The South Pole Inn
By Rick Cleveringa
You desire to travel, you plan it, and you dream about it.
This trip was coming to a close, but still we needed to see one last iconic point of interest. It is the place we vowed to have our 50th birthday toast: the South Pole Inn. So, we were sitting in a daze waiting at the Edinburgh Airport, the place where Scotland meets the world, for the last leg of our journey and a flight to the Emerald Isle.
We board a small plane with props to fly back over the Irish Sea to Dublin. We land, get our bags and cut up to the car rental counter. Brian signs all the papers and gets the keys to a red Jag. We find the car in the concrete parking maze, load our bags and begin the drive
across another country. I start to put together that Brian seems to enjoy driving across counties. After all, we just crossed the US in the summer of 2015, San Francisco Bay to Nags Heads NC, and a few days ago, we drove from the south coast of England, past the Scottish border to Edinburgh. I say, “You seem to love crossing counties by car.”
Brian just laughs.
Ireland shows her verdant beauty once you get out of Dublin. We left the city on the M7. Which took us through the great green fields of the East. It was greener than you can imagine. I just kept staring out the window. It was so impressive. Such a kind shade of kelly green, too. Friendly to the eyes and warm to the heart. Some of my people left this land, on ships bound for America long ago. It must have been heartbreaking to leave this behind. There were large tracks of forest, ash, oaks, hawthorns and scots pines. They were neatly appointed between fields, they climbed slopes and they covered the hills. It was a perfect drive. Clear sunlight and fluffy clouds overhead. These clouds poured over the mountains like whip cream on cake. They cast voluminous blue shadows on the gentle green fields below. It was all so lovely.
Shortly after departing, we pulled into a truck stop for coffee and doughnuts. “Well, this is not a doughnut” Brian said. It’s shit, fucking Shite! It’s plain white bread with something brown and sticky not chocolaty tasting at all on the top. I ate it and wished it had been worse, because it was just bland enough you could get it down. Had it been worse I could have tossed out the window. I wrapped up what I didn’t finish and chucked it in the backseat. Had the satisfaction of being disgusted by it and having a better story to tell. It was like eating a single Saltine cracker but paying for hot buttered toast and jam. This “doughnut” just made you unhappy when you ate it. The coffee is OK but the Irish missed the boat on doughnuts.
Brian confidently drives the nice roads. They're are noticeable better than English ones. Here you see happy little houses painted in pastel colors. Unlike the dull gray and white of every building in the Kingdom. They seem more lighthearted.
We are both happy today. Listening to the local radio talk shows. This gives us some local color.
The further West we go, the more the land heaves up and reaches the clouds. I had no idea there were such wonderful mountains here? After several hours of driving, we climb up a mountain road. We're cutting through a high pass towards the Dingle coast. Up here the winds are tremendous. They blow the car hard in the opposite direction of our Will to Travel. We are now inside the fluffy friendly clouds. Their innards tell us a new tale. Their guts are upset and churning violently. I think they have dysentery. It's dark, gray and foggy. Are we going to make it? I think so. Then we start to descend from the peaks and the car pulls us out of the stormy hold. Behind us the clouds are once again the puffy mates of the mountain tops.
We can see our first glimpse of the coast. This brings us a feeling of triumph. Winding our way down the tiny roads we made it to the village of Annascaul, check into the Old Anchor B+B, get our keys, and drop off our bags. There is a high level of excitement between Brian and I, and with little time spent exploring our accommodations, we head out to see Annasacul and all things Tom Crean.
Eagerly we walk down to the Tom Crean statue. Our hero is resting on a crate, hiking poles in one hand, two pups gathered in the other arm. His gaze, even harder than the bronze of the statue, is directed toward a fixed point somewhere beyond the range of our conception. This could have been the man himself. I wonder if this casting would last a year in Antarctica? Would it crumble away in the extreme cold and wind? By Gawd, what a man he was.
We spend a good amount of time here, smiling and talking about this man who continues to inspire. But soon our excitement is on to now next goal.
Down a half block further is the South Pole Inn. Its second story is painted white with blue trimmed windows, and the first story is a deep ice blue. The color scheme is that of a glacier. The sign has happy little penguins milling about on an ice flow. The three lower windows have large photos of the ships Tom went south on. Starting with the Discovery (1901-1904), the Terra Nova (1910-1913), and lastly the Endurance (1914-1917). That comes to nine years of Tom Crean heading for the pole. His name and the name of the pub are on the outer wall in big orange letters between the two floors. This modest edifice is held neatly together by the chimneys on both ends. We stand on the front deck, amazed we made it. Grinning and shaking hands, patting each other's backs. Brian opens the main door to the pub and we walk back in time. The interior was woody and inviting.
We grab a table and order a long-awaited toast. After 50 long years on this earth we raised our glasses, made eye contact and thanked each other for each of our lives made better by the company of another man of letters. We toast our friends who are not with us. We wish each other well in the future and wondered where we would travel next? Sláinte, I fucking made it! We fucking made it. We sit in the pub and look at each detail. Every photo on the wall, books on the fireplace mantle and raise our celebratory glasses. Some other Americans came in, and I talked to a California guy for a minute. They sit and chat with us quickly. In a moment they'll return to the tour buses that line the road.
Hail, Hail. Tom Crean. He’s the bravest man the world's ever seen. Wow I am in Tom Crean’s pub. We sat at our table drunk on elation, wrote, photographed the place and sucked it all in. When I see they have Tom Crean Tee shirts, I have to have one. I still can’t believe we are here.
Brian and I got restless and wanted to explore the town. So we headed outside. This was around 4 PM. We found ourselves by the happy little river's edge and we tossed a few stones in the rippling water. It was a peaceful moment for us on the shore of the tiny Annascaul river. Brian and I just hanging out by the water's edge. We soon realized food at the South Pole stops being served at 5:00, so we paced about outside for a few minutes more, and after a few stones were cast we were ready for dinner. It’s was only fitting to eat here. Whatever is right. We pore over the menu, trying to decide. I think what did Tom eat here? But really, it's just the fact he ate and worked here. It was pleasant and overwhelming. So we ordered and simply had to wait for our Irish Steak sandwiches, more drinks and sticky toffee puddings.
We ate our delicious meal and ordered the ceremonial Sticky toffee pudding. At the bar I asked the two gentlemen how the winters were here. People often love to complain as a matter of pride about bad weather. One fellow spoke up. He was about 50, bald, and no visible eyebrows. His head was shiny and red. He was tall, strong and looked like a wrestler from the 70’s. But he was in constant motion, more like a boxer. I observed him for some time. He stood at the bar. Leaning on it, never sitting always in motion. Training for the next big championship fight.
Next to the Champ is a tall thin old man. Well worn in every way imaginable. Head to toe he was wan. His clothes were all soft as sand. His boots barn were muddied under exhausted pants cinched up by his cracked leather belt and tucked in a yellowed shirt. Cloaked by a filthy tweed vest and soiled brown jacket. They were all ghosts of their former crisp retail
hanger life. Everything looked thread barren, frayed and paper thin. Their only bond was dirt and necessity. The article of clothing that struck me the most was his crown. It was a typical low brim tweed Irishman’s walking hat. Its hatband was a two-inch wide sweat stain. This hoary belt was made white by his own exudation, farm dirt, toil and time. Over its lifetime it had been growing like a science project. I saw it move, I swear. My grandfather had such a hat. The thin old man was curled in on his stool. The same seat for the last 50 years. He probably had his first pint here the year I was born. His body recessed on his seat formed the shape of a backwards question mark. His boot heels clipped on the stool's footrest. His curved back resting on a 12×12 pine post. His head and hat down, to be closer to his pint. His right elbow on the bar' the other arm in his bonny lap. He has the build and manners of a scarecrow and said nary a word.
The Champ spoke up and talked for the next 30 minutes. It was fucking great! First the weather. I asked about the winter. He nodded his shiny head toward the window. “Daare.” It’s raining hard and the sky is all gray. “Aye Back in two towsendt and farteen was it? Two towsendt farteen?” the Champ asked the taciturn fellow on the stool. “Aye” said the tall man. “In two townsendt and farteen a errican blew in, undred an ten myle an Aour winds. Ahhh I never seen anyting like it” This was said in such a thick Irish brogue. It is very difficult to decipher. “Was it two towsendt and farteen?" The second man lifts his pint. “I got in me Jeep and went straight ohm. Undred an ten myle an aour winds. Blew the roof off the schoo. Erican Whogo it was, Look it up! Two towsendt and farteen.”
He was friendly, and it was fantastic. And the sideshow continued. “Ahuuugh twas a bad summer twoo. Rain started in May. And she rained every day since RIGHT?” he asked the scarecrow. “Yup” he said softly, hand on his pint and his hat getting saltier. The Champ jumped around. His Irish eyes glint silver flashes of life. He smiled, he rocked back in forth, he waved his arms about as he spoke. His face went from pale to red with great expression. He is alive and a force to be experienced. The true mother's son of Ireland. He was made of flesh and fire. He spoke, he sweated, he stood.
Number two barely moved his eyes. Only glass to lips. I ask about the crops and rain. “Wheat, Oats, lost 25% to da rain. Dats ard.”
He kept on. “Undred an ten myle an aour winds, Whogo it was Look it up.” Then switched to political Blowhards. “Putin is a dangerous man!” He professed “Trump and if da two of dem get goin dale destroy de whuld.” He went on and on like this. I found his speech and dialog all perfect and charming. Now Brian is engaged with him. Our bald friend asked rhetorical questions. He has posed one directed to Brian. There is only one right answer. Brian was having difficulty understand our pa'ls local dialect. He gave the wrong answer. This only animates our friend wildly. The Champ’s face turned redder, his eyes bulged, he jumps excitedly and looks at us like we are fucking stupid. He answered that question for us. Promptly gave up on these two Yanks and shifted gears and says “Lovely country, Is the Dingle peninsula.” We have to agree. Because it was entirely true. We loved this beautiful land.
The sticky toffee pudding is some of the best we have had yet. This specific desert has become central to our trip. Much like good pie was back on the Yosemite adventure. I had grown fond of it on a UK visit in 2005, after seeing it on a menu in London one night. While Brian and I had dinner with one of his old work mates, I had to order this dish. Brian had a go at mine his first taste. Now he is hooked. Over the last two weeks we have ordered it at several meals. This one is exceptional. Cake so soft and fine with the texture of velvet. Clotted cream so thick you could paint a house with it. Lovely brown caramel sauce so rich and sweet it gives you a headache. It is a gift to the taste buds.
Our friend went on about Catholics and Protestants to the north. He said “Pradasens” with such Irishness. At this point Brian could not understand him at all. He repeated it, than yells it over and over. “Pradasens, PRAADESENSS, PRAADESENSS, PRAAAADEEEESEEENSS,” He’s getting ticked off now and animations are turning angry. Had he not said Catholic first I would never had gotten it. I interject “Yeah the Protestants.” He calmed down and refocused the topic.
“De IRA, but I say no mure.” He held his hands up waste high, in a stop motion, waving them slightly. His face expresses a show of caution. Like the walls have ears. He put a single finger to lips. Like a Ssshhh pose and looked around the pub. He is in good form tonight. A real champion. We are in a boxing match of dialect and translation. Based on the judges' decision, he is winning on skill, technique and a knock out. He has returned to his corner of the ring (the bar). His large hands resting on the bar (the ropes). Standing, leaning waiting for the bell. His eyes happy with Guinness are still shining. He rocked back to his stance leaning at a 10-degree angle on the bar. I am hoping for several more rounds before this match is over. To our misfortune we have lost this bout and our friend the Champ. Enter the next contestant.
After the pints were drained, Brian and I say farewell. We went over to the bar to tell the Champ thank you and shake his hand. It’s a soft shake, surprisingly soft. He seems a bit leery now. Like he doesn't know us now. The man with the crown of salt, work and wool was invisible. Somehow, he had slipped into the rain without notice. How did he get by us? We were sitting right by the door. The large man poured on a stool was facing our boxer friend. The fat man was awarded the benefits of the Champ’s conversation. As we left our bald friend said “A Ondred an ten myels an aure winds. Whogo Look it up! Two towsendt an farteen.” We say we will (and I did).
It was in 2014 February 12th to be exact, and it was not hurricane Hugo, but Darwin. It had started as cyclone Tini over the Eastern part of the US. Glad I did not know or tell our friend that little tidbit. Crossing the Atlantic it gained explosive cyclogenesis before slammed the Western coast with “Ondred an ten Myels an aour winds.” Working its way inland by force. Darwin left 215,000 homes without power. The worst storm in recorded Irish history. It was named for the 205 anniversary of the naturalist Charles Darwin’s birthday. Thousands of trees were uprooted or snapped in half. There was terrible flooding and multiple buildings were damaged. It was the most dangerous storm ever seen in the Emerald isle. One hundred and fifty miles East in the midlands, the 13th century castle Coolbanagher had its southern facade dismantled by the dangerous winds. Subsequently the remaining structure had to be demolished due to health and safety concerns. A real tragedy if you ask me. The town and county were not notified that the castle was being torn down. When the bulldozers showed up and push it over, there was a great civic outcry. It was like the death of a loved one for everyone in the county. For me it was terrible sad thing to read about. They just are not making castles like that anymore.