It's hard to bate the smell of new paint you get with a visit from a distinguished visitor. Up and down the country for the last month, houses have been getting a once over for the aunts and uncles and the bouncy castle installers who descend on us all at Holy Communion time.
And now, we’ve Joe Biden coming. The second most powerful man in the free world. The man who’s one step away from the button.
But we don’t lose the run of ourselves any more the way we used to when the Yanks came calling. The blue willow cups would be taken from the dresser, the finest of ham salads would be prepared, and the cucumber-est of cucumber sandwiches would be cut with angle grinders to perpetuate the myth that this was all we ate in the days after the spuds failed and the ancestors fecked off to America.
The visit of VP Biden will be a lot more chilled than previous state visits, though, even though you would have to believe that we’ve never lived in more dangerous times.
As a kid I remember a bit of bunting that hung on a pole on the Castlebar Road out of Ballinrobe that had hung there for 30 years after Princess Grace sped through on her way to Newport. It lay there rotting in the wind and rain as a reminder of the day royalty passed through our streets. She flew through, and locals saw a waving hand. And the bunting was left to remind us.
At the end of that decade, our town had palpitations altogether when it was announced that Pat Nixon was coming to visit. We didn't know whether Pat Nixon was a he or a she Pat. All we knew was that she had a Ballinrobe connection and was married to a famous fella who had a face on him like a bulldog licking piss off a thistle.
I was just four when she arrived and had just started school. So life was exciting anyway. That was an eventful year around Ballinrobe because it was the summer of the bank strike, and the year that many of those striking bankers passed their spare time as extras in the filming of The Flight of the Doves in South Mayo.
So we went from sleepy backdrop to movie location and a place that people wanted to visit in one fell swoop.
Pat Nixon was to land with a few US helicopters in The Green, the town park behind our house. So new paint was ordered, even though there was nothing to paint in The Green. So they built a stage, and painted it, making sure that it was strong enough to hold the diminutive Pat.
My father had to help set up amplification (teshtin’ wan, too, tree ) and every kid in the town was given a little star spangled banner to wave as this petite woman with great American hair and great American teeth, the likes of which she wouldn't have had if she hadn’t been American and had grown up in our town 'ating penny bars and gobstoppers.
She tousled our hair and shook our hands and said some niceties before heading off out the country to visit the cousins and to be served tea in blue willow cups, eat triangular sandwiches and inhale the smell of more fresh paint. And while she was gone, we got to hop aboard the choppers. And we rushed home to watch it all on the news. But it wasn’t featured. Her husband was in Dublin and that warranted more coverage seemingly. We were gutted that he’d had never come to see us, but he had no luck for it, had he?
In 1984 we got the real deal when Reagan came to stay in Ashford Castle. As I hung around with a scatter of 'Peeler's brats' ie kids of guards, I landed a plum job washing pots and pans for the 800 army and gardai deployed to form a ring of steel around the castle. (Where did it all go wrong for me? ). For three days we scrubbed baked beans off massive pots and packed carrier bags with club milks, Taytos, pints of milk and sandwiches (the ideal combat diet ) for the unfortunate soldiers to carry with them as they sat guard in the woods around Cong to try to ensure that no one would try to kill a President who had survived an assassination attempt just 30 months earlier.
But now we’re more chilled. The blue willow cups are long chipped and binned. We don’t eat ham salads any more, or triangular sandwiches. We are people of the world. Even our leaders are more relaxed around other leaders. Enda will be backslapping Joe and Joe will be backslapping Enda. And the Ringer will be backslapping the two of them.
And in the old tradition of asking ‘when are ya going back?’, we’ll be all the happier when they leave our patch without any unfortunate incident.