It was possible to turn out of the end of Jack Montgomery’s lane and get the car up to 60 mph on the straight towards Downpatrick before slowing down to turn right at the crossroads. It was always the end of the afternoon; Jack and Olive’s farmhouse was always one to leave until the last call of the day. Their kitchen was always warm and there was always tea and cake. The road home was a journey from the company of good friends to the cosy warmth of our big Victorian rectory with its thick walls and richly carpeted floors: the people of the parish were more than good to their clergyman.
Years on, suddenly pressing the accelerator of the car brings memories of those roads and lanes and the people who lived along them.
At the time, the moments had not attained the magical qualities that now surround them. Watching a former college classmate as an anchor man with the BBC created a sense of being left behind in a lonely place. Standing one Saturday evening, staring out into the gloom of a winter’s night, the feeling of desolation that filled those seconds still looms as a dark shadow at the back of the mind. It was only in retrospect the driving those roads, sitting at firesides, and drinking tea out of china cups, became invested with the mythological qualities that grow with each passing year. The lanes were undoubtedly prosaic at the time, they have now become journeys through a legendary past. Even the knowledge that there is a process of revisionism taking place in the memory, where all the scripts from those times are being rewritten, does not change the perception of those years as magical times.
There are other moments when there is a sense, there and then, that it is a mythological time; that for years to come the moment will have a special aura around it. The moments are unlikely ones, ones when suddenly there is a sense that the time is filled with meaning or tranquility or just an overwhelming sense of happiness.
Driving down the A6 between Paris and Lyon at 4.30 am on the first Saturday in August 1989 with Jimmy Saville’s ‘Old Record Club’ playing on the BBC World Service on the car radio was a moment filled with magic at the time. There can be few things less magical than a French autoroute on an August Saturday, but there has been no holiday moment since that has been quite so suffused with happiness.
Perhaps it is music that can transform times. Watching Bayonne play rugby has become a special experience, not because the rugby is necessarily brilliant, but because their singing of their club anthem suddenly lifts the moment onto another plane. They seem almost to know that the moment is being changed as they rise from their seats to sing.
Turning out onto the N11 into a darkening September evening, RTE were playing Neil Young. A press of the accelerator and I was turning out of Jack’s lane and heading for the crossroads. Perhaps it is the music, perhaps music creates mythological moments, perhaps music allows you to remain forever young, in mind, if not in body.