Flat cap, black coat and a big black bicycle – he could be an extra in an Irish drama from the 1920s onwards. A monochrome picture, and it could be suggested to people that he had served with Collins in the War of Independence. The mildness of the first day of June had not brought any change in his dress, the coat was as firmly closed as in the dark days of December.
He stood in a gateway staring out over pasture land, the bicycle leant against the bars of the gate. The road was narrow and he turned and waved as I passed, despite him being a familiar sight, I still did not know his name. An inquiry at a house in the neighbourhood told me he was called, ‘Paddy’; I might have made a stab at that possibility myself.
Word in the community is that Paddy was offered local authority housing on a number of occasions, declining even a newly built residence in the town. His preference is for a caravan in a field, without amenities. In wintertime, he relies on candles to light the confined space he calls home. Neighbours say he might ride into one or other of the local towns two or three times a day, eating at the fast food facilities available. Each morning he is said to travel on back roads to the larger town, wisely avoiding the busy routes where a wobbling black bicycle would endanger his health.
Paddy is perceived to cross the line from reclusive to being something more through his habit of attaching soft toys and dolls to gateposts and drainpipes in the roads around which he lives. No-one can discern a logical reason for such behaviour or discern from where the toys come. Where would a flat-capped man on a bicycle have obtained the numerous items people found tied in unlikely locations? Did he go to a shop and buy them with the specific intention of returning to his locality to fasten them in roadside places?
In childhood days, my father would talk of how effective had been the powder he had bought in ridding our village of elephants. ‘But’, we would object, ‘there are no elephants in England’. This did not negate his case, ‘That shows you how good the powder is’, he would smile.
Perhaps affixing toys to available uprights is as efficacious as elephant powder. Perhaps they keep away unwanted presences, or perhaps make present something that is wanted – either way, the oddness is methodical.