COLM O'REGAN: How to pass two hours on the train to Dublin with no WiFi

THE Dublin-Cork train hadn’t left the station long when the Irish Rail announcer said that the WiFi was broken. He didn’t say the Wifi was broken. He said the WiFi was offline for the duration of the trip.

That sounded much better. A broken WiFi is a failure. A WiFi that is offline is a WiFi taking charge of its life.

A WiFi that has elected to plug itself out, because it had an incredibly important presentation to deliver to a Wifi conference attended by some of the world’s top modems, routers and fiddly-cable bits and it needed the headspace for a little while.

Either way, no internet for two hours! What was I to do? In theory, I could rely on mobile internet, but, really, I couldn’t. The interior of Ireland is a heart of darkness for 3G. Trading outposts of reception cling to main roads and rivers but the hinterland is a dangerous morass of patchy reception. They say that in these parts there are tribes who communicate solely by sending texts.

In the carriage this morning, there were slim pickings for eavesdropping.

On the return journey, when there was full internet, it was an eavesdropping bonanza: ‘people with cans’. ‘People with cans’ on the train are a double-edged sword (maybe they were visiting someone in Portlaoise who had been convicted of assaulting someone with a can). But this group was good value.

They went through the full ‘cans on the train’ life-cycle: giddiness at drinking in a moving pub, attempting to drag others into a news-and-current affairs round-up (for the record, they will be paying the water-charges “in their bollix.”) and the singing (Ring of Fire and Carrickfergus).

Finally, they topped it off with ‘the row about the thing that happened before’.

But that was on the return journey. On this one, with no other way to avoid doing work, there was only one thing for it. Read a paper.

I hadn’t read an actual ‘paper paper’ in a while and I had forgotten a few things about the experience. The serendipity of it.

Who knew what article you might find on the next page. Obviously, it wasn’t complete serendipity. Most newspapers have the same structure. Bad news on the front, local bad news on the inside cover, sport on the back, financial bad news in the middle. There will always be some quirky story from elsewhere in the world: a goat on trial for fraud or a man wanting to get married to a fridge.

But I love the deliberate limits of a ‘paper paper’.

It doesn’t give me access to everything I want, there and then. It says: ‘no Colm, here’s all I have’. Here is a finite amount of information. And I finited it.

I actually read it cover to cover. It was like listening to an album. ‘This is all there is. You want more? Go to the shop’.

It would be a shame if the ‘paper paper’ were to disappear completely in favour of eReaders and tablets. You can’t borrow a tablet on a train, so how will you ever start a conversation with someone who, it turns out, taught your cousin’s-nephew-by-marriage. On the return journey, in between ‘the song’ and ‘the row’, someone knocked over one of their 30 cans. No one had a paper to mop it up.

  • Colm O’Regan’s third book, The Christmas Book of Irish Mammies, is in shops now. He is at City Limits, in Cork, on Saturday, November 29.


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