AIDA AUSTIN: Being competitive about the weirdest things

Wednesday, 3 pm, Gort. We are driving up to visit my sister in Sligo, and in keeping with time-honoured tradition, the sky suddenly drops out of its customary high position and lands on the bonnet.

The only surprise is that there isn’t a thud. “Right on cue,” I say, “the minute we get to Gort.” “See if you can resist the urge to say that to your sister the second you see her,” my husband says. “It’s like someone’s just closed the world’s lid,” I say, “and you know what?” “What?” 

“As soon as my sister claps eyes on me, she’ll say, ‘Honestly, I don’t know what’s happened to the weather, it’s been like Bordeaux up here all week.’” “She only says that because you carry on as if West Cork is St Tropez.” 

I point at the lid. “You’re competitive about the weirdest things,” he says. “I’m not competitive,” I say, mustering all the pride I have in being above such things. “99% of the time you’re not,” he says “but you pack some frightening stuff into the 1% of the time that you are.” 

“How many hours left in this journey?” my daughter says from the back. “Many,” I say.“Did you know,” she says, “that sitting down for long periods can give you cancer? What are you both doing to me?” Tuam. 

“Look at that Purple Loosestrife,” I shout. “I literally have arse pain from sitting down for so long,” my daughter says. Castlerea. “I picked the best county in Ireland for the weather,” I say, “but up here they win hands down with wild flowers. Just look at that Rosebay Willow Herb. And you never see fields of Meadowsweet like that in Cork.” 

“You know that this is what this weird weather thing you’ve got going with your sister is really all about,” my husband says, “which one of you picked the best county to live in, when in fact all either of you did was go, ‘dunno- what about there?’ and stick a pin in a map.” 

“You can’t beat West Cork,” I say. “No one’s trying to,” he says. “That’s what you think,” I say. Frenchpark. “How many more hours,” my daughter says, “genuinely, I can feel myself getting cancer back here.” 

Corrigeenroe, on arrival at my sister’s house. “Honestly, I don’t know what’s happened to the weather,” my sister says, “it’s been like Bordeaux up here all week.” Thursday morning. We are walking through meadows, and a tempest. 

“I bet you don’t see wild flowers like that in West Cork,” my sister says. “No,” I say, “but you can feel your fingers in August down there.” Friday. 

We are pulling a river boat down to the shores of Lough Arrow. The tempest is crouching somewhere hidden. Behind the trees is my guess. Out on the lake, my sister says, “I mean it’s just glorious! Look at that sky! So blue!” 

“It’s even bluer than my feet,” I say. Saturday morning. My sister and I are lying on her bed. “Shit,” she says, shooting upright suddenly, “I forgot. It’s the Boyle summer show tomorrow. And I’m entering my rhubarb. You can enter too, there’s a wild flower competition — Best Bouquet.” “Nooooooo!” I say, sitting up. 

“Kirsty’s entering a bouquet . She won it last year.” “Your lovely friend Kirsty with the fantastic hair?” “Yup.” “And the big open smile you can see straight to the back of?” “Yup.” 

“What time?” I say, reaching for my shoes. “Entries have to be in the tent by twelve,” she says, reaching for hers. Saturday lunchtime. My sister keeps looking at the clock. “Feeling a bit competitive about tomorrow?” her husband says, “bit jittery?” 

“I’m not competitive,” she says, mustering all the pride she has in being above such things. “Not generally,” he says, “but when you are, you really are.” “Pre-match nerves?” my husband says pointing at my uneaten sandwich. 

“Don’t be so ridiculous,” I say. Straight after lunch. My sister and I are in the polytunnel. I am filling a water barrel. 

“Competition will be stiff,” she says grimly, sharpening her secateurs with exceptional vigour, “they’re hard-core about their fruit and veg up here. And Kirsty has a Bsc Hons in horticulture.” “I am going to take. Her. Down,” I say.


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