“There’s no use in being a gobshite if you don’t show it”.
My old dad was a great man for the sayings, and this one had always particularly tickled me. I do try not to use it too often.
It flashed across my brain one day last week, however, like those red ticker tape words darting over and back across those electronic information signs in railway stations, when I took the train from Rush to nearby Balbriggan.
Only I didn’t.
There I was, alone and majestic in my booth for four, Iarnród Éireann wi-fi on, and off to a business meeting in Balbriggan. Plenty of time for a leisurely thumb and browse through Facebook.
Éanna Brophy, late of the late Sunday Press, had posted a beautifully blithe and lyrical extract from PG Wodehouse’s Summer Lightning, gloriously setting the scene for the latest comic capers at Blandings Castle.
The soft hissing of the train door sliding shut did not immediately register as I liked and commented on Éanna’s marvellous post, and I merely smiled at the serendipitous appearance of a real castle out the window to my left.
Then a trip-switch flipped in my heart and my stomach inhaled in sudden recognition of my predicament and the familiar 3G all-weather pitch set-up between the train and the castle, now looming large, grey and stately at the centre of my train window vista.
That was Balbriggan train station back there, and I was heading north.
The next stop was Gormanston. A station and a place I had never visited. Like many, I had heard of Gormanston College. And that was it.
Alighting on the left side at the station, my first thoughts were framed in puzzlement and confusion. There was no obvious way of getting across to the far side of the tracks to head back to Balbriggan. There was a railway bridge just down from me, but no steps on either side to let me use it to cross over. Curious.
Out the side gate, at the far side of the narrow courtyard, a lone figure in Iarnród Éireann uniform and cap was nailing a fraying information flyer more securely to a wooden notice board.
He accent was Eastern European and he smiled as he told me that, yes, I would have to go out that gate across from him, on to the road, back over the bridge, and the entrance to the far platform was down a little way again. More curious.
It took a while, before finally, I trudged down the ramp and, brushing back the thickening brambles, alighted on to the platform for Dublin.
The display sign told me it was now 9.37, and the next train towards the city was at 9.50. I should just make my 10am appointment.
It struck me was there were no panes in the light grey peeling window frames of the waiting room beside me, and no seats inside. More curious still.
The vista did not get any better as I slowly took in a train station that time, progress and paint brush seemed to have long abandoned.
Over on the far side, I counted three cars in the grim concreted vastness of the incongruously large car park, in front of the distant red-brick building that must have been the ticket office.
A second traveller had arrived on to the platform and his eyes twinkled behind his rimless glasses as he watched me looking around.
“It’s been a while since they have done anything with it,” he laughed, his feet planted wide in the comfortable ease of one who enjoys conversation and stories.
He had seen me running my fingers along one of the narrow peeling rectangular window frames outside the lonely waiting room.
He had been there himself about two years ago when a kid from the college broke one of the waiting room windows with his elbow. Iarnród Éireann had removed the broken pane and all the others, and they had never been replaced. Even more curious again.
“It was happening all the time,” my guide informed me.
Why were there no steps up to the old stone railway bridge? It was like he was only waiting to be asked this. He eyes were dancing and he was laughing as he told me how the EU had ruled a few years back that the steps were not positioned properly.
“They sent a team over to measure them and everything,” he chortled, his eyes widening at the red-taped absurdity of it all, “and they had to be removed as they did not comply with some regulation or other about these things in Brussels.” Beyond curious.
The building down the way across the tracks was, he confirmed, the ticket office, and yes, the whole set-up with the huge car park that was hardly used and the trek from there to the Dublin side was ridiculous, but, he said finally, shrugging his shoulders and snorting with laughter, “that’s just the way it is!”
The tannoy bleeped the incoming Dublin train, and it was goodbye Gormanston and, hopefully, would soon be hallo Balbriggan.
There was no Facebook this time, just a quick text apologising and excusing my possible late arrival because the Belfast Express had been delayed and had held up the suburban train service for 10 minutes.
I neglected to mention that this had indeed happened, only it was the train going in the opposite direction that had been delayed. I just hoped my man hadn’t been anywhere near Balbriggan station when the north-bound express bulleted through, like summer lightning.