There was an air of quiet relaxation in the village as I shopped for a few essentials – food, wine and chocolate.
Seriously, a spray top for the watering can, a tea strainer, bird-food and a lock. God the excitement! It all occasioned a visit to my favourite and currently sole hardware shop within the mandatory limit for travel.
It comprises a grocery, a hardware, and an off-licence with a bar to the rear. When purchasing your bread, milk and paint, loud raucous cheers often come from the bar as a horse is pipped at the post or a crucial goal scored. A strong whiff of whiskey or beer seeps out each time the bar door flaps open – as did the smell of cigarette smoke, in another time altogether.
Dinny, the owner, a tall gaunt charmless man has, in defiance of multiples, extended the hardware part, downsized the grocery but kept the bar and off licence. It is pure joy to enter this complex haven, especially when the nation is in the grip of a virus. The place smells new and fresh, like a baby. One can wander aimlessly amongst the aisles testing gadgets, sniffing chemicals, examining tools and stuff for dodgy procedures unfamiliar even to one who has lived in the countryside for years.
Dinny hoovers about you, dangerously close, unsmiling, making unintelligible sounds but mostly eager to find and sell whatever you’re are looking for. I mention the tea strainer to appease him and desperate to put some distance between us, I slink away. The strainer magically appears within seconds somewhere in the region of my masked nose. I snatch it from his hand and disappear down an escape route lined with sanitary pipes.
A gigantic industrial style gas fire bellows out heat to the rear, warming my body, heart and soul but sweet mercy there he is again, one arm draped over a rack of rodent poison, probably worrying that he’ll be sued when I’m blistered. My life is heating up but I want to shake him off.
Side stepping Dinny I wander contentedly for ages here and there, uninterrupted, browsing the shelves and touching each and every mysterious item. ‘Stand By Your Man’ is wafting across from the bar. Finally, I succumb to his help in locating a combination lock.
I specify combination, so sick am I of using a rusty key in a rusty lock to gain access to a shed full of rubbish. Dinny disappears and reappears comet style, bearing a small red angular lock, slick design. I love it.
Gathering up my bits and pieces, I reluctantly prepare myself to leave the hardware haven, exchanging a few words with Ms Young & Beautiful glowing behind the Perspex screen. My essentials thrown on the passenger seat, I again run the gauntlet of an overly vigilant Garda patrolling the few kilometres to home – thoroughly satisfied by the hardware treatment and exhilarated by the miniscule element of danger in evading the law.
Later that day I decide to set up the combination lock using the minimalist graphics on a tiny sheet of paper. I input a code of four numbers, and press the hook home, as instructed. Alas, when I spin the four chambers to the designated numbers, nothing happens. I pull and pull. No happy release. I vary the digits but nothing happens. What was wrong with an old-fashioned lock and key anyway? Ah yes, the rust.
I try several times but not a budge. Totally frustrated, I resort to the internet and try two different methods of picking the lock, thinking how useless it is if everyone had access to the same burglar assisting methods. However, after a few hours, several slips of paper and straightened paper clips aside, I admit failure. I notice on the retrieved lock packaging, binned by my tidy husband, the name not of a distant Chinese sweat shop, but of an Irish manufacturer. I find the website and chance sending what I suspect is a pointless email, explaining my foolishness. The lock cost five euros like!
To my amazement I get an email back late that night offering me no solution but suggesting that I return the lock to the store for replacement – by showing the email to an agreeable owner. Well now Dinny didn’t quite fit that picture. I couldn’t help wondering if lock makers operate all hours, or only during a pandemic. Anyway, I reply, scribbling something about the need to include a fool’s warning when selling this type of lock to people like myself.
The spectre of having to engage with the sales-obsessed Dinny on the matter elicited some anxiety in me. I foresaw his scrutinising countenance and felt his overbearing presence as he dwarfed me, even imagining his trauma when one of his locks is unaccounted for in the first inventory of his enhanced emporium. Face your fears fool!
Back at the counter once again, I explain my dilemma to Mr Young & Toned, a smiling affable genetic anomaly of Jimmy, plus my hope of exchanging the red lock, weakly proffering my phone with the manufacturer’s email. “Grand”, he says before continuing his conversation with Ms Beautiful. I relax, but at that very moment a shadow is cast over me.
It’s Dinny, mumbling away as usual. I falter while retelling my story to the stony-faced giant. He eyes me impassively as a lizard would, nods grudgingly to Mr Toned and mutters something about forwarding the email for his files as he hurries away to a more lucrative encounter.
I pass my phone to the new improved version of Dinny as another young lad shows up and quizzes me about my code. Reluctantly I call it as he reassures me that he doesn’t know where I live anyway! Help!
I suspect that my fiddling on the internet has probably been logged on some gigantic database in South East Asia, to be used against me in the future. We value your privacy – sure you do! Cookies sound so harmless. Should be called sharks! I’m expecting an invitation to join an elite group of lock breakers any day now.
Leaving them I happily wander off through the aisles. I’m exploring humane mice-catching devices when the lad appears at my side holding aloft the lock – open. I gape, as Dinny slides into view.
He flicks his head to the side, an eye blinking. “That’s the kind of service you can expect here,” he booms to all and sundry. He is beaming, a man transformed. I’m speechless. A song from the bar radio envelopes us as does the peaty smell of Guinness. All laugh, mostly at me.
I return to the counter and pay for a stainless-steel sink plug but on exiting I enquire of the young guy as to how he opened the lock. “I just replaced one digit!” he says proudly, chest out glancing in the direction of Ms Beautiful.
“You’re amazing ….” says I, “but I had tried …” My voice trails off. He isn’t listening and I feel myself starting to fade, becoming invisible.
Of course, the flipping sink plug was too big! Well I’m just going to buy a new sink.
(c) Trudy Reardon