In the grey light of the morning it’s clear that The Green Lodge in Carlow has seen better days; most of the furniture is showing it’s age and the main window looking out towards the car park in front of the Hotel has a large crack running from top to bottom. The pattern of the raindrops falling down the window is violently skewed as it hits the fault line. Looking around the room I notice a bookshelf and wander over to take a look. It’s full of travel books and guides to the delights of the local area, picture after picture of hills and fields. Why do people want to go and look at countryside? I swear that I’ll never understand the attraction of a muddy field and some old trees. If I do change my mind though, this is obviously the place to come. The smell of frying bacon starts to drift past me, time to have a look in the dining room.
I push open the door and find a fairly dispiriting looking room, lots of basic looking square metal legged tables with place settings for four people and a centre piece of plastic flowers. None of the chairs appear to match, some of them are comically low. Out of curiosity, I stiffly edge down onto one these chairs and find the table is roughly at chin height for me. Of course, at that very moment the door from the kitchen swings open and a middle aged woman comes quickly into the room.
“Good morning to you, coffee or tea?” She asks as a large grin spreads across her face.
“Oh, um, coffee please,” I say trying to rise from the chair with some degree of grace.
“I think that one’s a little on the small side for you, but I expect you worked that out for yourself there.”
“Yes, it is a little low down. I’ll, um, move, sorry.”
“Any of the others coming down?”
“Not that I know of. It sounded pretty quiet when I got up.”
“I expect they’ll be down soon. In my experience, few things move young men like the smell of a cooked breakfast. I’d guess that you’ll be having some company soon.”
With that, she turns quickly on her heels and moves back to the kitchen.
The room is sparsely decorated. The only visual point of interest is a wide picture, of what I think is the Forth Bridge, which is actually cut in two and displayed in a couple of adjoining frames of differing sizes. I get up from my seat to take a close look. On closer inspection, it looks as though it’s not even a proper poster. It was probably taken from a broadsheet newspaper or a magazine and in places it has faded so much as to be hardly visible. I wonder what prompted someone to pluck this picture and decide that it had to be mounted so quickly that they couldn’t possibly wait until they had a frame that was the right size for the picture. No, it had to go up straight away, if that means cutting it into oddly sized segments, so be it.
Now, settled in a chair that matches my build a little better, I have a clear view out to the fields behind the hotel and a very drab view it is. The fields are messy, muddy and are occasionally dotted with buildings and what I assume must be farm equipment all of which are in dilapidated state. I can never understand why older people go on about the wonders of the countryside; in my experience it’s the dullest, dirtiest most miserable place to spend any time. If you do venture into it, the chances are that you will come home with some sort of animal crap on you after traipsing around for hours with nothing to see and no-one to talk to. It’s a place where stagnation and decay rule, I’ll take the allegedly dirty, smelly, dangerous town over the country every time.
Suddenly the door of the dinning room swings open and in walks an elderly man vigorously shaking the rain off a small, bright pink umbrella. When the umbrella drops down I can see that he is wearing a rather natty ensemble of a Manchester United bobble hat, a paisley scarf, a heavy looking brown checked dressing gown, red tracksuit trousers and a pair of working mans boots which appeared to be covered with the sort of detritus which I had just been thinking about.
“Sorry?” I say, unable to keep pace with his rapid-fire delivery.
“Myslipperstheyshouldbebythedoor CLAIRE, CLAIREWHEREAREMYSLIPPERS?” He shouts toward the kitchen.
Claire comes into the room with a mug of coffee in her hand.
“Finbar McCafferty, don’t you be shouting at me like that! Look at the state of you; I thought we agreed that you were going to get dressed properly before coming in for breakfast today. I don’t want you intimidating my guests.” She turns to me, “I’m so sorry
Mr. McCafferty lives next door and we have an arrangement regarding breakfast with him, I hope you don’t mind?”
“No, no, that’s fine,” I say, taking the mug from her outstretched hand.
“Sit down and take those filthy boots off. I put your slippers in the kitchen, give me a moment.”
Mr. McCafferty, looks around the virtually empty dining room before fixing me with a steely glare “Hmph,” he sighs before casting his eyes around the place again. Once again his visual journey around the room ends with him looking in my direction and sighing heavily.
“Oh,” I say. “Is this where you normally sit? Sorry, I’ll move.”
I start to get up from the chair, but he quickly strides towards me.
He pulls out the chair and sits down with a heavy thud.
The boot on his right foot has been lifted a couple of inches from the floor and is proffered in my direction. At some stage, I’m sure that it must have emerged, bright and shinny from a firm box, maybe with some paper carefully wrapped around it to stop it from being blemished by it’s brother or maybe sister boot. A comforting leathery smell would have gently enveloped the nostrils of the new guardian of the footwear and the beautiful relationship between man and his footwear was about to begin. Few relationships are closer than that of a man and the item that he chooses to place upon the sole of his feet.
Although women profess to love their shoes, the fickle way that they switch from pair to pair shows that the relationship is transitory, some would even say capricious. Of course they love to show off their new acquisition to friends and for a while everything is wonderful. Then one day a purchase is made, the new member of the entourage is higher, flatter, brighter, softer, firmer or whatever but it is different and suddenly more exciting that the previous model. Soon the original is featuring rather less often in footwear rota, then it’s moved from the bedroom floor to the wardrobe and it’s seldom seen again, cast to the back of the wardrobe it emerges only on those occasional tidy up days when the flame of affection is briefly rekindled without ever really catching alight with the same level intensity of those first few exciting weeks.
A man however will stick with his shoe until the poor thing has given everything for it’s master, it’s a relationship where the two parties stick together through thick and thin, literally in this case. People often say that the relationship between a man and his dog is so close that the two parties end up mirroring each other’s characteristics, though I must admit that I’m not aware of many men who have taken to cocking their leg whilst relieving themselves. The well fitting, well-worn man’s shoe, will over time reveal to the world, the true nature of the foot snugly hidden within it. The lines and contours gradually emerge to cover the previously smooth surface the shoe, creasing it in a way that mere hands could never mange to do. Eventually when the shoe has given everything for you, it is put out of its misery and thrown away, often in several parts as the sole and uppers become evermore distant friends, the increasing intrusion of water into the area reserved for socks only whenever puddles litter the pavements, mean it has to go.
The shoe is caked with all manner of unpleasantness and is being waved with ever more urgency in my direction.
“COMEON, offwithitnow, offwithit,” he demands.
Cautiously I lean forward, I notice that the laces are undone and are hanging limply down from the eyelets, at least I don’t need to worry about struggling with a difficult knot. I ease my fingers into the uppers and try to make the opening as wide as possible, in the hope that the boot will slip off without too much actual pulling on my part. Sadly there is little room for manoeuvre; I know that at some point I shall have to take hold of that filthy heel and pull. I look back to the table in the hope that there might be a napkin that I can use to provide some sort of protective layer but sadly for me it looks as though finger wiping is not a priority in these parts.
Mr. McCafferty appears to have picked up on my discomfort and train of thought.
“AH, holdonnowholdon, usethis,” he rattles off as he reaches into the pocket of his dressing gown to pull out a large and obviously very well used handkerchief along with various sweet wrappers and a couple of those stubby pens that you can only find in bookmakers.
“Thereyougoyoungfella,” he says.
“Thanks”, I mumble, appreciating his offer of help but distressed that I now have to take hold of another disgusting item to help Mr. McCafferty prepare for his breakfast.
The handkerchief is not only, obviously damp but also distressingly lumpy and in certain parts, green. It’s clear that Mr. McCafferty has used this item for most of his adult life without seeing the need to expose it to any sort of hot water and soap combination and now, generous soul that he is, he’s offering it to me.
I desperately scan the fetid piece of cloth for some dry areas, which I may be able to hold without too much fear of contamination. I find that two diagonally opposing corners are dry and rough to the touch, so gingerly taking those between my thumbs and forefingers I then try to wrap it around the heel of Mr. McCafferty’s right boot in order to pull at the hard plastic base of his footwear.
Mr. McCafferty makes no effort to pull his foot in the opposite direction of my efforts, in fact if anything he appears to just letting his leg drift around in whichever direction I am pulling it.
“Try to pull your foot out,” I say as he starts to slide off his chair and towards me. I pull again and the handkerchief slips against the surface of the boot, falls from my feeble grasp, leaving my now naked fingers holding the slimy boot in my hands.
“Oh Christ!” I yell.
What the hell, my hands are covered with sixty years of snot and phlegm along with a sizeable amount of mud and God knows what else, I may as well just bend down, grab it fully and finish it off. So I do this.
The force of my thrust takes Mr. McCafferty by surprise, so as well as the boot departing rapidly from it’s job of enclosing his foot and flying through my slippery grip, he himself zooms forward, his foot going upward at great speed before it is stopped by the weight of my chin. Causing me to bite my lip as my glasses fly across the room. He lands with a thud on the floor, pulling the table and a shower of crockery and cutlery onto him and me as he goes.
There is a second of two of stunned silence before the door to the kitchen is thrown open.
“Mr. McCafferty that’s it!” Shouts Claire. “I asked you not to cause me a problem with these boys and here you are fighting with them in my breakfast room. Who do you think you are?”
“He wasn’t fighting,” I offer. We were just trying to get his boot off and ….well, um things went a bit wrong.”
“I’ll say they did,” she replies. Come away from there now, let me clear that mess up.”
Mr. McCafferty has now picked himself up from the floor and much to my amazement has without any apparent commotion removed his other boot.
“Did you find those slippers?” he meekly asks.