It’s 6:30 am, July 1st 2017, and we’re off to Tramore, Co. Waterford to trade at their summer Promenade Festival once again.
It’s a treat to return to the pretty little seaside town of Tramore; we have very fond memories of the previous year’s trip when the sun, the food and the people were all as sweet as pie.
Unfortunately, this time round it doesn’t start off quite so good. I tend to get rather horrific hayfever each year, the kind with such explosive sneezes it seems my body’s trying to blast my brain out of my nose; the kind with such irritated, swollen eyes some mornings I can wake up looking like I spent all night in a sparring session with Mike Tyson – which he clearly won. It ain’t pretty.
An hour after setting up, I feel the familiar sensation of being jabbed inside my nose with a bunch of nettles, followed by several rather phenomenal sneezes.
Alex tells me to go lie down in the van and I readily oblige as my immune system commences a violent purging of any and all pollen from my body. But a short while later I hear my phone buzzing; it’s Alex asking if I can return and help him prevent our gazebo from taking flight into the Irish Sea. It seems the ferocious wind-spirit of the East Coast is determined to wreak havoc on those of us who dare to trade here this weekend.
The gales rage for several hours and we end up dismantling most of our carefully arranged display, sacrificing beauty for safety after our mirror crashes to the ground twice (yet somehow survives) and the merino wool shawls risk flapping through the skies like colourful parrots.
With such powerful and constant winds, we’re continuously on edge, there’s no opportunity to relax and gaze out at the ocean or people-watch as the crowds pass by. Instead we spend several hours hanging onto the gazebo like monkeys, ready to leap and grab things should a sudden gust rip its way through the tent.
To give credit to the festival organizers, there’s a great crew out and about, with costumed stilt walkers teetering around ten feet high (which in these windy conditions is either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid), larger-than-life pirates terrorizing some kids and delighting others, and a clownish entertainer on a ancient Hapenny bicycle zipping up and down comically harassing people (mostly embarrassed young teenagers) as he blasts his cartoonish horn while they turn puce with awkwardness. Loudspeakers compete with the gale for volume and by lunch time, there’s a great crowd out.
Suddenly, around 2 pm, the wild tempest vanishes and we’re surrounded by calm. The contrast is so marked it’s unnerving.
Finally, after a dearth of business all morning, sales are flowing and my hayfever has taken a break too. Could this be heaven?! I think so and we pack up in a good mood that evening… until my nose starts to explode again as though blocks of dynamite have been stuffed up each nostril.
I’m about ready to quit; not just the market but possibly life also.
Starving and exhausted, we treat ourselves to dinner in the local Indian restaurant.
The food (such as I can taste it) is delicious, with thickly spiced curries, light fluffy rice and delicious garlic naans.
“Did id gordjud, idn’d id darlig?!”
Alex looks at me a little oddly. To be fair, I sound as though I’ve got thick cotton wool wedged up my nose. (I also feel as though I’ve got thick cotton wool wedged up my nose… and all the way through my sinuses too).
“You ok?” he asks, frowning.
I yawn and rub my face.
“I’ll be fide whed I ged do bed,” I answer. And then sneeze five times in a row.
It’s time to get back to the van and camp for the night.
On our way to Tramore that morning we had passed a little spot, high up and directly overlooking the stunning coastline, where several camper-vans were parked overnight. Annestown (apparently the only village in Ireland without a pub) provides the perfect little alcove where we can park our van for the night and, in my case, completely conk out.
“Oh-ho, Liz, come and see the moon on the water, it’s beautiful!”
I can’t even muster up the energy to reply as I snuggle down under my quilt and fall into the deepest, most restorative sleep of my life.
I have never been a deep sleeper and particularly when it comes to sharing a bed with a restless, fidgety, constantly moving body (i.e. Alex) I rarely sleep completely through the night. On this occasion however – bar one instance where Alex does elbow me in the face – I am out for the count until morning and it’s the oddest thing that wakes me.
In my dreams, somebody is laughing robotically on repeat, until I finally wake up enough to realize it’s happening right outside our van.
My confused brain can’t understand why this is going on at, oh, 6 am on a Sunday, in the remote Irish countryside… Sliding the van door open and peering fuzzily into the blinding sunshine it becomes clear.
A proud, snooty seagull, perched on the little wall next to us, turns to eye me warily, before opening his beak and uttering the same dry “HAHA!”. Who needs a cock-a-doodle-doo when you’ve got a sarcastic seagull instead?!
“Alex, wake up my love, it’s a beautiful new day!”
I give him a vigorous shake before planting a big kiss on his cheek and stepping out into the early sunshine to stretch languorously. Despite the early hour, the sun is toasty and the sea is sparkling.
Alex soon has our little gas stove out and the tea brewing. I’m feeling a million times better than yesterday – a little beaten up sure, but no new sniffles or sneezes and once we’re dressed and ready we’re both keen to head back into Tramore and find an open cafe for breakfast.
We strike it lucky in the exact same one we visited last year – fresh, warm buttery croissants and coffee that tastes like liquid magic.
We open-shop early and today there isn’t even a whiff of a breeze, the air deceptively calm and still, morning trade ticking along steadily. My body seems to be too knackered to care anymore about pollen and I enjoy a much-needed break from sneezy-snots-ville.
We’re just starting to think the weekend isn’t so bad after all when a sudden gust rips through the tent, nearly lifting it in the air.
Off we go again.
For the next few hours we struggle to keep the gazebo earth-bound. Funnily enough, just like yesterday, once the gales arrive back, business grinds to a halt. By the time early afternoon arrives, I look at Alex, clinging to the tent-frame, a weary look on his face.
“This is no fun, is it?” I ask him, feeling a similar tiredness as I stand guard around the jewellery.
“We’ll pack up soon darling,” he replies, looking around. One stall owner passes by, arguing with an organizer that he wants to get his van onto the promenade so he can load it up. Seems we’re not the only ones ready to leave.
The crowds are still out and about and there’s a great buzz as the loud music blares through the nearby stereos. But the wind is so constant and destructive, we don’t have energy even to chat to passers-by.
We hang on another twenty minutes but finally decide enough’s enough and begin to pack with unusual speed – both of us ready to just get on the road and get home. It takes several trips to get everything into the van but finally it’s done and relief spills through me.
“Oh thank God! Take me home, sweet lord, take me home!” I sing as we pull out of the car-park and begin the two hour drive back to Cork.
It’s been a long, strenuous weekend but we’ve survived and we’ve made some more memories (albeit a lot of them tired snotty ones).
Market life, huh! With travel and camping, the unpredictable nature of sales and weather, the hazards of selling a high-end product outdoors in gale-force winds, the misfortune of having to do that while simultaneously self-combusting from pollen allergies, mocking seagulls and coffee in the sun with my best friend…
It wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea (heck it might not even always be mine) but all things considered, it’s a pretty good life.