After I hung up I gazed idly at the map in front of me. Startled, I did a double take; I had given myself three days to drive sixty-five miles, about a hundred kilometres.

Bonnie had not commented, and I realised that she too had fallen into the trap so often encountered by Australians overseas, especially in Europe. We wildly overestimate distance. If I got a move on, I could probably travel from Cork to Shannon in a couple of hours at the most. When I was a kid we would go that far for a picnic or to see the penguins on Phillip Island! And back!

To tell the truth, I wasn’t sorry. Though part of me had a desire to see Bonnie that almost amounted to a hunger, another part welcomed procrastination. What will I say to her? Already I felt awk-ward.

A classic case of ambivalence, I told myself, taking refuge in in-tellectualisation. Anyway, I still had three days of freedom. I allowed my ruffled emotions to subside and looked again at the map.

County Kerry is next to County Cork. In its centre lies Killar-ney, famous for its lakes and dells. I suddenly realised how deeply the world has been indoctrinated by the songs of nostalgic Irish expatri-ates. Tralee, another town in Kerry is celebrated in song-The Rose of Tralee. The route I chose would take me through both.

With true Irish logic, I started my journey North by travelling South-west to the coast via Clonakilty and Skibbereen. How I de-lighted in such names, they rolled off the tongue. “Skibbereeeeeeen!” I whooped as I drove my car through the green countryside beneath a miraculously blue sky. On my left I caught tantalising glimpses of a sparkling sea and my spirits lifted.

Taking the Southern route more than tripled my journey, but it took me through some beautiful countryside. I stopped for lunch in Bantry, a nice little seaside town. There is a former oil terminal there, but they have camouflaged the storage tanks so that it doesn’t dis-tract from the natural beauty of the bay. Just north of there, on the Glengariff road, is Ballylickey, what a name!

Glengariff was the home of the O’Sullivans, cruel chieftains who rated their hunting dogs higher than the welfare of peasants in their service. I pressed on through a series of tunnels and over an old iron bridge across the River Roughty, I was in Kerry.

People speak of the Irish brogue as though there is but one Irish accent. Travel the length and breadth of Australia, thousands of kilometres, and you’ll find people speaking much the same dialect. Maybe the Queenslanders say ‘Eh’ and New Southies say ‘But’ in-stead of ‘Though’, but their voices sound much the same. In Ireland, the accent varies from county to county, and in my journeys to the South and West I had heard the change to a softer, and in Kerry an almost singsong, sound.

I thought of this as I sat in the comfortable lounge bar of my Killarney hotel. It was fascinating to listen to the soft drawl of the locals punctuated by the staccato speech of tourists. It seems I was not the only traveller. I thought I detected Australian accents from across the room.

‘G’Day,’ My reverie was interrupted and I looked up to see a large and grinning Australian. There could be no doubt that he was Australian, he was wearing an army issue slouch hat, of all things (Nobody wears hats any more in Australia, at least not in the cities, and certainly not indoors!)

‘The barman says he thinks you’re an Aussie, and we wondered if you’d like to join us in the celebration’ he gestured towards a crowded table on the other side of the room. Some of the occupants waved and beckoned.

‘Someone’s birthday?’ I enquired.

He looked at me in disbelief. ‘Y’know what day it is?’

‘Thursday?

‘The twenty-fifth! April! ANZAC day!’

Usually, I would run a mile rather than get roped in, but I was embarrassed at being caught out on what, to many, is, even more, our national day than the official Australia day in January.

‘Glad to,’ I said, preparing myself to be sociable.

‘I’m Gary’ my new companion said as he led the way to their table.

“Charlie,’ I said.

On reaching the table I found a dozen or so Aussies. Introductions were performed, but as usual, I promptly forgot their names. They tell me there is a technique for remembering names, but if there is I have never mastered it. It was complicated by the peculiar Aus-tralian habit of nomenclature. Gary somehow became Gazza. I rue-fully remembered how I had exploited the same ploy in my Chatline nickname of Chazza when initially corresponding with Gisela.

So I became acquainted with Bazza, Jezza, Wozza, Kezza, and Bruce. The ladies were a little easier: Raeleen, Kayleen, Maureen ( at least she sounded Irish), Sharon, and Helena. Helena?

‘Yair,’ said Gazza, ‘She’s a Reffo! But a dinkum Aussie now, Eh Hel?’

Helena was a little older than the others, far nearer my age group, and far less boisterous than the rest who were beginning to make inroads on the supplies of Fosters produced by an efficient management no strangers to the demands of tourists.

Talk turned to Anzac Day, and I found myself remembering, with unexpected nostalgia, the St.Kilda Road march to the Shrine. My late father, wearing his WW2 medals, and me, for this one day of the year, proudly wearing my grandfather’s medals from WW1. I must have been about ten years old. My father died the next year and my Mum never took me there again.

I shook my head to rid myself of the memory. Helena spoke softly ‘You have sad memories?’ She looked at me with warm concern.

‘It’s nothing,’ I disclaimed. ‘Foolishness that’s all. Why we should celebrate a defeat, I don’t know. It’s rather like the Brits or-ganising a Dunkirk day.’

‘But surely, celebrating a defeat really acknowledges the sacri-fice. Surely all war is sacrifice of the innocent. You know, most of them were children, eighteen, nineteen, just kids really.’

We paused, looking back with the advantage of our years. We shook our heads.

‘Do you know? We are celebrating my defeat. Or at least the defeat of Germany. I left there when I was very young, about four years old, in 1960. Oops, there I go, giving away my age.’

‘But you were born years after the war!’

‘Yes, but my parents found it hard. Australia in 1960 wasn’t as tolerant as now.’

‘Where did your parents come from’

‘The Rhineland’

‘Hey, I have just come from there. I was at Eisenberg am Rhein.’

‘We came from Koblenz, a lot further North.’

We spent a lot of time talking about Germany while the others demolished the Fosters.

‘Care for a stroll?’ I asked.

‘Sure,’ she said. And we quietly left the celebrants and found our way out into the quiet Irish night. Miraculously it wasn’t raining. A clear starlit night with the moon in its first quarter. The air was soft, and outside the hotel, the quiet of the Killarney night enveloped us. And we strolled. I don’t know how far it was to the lake but it wasn’t too far. We looked out over the calm waters.

Our talk of Germany gave us a mutual topic of conversation, but from there we branched out. It wasn’t the Fosters, I am sure, but maybe the alcohol lowered my inhibitions, and I found myself talking to Helena as I had never talked to anyone. Even Bonnie. The thought stopped me in my tracks. My observer observed. Yes, I was right. My conversation with Bonnie was always limited. I extended her to a certain limit, and then I had to reign in. But with Helena, Wow! She was extending me!

It was almost that first date syndrome. That frantic comparison of interests. Favourite music; favourite authors; favourite foods. With increasing wonder we compared poets, philosophies, our love of knowledge, our preoccupation with systems. She too was a systems analyst. Albeit based in Sydney. We got more personal. She was a widow. Her husband, an Irish Australian, had always vowed that he would visit Ireland. He had died tragically of cancer, and Helena was fulfilling his longing to see Killarney.

‘Are you with anyone?’ I asked diffidently. A bit late perhaps.

‘No, I got rounded up by Raeleen. She got a look at the register when she checked in and made a note of the Country of Origin’

‘Helen…’ I said.

‘Helena.’ She corrected me.. ‘I prefer Helena.’

‘Helena, Would you… Could you… I mean, Tomorrow I am going to explore Killarney. Could we do it together?’

‘I’d like that.’

I don’t know what got into me. ‘Shall we seal it with a kiss?’

She didn’t answer, but she turned her face upward in the moonlight.

The following day was really wonderful. Helena was a delightful companion. It seemed as though I had known her forever. She was shorter than I was, her head tucked neatly under my chin when we embraced. Her eyes were a cloudy blue, more mysterious than the sky blue of Bonnie’s or the eggshell of Magda’s. And her hair was brown like mine. There was a touch of grey already, but somehow that was endearing, linking us in the inexorable march of time. I was swept off my feet.

Reality intruded. Tomorrow I must be in Shannon to meet Bonnie. I recalled our last conversation. She had said ‘I love you, Charlie.’ And I had said ‘Me too!’

That is the curse of a good memory.

 

© Copyright H.St V.Beechey September 1996

 

Next Episode: Good Deed

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