Knights, Fights and Automobiles

Amongst other stuff…

Yesterday was a grey day. One of those days where there’s no wind. No rain. Just grey. To add to the greyness, I had to head north to Drogheda to do an NCT (National Car Testing) on the car at lunchtime.  So, the weather was the perfect backdrop for such an occasion. I was running a bit late. When I pulled into the test centre there was a queue out the door. Everyone masked up and feeling the cold.  Inside the prefab-like building there were only three seats available to sit on, with the majority of seats marked off with large Xs of yellow and black  tape. It had all the appearance of a crime scene. I sat down. The seat was cold and the door was wide open. I spotted a handwritten sign saying coffee only three doors up.  I didn’t hang around.

Lord Farquaad, Shrek

For all the charm that Drogheda has, as well as its intriguing history, you will not find any of that charm in the Industrial Estate. The Industrial Estate is called the Newgrange Industrial Estate. It doesn’t live up to its great Stone Age namesake, which is only down the road. Anyway, I found the source of the coffee which was a premises that looked like a gym. It had  a small coffee area to the front. I wanted to get in out of the cold and it was a much better option than sitting in the bleak waiting room waiting for news on the car.

I asked the man behind the counter if it was a gym and he told me it was a Mixed Martial Arts gym. He seemed to be the owner and he told me he was previously a professional fighter.  Given my little knowledge (McGregor of course), I made some comment along the lines of it being the ‘heavy stuff’. He told me it was a great outlet for the youth in the area, which I don’t doubt. Anyway, the big decision of the day became which of the selection of protein balls I would choose. The day was already looking up.  So, with the decision made, I sat at the single table with my coffee and took out my book.

The book I was reading came from a box of books that I found when we moved house again two months ago. My late sister-in law, Helen, had asked me to store them in our under-floor storage area of our old home on the beach. On the day I found the box, I was being ruthless.  I was in the mood that anything excess should be either given to charity or sold. I even looked up the price on eBay to see what these books would be worth. Thankfully they weren’t worth much and I’m particularly relieved that I came to my senses when the panic surrounding the move died down. The box was filled with a collection called The Great Writers Library, which pretty much contains all the old classics. Some I’ve read a long time ago, but the majority I haven’t. So, I decided to try and work my way through them in the hope of some enlightenment.

Helen was great for signing up for the collectors editions, that you would see advertised on the 1st of January every year. (There’s a box full of magazines of the Great Artists somewhere too). Helen was also the kind of person who loved giving gifts and I am so grateful to her for the unexpected gift of these books . She was the best aunt to my children and all her nieces and nephews. Cancer took Helen from us far too early.  

So, I’m sitting reading my book and the owner of the Mixed Martial Arts centre asked me what I was reading. I jokingly said that “would you believe I’m actually reading about fighting”. I said that it was a bit before Mixed Martial Arts time. That it was about knights, kings and all that stuff.  But it did get me thinking that fights will always go on, no matter how civilised we would like to think we are. Back in the day it was fighting to the death for the entertainment of the onlookers. Nowadays it’s still entertainment, but not to the death. Well, it’s not supposed to be anyway.   The rules have improved. The book is Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. I’m about half-way through and much to my surprise, given the subject matter, I am really enjoying it. When reading about all these duelling knights I can’t help but think of the great line from Lord Farquaad in Shrek “some of you may die, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.”

And while I’m on the subject of things not changing that much over the centuries, I read two Thomas Hardy books from Helen’s collection. (Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the D’Urbervilles). Harrowing stories of injustice, homelessness, class, privilege, abuse of power, and I’m not talking about last week’s Sunday newspapers – although I could be.

Not long before we left our bungalow (compliments of the receiver not to mention some dodgy planners) I was pulling out of the driveway, and I noticed two large minibuses pulling into the field across the road. Out came a group of, probably foreign vegetable pickers, and for a solid four days they went to work on the field.  I could see them stooped over the vegetables as I came and went. In Hardy’s day, farm labourers walked from farm to farm looking for work. Nowadays they arrive by minibus. I hope they are well paid, with the the cost of housing and all that…. And while I’m on the subject of hard work, there’s also the Polish winkle pickers who park their cars at the White Wall across from my parent’s house. They walk with the tide out to Shenick island and stay overnight on dark Winter nights, coming back in with the next low tide, some twelve hours later.  You can see their torches shining at night, but most people wouldn’t even know they are out there.

It makes me think of a quote from Tess of the d’Urbervilles when she was working in the fields of ‘Wessex’;

They worked on, hour after hour, unconscious of the forlorn aspect they bore in the landscape, not thinking of the justice or injustice of their lot.”


There’s another scene in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, where Tess and her husband, Angel, find themselves unexpectedly at Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, “a forest of monoliths grouped upon the grassy expanse of the plain”.

I’ve seen Stonehenge from the road. It catches you by surprise and it is a such a wonder for sure, standing proud in the landscape. I would like to return and stop a while some day. Newgrange, is our Stone Age monument. It is one of my favourite places to visit, but it has been a while. When I was a child, we visited it regularly with our parents. I loved the beautiful kerb stones at the front of the passage grave with their concentric patterns and the long cool, musty smelling corridor that leads down to the burial chamber. My favourite part was when the guide turned out the light making it pitch black and then they would recreate the sun coming up the passage-way for the Winter Solstice. All of a sudden, the burial chamber would light up and you could see the corbelled stone roof above and imagine what it was like all those millennia ago. It was breath-taking to think that we were standing in a Neolithic tomb that was even older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids.

I remember on one occasion, in the late 1970s, my little brother, on his way down the passage way, stuck his hand into a gap in the rocks (as kids do) and pulled out a wad which contained seven old Irish pounds. It was a small fortune at the time. My parents reckoned some wealthy American tourist had made an offering to the Druid Gods and we were the beneficiaries. They went back to the shop to declare the money and the lady smiled and said it was our lucky day. So that was the day we had the take-away from the chipper, compliments of the Stone Age Gods. The following week my aunt and my cousin went to Newgrange but didn’t have our luck, despite checking in every nook and cranny on the way down the passage-way!

When I left the gym, the owner wished me luck with the car test. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. The car failed. So, I’m back down on the 17th of December and I’ll pop in for another coffee. I might try and head over to Newgrange afterwards for old time sake. It will be coming up to the Winter Solstice and I hope the sky clears to let the sun light-up the burial chamber.

PS I went for the Reeses protein ball. Highly recommend.  

Newgrange Kerb Stone.