‘Paul’s stores of forbearance are running low in the tourist season
Lunchtime, and I’m hand-beading upstairs at my worktable in Paul’s shop. My mind is as calm as a goldfish in a bowl; hand-beading is good that way, being so simple and repetitive. “Your soup is here,” Paul calls up. I put down my wire cutters. Gather my wits. I might need them during lunch; Paul’s stores of forbearance are running dangerously low these days, what with it being the tourist season. I descend the stairs, looking forward to tomato soup. Hopefully with a crusty white roll, as requested, rather than disappointing soda bread, as not.
“Soup,” he says, pointing at the table and looking past me at an American tourist who is loudly admiring a chest of drawers. “And soda bread,” he says, with perverse satisfaction, looking at me like he’s about to pin a butterfly to a board. Hard. He tears up his bread, giving the American tourist the same look only this time like he wants to pin it harder. With a thicker, blunter pin.
I fear any second now, the American will ask Paul the price of the cupboard, in the jaunty manner of someone “who thinks a chest of drawers can be folded flat into a ******* suitcase and stored in the luggage compartment on American Airlines.” I eat my soup, fearing also that this tourist might choose to remark on Paul’s “SecondHand Furniture and Auld Shite Shop” sign, saying how funny it is and does Paul mind if he takes a photo? It would not be wise for a butterfly to endanger itself in this way.
“I love your sign,” the tourist says, “so funny. Do you mind if I take a photo? And I’m just wondering, how much is this chest of drawers?” “Christ,” Paul says, when the tourist moves out of earshot, “someone stick me on a desert island, please, with no tyre kickers to torment me with their stupidity.”
“Talking of desert islands,” I say, by way of diversion, “I listened to a podcast of Desert Island Discs this morning before I came in. It was Arundhati Roy.”
“Eat your soup and don’t be annoying me,” he says. But sometimes, it just so happens I like a chat, tourist season or not. “What would your desert island luxury item be?” I say, “Arundhati Roy’s was a mango tree. Mine would be a feather pillow.” But he just gives me that butterfly look again. “Well?” I say.
“TOBACCO,” he shouts irascibly, which I construe as Paul entering into the spirit of Desert Island Disc chat. “Pretend I’m Kirsty Young, the presenter on Desert Island Discs,” I say, encouraged, “and you’re my guest castaway. You have to choose eight favourite records to take with you to your desert island.” “I WOULDN’T TAKE ANY,” he shouts, “BECAUSE SILENCE IS THE WHOLE ******* POINT.” “Ok,” I say, “no music. But you’ve got to choose one book to take with you besides the Complete Works of Shakespeare and the bible.” “The RTÉ Guide,” he says bitterly, “so I can see what I’m missing on telly.”
I fear Kirsty Young is going to have her work cut out but never mind, she would simply press on regardless. “So tell me Paul,” I say, “which eight people would you take to a desert island?” “NONE,” he shouts. “But if you refuse to take records, we have to replace them with something,” I say. “I can’t think of one person I wouldn’t want to bludgeon after a day,” he says. But radio presenters must sometimes hold firm with contrary guests. “So Paul,” I say, “in no particular order, who is the first person out of eight you’d take to a desert island that you could put up with for one week without bludgeoning them?” I look at him. He looks at me. His face is as blank as a spoon. “Mad Elizabeth?” I prompt, helpfully. “BETTY?” he shouts, “I can’t give her a lift home from Lidl without wanting to bludgeon her. I’d bludgeon her in the boat before she had a chance to set foot ashore. And definitely not R with his special butter knives either. He’d be telling me the right way to eat a ******* coconut.” Six more people to go. Kirsty Young never had it so tough.