful. All eyes were on the Dolomite, less approvingly though I hasten to add. I’m not sure the coppers back in England would agree, but I thought it sounded great! Ideal for frightening old ladies and young kids at bus stops back home. A quick poke of the accelerator as I’m passing Bbrrmb-b-b-! I digress.
As usual at this time of the year, because of the heavy dew and the abundance of trees, there was an early morning mist enveloping the road from Phoenix Park to Navan. Only this time, it was a genuine pea souper. The thickest fog I had ever been in.
Occasionally I had to flick the wipers on. My eyes were burning trying to see further than I could into the grey impenetrable wall in front of us. Now the thing was, I had the wrong wipers they were a last minute makeshift option I’d picked up for a quid and had to secure them with an elastic band. As we were slowly making our way to Navan, I inadvertently switched my wipers onto double speed. Suddenly, the driver’s side wiper blade shot off and catapulted away into the fog, landing somewhere in the middle of the road behind us. As I pulled onto the side of the road I became aware of a horrible and piercing scraping noise.
I quickly turned the wipers off. The wiper arm had continued without the blade and had etched a near perfectly symmetrical 180° arc into the windscreen, right in my line of vision. We both got out and made our way to where we thought the wiper blade might be. The pea souper had filled the air with heavy moisture similar to a sea-fret. Within minutes we were drenched down to our St. Michaels!
I became aware of the deafening silence. The thick fog had dampened down any noise there was. Not a bird chirping, nor a cow lowing, nothing. All we could hear were our own boots crunching the gravel on the roadside. As we walked slowly back up the road I heard a heavy engine approaching, getting louder by the second. We maintained a discrete distance away from the road. Seconds later a large and noisy petrol tanker roared past. It was like a ship passing in the night. Momentarily the fog swirled about, and then it was gone and so was the noise. “It’s there”, Ado shouted, as he spotted the wiper blade, then played a dangerous game of “chicken” by running blindly into the fog to fetch it. He could have quite easily been run over by a bicycle!
The wiper was there all right. Flat as a pancake! Yet again, I had to make temporary repairs. I took the near-side wiper off the spline altogether and put it on my side and chucked the other arm in the back. Hopefully it wouldn’t rain this week! I became conscious again of the silence. We decided to get the flasks out, have a coffee and a fag and hopefully the fog would lift. We sat there for twenty minutes and in all that time not one measly car or tractor, bicycle or horse and cart came along that road, just that lone 38 tonne petrol tanker.
Not only that, it ran over and squashed my best bit of windscreen wiper as well! I set off with a whole car but it was becoming more and more like one of those clown’s cars you see in a circus. How many more bits and pieces would fall off I wondered? Would we get home without further mishap?