“Pub­lic trans­port wasn’t in­tended for Peo­ple Like Us. It’s for the poor”

‘ Pub­lic trans­port wasn’t in­tended for Peo­ple Like Us. It’s for the poor and the fallen’

The Irish Times Magazine - - NEWS -

So I call to see the old dear – yeah, no, too nice for my own good, that’s me – and I end up hear­ing her be­fore I see her. Which isn’t un­usual, given that it’s 11 o’clock in the morn­ing, the time when her fifth mint julep of the day is gen­er­ally stort­ing to kick in. In fact, I can hear her as I’m putting my key in the front door. She’s go­ing, “I want to know how some­thing like this could have hap­pened?” her voice all loud and screechy like one of Daen­erys Tar­garyen’s dragons. At first, I pre­sume that Mar­ija must have, I don’t know, spilled bleach on the ar­moire and that the old dear is about to reen­ter the mor­ket for a new cleaner. But it ends up not be­ing that?

She’s ac­tu­ally on the phone, giv­ing out yords, go­ing, “Don’t place me on hold again! Do not place me on hold again!” ex­cept they end up do­ing it any­way. Which is when I hap­pen to walk into the kitchen?

“What hap­pened?” I go. “Have the mak­ers of Jim Beam storted putting child- proof lids on their bot­tles?” I can be very funny some­times. “Worse,” she goes. “Look at that… thing on the ta­ble.”

So I do. There’s, like, an en­ve­lope, which has been torn open, then next to it some kind of let­ter, which I couldn’t be orsed read­ing, then next to that – I ac­tu­ally laugh when I see it? – a Free Travel Pass in the name of Fion­nu­ala O’Car­roll- Kelly.

“It’s not funny,” the old dear goes. “Why would they send me such a thing?”

I’m there, “Pre­sum­ably be­cause you’re an old age pen­sioner.”

“An old age pen­sioner? You’re be­ing ridicu­lous, Ross!” “Er, you’re 70 next month?” “Seventy? What ever gave you that idea?” I pick it up and I study it closely. I’m like, “Date of birth – the 29th of Septem­ber 1947. I’m no Maths whizz – NGs right the way through school – but it sounds to me like you’re in that kind of ball­pork.”

“I’m not in the hu­mour for any of your un­pleas­ant­ness, Ross. This has all come as a nasty-. Hello? Yes, hello, please do not put me on hold again. If I have to lis­ten to Greensleeves one more time, I shall lose my rea­son. This is Fion­nu­ala O’Car­rol­lKelly, the au­thor and hu­man­i­tar­ian, and I wish to know why I’ve been sent a – what does it say on it, Ross – Free Travel Pass?” I laugh. I’m there, “I love this pho­to­graph of you, by the way. We ac­tu­ally have a copy of it on our man­tel­piece – to keep the kids away from the stove heater.”

She goes, “What do you mean I’m en­ti­tled to it? I’m 59!”

I shout, “Don’t lis­ten to her – the woman’s as old as the Bi­ble! I think she might even be in it!”

She’s there, “It must be some kind of cler­i­cal er­ror. You re­ally should do some­thing about your records – this whole episode has been deeply, deeply em­bar­rass­ing for me and my fam­ily… I beg your par­don? No, don’t you dare put me on hold again! Don’t you-.” She gets put on hold again. I’m there, “Why don’t you just keep it any­way?”

She goes, “Keep it? Why on Earth would I keep it? I’m proud to say that I have never set foot on one of those pub­lic om­nibuses. Or is it om­nibi?”

“I think they’re just called buses these days. And – yeah, no – maybe you should stort us­ing them. You’re the most ter­ri­ble driver I’ve ever seen. And you’re get­ting worse as you’re get­ting older and your eye­sight is fail­ing.”

“Pub­lic trans­port wasn’t in­tended for Peo­ple Like Us. It’s for the poor and the fallen. And any­way that’s not the rea­son I’m up­set. It’s this age busi­ness.” “What, your true age be­ing ex­posed?” “How many times do I have to tell you, I’m 59, Ross.”

“Just be­cause you’ve been drunk for the last decade, it doesn’t mean it didn’t hap­pen. In a way, this kind of serves you right, doesn’t it?” “I beg your por­don?” “I’m just say­ing, you ac­tu­ally laughed a cou­ple of weeks ago when Sor­cha told you that I had to have a hip re­place­ment oper­a­tion.”

“Well, it’s just that I al­ways as­so­ciate hip re­place­ments with the elderly and the in­firm.”

“You laughed in my ac­tual face.” “Well, may I re­mind you, Ross, that you did some­thing very sim­i­lar when I came home from Amer­ica at Christ­mas. You ac­cused me of hav­ing my breasts en­larged.” “You did have your breasts en­larged. Je­sus, look at them – you look like a mon­ster truck from the waist up.” “You’re fix­ated with my breasts – and it wouldn’t take a psy­chi­a­trist long to fig­ure out why… Hello? No, I wasn’t talk­ing to you. I was talk­ing to my son. What have you man­aged to find out?” I whip out my phone and I take a pho­to­graph of her Free Travel Pass, which I’ll stick up on In­sta­gram later. She goes, “En­ti­tled to it? Just be­cause you’re en­ti­tled to some­thing doesn’t mean you have to take it. It’s like the old age pen­sion. I have no in­ter­est in it what­so­ever – even though I’m a long way from be­ing el­i­gi­ble for it.” I shout, “Liar!” Sud­denly, her voice be­come more – I think it’s a word – shrill? She goes, “What do you mean, ‘ Why did I ap­ply for it?’ I didn’t ap­ply for it!” And I laugh. I have no choice in the mat­ter. Be­cause the penny has fi­nally dropped with her. She just puts the phone down. She’s like, “You did it! You filled in the form!” I’m there, “Hey, like I said, you thought it was hi­lar­i­ous that I have to get a new hip. And you’re walk­ing around town all sum­mer in a tight top with the all- new show­girls on dis­play. I just thought it was time some­one re­minded you of your true age. Which, like I said, is nearly 70.” And sud­denly I watch the pul­leys and levers in her face crank into ac­tion un­til they’ve formed what passes for a smile, which tells me that the woman is al­ready plot­ting her re­venge.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION: ALAN CLARKE

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