Aida Austin

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Inside -

‘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.

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