Bucket List #5


This is not a photo of my first car, but it is a photo of a beige Renault 4 with a sunroof.  My first car was a beige Renault 4 with a sunroof, but it also had matching dents on each front corner, and a chiaroscuro quality imparted by the proliferation of rust.

How does it qualify for my bucket list?  Well, it was a rust-bucket!

My Renault 4 came to me by way of my Sister, Síle, who decorated it with the two matching dents by knocking down first one pillar and then the other on the driveway of her house in Newbridge.  She bought the car second hand from the Burkes, who owned a garage in Tipperary.  That might explain why a Renault 4 came to be fitted with a sunroof.  It also had a go-fast stripe, and I suspect they did something to the engine to give it a bit of power, but maybe that was just an illusion imparted by the stripe.

There is a magic and a nostalgia associated with your first car.  It is usually a piece of rubbish, but it is a very important piece of rubbish.  Your first car is probably the most expensive and most important thing you have ever owned up to the point where you get your second car, or a house, or an engagement ring.

Your first car represents your freedom as a young adult.  Your ability to strike out at great distances without begging rides from parents or siblings, without the need to rely on public transport.

It is a space of your own.  If you have a car you can take a girlfriend for a date in said car.  Louise learned how to drive in it, and there was no worry that she might scrape a door or a wing as there might have been with later cars, of which we will say nothing.  Before you know what is happening a girlfriend can become a wife, much to the confusion of her brothers who would not be caught dead in a car like that!

You could bring friends to rugby matches as far afield as Malahide, Greystones, Clonskeagh and Churchtown.  You could give rides to Glénans trainees for holidays in Bere Island, Baltimore or Collanmore Island, instead of having to hitch rides from other members.

When the last exams finished you were able to bring a gang of friends to Rutland Island in Donegal for a week in Murf’s holiday home.  They could then have a great laugh about the acceleration qualities of a Renault 4 engine going uphill in a headwind with five big lads on board.

You could nip up the Wicklow mountains for Sunday hikes, or head off to Dingle or Glenbeigh for a rainy Irish summer holiday.  The possibilities were endless.

It was a gateway to adventures.  My Renault 4 carried dinghies, ribs  and sailboards on the roof.  It had a great cargo space, especially when you dropped the back seats.  It held lots of sailing equipment, hiking equipment, camping gear, washing machines and plenty of second hand furniture.  When we bought a house it was furnished with bits and pieces of second hand furniture bought from the small ads in the Irish Press and carted back in or on the Renault 4.

Because it was rusty and a bit battered there was none of the concern that you might scratch it, or leave a stain on the seats, or get a chip in the paintwork.  I didn’t worry that the seawater would add more rust.  I didn’t mind if puppies shat or puked in the back.  It was a workhorse, not an ornament.  It enabled my adventures rather than decorating my existence.

In its final years the rust holes became larger and larger.  On rainy days it was advisable to wear plastic bags on your feet because of the spray coming up through the floor.

Then one day it stopped.  Dead.

A friend of my Sister came up from Kildare and towed it away to see service in its final days as a hen house.

When I look back at the sum of my experiences in that battered old rust bucket I pity any teenager or 20-something who is gifted a brand new vehicle as their first car.  You will never understand the unadulterated joy to be had from owning a total piece of crap, bought and paid for with your own money.


The rain came down


Back in 1993 the days of the week were one day off where they are this year, with the 11th of June on Friday and Saturday being the 12th. On Thursday morning I got up very early to go to the flower market in Dublin. It started to rain at about 6am on the 10th.

I bought a huge number of flowers and put them in the boot of my clapped out Renault 4, the beige one with the sunroof.

That is still my favourite car. We had so many good times in that rusty heap of garbage, driving on rainy days with plastic bags on our feet, there were so many holes in the floor. That was the car I drove in college, bringing a third of the rugby team to matches. It’s the car we went to Donegal in when we finished our exams in 1990. On sailing holidays I had no problem slinging an inflatable dinghy on the roof, what was another scratch on the paintwork? And as for that boot, you could get a washing machine or a fridge into the Renault 4 without any hassle. Legend!

So there is me with a car full of flowers and it’s raining. I go home and pick up Louise and all the luggage, and off we go to Tipperary. The rain just kept coming down all day on the 10th.

On the 11th of June, 22 years ago, we spent the morning turning the flowers into floral displays and little wreaths. Myself, Louise, Mrs H and Jim Hourihane in the kitchen in Turtulla Rd, chatting away as we cut stems and arranged flowers. Mrs. H was boiling hams to make sandwiches for the next day. The two boys, Liam and Vincent, were in and out all day on little jobs. Delivering bread, drinks and other food. Leaving out shirts to be ironed by the mother. Taking cars off to wash them. It was still raining. It rained all day on the 11th.

In the afternoon we brought all the flowers over to Holy Cross Abbey to place them on the Altar. We laughed so much. The flower arrangements that looked huge in the kitchen were lost in the church. They were a joke. Ecclesiastical floral displays are enormous. But luck was on our side. There was a mission in the church that morning and they brought proper huge installations. Our efforts provided a little extra garnish on the side.

Still it kept raining. Dublin was flooded, as were large sections of the N7. Friday June 11th 1993 was a day of chaos for Dublin traffic. All those grumpy commuters stuck in their cars, windscreen wipers keeping time to the tracks on the radio. Ace of Base on top of the charts with “All that she wants”, with UB40 in number 2 slot “I can’t help falling in love with you”. House of Pain were in the charts with “Jump Around”, a song that never seems to get old. “Everybody Hurts” from R.E.M. was probably more appropriate to the weather. “What is Love” by Haddaway was also in the charts, another old song that still sounds fresh.

We took a spin out to Dundrum, to the Rectory, to deliver out our bags and our music for the reception. The Rhododendrons were in full bloom and looked fantastic. Shame about the rain, but what can you do. We lived in hope that it would clear off by morning.

That night I went to bed for the last time as a single man.

Have You Ever Seen The Rain? ; by John Cameron Fogerty
as performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Someone told me long ago
There’s a calm before the storm,
I know; it’s been comin’ for some time.
When it’s over, so they say,
It’ll rain a sunny day,
I know; shinin’ down like water.

I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?
I want to know, have you ever seen the rain
Comin’ down on a sunny day?

Yesterday, and days before,
Sun is cold and rain is hard,
I know; been that way for all my time.
‘Til forever, on it goes
Through the circle, fast and slow,
I know; it can’t stop, I wonder.

I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?
I want to know, have you ever seen the rain
Comin’ down on a sunny day?

I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?
I want to know, have you ever seen the rain
Comin’ down on a sunny day?