There were nine of them. Strung out in a staggered meandering column. Some were obviously walking wounded. They made their way slowly through the narrow hilly streets of the Mediterranean town, in the late Autumn sunshine. Every so often the more sprightly of these intrepid ramblers would stop until their less sprightly companeros caught up with the main group. Then off they wandered again. Chatting. Laughing. Complaining. Giggling. Singing.
They were all men. Of advanced ages. But they were progressive decent men. No need for gender disputes here. This was their little outing and they had travelled with the support, perhaps even in some cases the encouragement, of their partners. For the purposes of this little narrative they shall remain anonymous. Suffice to say they all know each other for a very long time. Their ages are from mid sixties to almost mis-seventies. They have been friends for at least forty years or so. Some - well one - even claims to be a fifty year man. That they remain friends is hardly surprising given what they had gone through. Or put others through. Including each other. But as The Fifty Years Man once proclaimed ‘ You don’t have to like your friends to be friends with them.’
Their journeys through life have meandered through decades of political struggle. Street activism. Funerals. Set backs. Advances. Death. Interrogation centres. Internment. Non Jury Courts. A Prison Ship. Long Kesh. The Crum. Magilligan. The H Blocks. Some even meandered into USA custody. From war through a peace process. And they survived it all.
So here they were on a social ramble in a Mediterranean town. The last time they did this was about ten years ago. An American amigo had travelled to be with them. On that occasion they sat on a wall to be photographed. The Quiet American remarked as the camera shutter clicked, “ I wonder how many of us will be around in ten years time?”
Well most of them were. Including The Quiet American who traveled again. But there was one notable absentee. He was the centre of their first outing, a small chap who regaled the rest of them and entertained the company and everyone else. Then when he got home he went and died. That also put him at the centre of this excursion. When ever our wanderers rambled past a spot where The Departed One had ceili-ed they paused for a quiet moment to retell the tale and to reflect on his great exploits. There was even some talk of erecting a discreet little plaque at a particular corner where he and The Very Hospitable Comrade had demonstrated to the rush hour commuters in this Mediterranean town how two Irishmen abroad could make a show of themselves.
So on this trip when they sat on a wall to be photographed they left a little space for The Departed One. The Fifty Year Man speculated how long it would be before there were more spaces than faces.
“The way you lot are getting on I’ll be here on my own in another ten years.” He observed.
“G’wan ya Glyp” The Very Hospitable Comrade berated him.
It was then The Caustic One spoke up.
“I propose we do this in five years time just to give some of youse a chance”.
Everyone agreed. Even The Man of No Property, recently dispossessed, thought that a very good idea. There was tentative talk of a monthly subscription, non returnable if death intervened. The Gentle Gaeilgeoir dissented.
“What about oration rights?” He asked.
I mBearla for the sake of the daoine gan Gaeilge. There was no agreement on who would orate for who. Or in what teanga.
And so they rambled on. That was one of their purposes. Rambling. Eating. And because all were fond of a wee drink they occasionally had that as well. Their main objective was to have adventures. To have fun. And so they did. Especially The Very Fine Baritone. So the banter, the slagging and comradarie followed them like happy puppy hounds following their masters.
The mood was infectious. So was the sunshine. Efforts to ban talk of politics, religion or Antrim GAA or current affairs fell at the first fence. At the very first round in fact. The craic was ninety. Loud too sometimes but always, or mostly, good humored though that was not always the intention. But that’s how it turned out. A laugh a minute. Even The One With The Awful Cough rose from his sick bed to join in. Only to be blamed for passing the cough on to The Gentle Pescatarian.
So for six days they regaled, insulted and laughed at themselves. And on the seventh day they came home.
The Very Fine Baritone and The Fifty Years Man rose to their feet at the last supper in the little Mediterranean Greasy Joe’s where they had mustered to bid The Quiet American Slán.
“Oh of all the money that e’er I spent
I spent it in good company
And of all the harm that ever I did
Alas it was to none but me” they sang.
The Very Hospitable Comrade was very moved.
“I want youse to sing that at my funeral”. He mumbled.
And that’s how their trip abroad ended. With a fine song. Sung by fine singers. And a parting glass.
“And all I’ve done for want of wit
To memory now I can’t recall
So fill to me a parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all.”
See youse all in five years comrades. Subject to annual medical checks. And Brexit.