A succession of buses, ferries, trains and planes had led us to the promised land of Cork. At last, we had arrived home from England for the Easter holidays. A blast of unmistakably brisk Atlantic air greeted us as we stepped off the airplane. The breeze that comes in off the English channel at our Isle of Wight home is gentle and, frankly quite effeminate, compared to Cork’s bracing, Atlantic air – its salty fragrance was mixed, as is customary, with just a hint of agricultural slurry.
Driving from the airport, I felt instantly at home, as we sped down long-familiar country lanes, admiring the playful antics of the cheerfully erratic Cork drivers. For Cork is a mysterious land, full of roundabouts, but populated by a people who do not fully understand roundabouts.
The children did not feel properly at home until they saw my mother. Unfortunately, she was not in her rightful place at home with granddad, enthroned in her armchair by the fireplace. Instead, she was in Cork University Hospital, in the midst of an epic hip-replacement operation, its various convoluted stages spanning many weeks. The children’s evening prayer had long been that granny’s leg would get better soon.
Our first task, therefore, was to brave the capricious Cork traffic and go to see nana in hospital. En route, I quickly readjusted to the Cork custom of using the fast lane as the slow lane, and vice versa, which tradition gives the city’s dual carriageways a pleasantly continental air. I marveled afresh at the strong local commitment to environmentalism – an admirably green refusal to waste good electricity by using indicator lights.
Arriving unscathed, we walked down the hospital corridors, while the children scampered ahead, hoping to be the first to find nana. Once we arrived in her ward, they rushed to embrace her. Sean had brought flowers from the garden and a celebratory pack of Jelly Tots. I’ll never cease to be amazed by the close bond between grandparents and grandchildren.
More amazing still, was mum’s never-ending cheerfulness in the face of adversity. After weeks immobilised, most people would be feeling a bit sorry for themselves. Not my mother. Instead, she was cheerful as ever, enjoying catching up with her steady stream of visitors, keeping abreast of current affairs and engaging with the various characters coming and going from her ward, which was akin to living in a sort of interactive soap opera. I’m only surprised that Channel 4 didn’t have hidden cameras on the ward for a new reality show.
Her new morning routine involved being wheeled to the hospital café for coffee and a scone with visitors in slightly less medical surroundings. She is now only a few weeks away from being back on her feet and, given the force of her positive mental attitude, I won’t be surprised if she is climbing Kilimanjaro by the end of summer.
Over Easter, we revisited old haunts, and caught up with friends and family. Leaving Cork a few years ago, the recession was starkly visible everywhere. Nowadays, once empty shops and ghost estates are bustling, while the city is colourful and thriving, with new modern buildings, and cranes reaching skyward as new technology companies expand in the city. This beautiful old port city, is merrily embracing its high tech future. When driverless cars become commonplace, I only hope they are reprogrammed especially for Cork, to occasionally go the wrong way around roundabouts and to randomly change lanes without warning. It would be shame if, in our rush to embrace technology, the city’s wonderful old motoring traditions were lost.