Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Day Thirteen: Lurgan to Exeter - One Day at MacCool's, One Night in Whipton

Photo: The road to Torr Head.

Nap time at the Pegasus Guest House in Whipton, outside Exeter, and plenty of time on our hands. I had been apprehensive about this day, the only one that involved travel and a performance on the same day in the entire journey. What if something went wrong? What if we were missing something, something were wrong with the tech, I left something behind - there would be no time to care of of unseen mishaps.

It also occured to me that this was the one city where I would get no time to take in the surroundings before moving on the next morning.

Well. Toni and I went to the Lurgan Public Library to check email, and received an urgent notice from our contact in London that the Exeter show has been cancelled, due to lack of interest. They had only had confirmed reservations for five, and decided it wasn't worth the effort.

Photo: Lonely boy on an Irish road.

I have performed the show for five before. I've performed the show for one. I would have liked to have been consulted, I guess. Maybe if I had been in better contact and could have gotten back to them yesterday, instead of today, I could have communicated that fact, but it was a little late by the time I got the message and we had a plane to catch.

I contacted our host here, figuring we could at least be in touch, maybe have a drink or dinner. I was surprised to find (via text message) that they had already made plans for themselves this evening, and that maybe we would see them in Plymouth. So we don't even get any contact here at all, or suggestions for where to go or what to do.

Disappointed? Sure. Maybe more than I expected. I'm here, in Exeter (well, Whipton) with nothing to do, and there's at least five people who wanted to see my show.

There was a reason we scheduled travel and performance on the same date - we wanted an extra day in N. Ireland. It was well spent. Steven and Jackie picked us up around 10.30 and we took the scenic route along the coast (the Torr Head route) to Giant's Causeway.

Photo: Steven and Jackie.

Giant's Causeway is this bizzare, unique rock formation along this one, relatively small area of the northern coast. Where the stones have been worn down, it looks like carefully arranged hexagonal boulders have been neatly fit together. Where they are taller they are like great columns. Each stone section is maybe eighteen inches wide.

At different short levels they make little thrones to sit in. In one area in particular, where there is this section of great, tall pillars all clustered together by the seaside, they contribute to the legend of Finn MacCool, the giant. There was a great bridge, or causeway, across the sea to Scotland. Finn MacCool set across to defeat a giant on the other side - but when he got there, he found the Scottish giant to be much larger than he, so he ran back across, in fear, to tell his wife.

Mrs. MacCool (I missed the name) told him to calm down, dressed him up in a bonnet and gave him a binky and put him in the baby crib. When the Scottish giant came over to fight MacCool, the giantess said, "He's out right now - but don't wake the baby!"

Photo: Thrones for little ones.

The Scottish giant took one look at the great, hideous baby in the crib, and thought - if that's the baby, how big is the father! In a panic, he ran back across the causeway, tearing up the stones as he went so the monstrous giant, Finn MacCool, could not get at him.

Steven told me that one. "Not a story of great courage, iss aht, Steven?" I observed, "Finn MacCool wearing a diaper and a bonnet?"

"No," he admitted, "but it's a story of great cleverness."

After almost two weeks of urban living, dining and recreating, this day was a blessed departure. And the weather was perfect - we were warned to bring rainjackets and be prepared for great wind and waves, but the sea was calm, the skies were sunny and clear, and it was quite warm. But not too warm, there was a lot of walking.

On the drive into town Toni and I compared notes on the last two cities we'd been to. Birmingham is a lot like Cleveland. It's not a city with the ancient hisoty a lot of the rest of England does, it's an industry town - only the industry dried up decades ago. A lot of people, including some in N.I. spoke disparragingly about Birmingham, but what I saw is a modern city that is trying very hard to become a center of arts and activity, with a number of new shopping centers and entertainment venues. I never learned if any of the canals caught fire ... but it wouldn't surprise me.

According to Steven, it's only been five years since things have settled down to what you might call normal in Northern Ireland, especially in and around where we were staying, so close to Belfast. The time we spent there wasn't nearly enough to really take in what effect those decades of war (for what else can you call it) have had on the people's psyche, but it can't have been good for business. Driving on the roads (as opposed to say, taking trains, which we have been doing so much of) watching all the farms, the livestock, the people, Toni was reminded of her home in Appalachia.

Our lives being how they are, it is hard to imagine the circumstances where we would be able to return to N.I. Perhaps we will need to make some up.

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