Characters 2

The Little Man in Portnoo, Co Donegal In the hotel in Portnoo, one wet Sunday lunch time, I came across a strange little man. We all met for a pre lunch drink and a chat. In those days Portnoo was not as well known and the people who summered there were generally medical or clerical. I was probably the only engineer within miles. Everyone was standing around, it was more like a Chelsea cocktail party than a drinking session in an Irish pub. I first noticed the little man when he insinuated himself into the group I was with and started asking inane personal questions, such as where did people come from and what was their profession, and he then followed this inquisition in all the cases but mine by being terribly obsequious. I noticed he was doing this right round the room and inevitably he came to me with the same patter. At the time I was designing a sewage works so when he came up with the questions I had heard him asking the others, I was prepared, I thought I would try him out. In answer to his question of what I did for a living I said I worked in the sewers, a fair assessment, all things considered, and pretty interesting to the uninitiated, or so I thought, but he did not see it that way, in fact he cut the connection and went seeking yet another doctor, surgeon or priest.

John of Dunmore Caravans I think the greatest reflection of the attitude of the average Donegal man to cash flow is demonstrated by our purchase of a static caravan in Portnoo. Sophie and I were staying on Gillespie’s site in the middle of the field in a two berth towing caravan. John, the owner, was installing a replacement van on the periphery of the site. We became curios as to what was involved in a permanent plot. When he was clearing up the timbers, ropes and bits needed for transportation I drifted over to him, and asked how much it would cost to buy a static one and have it installed. He told me and added that if I was interested I should make my mind up quickly as he was opening up the field at the end of the site with an incredible and uninterrupted view right across the golf course to the Derryveagh Mountains and Mount Errigal. All there would be between us and the view would be grazing cattle and bad golfers – irresistible. We agreed a price and the model of van we would like a few days later by telephone and when I suggested he should give me a layout of his expansion so I could chose a site, his reaction was typical of the people of the area. ‘Plan?’ he asked. ‘What plan? Just you come up here John and stick your heel in the ground and I’ll have the van on it by the Twelfth of July.’ He was as good as his word. Now, because of lack of planning the ground could only be partially levelled, with the result we are higher than everyone else, as well as having the very best view. We now find the journey too much for us, but the family can’t bear to miss a holiday in it.

The Sweet Cheat At University I came across a talented conjurer who was a medical student. He had sat his finals at least four times. Then there did not seem to be any limit to the number of chances one had to qualify. The reason for the repeated sittings was that he always passed his written examination but when it came to the Orals, while other students had a nominal 15 minutes he was in there for ages as the examiners went over the whole syllabus again.. They, unlike the students, were not aware of the scam, but they obviously had their suspicions. When he entered the examination room the conjurer would arrive early, find his desk and then scatter granulated sugar in a wide circle so that he would hear the crunch of the invigilator’s feet and have time to palm his cogs before the man was close enough to discover the cheating. Years later he and his wife were the Toast of the Town with their joint conjuring and illusion acts and to be seen regularly on TV. He had found his niche – I shudder to think what he might have perpetrated in a surgery.

Wreaking Satisfaction We were laying a large diameter steel pumping main to carry untreated sewage, so the joints had to be perfect, however they weren’t. I had previously visited Crew for details when we placed the order, and I telephoned the manufacturers for someone to be sent to advise. When Smith arrived late, he spent the journey from the airport moaning about being sent to Northern Ireland and that his wife was very worried about him. It was evident he cared little for our situation and wanted home on the next flight or no later than three o’clock in the afternoon. By the time he had left we were a little wiser, but an overnight stay was what I expected. It was my duty to take him to the airport, and to underline how safe he had been I took him through every hotspot in Belfast, pointing out where this man had died or that place have been blown up, on the way. The next day I received a phone call from Smith’s head office, asking me what I had done to him, as from the minute he had arrived he had not stopped talking. When I explained, the roars of laughter at the other end were like honey.

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