They are resurfacing the road between Durrow and Abbeyleix in Co Laois. (When the country is bankrupt and the towns are bypassed by the new motorway and the road was adequate, why they are resurfacing it is a mystery).
There were stop/go signs in operation this morning and we were waved to the far side of the road to pass the big yellow machine that was emitting clouds of steam as it made its slow progress in application of the tar. There was a momentary shudder as I passed within a few yards of the machine. It evoked memories of being a small boy in my grandmother’s farmhouse on the day when the road between Langport and Long Sutton in Somerset was being resurfaced. There must have been notification that this was about to happen, for I was filled with apprehension at the coming of the machine that seemed like some mechanical dragon, and when it passed the front of the house, I hid behind the settee in my grandmother’s front room – I can still feel the texture of the fabric against my hand.
Freud would undoubtedly have some strange explanation for such an irrational fear still persisting after 45 years! There were lots of other irrational fears – mostly relating to ghosts or aliens, or a combination of both. Perhaps they arose from being a small child in the days when television was gaining national popularity, perhaps they also arose from the plethora of ghost stories that existed in our district.
Deep in childhood memory, tarmac machines, ghosts and Martians occupied a category that was also occupied by blood. Perhaps there was some childhood incident – perhaps the moment when pushing my bicycle, I stumbled and fell across it and the brake lever cut through my face, requiring stitching inside my mouth as well as outside – that has created an abiding phobia; but the fear has intensified over the years rather than lessening.
With many of our clergy away in the North at the General Synod, I had agreed to take calls for various colleagues. My heart sank when the phone rang just after eight yesterday morning and it was the casualty department of the local hospital. “We have someone seriously ill and the family have requested a clergyman”.
Reaching the hospital, I took a deep breath and walked in. The emergency unit seemed very busy. “Someone wanted a clergyman”, I called. A nurse waved to the end cubicle. Confronted with an array of monitors, wires and tubes and a very ill patient, I felt the blood drain from my face and sat on a chair beside the bed to compose myself, pretending to be earnestly reading the pages of my prayer book.
A few moments later, a nurse came in and gave me a strange look; there is not much sitting down done in a casualty unit. I smiled and returned to my feet, concentrating as much as possible on the task at hand. I might have offered an explanation about being afraid of blood, but I fear I might have added that there were other phobias, ghosts and creatures from outer space, and, um, tarmac machines.