Growing up in Co Limerick the seasons of the year were marked by the arrival and departure of visitors. These included the swallow, wild geese and human beings. Americans generally came in the summer, those based in England came in February, during what they called ‘half term’, and Dubliners dropped in on their way to the beaches of Kerry or coming back from the Willie Clancy festival.
I remember one particular visitor, a German named Paul, who used to come once a year to service our tractor. Believe it or not, we had a series of Porsche tractors, isn’t that posh? In fact, it borders on the onomatopoeic. Like its motor car Volkswagen cousin, the Porsche tractor had an air-cooled engine with a distinctive tukka-tukka-tukka sound.
It was quite different from the more common Massey and Ford and required some specialist care. This was especially true after the company stopped making tractors in 1964. Mechanics like Paul were dispatched around the world servicing, repairing and supplying parts for the Porsches that remained in service.
He would arrive in our backyard in a Volkswagen campervan that doubled as a mobile workshop. The front and middle of the vehicle contained his living quarters, including a couch-bed, cooker and storage. The back door opened to reveal an array of tools and parts, all neatly stored in wooden compartments where, in true Teutonic order, everything had a place and everything was in its place. As children we didn’t have to be told to stay away from that section of the van, one look at it would tell you that a child would wreak untold destruction were he or she to be let loose anywhere near it.
To us, Paul was an exotic creature, a welcome injection of variety into a monocultural and almost self -contained rural world. From what I can remember, he was completely bald, wore rimless spectacles and looked more like a professor than a mechanic. My father had complete confidence in him, treating him like a demi-god or an oracle ‘who knew what he was doing’, an accolade reserved for a certain few. For weeks afterwards he would sing the praises of Paul repeating over and over, “This tractor is going like a clock, you can’t beat the Germans.”
When I progressed to secondary school and made ‘townie’ friends they wouldn’t believe me when I told them we owned a Porsche tractor. As there were no mobile phones at that time, and very few people possessed a camera, I couldn’t organise a photograph to prove my story. Indeed, for a short period of time we had two Porsches, a Standard and a Super. My father had up-graded to the Super model and was waiting to have the front-loader transferred from the humble Standard before parting with it. In the meantime, my aunt and uncle lost a haybarn full of hay to fire and the little Standard, with its loader, was pressed into service and spent a week loading mountains of hay gathered by the neighbours to replace what was lost. I remember my father saying it did the work of a thousand men.
If bumper stickers had been in fashion at that time we would have had one attached to the family saloon that read, ‘Never mind this wreck, my tractor is a Porsche.’ As the 1960s gave way to the 1970s Paul stopped coming and we moved on from the trusty Porsche.
I digress, I was getting around to telling you about another annual visitor to our house; a man would arrive in August, just before my parents went for their holidays to Liscannor. He would suggest that they might use the holiday to take up golf and play a few rounds at nearby Lahinch. My father would tell him the only rounds he was interested in were the ones he would buy over the counter in Joe McHugh’s pub. As the years moved on, and the children in the house got progressed into young adulthood, our August visitor would wonder if any of us had even the slightest sign of marital intentions, “Come on,” he would say, “I’m blue mowldy for a day out.”
It is only now, after all these weeks of confinement, I know what he meant. The anxiety for a day out is rising in me and I can almost feel the blue ‘mowld’ gathering around my itchy feet. The absence of visitors and the limited nature of social interaction is causing the unventilated mind to fall in on itself.
Meanwhile, Christmas is coming and the Scrooge-like pronouncements emanating from Leinster House are far from encouraging, there’s more ‘ho-ho-ho’ to be found in a 1980s budget speech. We can only hope that visitors will soon be free to come and go as they please, until then we can only remember a time when they did, a golden era, when even our tractors were Porsches.
First published in the Farming Independent, Tuesday, November 17th 2020