it would be more than a decade ago, for I was living in Dublin. I was walking down a road when an ice cream van passed in the fading light of a chill summer evening.
‘A hard way to make a living’.
‘Being an ice cream man’.
‘Maybe it’s something you inherit. Your father did it, so you do it’.
‘Maybe. I don’t see many new vans’.
How many handfuls of coins here and handfuls of coins there would have been needed in order to make the effort worthwhile?
In Glasgow, in the 1980s, there was a ‘turf war’ between ice cream families, a dispute as to who could take their vans into which neighbourhoods. The film Comfort and Joy was inspired by the idea of an ice cream war. Sadly, the real war had not the comedy of the film, people ended up dead.
Further down the road that evening, a taxi had pulled up and a teenaged boy had got out.
If selling ice creams was hard work, taxi driving must be even harder. The deregulation of the service meant anyone who wanted to make some spare time cash could get a plate and sit on a rank. There was one May evening in Drogheda when there were twenty-five taxis queued in the town centre; how long would it have taken the one at the rear to reach the front of the line to get a fare to where? Maybe to a housing estate on the edge of the town? How much would you make for your patient waiting?
‘Maybe the ice cream van driver looked at you and thought, ‘There’s a priest: that’s a hard way to make a living’.’
“Maybe he did, but it’s not though, is it?”
A dozen or so years later I find myself confirmed in my conviction that summer evening.
Teaching in Ireland means having a one year contract for the first two years. No matter how good you are, it’s a one year contract.
Despite having risen to the position of an assistant principal, my contract was for one year and my school had its teacher numbers cut from thirty-one to twenty-eight.
So it is that I spend my days submitting applications for teaching posts. There are plenty of them, it’s just finding a place that wants a sixty-one year old former cleric.
I think that the ice cream man would have thought something very different. I think he would have thought, ‘there’s a priest, nice work if you can get it.’