Service stations are not all the same. There are English ones with shops enough to fill a high street; there are French ones that are like parks, complete with information of the natural history of the locality. Then there are Irish ones.
Without the traffic volume to permit the shopping arcade, without the toll revenues of the operators who can afford to throw in nice touches about flora and fauna, they are minimalist in the quality of their service and minimalist in the stature of their buildings.
Looking for food and discovering the cafeteria had closed at six, I decided a burger would have to suffice. Walking up to the counter, there seemed numerous possible permutations. Play safe order one of the meal things; there are fewer questions to answer.
‘You want to eat here?’
A tray was place on the counter.
‘What do you want to drink?’
There didn’t seem much choice.
‘You want ice’.
I had been caught on this before; the cup being filled with ice cubes and then there being only enough coke in the cup to fill the spaces.
‘No, thank you. No ice’.
A glare from the other side of the counter.
She took the next man’s order before filling a cardboard cup and putting it on my tray. A scoop full of fries was poured into a paper bag and the burger lifted from the rack behind her.
‘You want ketchup?’
It seemed a social sin worse than declining ice. She stooped below the counter and picked up two small sachets before standing up and placing them on the tray.
A glare said I was dismissed.
The meal looked dismal; it tasted worse. I contemplated my awful dinner – €8.75 it had cost me, the worst value in the whole of Ireland.
Piped music filled the seating area, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Proud Mary’. The last time I had heard it played in a public place had been in a bar in Austria, a place of warmth, hospitality and laughter. There was a sense of being mocked, as though they were playing classic rock music to emphasise the desolateness of the spot.
In the Austrian bar, ‘Proud Mary’ had been followed by Hermes House Band’s version of ‘Country Roads‘, a song that had prompted the drinkers of lager and schnapps to sing along merrily. No-one would sing along here.
Ireland didn’t used to be like this; it used to be different. Perhaps a return to the days of bacon and cabbage are unlikely, but can’t we at least talk?
Driving west, John Creedon played a mellow version of ‘Country Roads’ on his radio programme – the Naas dual carriageway had a certain charm in the evening light.