The peal of the alarm at 5 a.m.
“Darling!” I whisper loudly, nudging my still slumbering husband. “It’s time to get up!” I have to nudge him several more times. Honestly, a pack of howling dogs couldn’t wake him.
We’re off to Tramore in Co. Waterford for its 2016 Promenade Festival. I’m excited – it’s a part of Ireland I haven’t seen before and our drive there takes us along winding, hilly roads and along the stunningly beautiful Copper Coast of South-East Ireland, bathed in the warm golden glow of a perfect summer’s morning.
Pulling into the pretty little seaside town after a couple hours on the road, I feel a wave of delight at how postcard-picturesque everything looks, including the wild sea close by.
Big signs advertise the weekend’s exciting festival while a large camper van and a few officials wait at the entrance to the car-park where we’ll be setting up.
Markets. They’re hard work and I doubt you’ll ever meet a long-term trader who’ll argue otherwise. Early starts, many hours on the road, physically strenuous labour lifting heavy gazebos and boxes of gear, long hours standing on your feet dealing with the hazards of drenching rain or blustery winds (and sometimes blustery customers) and throughout it all, hoping to make actually make some money.
But they’re also a wonderful, always on the road to quirky towns and villages, visiting new places and getting the scenic route, bonding with fellow traders and becoming part of a mini-community, enjoying a steaming cup of artisan coffee with a fresh croissant for breakfast each time and sometimes even making a profit!
It’s a slow day to get going, by two pm there’s still only a smattering of people around and a couple of intermittent downpours have made the early morning passers-by scurry back to their homes or the pub. There’s a chill breeze and a dark sky that suggest the onset of winter as opposed to the 2nd July.
But by 5 pm the sky has lightened, sales have picked up somewhat and it’s time to start ‘closing up shop’ for the night. The funniest sight greets our eyes – several gazebos, some much larger than our own 3×3, are being carried past us to the other side of the car-park. It turns out the organizers have decided to move all the stalls on our side to create just one full lane of stalls, hopefully improving trade for everyone on the following day. As one particularly massive orange tent glides through the air past us, carried by four cheerful young lads, I glance over at their food and equipment left behind and shake my head, turning to look back at our own stuff.
“Alex! Take a look at that!” Filling up the space where their gazebo had been were endless boxes of food, gas canisters, tables, signs, banners, grills, fridges…
“And I thought we had too much stuff!” I giggle. Minutes later, we too are ‘moving shop’.
With the jewellery and shawls stowed in the van, we lower the tent to safe-guard against strong winds and zip up the fourth side, closing up the gazebo entirely.
“Right – I’m hungry!” I say to Alex as we leave the car-park and head to the main part of town.
Dinner is a rare treat – a veggie burger and curried chips, eaten at a large wooden bench on the main street, alongside holiday kids roaring at each other and teenagers loitering in clumps of moody anticipation. The evening’s dry and mild and I’m really beginning to feel like I’m on holiday now.
“Of course, you know what we could do? For a change – kind of like normal people??” I say between licking my curried fingers.
“Well, we could go to the pub and watch the game!”
A short while later, I’m sipping on a gin and tonic in Shanty’s Bar while the Euro-Championship match of Germany versus Italy blares on the large flat-screen above. Just like ‘normal people’ and not the boring old farts we generally tend to be each evening after work.
Our lack of stamina however catches up with us and by ten-thirty, before even the match is finished, we’re already retreating to our bed.
We’re spending the night in the van but we’ve come prepared with a large soft mattress and our comfy (and slightly dusty) duvet and pillows. While Alex has his pre-bed cigarette, I set up our little bedroom.
“Did you lock the door??” Alex asks later as we snuggle down, worn out from the long day.
There’s a satisfying click and a couple seconds later, the inner lights go off, plunging us into utter darkness.
The tinkling of my phone’s alarm rouses me next morning. It’s still pitch black and yet it’s nearly 8 am. I gently shake Alex.
“Darling! It’s eight, we should get up, no?”
“Ah yeah,” is his mumbled reply as he stretches and turns over sleepily.
“I wonder what the weather’s like today…”
My question is resoundingly answered as I slide back the van door to be hit with a blast of blinding sunlight. It’s the kind of summer’s morning Irish people dream about all year long, glorious blue skies, a sun that’s not just bright but deliciously hot and a view across from us of a sandy beach with a sparkling sea just beyond.
“Have we woken up in Spain or something?!”
I step out into the beautiful morning.
“We had literally NO idea it was like this from inside the van, huh!”
Alex, lying in bed still, reaches for his sunglasses and then peers out.
“Arrey Liz – it’s gorgeous!”
The surprise in his voice matches my own.
“Come on sleepy head – let’s make our morning tea!”
I brush my teeth on the side of the road, taking advantage of the grate close by, spitting out the white paste and rinsing from a large bottle of water. We heat a pot of water on our portable gas stove and sit on the pavement in the sun, sipping on tea and, because we had nothing else to eat, breakfasting on a packet of cheese and onion Taytos (a delicious Irish brand of crisps for all you non-Irish!). A magnificent breakfast if ever there was one.
There is however one inconvenience of camping that can be very awkward; finding somewhere to pee.
With that issue resolved in a suitably hidden alley – we head off for a luxurious stroll on the beach. The sea is quite literally glistening and my feet are like contented kids licking ice-cream as I stroll barefoot on the cool fluffy sand. Several families are up already enjoying the blissful sunshine while of course the dedicated dog-walkers are out in full too. Alex greets each and everyone until finally I ask him in slight exasperation why on earth he feels the need to speak to every person that passes.
“Darling, in Hindi we say there’s a worm in your mouth!”
“It’s a joke, it doesn’t really make sense in English. It’s when you can’t stop talking and talking. Then we say you have a worm in your mouth.”
“Still disgusting. Even if it is true for you…” I have to dodge quickly before he splashes me.
Spotting a cafe open already, we head over for coffee – his a sugary cappucino, mine a simple americano and upon request, we’re told that the day’s batch of croissants are just out of the oven so we order two of them as well.
I settle back on the bench outside, sinking into the soft red cushion, gazing out at the sparkling sea, resting my feet in Alex’s lap and soaking up the incredible heat of the sun… it’s paradise on earth. A conviction that’s reinforced by the softest, freshest, butteriest croissants I have ever tasted. My vegan ideals have run away screaming as I savour every last mouthful of the pastries, still warm.
“Best croissant I ever had,” Alex comments, echoing my thoughts.
“I feel like I’m on holiday.” I take a soppy moment to appreciate just how incredibly lucky and blessed I am.
“Mmmm,” Alex agrees absent-mindedly, gazing out at the beach and massaging my foot gently. “If Ireland got this weather all the time, it’s a beautiful country.”
I close my eyes for a moment and feel the strength of the sun.
“Darling – do you fancy another croissant?”
My eyes pop open and I grin at him.
“And that’s why I married you!
Eventually we head back to the market.
As time progresses, the heat of the sun is diluted somewhat by the rough sea breezes but it doesn’t affect the droves of people on their Sunday outings. Today, business is booming and more than making up for the quiet Saturday.
As 5.30 pm approaches and the hustle and bustle is replaced with a tangible vibe of ‘it’s all over’ and it isn’t long til we’re packing up our goods. It seems that everyone has done well. There’s a satisfied cheerful air all round and it’s not long until we’re on the road again, saying a happy farewell to the pretty little seaside town and making our way back to Cork.
Market life, with a husband like mine and Mediterranean-style weather… it feels like the good life for sure!