Friday 20 September 2019

Back seat non drivers

By David Medcalf

Joy riders in Ballymurrin! In The Bronx or in Ballymun maybe, but in rural backwoods Ballymurrin? Surely not…

We were bowling merrily along in the jalopy heading for the coast, all set to give The Pooch a good walk on the beach and to imbibe an evening ration of ozone. The sun was dipping low in a green sky, the surreal colour scheme which occurs occasionally when rain clears at the end of a wet winter's day.

God was in his weirdly green heaven and all was well with the world. The mood in the jalopy was upbeat, the tempo set by our canine friend bouncing around in anticipation of his brisk seaside work-out. My fingers drummed percussion on the steering wheel as I hummed a pop tune while Eldrick and Persephone attended to their apps in the back.

As we approached Ballymurrin, sleepy out-of-the-way Ballymurrin, a tractor appeared in the oncoming lane, wheezing its way up the slope. This was not a modern mega-tractor with double-glazed cab and computerised bank of controls complete with powatronic sound system. This was a tiny, tinny old tractor, not quite old enough or quaint enough to qualify as vintage, with no more than two jaded horsepower under the rusting bonnet. The couple of straw bales teetering on the rickety trailer hauled by this relic of agricultural decency made enough of a load to prompt the cloud of diesel smoke from its lopsided exhaust pipe.

'Look, children,' I said to my companions. I should have known better, of course, as they have long since refused to acknowledge themselves as mere 'children' - but old parental habits die hard. They also have a habit of not looking out while in transit, though I make every effort to stimulate an interest in the passing world. I alert them to items of local curiosity or wider geographical significance as they catch my eye, from jay-walking pheasants to clear felled forestry. And they continue to ignore me.

'Look, children, there's global warming for you.' I prepared to launch into a pious homily about how ill-maintained diesel engines spell doom. It was at this point that the joyriders made their appearance, their snarling, high rev, high decibel appearance, as unexpected as a shoal of piranha in a goldfish bowl.

Suddenly the road ahead of the jalopy loomed full of joyrider grille and the air was full of blaring joyrider horn. Tired of dawdling along behind the labouring tractor, the joyriders had apparently decided to overtake, with no regard for fellow road users coming against them. Then they inexplicably decided to linger on the incorrect side of the road, as though they felt maybe that the view from there might be better. I first eased off the accelerator and pulled the jalopy towards the verge and finally, as catastrophe loomed, I hit the brake pedal and we juddered to a halt.

The Pooch was hurled forward in a comic heap into the foot well, squirming among the litter of discarded crisp packets and empty plastic bottles. My head was jolted down towards the steering wheel through which I looked out to see whether the emergency manoeuvre would be sufficient to avert disaster. With a skid that left a trail of steaming tarmac, the joyriders swerved out of harm's way at the last millisecond and fishtailed gaily from the scene. The driver of the tractor puttered past waving a hand in casual greeting with a belch of fresh smoke, as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.

I remained, trembling and sweating, without moving, too shocked to raise my own hand and return the salute. The dog kicked off an old banana skin that had become entangled around his paw and jumped up back on to the passenger seat. In my addled mind, I re-hashed what had happened and contemplated whether to call the gardaí, only to realise that the joyriders had flitted past in a blur leaving me no registration number to report. I was not even sure if the offending vehicle was blue, or black, or green and the make had completely eluded me.

Perhaps the 'children' could help. I turned round ready to quiz them and Eldrick glanced up from his phone: 'Bit heavy on the old brakes there, Da,' he commented genially.

Persephone's gaze did not waver from her screen, though she came close enough to the real world to enquire: 'Are we there yet?'

Wexford People

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