We had a new arrival in Poppy Cottage last September. Hudson was tall, dark and handsome, like his namesake Rock Hudson. An athletic three year old black labrador cross, he needed to be out and about. The first few months Hudson had regular, if sporadic walks. In the manic weeks and short days in the run up to Christmas, neither Hudson or the humans in Poppy Cottage had any fresh air. Come the New Year, I knew that I had to make a plan.
Working full time with small children means that evening times are both precious and action packed. I decided that the only way that I would fit a decent bit of exercise in was to get up earlier that usual to walk the mutt. In January, the alarm clock went off at 6.40am. All being well, we were on the road by 6.50am. It was pitch dark at the time, so I was kitted out with a high vis jacket and torch. When I spotted cars coming towards me in the distance, I shone my torch ahead to warn them of our presence. Although it is a country road, it can be busy, with lorries using the road as a shortcut to get to the M7 motorway. Usually the same cars and lorries passed by, so they knew to look out for me.
Early morning walks became a lot easier (and safer) when the clocks went forward in March. Walking in daylight, watching the world wake up is a pleasure. Sunrise and morning skies are often breathtaking. There is always something new to look out for. In the last few weeks, dainty yellow cowslips and snowlike whitethorn are particularly eye catching. My mutt loves his walks. If he sees my high vis jacket, or runners appearing, or if I say 'walk' aloud, he goes crazy. But with this new found brightness came a whole new dilemma. To wave or not to wave ?
When I was a child, growing up on a similar county road, it would be unthinkable not to salute passing traffic, or for them to salute you. If you were really lucky, you might get a Tractor Boy salute. (I'm convinced that American rap artists hand gestures derive from Irish Tractor Boy salutes). A good Tractor Boy salute was one where he nearly knocked the windscreen out with the strength of the wave. All the better if it was a young fella that you fancied. If you met Tractor Boy in person, you would be greeted, in a Meath/Cavan/Monaghan/Louth border acent, with a slowly drawled out 'Well'. If you have difficulty placing the accent, think of Hector O'hEochagain. Tractor Boy was usually a man of few words, so 'well' could be taken to mean 'hello, how are you, great silage weather, sorry to hear that you had a death in the family, can you and me go steady ?' Given the allure of Tractor Boy, I adopted 'well' as my greeting of choice in my teenage years. But it was short lived.
I went to Galway/Mayo Institute of Technolgy to study Art and Design when I was 18. To me, the rest of the class seemed cosmopolitan, sophisticated and confident. I decided it was time to drop 'well' as a salutation and to adopt 'hi'. I remember the initial awkwardness saying 'hi', thinking if the folks back home could see me, they would think that I was getting notions. I guess that I am just a traditional gal. All these years later, I'm still struggling with emails that were once signed off as 'All the best, Michael', now being reduced to 'Best, Michael'. 'All' 'The'. It's only an extra 6 letters and a space, for flips sake !!! Like bottled water and mobile phones, I can't see it taking off.
Back to present day, this waving business while walking is a tricky one. When the bright mornings first came, I saluted all of the cars and lorries that passed me. There was the worry that a neighbout could drive by and I wouldn't recognise them. If I didn't wave, they would surely think that I was getting notions. I could almost hear them, 'that one thinks she is something, now that she has her name in the paper and is on the radio. Doesn't she work in the arts or some shite like that ?' But how far should I go ? Do I actually make eye contact with each driver, or pretend to be distracted by the dog ? Everyday
Depending on who is running late, I either meet traffic head on, or they come up behind me. It's a relief when I don't have to meet them head on. I had noticed that Black Van Man had stopped saluting me recently, so I stopped saluting him. But the other day, he waved and I didn't ! Oh, the guilt !! Life was much easier, pre doggy when I walked in the GAA pitch. A muttered hello when you met someone was the agreed code of practice. This daily salutation dilemma was becoming too much to bare and had started to interfere with my enjoyment.
Eureka, I've just come up with a solution. With two 6 year olds, I cannot believe that I didn't think of it sooner. Sunglasses. When I put them on, I become invisible. No salutes. No guilt. Sorted.
Of course, the other aspect of roadside etiquette is dress code. It's not a big issue in the wintertime, when the main considerations are 1. be seen and 2. be warm. I may need to rethink the 'no need for a bra' look as it comes towards the summer months and layers of clothes are shed.