Memories are made of this…

I was driving home from work last night and I was running low on petrol so I stopped off at Drogheda to fill up. When I got back into the car I was, as I often am, acutely aware of the smell from the metal of the petrol pump and from the petrol on my hand. As I drove away from the petrol station I started station hopping with the radio and hit upon a country and western channel and paused for a moment as the song that was playing was a big country hit when I was in my teens and working a part-time job as a petrol pump attendant after school and at the weekends. For the record I would like to state that my taste in music is eclectic. In fact the two stations that I listen to most are Classic FM and Radio na Gaeltachta and the thousands of songs on my iphone cover just about every musical taste and genre. I am sure that says more about me than I care to reflect on!

So back to my story: the garage at which I used to work had a fairly spacious office with nothing but a desk and a cash register. We had a few accessories for sale such as wiper blades, air fresheners, WD40 etc but that was about it… I spoke with the boss and suggested that we turn it into a shop selling car stereos, car radios and tapes etc (no CDs back then!). He agreed and we started to do a regular trade in a limited range of merchandise. The tapes, first 8-tracks and then 4-tracks, proved to be mightily popular with the locals in the heart of west Tyrone. Top sellers were such country luminaries and national treasures as Philomena Begley, Brian Coll, Roly Daniels, The Indians, Susan McCann, Frankie McBride and Dickie Rock as well as a range of American country greats such as Patsy Cline, Waylon Jennings, Charlie Pride and Hank Williams. My mother was an aficionado of such music and I suppose as a consequence I couldn’t help but escape it either…and dare I say, actually grew to like and enjoy much of it. In terms of context the great days of disco were just threatening to appear and aside from attending live and emerging bands in the local Foresters’ Hall on a Sunday afternoon the only fare available to the burgeoning youth of the district was the many country and western dances that took us on adventures to such exotic locations as the Royal Arms in Omagh, the Parish Hall in Drumquin on a Friday night, or The Gap Ballroom in Mullaslin on a Saturday…and when really adventurous we might stray as far afield as the Emyvale Inn in County Monaghan or the Astoria Ballroom in Bundoran. And trust me, they were all adventures of sorts, especially when you throw into the mix that we were firmly in the throes of that period in the north of Ireland which we fondly refer to as the Troubles and getting to and from anywhere late at night could be an adventure of a different sort entirely!

So the smell of petrol on my hands, the act of pumping petrol, something about the coldness and crispness of the night accompanied by the mood music of the era conspired to transport me to my teenage years. It was as if everything had aligned perfectly for a moment and I have to tell you that I dallied happily there for a while. If truth be told I was overwhelmed with a warm and homely wave of nostalgia and I found myself indulgent of the transient comfort in the safety that I happened on there amidst my kith and kin; and all the time I was keenly aware that this was a momentary suspension of the factual complexity of the reality. I have no doubt either that I had somehow donned those famed and misused rose-tinted spectacles and that the lens that they gave me somehow distorted reality and kindly filtered out the background of angst that prevailed in those years in that part of Ireland. I am grateful for that and it should be no surprise that a homing instinct kicked in and seconds later I was on the phone (hands’ free!!) talking to my parents. So much has changed over the intervening years, as it has for all of us; so many of the characters who starred or had bit part roles in those memory pockets no longer shuffle the mortal coil and in our individual dalliances with the past we confront what is essentially a microcosm of life’s journey. That is nice. That is warm. That is a real glass of cheer on this bitterly and bitingly cold February morning!