My Midnight Rescuer
by Victor Sullivan © 2012
The Lambretta scooter had come with me from London when I returned to Ireland in the latter half of the1950s, devoid of any knowledge of what had been going on in my native country during my absence. My hobbies and interests were entirely focussed on things of a technical nature, mainly ham radio, industrial electronics and keeping the Lambretta fit for purpose. I took little or no interest in the notable personalities in the public eye and no sport of any kind ever encroached in my fields of curiosity or enthusiasm.
While employed on a process control project in the most northerly end of the country I received an invitation to a cousin's wedding in West Cork at the opposite end of the country, necessitating a 200 mile trip on my ageing scooter. I could not escape from the job until 6:00pm on that Friday afternoon in August. Having filled the Lambretta's tank to the brim I set out on my expedition. In Ireland in the 1950s roads were poor, traffic was almost non-existent, apart from local farm tractors and horse-drawn vehicles. Signposts, wherever they existed, could not be trusted. Driving at around 40 miles per hour I estimated five hours should get me to my destination. Allowing a stop for a meal I'd be there by midnight.
It was pleasant driving along the rural roads for the first two hours. The sun shone. The Lambretta purred along confidently. I was making excellent progress but hunger-pangs prompted a break having reached the main Dublin to Cork road so I stopped for a meal at the first eating-house I encountered. I also topped up the fuel tank, (late-night service stations were as yet unheard of) and set off once again. Things were never quite the same after that. It was growing dark and the Lambretta intermittently emitted a dog-like growl that became progressively more threatening as the next hour wore worryingly on. The dog seemed to grow bigger and nastier and I noticed that even though the hand-grip throttle was turned fully against the stop my speed was dropping to below 30 MPH. The scooter was unwell, very unwell. Everyone seemed to have gone to bed as I growled through the town of Cahir in County Tipperary and headed anxiously onto the long, lonely stretch of bleak road heading towards Mitchelstown and the distant city of Cork.
It was around midnight when the dog was shot. A sharp bang underneath me and the growling stopped. So did the Lambretta's engine and its lights went out. I stood beside it, cursing. It was very dark on that lonely roadside in County Tipperary with only a dead scooter for company. I had no torch, no light and any hope of getting to the wedding in the morning was rapidly fading. My only remedy would be to thumb a lift from a passing vehicle, any passing vehicle... if there ever would be one. Some local farmer might trundle by but I needed a long distance traveller. Begin to walk? No. Better stay with the scooter. I took its side panels off, laid them on the road and hoped the action might earn a sympathy vote. I grew cold. Then colder. Nothing moved on that empty wilderness of lifeless road. Was it an hour? Perhaps two?
A faint noise in the far distance... a slight brightening of the sky... a whatever-it-might-be was approaching. The thing coming towards me along that long stretch of road across the moorland was no fast mover. Then I saw its headlights. I stood in the middle of the road waving a side-panel of the Lambretta. The noise grew louder, the vehicle began to slow down and stopped. It was a huge truck, a fuel tanker.
The driver lowered his window.
"You're in trouble, my good man?"
"Thanks for stopping. My scooter's died and I have to get to West Cork for a wedding in the morning."
"Well, I can take you as far as Cork city and no further. I can't take your scooter though, so throw it in the ditch and climb in."
I obeyed gladly and a powerful hand reached down, grabbed my right hand and hauled me effortlessly up into the comfortable passenger seat of the warm cab. I presume we exchanged names and I undoubtedly expressed my gratitude for the very welcome lift.
"Where have you come from?" was my rescuer's first question.
"They haven't much of a team this year. Tell me, what did you think of the match last Sunday?"
"What match?" I asked innocently.
"Ah now! You're having me on! What did you think of our team, eh?"
By the time we reached slumbering Mitchelstown it had begun to dawn on the tanker driver that there was at least one person on the planet who knew nothing and cared nothing about the outcome of last Sunday's match and it had been his misfortune to have picked up that one freak of nature, me. There had been no topic of conversation other than that match and it must have been with profound relief that my rescuer dropped his weird passenger off in the empty streets of Cork city in the small hours of the morning.
Somehow, via thumb, bus and luck, I got to the wedding venue just in time, sleep-starved and food-starved but glad to have made it.
Later, at the reception, I recounted my adventure to a man I didn't know seated beside me.
"A big road tanker you say? Are you sure?"
"Yes." I confirmed. He looked at me as if I had announced that I had some unpleasant, infectious disease and quickly left his seat.
Moments later an anxious looking woman approached me, holding the hand of a young boy.
"Are you the fella who got the lift to Cork in the petrol tanker last night? she asked.
"And you shook the driver's hand?"
"I did. He pulled me up into his cab by this same hand." I replied, holding out the limb. She seemed reassured.
"Would you please shake hands with my Michael." she requested.
Somewhat amused I said, "Of course." and stretched out my hand towards the shy seven-year-old who stared at my paw in awe before nervously grasping it, then grinning from ear to ear.
An overweight lawyer came up to me a little later; "What kind of tanker was it?" he asked.
"A big Esso tanker." I answered.
"Then let me shake that hand of yours!" he demanded aloud. That seemed to initiate a general drift towards me of would-be hand-shakers. Some muttered something about it being a privilege to shake my hand. Soon I had shaken hands with half of the guests, young and old, at their request and my utter bemusement. I was not a well-known celebrity, merely an obscure second cousin of the groom.
I sought out a much respected uncle and demanded an explanation.
"Well you must be the nation's prize eegit! There isn't a man, woman or child in the county who wouldn't give their all to have been where you were last night. Your hand was held by the mightiest hand that ever held a hurley. That tanker driver was the hero of the Hurling match last Sunday and many other matches before it. You, of all people, with not the slightest knowledge of, or even the remotest interest in the game of Hurling, were rescued from the roadside by the finest hurler that ever lived, the great Christy Ring!"
Whenever my children, and now my grandchildren accompany me on visits to Cork Airport, they find it embarrassing when I make a point of addressing a life-size bronze statue of a man wielding a hurley. I salute the statue and say aloud:
"Thanks for picking me up, Christy."
"Thanks for picking me up, Christy."