It was warm and damp in my tent. I reached up to open the flap, and a gust of cold air rushed in. Nothing was stirring outside but the wind on the grass. I marveled. While I didn’t have hangover, I felt as though I’d drunk enough that it was still sloshing around in my stomach.
I crawled out of my tent and put on an extra layer. The wind was biting. I decided to go for a walk up the river, to see what I could see from the highest point in the neighborhood. As I walked the dew on the grass stole stealthily into my shoes. I’d trod a half a mile when I came to the head of the river, a mid-sized dam. There didn’t seem to be a walkway across it, and there were no stairs up it. I looked to the steep hill next to it, and decided to try to climb it despite the dew. It was a tough trek. When I’d gotten just to the cusp of the hill, I saw something. I wasn’t sure what it was…until a head popped up. Billy goat! My imagination got the best of me, thinking of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. I shook it off. He did have rather big horns, though. I stood for a moment, trying to see if I could walk around him, when he charged. He steamrolled right down the hill, and I was in front of him, slipping and sliding to the bottom. He stopped then, satisfied that he’d done his work, and chewed his cud. When I’d wiped my fanny off and shakily started to move on, he didn’t follow. I was glad of that.
I walked back to my tent, tried to find some socks, and came up short. I decided that I’d better get myself something hot to drink. I thought that The Thirteen Pennies was such a nice looking place that I’d stop in. The door was wide open, so I entered. The man behind the bar looked at me and then ignored me. He went to the back room, and I was left alone to wonder what I should order, or if they even had a hot drink in the place. His wife came out, took one look at me, and began scolding in a very motherly tone. “You’ve been out on the heath, haven’t you? It’s all wet up there! Look at you, you’re shivering!” Her short blond fringed hair was bobbing with every shake of her hand, and her blue eyes blazed on either side of her freckled nose. She turned toward a youthful girl who was on her way out the door, possibly her daughter.
Jeannie! Go and fetch some briquettes from the market!” She pushed a pound note in her hand. “Aww, but Mom, I -” “Don’t aw Mom me, our guest is frozen to the bone and we need hot water! Go!” She shoved the kid down the street and came back, looking apologetic. “Just a second, and we’ll warm you up. Tom! Get a pint going for her!” I meant to tell her not to, but she looked at me ever sterner. “You drank a bit, and now you need a hair of what bit you, don’t fuss either!” I shrugged and sat smaller.
The landlady’s daughter arrived with a strange black brick in her hand, tied with a ribbon. On a mean look from her mother, she knelt down in front of the fireplace, tapped the brick, which fell apart into small wafers, and arranged them in a tee-pee formation. She reached up on the mantle, got a piece of newspaper, crumpled it under the tee-pee, and lit it. A black, sooty looking stream of smoke shot up into the room before she adjusted the flue. Then there was a little flash, and without a sputter, the little black wafers took fire and a strange blue flame began to come from them. It wasn’t like wood, which crackles merrily. Instead it burned silently, almost spookily, but gave off a hot burst of air that I appreciated. One whiff of it told me what I’d smelled in the town. It was peat. There’s really nothing that smells closer to peat than burning rubber. It’s a good rubbery-earthy smell, though.
Yet another stout was brought to me, which the landlady insisted that I drink. “It’ll warm you up.”
I looked rather pessimistic about the whole thing, but I drank it. Then she pointed to my shoes. “Take them off this instant, and put your feet against the boiler!” I looked at what she was pointing at. There was a vast, black water tank above the fireplace. I assumed what it did was heat the water that would circulate throughout the pub, but it was dirty with soot, and I’d never have done it unless I’d been being stared at like I was being stared at. I put my clean white stocking feet up against the black boiler. The landlady nodded as if her work was done, and left.
A few minutes later, a rather curious fellow turned up. He was small, and slim, had jet-black hair, and deep blue eyes. He was wearing the men’s dress uniform, a black sweater and jeans. He slunk onto a milk stool near me, and looked at my feet. “Got wet, dincha.”
I smiled as my teeth chattered. “Yep. Took a walk up the hill and got chased by a goat.” The boy looked as though he was going to burst into a paroxysm of laughter, but he held it in. It seemed that he was actually trying to be respectfully polite to me. “Oh, ” he said, “Don’t worry about Dingle’s goat, he never hurt anyone.” “Oh?” “Yeah, he just likes to chase tourists,” he said with a grin. “What’s yer name?” “Amanda.” “Well, I’m Ben, Ben Murphy. Descended from the ancient kings of Ireland, I am.” I had to smile at that. He was charming. “How old are you, Ben?” He puffed out his chest. “Sixteen.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “Fifteen, but I’d think you were thirteen, really.” He sagged. “Yeah, I’m not sixteen yet. And I’m a little small for me age I guess. But I’m working; out, and I’m getting muscles!” He illustrated by pushing his sleeve back and flexing. By then I was giggling. “Feeling better, then, eh?” “Yep.” He pointed at my pint. “It’s that stuff. Full o’ vitamins, and such.” He squirmed. “Are you allowed to drink, at your age?” (I had to ask.) He looked around quickly. “Yeah, but only when my Pops isn’t with me. I can usually get one.” I almost offered to get him one, when he jumped up. “Off to the stone yard, see yah!” He ran out and disappeared up the street.
Next time: Ireland: Prowling The Countryside