I got a figairi early this morning to sort through a dusty cabinet that’s stuffed with books and within seconds I was sitting down reading Patrick Kavanagh: Selected Poems, published by Penguin, that fell out and landed on my bare foot.
So many much-loved poems but I kept coming back to Canal Bank Walk. Then I suddenly remembered this day in 1979 ~ and my own ‘canal bank walk’ as I made my way to my very first ‘real’ interview for a job as Research Assistant with the Economic and Social Research Institute, then located just off Mespil Road, which runs along Patrick Kavanagh’s Grand Canal in Dublin.
I had just finished my BSc in Economic and Social Studies and this was a huge opportunity to get to work in the most prestigious research institute in my field in Ireland. I fully recognised the opportunity that was being presented to me but, and there is a big ‘BUT,’ I couldn’t resist the temptation to go sunbathing at my beloved Baltray beach in Co. Louth the day before. It was an absolute scorcher and the perfect interlude between the exertions of my exams and the nerves about the interview. There was a balmy breeze and I lay there like a blissful sunflower, face tilted to the sun.
I woke the following morning with a rather odd feeling around my eyes and a general sense of burning all over my face. My eyelids were so burnt and puffy that my eyes were mere pencil line slits and my face was redder than the reddest red I’d ever seen. I stumbled to the nearest chemist where all the staff lined up in horror when they saw me and did their utmost to advise on how the hell I could manage to look even remotely normal by 2pm.
So, all rigged out in my purple Laura Ashley dress, I walked up and down the canal in the shade of the trees from about 1.30 onwards and wondered if I should beg the interviewers to let me sit under the table to spare us all a lot of agony. I hadn’t even the guts to do that and sidled in to the interview feeling exhausted from a sudden onslaught of nerves.
All I can remember now about the interview itself was a man suddenly asking me about formulas for stuff like Standard Deviation. A few weeks before, I was saying all these in my sleep as I’d crammed for the exams but I was totally stumped now. The kindly man, sensing my absolute misery and the deepest blush beneath the sunburn, led me through the formulas and got me out of what felt like a bath of boiling olive oil.
You’ve guessed it, I didn’t get the job and, you know, I still wonder would it have led me down completely different roads to those that I subsequently took. When I’m feeling cocky, I wonder would it have enabled me to ‘save’ the country from the current recession!
O unworn world enrapture me, encapture me in a web
Of fabulous grass and eternal voices by a beech,
Feed the gaping need of my senses, give me ad lib
To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech
For this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress
From green and blue things and arguments that cannot
(From Canal Bank Walk by Patrick Kavanagh)