It’s hard to insure a car. The first company I rang quoted me €3300. Given that my budget for the car and the tax and the insurance altogether was only €1500, this wasn’t going to do. The car I had set my heart on was a 1994 Toyota Starlet from Clonakilty, which the mean insurers wouldn’t let me buy because it was 21 years old. You can only get a car insured if it’s a maximum of 20 years old. Unless you get a car that 25 or more years old, in which case you can get “classic” car insurance, which is one of the worse uses of the word “classic” I’ve ever heard. If your car is between 21 and 25 years old, you just don’t get insurance. Surely that’s a niche in the market for some awful entrepreneur with a Young Fine Gael membership and a Business and Economics degree.
Anyway, I bought a VW Polo. It’s navy blue and one of the doors doesn’t open. (When we were children, we drove to school every day in my mother’s Datsun Cherry, on which three of the doors wouldn’t open and one wouldn’t close. We used to have to tie the non-closing door shut with a piece of clothesline at the start of every journey so that the door wouldn’t fly off mid-drive.) The car has had seven previous owners. The seats all have new covers and I’m literally afraid to take them off for fear of what might lie beneath.
The car chugs and rattles and occasionally whines. The windscreen sometimes makes a creaking noise and I have visions of it breaking in my face some day. There is a tape deck so I can listen to my many cassettes. You wind the windows by hand which is much more tiring than I remember. There is scarring and scratches on the dashboard and the door interiors. But it’s my very first car, it’s entirely my own, I have christened him Julian and I love him.
I bought the car on Monday and drove to Kildare on Tuesday for a “training day” where I was savagely brutalised by text-heavy powerpoints for six hours and then drove to Longford.
At some stage, my Leitrim plan became a Longford plan. About a month ago, a friend sent me an ad for a house in Longford. Longford is a big town with all the necessary amenities (I think). I had seen ads I really liked for two little houses in a village outside Longford.
On Wednesday morning I arrived to view the first house. The village is adorable. All the houses are cute and colourful and the place feels like a movie about Ireland. All that was missing was a donkey, an old woman in a shawl and a priest with a fishing rod.
The estate agent was late for my first viewing. He was being interviewed by Shannonside Radio about rental prices, so that took priority over me. He had cut himself shaving for his radio interview and there were dots of blood all over his freshly-ironed white shirt. He paid more attention to his car than to me. His car was new and there was a Guinness truck parking behind it and he was convinced they were going to back into his Mercedes (or possibly a Volvo – what do I know? It was big and shiny and square.) He showed me the house. It was small. Very small. Celtic Tiger building boom Dublin city centre small. I understand why houses in Dublin are so squished, but Longford has plenty of space.
I was disappointed.
The next house was the one I had set my heart on. It was painted a cheery blue outside and looked like the kind of place a Connor could live in. I fell in love with the place the second I set foot inside – a cosy living room, plenty of room for all my stuff, a bit of old-world character, but clean and liveable in, three bedrooms, one of which was perfect to be my office where I will write.
The landlord is a man. A carpenter. From the countryside. And a property owner. He reared his two children in this house and he built the garage behind the house. His clothes were spattered with paint and he was driving a big van. He speaks in grunts and says “Sound” instead of “Thank you”. In other words, he was the most heterosexual man in the world.
This, of course, brought out the worst in me. I immediately became deeply ashamed of everything in my life. In my eagerness to impress him and his raw rural manliness I automatically started lying, telling him I had a sensible full-time job and had lived in the same place in Dublin for the last three years. I certainly didn’t tell him I had a PhD, or indeed had ever been to university or travelled or lived abroad. I don’t know what I thought – that he’d beat me up if he knew I was a namby pamby waste-of-time pseudo-intellectual frivolous homo. Anyway, I dug myself deep in my lies.
His parting words to me were that he liked me for the place but that his wife would check all my references. And she certainly did.
Because I had lied and said that I’d been living in Dublin for the last three years and didn’t feel I could tell him I had been in student accommodation, I had to put out an appeal on Facebook. I got four different volunteers to be my “landlady”. My new landlady rang my old “landlady” that night.
I asked my Cambridge boss (one of my seven current employers) to be my work referee. My new landlady rang actual England from Longford and talked to him.
I also sent her my passport, my bank details and my PPS number. But two references and enough information to steal my identity wasn’t enough. My new landlady wrote asking for a utility bill as proof of my current address. I told her they were in my old “landlady’s” name. I held my breath and crossed my fingers.
After three days of agony, I was in. I was invited up to sign the contract and take the keys. The landlady, after terrorising me, turned out to be lovely. I was asked to sign a document to say that I had never been convicted of a crime and that if I was I’d move out. Apparently the reason they were so weird about getting me was because some kind of criminal had lived here before me. As a result of this, there’s also a new shower, a new freezer and a new cooker in the house. I want to know what kind of crime it was that involved replacing these things because I’m fairly sure I’m living in the Midlands’ premier meth den.
But I love it. It’s a great house. Solid and comfortable. The bathroom is weird – the toilet is pink and there’s a pillar in the middle of the room. The back garden is 1.25 acres, so I could totally keep a sheep or two. I have an immersion heating system, all to myself, and the biggest hot press in Ireland. Occasionally, the silence at night is terrifying. I always barricade my bedroom door in case of rural murderers, but I’m sure that will pass. In Dublin 9, I lived in a flat under a man who used to get drunk and angry and smash the windows and the furniture, but that was nothing in comparison to the legions of potential deadly criminals who linger in the silence of rural Longford nights.
But the village is adorable. Rows of little cottages. 600 people. A post office. A shop. A play school. A hair dressers. A Chinese restaurant and a restaurant too. A Protestant church and a church too. When teenagers pass me on their bikes, they slow down and say hello. I went to the post office to tell the post man where I live, so he’d know where to bring the letters (there are no house numbers out here) and he said “Welcome to our village. I hope you’ll be very happy here. If there’s anything at all you need, just ask me or my wife.” I didn’t hug him, although I wanted to.
The Country might just suit me.