‘Giving it half a twist too many’

Athlone is a beautiful town – and with so many different leisure and entertainment activities on offer, there is always a buzz around the place. There are fewer more pleasurable locations in the country – and of course any town lapped by water has a great advantage in the popularity stakes.

Athlone was especially resplendent a couple of weeks ago… Sunday 21 April, to be precise. You may remember that was the day summer came to Ireland, after eight months of rain. Not surprisingly, it seemed as if everybody in the country headed outdoors to the 20 degrees sunshine – and what else would you be doing on a sunny Sunday?!

My story isn’t really about Athlone or the weather – but you know me; I lose the run of myself and I get carried away with the smell of my own ink!

I was in Athlone that day in order to attend the AGM of the Irish Dexter Cattle Society. Naturally, as a Westmeath man, I felt extremely proud of our second town (!) and the magnificent setting that is the Radisson Blu Hotel. Mind you, the society has previously used the Hodson Bay, inducing similar favorable praise from our visitors.

I am about to get to the story…

I parked my car in the public car park, just up from the railway station, mindful that I could have a 10-minute walk in the glorious sunshine. I didn’t know if parking is free on Sundays, so I disembarked with a €2 coin in my sweaty little hand. No charge… happy days!

On the street corner, opposite the shopping centre, sat a ‘beggerman’. (Are we allowed to use that word any more?) Just in case… on the street corner, sat a man who was begging – and if you are wondering, he was one of our own. He saw me coming and watched as I retrieved the saved coin from my pocket. Then, just before I dropped it into the man’s collection tin, along with the smile and ‘lovely day for your job’ I had already contributed, the man looked up at me with the words; ‘you wouldn’t have any fivers on you, would you?!’.

I put the €2 back in my pocket telling the man; ‘there you are now, you were getting €2 for nothing, until you decided that I looked a soft touch, and then you couldn’t resist giving the nut another half turn… and now you just ‘rung the threads!’.

‘Giving the nut a half-turn too many’ is metaphor I regularly use over the last 40 years, so let me tell you how this came about and what it means to me and to those around me.

When I use this – one of my favourite sayings, I remember my late, great friend, Colm O’Farrell. Colm is a long time gone now, but I’ll never forget his obliging nature, patience, wisdom and especially his helping hand any time I was in a ‘hobble’. It was he who taught me how to resist ‘giving the nut one last half turn’ when it was already tight enough.

Colm spent his lifetime working on tractors and contracting machinery. Before my other late, great friend, Martin Healy, (God rest them both) Colm kept the wheels turning on any bit of machinery I owned. He was doing a job on my tractor, and I was ‘helping’. Feeling sort of useful, I took on to screw in four threaded studs with a mighty ratchet wrench. This was easy and satisfying for me. The studs were clearly tightened home, but I couldn’t resist giving the last one a ‘half turn too many’ – I ‘wrung the threads’ and the stump had to be drilled out of the hole.

Not a bad word or rebuke from my friend; instead, we had a chat and decided that life is a bit like that bolt. Sometimes we just can’t leave well enough alone and make the situation worse by giving it one more half turn. Colm admitted that what I did often happened to him too – but he had learned the lesson… as did I from that evening on.

Have you heard of ‘the law of the hole’? It is an adage which states; ‘if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging’. In other words, it is best to quit rather than making the situation worse.

‘A bridge too far’ is another warning of not knowing when to stop. This one comes from a true story, relating to a failed WWII offensive because the plan was overreached and hence, ‘a bridge too far’.

I think my ‘giving the nut a half-turn too many’ explains overreach best of all. I hope the man with the tin in Athlone has learned that lesson too!

Don’t Forget

It doesn’t pay to get ‘stuck-op’. The peacock of today is the feather duster of tomorrow.