Country roads, take me home

Another dawn, another day waiting for whatever emails I sent the day before to bear fruit. Somewhere between 2 pm and 3 pm I decided I wasn’t going to hear back from The Guardian about the pitch I’d sent them so I checked my emails again – only to find this time a rejection from the HR department of a shoe-shop I’d applied to.

“Well, feck them!” I said to myself in that good-natured way people who are used to such rejection emails do in order to conserve their sanity. Some of us don’t have a lot to spare in the first place. In case you’re wondering why I, an entry-level nobody, pitch to such illustrious outlets like The Guardian, it is because that’s what I do instead of playing the lotto. I like to write and I don’t have much shame – ergo, I pitch to lots of editors routinely (BUT NEVER AT THE SAME TIME because they don’t like that). Most have been very constructive and kind in their “thanks but I’ll pass on this” emails which gives me heart that someday my pitch will land.

While I wait for my pitch to land/prince to come, I’ve been trying to get a regular retail job to keep me going until something else comes along, but that’s not going so hot either. On the day I got the rejection from the shoe-shop I didn’t react like I sometimes do – take to the bed – instead, I didn’t let it faze me and I went for a long walk through the country-side accompanied by the dog, who wouldn’t reject a wretch like me.

I’d made the mistake of taking what my phone’s forecast app said verbatim and I went out dressed in long-sleeves and a rain-jacket. Despite it being 14 degrees and sunny out, my phone said it would rain soon, and sure enough, the sky was boiling for showers, as they say. By the time I’d reached the end of one road still dry I insisted to the dog we’d go down the next one. She was having none of it. She froze on the spot and wouldn’t respond to my pleas; I felt like the husband of a sherry-drunk wife making a scene at an English dinner party. I picked her up and hefted her a metre or two across the road. She got the message; “There, I’m stubborner than you,” I panted.

We walked on until we met a man we’d seen before on another day when he’d glared at us from his garden after one of us made his dog bark. On this occasion he was on neutral territory, walking on the lane-way. In my best diplomatic tone I stated: “Howya doin'” as we passed him – this has become my standard countryside greeting over the past few months. It’s obviously inspired by Joey Tribbiani, and a smather of Miley from the Riordans. The man clearly didn’t appreciate that because he just grunted “uh” at me for having the temerity to walk past his farmland. I knew then looking at him that he’d be the type that wouldn’t think twice about putting a bullet in my head or the dog’s head, either, for that matter. (And she didn’t even say anything to him.)

We walked on, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit dejected, like I’d been rejected by HR all over again – only this time HR was one contrary ‘aul lad wearing filthy clothes and the disgruntled expression (and huge swollen stomach) of someone with a seriously advanced case of GERD. Either that or he was in the final days of trying to beat the record set by the Malian woman who’d given birth to nine kids in one go.

My fruitless encounter with the unfriendly farmer got me thinking about the importance of first impressions. Clearly he was impervious to the standard “Howya doin” which works on everyone else I meet when I’m out walking. The trick is, I think, to state it rather than say it; country people have no respect for a pushover or a mumbler. You have to say your chosen greeting out loud and proud and then move on quickly lest you make a fool of yourself. If it’s your neighbour you might stop and have a word about the weather, a subject of endless fascination.

I haven’t fully gotten the hang of first impressions in a professional interview setting yet. When the dog and I eventually reached home, I pondered that as I tucked ice under my armpits and checked my hide for bullets. Maybe it’s my glasses, I thought to myself; maybe they think I’m an intellectual who’s hopelessly unsuited to customer service. (Only the second part of that sentence is true). If they gave me a job I’d be able to save for laser eye surgery, or at least a less pretentious pair of specs. I like the ones I have but they do make me look as if I’m about to define postmodernism at any second. I swear to god I barely even know what postmodernism is and I wrote a thesis on it; I just want to make a living wage. Ironically, when I apply to customer service jobs I lie about my education, because having two Master’s degrees and no job makes you seem like a mad scientist on paper. At my lowest I’ve thought of leaning in to the way my face looks and doing a PhD, but I’ve decided it’s slightly less mad endeavouring to get work in my area while also trying to make a quick buck or two working for people who think my lack of enthusiasm for serving customers means I’m secretly fantasising about postmodernism. I’m not, I’m thinking about a holiday in France just like everyone else. At this stage though, I’d settle for a by-line or even a howya from the peevish country-man with the quintuplets in his belly.

When cows fly

My Dad’s a bit deaf, so we have to be very careful with our diction when we’re talking to him, especially if he’s driving or distracted or even being driven distracted.

He mishears a lot of things.

For instance, if I was chatting to him in the car and I said something like, “Hey, Dad, have you heard the song ‘When Doves Cry’?” he might say back to me, “What? Did I hear that cows fly?” Those who know my Dad IRL know that he’s mad about cows, and has most likely never heard of Prince, so on this imaginary occasion at least, his mistake could be attributed to a phenomenon known as selective hearing, which he actually does suffer from also – as most men do.

Let’s park the imaginary Father faux pas for the moment because I did ask him a question in the car the other day, and it was about cows flying. “Dad, have you heard they’re flying cows on planes now?”

“Ha?” he said, so I repeated myself and then I elaborated a little further, “Well, I’m after reading somewhere that Ireland plans to fly 900 cows out to Belgium in 2021.”

I thought this was madness – imagine one cow on an aeroplane, let alone 900. I couldn’t do it. The plane would have to be massive to fit all of those cows… I pictured them on a Ryanair flight, just for my own amusement, thundering up and down the aisles, tails swinging, shite spattering against the windows, the smell, the chorus of cacophonous moos mingling with the noise of the engine – no, cows on a plane would not be a good thing.

Dad’s more realistic take on the whole thing brought me back to earth with a bang. “They fly cows in and out of Ireland all the time,” he scoffed, “and especially now with Brexit, they’ll be flying even more, oh they would.”

“But not 900 cows on the same aeroplane, Dad? Surely that’s impossible. Don’t you find it hard enough moving six cows up the road from one field to the next?” He heard that alright. Dad is very aware of my disapproval of his cow-moving techniques and the lack of forward planning that goes into them. It would honestly take an entire separate blog post just to explain how woeful he is at communicating to his human helpers – his children/wife/brother-in-law/sister/neighbours – which gap they must stand in to prevent the cows going off course.

“They have special planes for them,” Dad said in the same kind of excitable, high-pitched tone he uses to have football-related discussions. I’d hit a nerve. “They build the planes ‘specially, and it’s only calves that are a few days old that are sent over because they need them on the continent for breeding…”

“Yes, but why don’t they put the cows on a big ferry or something, you know, like an aircraft carrier? They might be less afraid, and they’d have more room.” I thought I was being very reasonable; I like to think of myself as a sort of Temple Grandin figure for Galway cows. (Google her; she’s like a cow choreographer, a savant engineer, and pioneer of kinder, more modern cattle-farming transportation techniques.)

In my opinion, one of the greatest animal-welfare problems is the physical abuse of livestock during transportation…. Typical abuses I have witnessed with alarming frequency are; hitting, beating, use of badly maintained trucks, jabbing of short objects into animals, and deliberate cruelty.

Temple Grandin

With one dismissive hand, Dad waved away my grandiose, Grandin-esque notions, “Will you stop, sure the cow isn’t afraid. It doesn’t know it’s on a plane!” He might have rolled his eyes, but I was looking out the window forlornly thinking of all the cows who would be forced to make that stressful plane journey to Belgium in the new year.

Teagasc, the Irish Farmer’s Association, and my Dad might think it’s a fine idea to fly hundreds of cows across a continent in a metal box, but I think it sounds like a recipe for disaster. I just hope that ‘Operation Moove,’ as it’s been dubbed, doesn’t give Michael O’Leary any bright ideas. If he had his way, there’d be a 500 lb Friesian sitting behind you on the redeye from Shannon to Seville. I don’t think the farmers would like that.