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Just minding the house

South of the border

Just minding the house


Willie McHugh

SLOWLY but surely rural Ireland is losing all those little traits that made it special.
Time was when a chap called every couple of months to read the ESB meter. Now you can text your reading. Or the halcyon days the local garda arrived to inspect the dog licence. Of course there was awful ‘ri ra’ agus ‘ruaille buaille’ for that particular visit. Hiding the dog was one thing. Preventing him from barking was an entirely different assignment.
But of all the callers to rural households, surely none compares to our good friend the Television Licence Inspector. But his days are numbered too. And it’s all down to bungling bureaucracy. Some pen-pusher above in the Department of Communications has now decided to abolish the television licence and replace it with a new public broadcasting household charge.
Those yuppies who have become prisoners of technology are to blame. Seemingly viewers are using tablet computers and smartphones to watch Coronation Street, Tallafornia and Ros na Rún. Well bad cest to them anyway. What was wrong with the box in the corner?
Thanks to them we are about to witness the demise of the TV Licence Inspector. They have destroyed another bastion of civilisation as we knew and loved it. Is anything sacred anymore? This chap was as much part of rural Irish life as the travelling salesman, the Jehovah Witness or the mummers.
And his is a unique tale because, regardless of how often he called, he never visited a homestead on the day the owner was present. He only ever arrived when someone else was minding the house.
Nah! The man of the house (or the woman of the house, equality and all the rest) was never at home. It’s a wonder some TV Licence Inspector handy with the biro never sat down and penned an account of his time travailing the highways and byways.
Imagine the story they’d have to tell and the wonderful litany of excuses they were confronted with. It would be a tale to rival the worst chat-up lines ever used. Yarns like the young lad from Ramolin who fluffed his lines saying, “Mammy sent me out to tell you she’s not at home today.”
Of course their visit always coincided with an emergency. The registered owners were never gone to a wedding or on some pre-planned social outing. It was usually some catastrophic event the details of which paled Kenny Rodgers dirge of, ‘You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille’ into the significance of the same Lucy having gone home to mammy in a bit of a strop.
The Television Licence Inspector heard the most heart-rending of excuses. It always contained an account of rushing to the hospital and life and death situations.  And to top it off, ‘herself’ always had the television licence gone with her in the handbag. It’s the first thing you’d grab in any impending crisis right enough.
In another time I too encountered the Television Licence Inspector. The late Miko Kelly, a Postmaster from Tuam, and as nice a man as ever licked a stamp, visited me one sunny afternoon. He was a tad bewildered to actually engage the owner of the cabin.
I came clean and told him I didn’t have a current licence. I hadn’t an expired one either. But football was Miko’s Achilles heel and, over copious mugs of tea, we wasted a good evening recalling great Mayo/Galway derbies that the Tuam Miko Kelly was such an integral part of hosted over the decades. No wonder there’s a plaque erected in that most spiritual of football stadiums to his wonderful memory.
“Sure you might get an auld license the next day you’re in town and we’ll leave it so,” he said when leaving. I assured him I would. “And be sure and tell Ja Fallon I was asking for him,” I shouted after him. He assured me he would.
I kept my part of the bargain. Miko did too. As good as his word.