Rebel to King in Unending Conversations

My first stop was at a petrol station outside Macroom. I was two hours from my apartment, having cycled out the gate at 9 o’ clock. I locked up and went in for some essentials; Smarties, Lucozade, a judging nose around, and keys to the toilets. Before heading off, I took a few solitary moments, gathering my supplies and my thoughts. Almost immediately I noticed a car veering towards me with an elderly man hanging out the window. I didn’t make many rules for my cycle but my journey philosophy was that I’m not in a rush. Part of that included the condition that if someone started a conversation, I couldn’t be the one to end it. Caught in the old man’s sights, I figured this was unending conversation number one.

The man was a nearby farmer and former teacher. He asked about my Dingle cycling jersey. I told him that I was from Kerry and got it at a race the previous year. The fact that I made no obvious moves to flee seemed to please him greatly. He was getting so much enjoyment from talking that when it was his turn to listen, he looked fit to burst. Usually, this is one of my pet hates; when people just wait for their turn to talk instead of listening. However, he wasn’t even waiting. Oddly this somehow bypassed pet hate territory. He’d ask a question and as I started to answer, he’d start talking about something entirely different. It would have been infuriating were it not so adorable. It was partly my fault. By standing there, I was very much an accomplice to his excitement. 

Once he got going, it was hard to get a word in edgeways. As he was saying one thing, the next topic was already queued and ready to go. When he hit the end of the sentence, without pause, he’d jump onto a new stream of thought. “Yeah I love West Kerry. I camped in the Blasket Islands one time. I stayed there for four days. I had to bring all my food and drink and camping equipment with me. There’s a ferry that takes you to the Blasket. No electricity there. Charlie Haughey was the Taoiseach at the time. He owned one of the islands. The ‘Inis’. Did you know that? You knew that didn’t you, that he owned an island? Of course you did, you’re from that neck of the woods. Or maybe you’re too young. One time when I was there I saw three helicopters leave the island. Maybe that was the time I camped there for four days? It must have been. I’d say Charlie had a party. Have you ever read Peig Sayers book? That’s a great book about the Blasket Islands. Students don’t like it because it gets forced down their throats but it’s really worth a read. Do you read? Ventry, that’s another place in Kerry I love. I used to go…”

The man was probably in his eighties or nineties. I find it hard to differentiate after a certain age. However, what was becoming clear was that he didn’t get much human interaction. I was witnessing some sort of verbal release. At a certain point it dawned on me that it was something of a soliloquy. I did enjoy his gusto though. I couldn’t see his lower half but I was sure that if I could, I’d see his tail wagging furiously.

Although it was only my first interaction of the day, my adherence to my rule was being severely tested. If I didn’t do something, I might’ve been there ’til dark.

In the meantime, spits of rain were falling and I was getting cold. I made one slight attempt to warm my left arm and, thankfully, the old man picked up on the cue. Mid sentence he dropped what he was saying – “you must be freezing”. Just as I opened my mouth he interjected, “the best thing for you, is to get back on the bike”. Before I could respond, he had revved the accelerator and was gone. If it were a cartoon, I’d have been left standing in front of a dust outline of the car. I suddenly felt so used. I was the victim of a literal drive-by conversation whose only purpose was to give the old vocal chords a run out. To him, I was just a piece of meat with ears.

Twenty five minutes had passed since I stopped for my “two minute” break. As I cycled out of Macroom, I considered putting a 15 minute limit on all conversations. My thoughts were broken by a car’s horn. I turned my head, expecting to see an angry driver but instead found a friendly face. The driver was gesturing towards the side of the road. I took this to mean he wanted me to get out of the way, so I did. But, after passing me, the driver pulled in and jumped out, gesturing for me to do the same. I stopped, confused by what was going on.

“Hello there,” he said. “I’m so sorry to interrupt but I noticed your Dingle jersey and had to ask you about it.”

It started to dawn on me that I may never make it out of Cork.


Ben Dillon Essays Kerry Cycle

Before leaving the house, I earmarked Millstreet as my third pit stop after Coachford and Macroom, with Killarney being my lunchtime destination. However, already running on fumes, I decided to turn Millstreet into an extended stay. A smarter cyclist would have tried a few warm up journeys and eased themselves from couch potato to roadworthy athlete. But I’m not the typical cyclist. In fact, I’m not a cyclist at all.

My journey was born out of something else. At the start of the year, I made a bucket list of activities I wanted to do and things I wanted to achieve. Unfortunately, 2020 had moved the goalposts. For me, and for all, the main goal for the year was to elude an infectious disease. Thus, entering the second half of the year, my list was embarrassingly unchecked.

One of the items on my list was to cycle the 144km from my Cork City apartment to my home in Tralee. Eager to make something of 2020, I did the very Forrest Gump manoeuvre of just leaving my porch and heading off. “That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run”. For Forrest Gump, this philosophy carried him along for three years. In the movie, he became a celebrity and mythical figure. In real life this philosophy carried me to Millstreet, at which point I was completely exhausted, my rear-end physically violated and my body in dire need of calories.

My next conversation wasn’t even one I was involved in. Instead, I played the part of voyeur. After getting something to eat, I grabbed a coffee, which I sipped quietly outside. The table was at the intersection of a hairdressers, café and grocery store. The location was ideal for two of my favourite things to do in rural Ireland — eavesdropping and people watching.

During my ten minute sojourn, I was gripped by a decidedly unexciting conversation. Two women in their seventies or eighties (again, tough) were engaged in what can only be described as outside-supermarket-chitchat. Although the topics were mundane, my joy came from predicting what they would say next.

My first prediction was a gimme. The two women were wearing masks and standing two metres apart, adhering to Covid-19 recommendations. I predicted that the phrase “the new normal” would be mentioned almost immediately. When it was, I had to stop myself from pumping my arm in celebration. I didn’t just predict the phrase but the way it’d be said. The woman passed the phrase to the other like it was some sort of explosive device. That’s the thing with new slang. A younger person can drop new phrases into conversation with ease. An older person says it and pauses for a beat, unsure whether or not they’ve sullied the English language. My dad does something similar when mentioning brand names or social media platforms. He has valid reasons to be trepid. More often than not he makes a mess of it. He adds unnecessary articles so words like ‘YouTube’ become ‘The YouTube’ or places incorrect emphasis so Red Bull might turn into a RED bull.

I didn’t predict the next turn the conversation would take but was kicking myself for not calling it. Invariably, they started complaining about the current climate. Both women agreed that “this whole thing was a disgrace”. I found it hard to put my finger on what exactly was disgraceful. Was it the strain of infectious disease that was causing the pandemic? Or the fact that the country was being shut down to protect people from dying? Or did they know something I didn’t? Maybe it was a person behind the virus? I bet it was someone like Trump or Leo Varadkar. Or maybe teenagers. Or hoodies.

It was easy for me to be a master conversationalist whilst sitting on the outskirts. When you’re in a conversation, you often don’t think about what you’re saying. No doubt if one of the ladies had looped me in, I’d have agreed wholeheartedly. “Yeah, too right, this whole thing is an outrage. Something should be done about it. Those feckers in the government are at it again, with their face masks and their novel viruses and their YouTubes.”

I thought about this for a while and zoned out of my eavesdropping duties. Then a more pressing thought arrived – I wasn’t even halfway and I was in severe pain.

I called Gus, my dad, and told him about my predicament. Gus was acting as my Heuston Control Centre for the mission. It was he who decided on the route and what precautions to take on the road. Millstreet was our third touchpoint of the day. However, this was my first “Heuston, we have a problem” call. I told him about my ass, which was being viciously molested by my saddle.

A new habit of Gus’s is to effortlessly drop his new friend Tony’s name into conversations at every opportunity. In his late sixties, the fact that he has a new friend is something that tickles the rest of the family. He even had a sleepover with him not long ago. The reasoning was fairly understandable. They had been out walking together, had a few drinks and then had no designated driver to drop Gus home. That said, the fact that my sister called home at the time changed everything. Being informed that he is having a sleepover in his new friend’s house, gave us all endless entertainment. There is also that underlying phenomenon that all older men (even those with a wife and five kids) are uncomfortable with their sexuality. For that reason, new best friend and gay-lover have become synonymous. Granted, this is entirely juvenile and teasing people about their sexuality isn’t generally my style. But, what annoys Gus, amuses us.

I interrupted Gus’s latest Tony story and told him about my dilemma. He asked if I was wearing padded bicycle shorts, which I was. He then thought of other measures I could take.

“Why don’t you run into Supervalu and get some Vaseline? Just rub a bit on your behind, your butt cheeks will thank you for it tomorrow. Vaseline is a must for those long journeys,” he paused for a moment. “We use it all the time”.

“I bet ye do,” I said. “I bet ye do.”


Ben Dillon Essays James Bond

Where are you coming from?,” the cashier in Rathmore asked.

“Cork. Well, Cork City to be specific. Heading towards Tralee.”

“From Cork City?,” she said, leaning into the cash register, the one simple act signified that she was settling in for the foreseeable future “You’ve come a long way haven’t you?”


We’d been talking for less than three seconds but already I hear disgruntled noises coming from the queue.

“And cycled all the way?”

“I guess I must have yeah.”

“That’s a funny way to come isn’t it? How’d you end up here?”

“Well, I actually didn’t come by the main road, I thought that would be a little unsettling with all the traffic,” I said. This time I sank into the countertop a little too. 

“Go on,” she said.

Travel routes or, more specifically, chosen travel routes, are some of the most tedious conversations for neutral spectators. They’re up there with discussions about minor ailments, cooking recipes or the toddlers’ eating habits. When conversations like this are held at the front of the queue, it’s enough to incite a mob.

“Well,” I said, I got a little closer so that the words could drop out of my mouth and into her ear. “My apartment is in the middle of the city. So I left there and went out by the Lee Fields…”

The cashier took up the reins “Oh right and onto Ballincollig?”

“No,” I said, expecting to hear gasps but none came.

“No?,” she said, “…go on.”

“…out by the Lee Fields. Then, before going to Ballincollig I took a right and made my way along the back roads…”

“Oh and out to Inniscarra?”

“And out to Inniscarra. Exactly. And then onto Dripsey.”


“Yeah, then Coachford yeah. Bang on.”

“Oh that’s interesting now,” she said. (It wasn’t.)

“Yeah. Then I stopped in Macroom for a little bit.”

“Did you stay on the main road then? You did?”

“No,” again, I expected gasps but none came.


“Exactly,” I said. I was tempted to give a knowing wink but didn’t want to come across too full of myself.

“That’s interesting now,” she said. (Again, nope.)


“So are you just going to go the main road home now through Killarney?”

“Yeah, I might. I haven’t really decided yet,” I said, while drawing flirty circles on the countertop with my finger, “…but who knows… I might even take the backroads by Aghadoe.”

I was pretty sure this made her blush.

At that point we both snapped back to reality. It was as if we’d been kissing in public and had lost the run of ourselves. While partaking in the conversation, I had thought it was all very sexy and exciting — very 007. But then it dawned on me that was less James Bond and more Government Savings Bond. I turned around and what had been a two person queue had turned into an angry mob of seven. I caught eyes with a man behind me, whose venomous gaze seemed to say, “name one more obscure parish. I fucking dare you.” I needed to end the conversation before I inadvertently caused a riot.

Unfortunately, the cashier was less melodramatic and didn’t pick up on the impending anarchy. After handing me my change, instead of bidding me adieu she carried on. She asked about the traffic, the condition of the roads and if I felt safe. Although I was only in the shop to buy a bottle of water, I felt like I’d accidentally landed into a longform podcast.

Thankfully, before tensions boiled over, I was saved by her colleague.

“Jennifer!,” she said, “the queue?”

“Oh sorry,” she said, she turned back around and beamed a smile at me. “Safe home. Careful on those roads. NEXXXXXT!!”

I left, happy to have avoided the angry mob’s wrath. However, I made a note to be extra vigilant for the next kilometre or two. After keeping the Centra Seven waiting in line for over five minutes, a hit-and-run wouldn’t have been entirely unmerited.


How are you at there?”

Conversation five started with a man effortlessly blending two salutations.

“Good yeah,” I said, “just taking a photo of the houses there. The way the driveway leads down to them is kind of cool, isn’t it?”

“Yeah?” he said. I wasn’t sure whether it was a question or statement. 

I was on the home stretch, outside Killarney, when I noticed two houses on my left. The two shared a driveway that was perpendicular to the main road. The driveway was at least twice the length of any other one I’d passed. The way it came off the road, with the picket fence and steel gate gave it a very American feel.

The bottom of the driveway opened out with two neighbouring two-storey houses. It was all so symmetrical. Two grand houses, both with two chimneys that pricked up on either side like ears on an owl. Both houses had a large front patio with a huge window overhead. They both had four windows upstairs and downstairs, all perfectly aligned. Everything was mirrored from one house to the other. They even looked to be equidistant from the bottom of the driveway to the front door. It was all so exact. The architect either had a flair for symmetry or was crippling OCD.

Spotting scenes of perfect symmetry is a side hobby of mine. It reminds me of Wes Anderson, the Hollywood director who’s known for his exquisitely proportioned framing. I’m not the only one who looks out for these things. There is an Instagram page called ‘Accidentally Wes Anderson’, where people share photos of Wes Anderson-esque symmetry in real life. 

I’m on a perpetual quest to find my own entry to ‘Accidentally Wes Anderson’. Outside of Killarney, I had made a real coup.

“Photographer?,” the man said.

Bar the fact that I was taking a photo, there was little evidence to suggest that it was my occupation. I wasn’t exactly using a Canon point and shoot. It was just my phone. If he thought that was the only criteria needed to call oneself a photographer, he’d be shocked at the amount of budding, self-portraitists in Cork.

“No, no. I just like the symmetry of the two houses.” I said that and immediately recognised how weird it sounded. My penchant for symmetry is definitely something I should keep in my back pocket for at least a sentence or two. Mentioning symmetry straight away makes you sound like Rain Man.

“Oh yeah.”

“You hardly know Wes Anderson do you?”

“Wes who’s it?”

“Wes Anderson. He’s a movie director. He’s known for being very symmetrical.” In less than thirty seconds I’d mentioned symmetry twice. I should have just stopped talking but my one rule left me obligated to continue.

That is the thing with the no-ending-conversations rule. It puts you in difficult situations, ones which could easily be avoided by simply shutting up. My parents have this same power. Sometimes, when I’m visiting home, I might tell them stories whose only interesting trait is the fact that they just happened. I’d walk in the door and say something like, “that was funny at the petrol station there. The man at the counter asked the lady what pump she was using. She didn’t know and she ran out the door. She left us all standing there for about five minutes. Then she came in and said she didn’t know how to check. It was pretty funny.”

These are stories that have an immediate sell by date. It’s slightly amusing if told later that day. However, if you are still telling people about the petrol pump incident three years later, they could rightly conclude that you have no life. But then there are your parents. A visitor comes to your house and your father ‘tees you up’ to tell your petrol pump clanger. “Ben had a very funny one at the petrol pumps didn’t you Ben?”. This type of peer pressure storytelling is social suicide 101. You want to preface it by saying, “now this story wouldn’t ordinarily be in my story registrar but seeing as dad requested it…” but the one thing that’d make you sound like more of cretin would be saying “now this story wouldn’t ordinarily be in my story registrar but seeing as dad requested it…”.

This is how I’m starting to feel about my no-ending conversations rule. It sets you up to look like an oddball.

“Wes Anderson? He’s a movie director?”

“Oh fair play. From around here?”

“No, no. He’s a famous Hollywood director.”

“Oh right, fair enough.”

At this point I knew that he didn’t care and he definitely wouldn’t care about my symmetrical spotting hobby, but I was forced to continue.

“You haven’t seen The Grand Budapest Hotel by any chance?”

“Yera yeah,” he said. Although I took this to mean, no.

“Yeah, that’s a Wes Anderson movie,” I said, not entirely sure why I was trying to revive this dead-on-arrival conversation. “There’s this Instagram account that shares photos of real-life settings that are like Wes Anderson movies. Movies like Grand Budapest Hotel.”

I was now flailing.

“Yera yeah,” the man said. “Sure, I’ll let you at it.”

The man walked away, leaving me to stand, like an idiot, in front of two perfectly proportioned houses. I realised that I needn’t worry about setting a time limit. All I had to do was be myself. People would walk away quick enough.


Ben Dillon Cork Kerry Cycle

Two days later, while cycling the Slea Head outside Dingle with my girlfriend, I saw a sign that said ‘Real Eyes, Realize, Real Lies’. The sign grabbed my attention and I pulled over for a closer look. In the garden behind it, there were several bigger more ominous additions. There were seven or eight in total, all positioned around a strange silver dome — which, at about the size of a three-man tent, looked like a UFO. The signs all included strange messages: ‘Bill Gates is trying to monopolize global health’, ‘Event 201, October 2019 W.E.F’ and ‘Medical Marshal Law and Military Coups’. All signs suggested that 5G and Covid-19 were connected and it was all part of a grand plan to depopulate the world. A man, who I suspected to be the sign maker, opened the front door and came running down the lawn towards me.

The original cycle ended without incident.

I’ve lived in Cork for about nine years on and off. During that time, I’ve always had this dream to get on my bike and cycle home. This isn’t too far-reaching. However, over the years, achieving this simple dream seemed less and less likely. I had put it off for so long that it was destined to become one of those life to-dos that goes forever undone. There it would sit, next to writing a screenplay, starting a business and visiting Donegal.

I arrived home around 6 in the evening and experienced a bizarre feeling. The trip was all so simple, not a mammoth challenge by any stretch, but it was an adventure. It left me with the enchanting thought of “what else have I been putting off”. There was no fanfare upon finishing, although my personal Heuston Control Centre was there to congratulate me and hand me a cold beer. Having ticked one major to-do off my list, I was happy to lounge and feel my muscles twitch. We sipped in satisfaction all evening, Gus crowbarring little vignettes about his new friend Tony at every opportunity.

One thing that I did feel a little let down by was my trail of conversations. On a journey through Ireland’s South-West, I’d hoped to meet more of the wonderfully strange. I’d even have settled for a ranting G.A.A fan. I started to wonder if my no-ending conversations rule was a waste of time. Then, two days later, I saw that sign — ‘Real Eyes, Realize, Real Lies’.

The man, a Scottish fellow in his, well, over-somethings, came running down the garden as I was taking a photo of one of his signs.

“Hoi you,” he shouted as he ran. He looked every bit the raving lunatic.

The man treated me as if I was a Washington Post reporter, and I was happy to play the part. He defended his signs, chastised me for taking photos and then told me to take more of them. Once the conversation started, I was forced by my own law to stand and listen.

He was the first conspiracy theorist I’d ever met. More than any pot of gold or perfectly symmetrical photo, I’ve wanted to find someone who sees the world through crazy sceptical, conspiracy theorist eyes. He was a dream come true. He took absolutely nothing at face value. For twenty minutes he told me the lay of the land. On no less than four occasions he called me an idiot for believing everything I read. Covid-19 is a grand conspiracy, orchestrated by Bill Gates. The vaccine, which is part tracker, part poison, will take out the majority of the world’s population. Those that are left standing will be tracked for life.

He went on to say that a handful of corporations control the news and therefore decide what we know, and more importantly, what we don’t. There is a group called the Bilderberg group that controls the world. We’re also not alone on Earth and there are aliens among us. The US government knows this and hides the truth. The ‘Sandy Hook Shooting’, a school shooting that took place in 2012 and resulted in the death of 20 kids, was all a hoax. This had something to do with the government trying to introduce gun laws. His explanation was a tad unclear. For the next while I stood there and listened to his unsubstantiated beliefs. I revelled in the obscurity and outlandishness of some of his theories. His Scottish accent made it all the more pleasant. It was like listening to Mrs. Doubtfire talk about chemtrails.

During my few days cycling, I had many contrasting thoughts about my no-ending conversations rule. In many ways, it really is a terrible idea. It can delay you, it can cause people in queues to hate you and put you at the mercy of the great unrushed. But, on the other hand, it can transform an adventure. Without having the option to run away, you have experiences that you might otherwise have missed. A journey through Ireland becomes more about the people than the endeavour. You gain far more stories because of it.

I was glad that my rule had led me to this man. Conspiracy theorists remind me of how boring life would be if everyone agreed on everything. I didn’t necessarily agree with anything he said but I was fascinated by him. Nonetheless, the thought entered my head that this should be the final act. A no-ending conversations rule allows you to see another side of Ireland and gather some great experiences. But rules are made to be broken. Maybe this was the conversation that I’d have to bring to an end.

But then I had a second thought.

“So, what do you think of 9/11?,” I said. “You think it was an inside job?”

The man looked at me for several seconds. I couldn’t quite decipher the look at first but then realised it was one of pity. You poor gullible idiot he thought.

“Two planes crashing into two different buildings in broad daylight? And then both of them collapsing into themselves like a controlled implosion? You believe that?”

Looking around, he stepped a little closer to the wall between us.

“Ever heard of Tower 7?…,” he said.

“…let me tell you a bit about it and then you can decide for yourself if 9/11 was an inside job.”

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