Forty years ago this summer, my sister Eadie drove Joe Dolan, John Denver and myself from Kilkenny to Geneva in Switzerland. Joe and John weren’t physically present in the car, theirs just happened to be the only two music cassettes in the glove compartment.
My older sister Eadie, left home at the tender age of seventeen (having worked briefly with this newspaper) to work with the United Nations in Rome. By the time she was thirty, she had become the proverbial globe-trotter having lived for periods in Rome, Nicosia, Addis Ababa, Dar Es Salem and Geneva.
In the summer of 1972, Eadie returned to Kilkenny for a brief holiday. A small red Fiat pulled up outside our house but by the time I had gotten to the window to see who it was, Eadie had slipped in our back door. “Hi, folks, it’s only me”, she chirped, “I’ve just driven from Geneva”. You DROVE?”, my mother queried. “I drove”, smiled my sister. We were shocked. We didn’t even know she had a car. “And by the way”, she announced, looking at me, “You’re coming back with me”.
And so began the first of many travel escapades with my sister Eadie whose proper name was Elizabeth but our sister Mary couldn’t get her infant tongue around Elizabeth and called her Eadie, a name that stuck.
One week later Eadie and I set out on the first leg of our odyssey from Kilkenny in the south east of Ireland to Geneva in the south west of Switzerland. Disembarking from the ferry in Le Havre, Eadie’s first priority was to buy some water. I was highly amused at her BUYING water but was damn glad of it on the long, hot drive to Paris, our first stop.
Eadie and I drove into Paris without a care in the world. We also drove into Paris without a map of the city, not a major hindrance but a time-consuming one. Eadie had been around the block when it came to travelling but she had never been around the Champs Elysees in a small, red Fiat trying to locate a Rue de Bac where, she had been reliably informed, we would find a reasonably priced hotel.
For half an hour, or more, we drove up and down the Champs Elysees, searching for this elusive Rue de Bac. Eventually, a bemused gendarme directed us to the street and the hotel. Reasonably priced it was, and for obvious reasons. Suffice it to say that the hotel had seen better days, as had the concierge who reeked of garlic and nursed a profound limp. We lugged our cases up the four floors (we didn’t dare ask the concierge) to our room and after some beers and entrecotes in a nearby bistro, slept like logs.
Getting out of Paris was every bit as chaotic as getting in. After several excursions down one-way streets we eventually reached the countryside where we cruised by fields of golden corn all the while listening to Joe and John, sometimes even singing along.
The worst of our journey, however, was yet to come. Calm and assured as Eadie was, she was still just a novice driver and the prospect of traversing the intimidating Col de la Faucille, a mountain pass, in the Jura Mountains, unnerved her.
Descending the mountain pass, I tried to divert my eyes from the scenic Swiss chalets way below us and the menacing precipices above us. Whatever about Eadie, my palms were sweaty, my heart was pounding and all I could hear was John Denver singing: “Take me home, country roads”. No country roads here, but hairpin bends and impatient locals honking at our slow-coach pace. Eadie looked a little anxious, a lot anxious actually as I looked at the medal of St. Christopher, on the dash, a medal my mother had given us for a safe journey. I muttered a silent, but very fervent, prayer to him.
It worked. Around 10 p.m. we pulled up outside my sister’s apartment in Geneva. We unlocked our safety belts, mopped the sweat from our brows and heaved a great sigh of relief. The four of us had arrived safe and sound: Eadie, Joe Dolan, John Denver and me.
Still on family, my daughter is heading off to Mozambique in Africa with the charitable organisation SERVE to help build classrooms for orphan girls (think she’s taking after her late aunt) To raise funds for her trip there will be a table quiz in Cleere’s Bar this Thursday night (26th July) at 8 p.m. €20 for a table of 4, with some smashing prizes, including Galway crystal wine glasses, and wine, plus a plethora of raffle prizes. The quizmaster will be yours truly; hey, what are fathers for?