Johnnersintheraw's Blog

June 17, 2010

VegetableMarrows

A Little Man and His Perfect Retirement

There was a little man named Bobby MacFee who lived in a tiny two-room stone cottage on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea.  Bobby MacFee was in many ways a very ordinary little man.  But he was also a very simple man with simple tastes and he only asked out of life what was his by right.  For nigh on forty-five years this little simple man had worked in an ironmongers in a small town with a population of less that two thousand five hundred.  This shop in which he had worked for so many years was an old-fashioned shop and was, in fact, the general store for the village.  In addition to the usual hardware supplies as is to be expected of an ironmongers, it stocked  pots and pans and dishes and appliances big and small, as well as furniture and lumber and gardening supplies and practical items of clothing and every type of feed for every type of domestic animal that was to be found in the area. As its centrepiece it had an ancient pot-bellied turf-burning stove, surrounded by comfortable, sagging bentwood chairs, as well as by low tables on which customers might set their cups of strong inky tea whilst they waited for their orders to be filled.  It was also the preferred place for a poor soul to warm his or her bones and pass the time with friends before boarding the community bus or driving the family car or van back to house and home and hearth and fields of rugged and weather-beaten mountainy sheep.

Next door to the ironmongery there was a small postoffice-cum-habberdashers-cum-stationers.  And next to that was a small but well-stocked green grocers.  A few doors down, next to the veterinary surgery was a butcher’s, and then came the baker’s and then, right at the end of the street, a small all-purpose grocers with a caff in the rear.  Fresh fish was brought in twice a week in a small refrigerated van driven by a local lad named Charlie MacFee (one of many MacFee cousins).  In the town there were two pubs (one with set-dancing on Friday nights) and one off-licence. And also a church of the established religion, but which also served the needs of the opposition at given times on a Sunday afternoon.  Around this small ancient stone building – inside its lynchgate and fanning out in every direction until there was little empty space left within its confines to play hide and seek or to feed the birds – was the graveyard, in which the ancient families whiled away the decades and centuries and served as welcoming committees for newcomers taking their first tentative steps towards eternity.  

The lending library had long-since been forced to close its doors due to lack of funding; however, the librarian – a local woman with a thirst for books and brimming over with community spirit – had used her severence pay to fund a mobile library which was open ten to five four days of the week, plus another five hours on Saturday.  The librarian also gave workshops and classes on local folklore on Saturday afternoons, for which the ironmongery gladly provided its back room.  And on the one workday of the week when the mobile library was officially closed, she and her colleague – a lad named Colum MacFee (another MacFee cousin) drove a book-laden van around to the outlying reaches of the island, delivering books  as well as food ordered from the grocery store over the phone by those more elderly souls who were increasingly housebound and unable even to withstand a journey on the community bus.

And when Marion the Librarian (who was herself a MacFee, but who – for her sins – had been married to a man named MacElvey (another MacFee cousin) until he  had up and left her high and dry after twenty years of marriage) was unable to make all the deliveries herself, Sean Ross the postman (who had moved to the island with his wife and two kids from the mainland and one one of the few residents who was in no shape or form kin to the MacFees) took up the slack and made the deliveries on her behalf.

There was no school in the town, and what children there were were transported across the channel to the mainland.  At one time the librarian and other interested parties had advertised in papers far and wide, hoping to attract new families to the area.  They had been assured – somewhat optimistically – that if they could bring in a least fifteen additional families they could possibly re-open their small primary school. After all, as the librarian had pointed out to the educational authorities, their school had a good record when it came to turning out pupils who were both literate and disciplined.  Needless to say, the success-rate was due in part to the work-ethic of the islanders, for on this tiny plot of land in the north sea, life was hard, the hours were long, but everyone pulled their weight.  Alas, while the locals were successful in opening a creche and a pre-school in an adjacent building, the school had to be placed on a back burner; all the older children continued to be ferried to the mainland.  Those  of secondary school age had to go even further afield to the county town.  And as often as not their families sold their farms or let them to holiday-makers for the summer months and joined their young ones – never to return (except for funerals), never to look back (except at funerals), and leaving one more abandoned croft to furze and weeds and to sink into the damp earth of the island.  Why suffer from chilblains and aches and pains when it was so cheap to relocate to Croatia or one of those other countries. 

The island could boast of one doctor and a part-time locum and a matron and a nurse at a local cottage hospital-cum-nursing home.  The doctor’s surgeries were scheduled on Mondays and Thursdays and on the other days he and/or his locum cheerfully paid housecalls wherever and whenever.  But any cases requiring special care were referred to the mainland.  There was, however, a small and expert residential-cum-outpatient facility for those with special needs, but the only reason it was there at all was that its patron – a rugby player who played for his country – was from a local family.  This local hero had had a younger brother of his own who had ‘lived’ with autism, and who had died in a accident that could have been prevented if only his family had been able to secure the services of a part-time carer to spell them every so often when they were so tired they couldn’t watch his every move.

The island also sported a large circle of women who volunteered to take hot meals to homes three times a week.  And the members of this selfsame circle acted as home help and did the washing and polished the floors and washed the windows for all those who were not always well enough to do it themselves.  They also helped paint the small cottages and farmhouses during the months when the weather was sure to be less (or slightly less) rambunctious.

A number of men – often husbands of those civic-minded women or retirees with a certain amount of time on their hands once their own chores were done – volunteering to mow the lawns and trim the hedges and undertake household repairs for those selfsame pensioners.

On his seventieth birthday the little man retired from the ironmongers.  It was not a voluntary retirement, nor was it a willing retirement.  It was the way of the world.  In other words, progress had caught up with the island and to the town and to every man and woman and child within it.

A year before his seventieth birthday, Bobby MacFee received a letter.  The letter was  to inform him that a certain national farm supply and DIY and supermarket had bought the ironmongery as well as the grocers and the butcher’s and the baker’s and the stationary store and were planning to build a large one-stop mega-emporium a half mile north of town. The post office would also be relocated to a niche in the store, right up front next to the tobacconist’s.  The letter explained in reasonable words that in order to serve the community better and to promote a more competitive retail climate, Bobby  MacFee’s experience and expertise would no longer be needed.  It had been noticed that he was past retirement age; the policy of the corporation was to look to the young in order to revitalise the communities, and although it was unfortunate, the little man did not fit into their demographics.  He was, however, given a generous golden handshake – although it was not nearly as generous or as golden as they made it out to be.  When the time came, the incoming general manager presented him with a parchment scroll, a testimonial run up the night before the presentation on a computer. And that was that.  Bobby MacFee was left – with all the other employees over fifty years of age – with nothing with which to fill the empty hours but a feeling of uselessness and loss. And in the case of most of them, many more hours per day to drink in the pub.  Bobby MacFee, however, did not hold with strong drink unless the occasion warranted it.   His employment was to terminate on the day the new facility opened its doors.

The new SuperCentre was duly built and opened in the presence of all the local dignitaries and members of the business communities and movers and shakers – each and every one a MacFee and no further away than first cousins twice removed from Bobby MacFee and the other enforced retirees. On the day of the grand retirement party, after first depositing into his post office saving account the generous bonus given him personally by the – also – forcibly retired former owner/manager of the ironmongery, Bobby MacGee wandered back through the gardening section at the rear of the store and out into the greenhouses.  Although he was by custom a cautious drinker who never liked to progress beyond the stage where he was warmed by the flames of gentle mellowness, this day – of all days – was a day when it was permissible to progress to the realm of merriment normally reserved for Christmas and weddings and for funerals of his old friends and of members of the clan MacFee.

Whilst meandering through the greenhouse and with his mind occupied with thoughts of the gaping hole in his life now that he no longer had to spend his waking hours serving customers and passing the time of day over cups of tea with neighbours who had dropped into the ironmongery for a chat and to pretend they had something urgent to buy if only they could remember what it was, the fingers of Bobby MacGee took it upon themselves to make a certain purchase.

Unusually for that time of year, the morning had begun with an inpenetrable fog which enshrouded the land and squatted like a toad on every inch of the island.  It was not the sort of mist that heralded a rare day of brilliant sunshine. It was black and oppressive and stank of the bottom of the sea, forty fathoms down where all the dead things rotted and where phantom galley slaves were said to be shackled to their ancient oars of ships that had sunk before the dawn of memory.  It was, in short, not a fit day for man nor beast.  A day when the mountainy sheep crouched low under the protective dry stone walls of their fields until such time as they could be herded into the sheltered paddock between the barn and the door leading to the mudroom of the house.  It was the sort of evil day when even the most diligent of housewives drank tea in the warmth of a turf fire and forewent the pleasures of washing windows or even hanging out the wash.  For on a day such as this, the unhappy unclaimed souls of those buried unbaptised at midnight on the hill were sure to be wondering about and looking for warmth and light and a place to remind themselves of what could have been but which never was and never would be. On such a day one did not leave the kitchen door ajar, neither did a right-thinking person venture outside without a reason. Not on a day like this.

The mother of Bobby MacFee had been swept away giving birth to her thirteenth child, a boy who had been officially been laid to rest in the graveyard under a slate stone bearing the legend ‘Cathleen MacFee MacFee, beloved daughter of Bertie MacFee and Annie MacFee née MacFee’, but whose tiny corpse had been mysteriouly ‘took’ from its mother’s bed and interred with those of its kind under the soft grass of the hill overlooking the sea on the farside of the shrine to St. Bridget the Wayfarer.  Sometime later in the same year, Bobby MacFee’s father, who’d taken to drink something fierce following the death of his beloved  wife and helpmate, was drowned not far out to sea in his tiny shrimping boat, and his body – or what was left of it – was washed up a year and a day following the death of his wife.  Bobby MacFee, who was the youngest child save the one who had been taken with his mother, was less than two years old at the time.

The many brothers and sisters of Bobby MacFee were either farmed out to the many MacFee cousins or – in the case of two, who were ‘not all there in the head’ and were taken to the mainland and put into care and were never heard of again.  Bobby MacFee himself was reared by his oldest sister Irene, and the two of them remained in the same tiny two-room stone cottage in which he was born.  The little boy grew up strong and dour and his muscles were hardened to stone herding the sheep and in the tiny shrimp boat that had been bought with the insurance money to replace the one that had been lost the day his father had been drowned.

Very few trees – if any at all – grew on the western part of the island, neither was it a place where any ‘crop’ save the verdant grass could withstand the constant battering of the Atlantic gales.  But the grass was such grass as was rarely seen any other place on the planet.  For it was fertilised by seaweed hauled ashore by the muscles and will of young Bobby MacFee and those of this father and grandfather before him.  And after each one of its five annual cuttings, the fields were spread with a thick layer of the finest richest slurry from the dairy farm over on the other side of the hill.

Except for the wild flowers that grew in abundance on the ancient, dry stone walls and the mustand-yellow blossoms of the furze that inhabited every inch of fallow land, it was not a place where flowering plants decorated the front gardens of borders of houses.  The wind would simply carry them away, just as they had carried away the mother of Bobby MacFee and his tiny brother.

However, his oldest sister Irene was a redoubtable soul, who – as she was fond of saying – was ‘partial to her patch of garden’.  Enlisting the help of her little brother she built up a tall stone wall around a sheltered glen behind the house and for as long as she lived in the house she grew every type of rose and sweetpea and flowering shrub and herb imaginable.  And in the centre of this miniature paradise she placed a bench. And on afternoons when the sun deigned to shine and the gales withheld their tantrums, Irene would sit on her bench and read one of her books of poetry, and all the wrongs in the world would disappear. 

A few days prior to Bobby MacFee’s fifty-second birthday, Irene marched into the ironmongery one rainy afternoon, just before teatime and while her brother was selling a rotary tiller to a mainlander who had built a small holiday home in the glen behind the church.

“Ted MacGrath, our second cousin once removed, has asked me to marry him and move to the mainland to take care of his seven children – left motherless when his own wife was took giving birth to her eighth child.”

Bobby MacFee looked up at her face and he reached up and kissed her on her forehead.

“You have given me a home for nigh on fifty years.  It is time you had your own life.” With that he gave her his blessing and exactly one month minus two days hence, Irene MacFee was joined in wedlock to Edward Angus MacGrath and moved to the mainland to care for him and his children with the same tough loving grace that she had previously shone on to her brother Bobby and to their tiny two-room stone farmhouse on the cliff overlooking the sea.

Life continued for Bobby MacFee.  He cared for his fields and his sheep and when the weather permitted we went out at dawn in his tiny shrimp boat.  Then, at half-past eleven – exactly on time – he would arrive at the ironmongery and put in a full day’s work and not return home until the clock on the church tower had struck half past six.

Bobby MacFee was not one who cared much for flowers.  “Give me a fine kitchen garden with potatoes and cabbage and turnips and that’s all a man every needs,” is what he would say to himself whenever Irene had spoken of a precious new hybrid tea she had ordered specially for that new arbour she was building next to the greenhouse inside the western wall of her garden.  But now that she was gone, he couldn’t bring himself to tear out even a single rose bush to give him the room he needed for even a sprout or two.  It was as though he was waiting in the off chance that his sister might change her mind and decide that the married state was not for her.  It was an unspoke thought.  Not even a conscious thought.  But, nonetheless it was there at the back of his head.

Thirteen months before his seventieth birthday, Ted MacGrath rang him with the news.  Irene had been ‘took’ with a heart attack.  So sudden it was that she had not had a chance to bid him  send for Father Sweeney to ease her on her way to the gates of heaven.

“The rosary’s tonight and we’ll be waking her the proper way in your front parlour,” said the widower in a still quiet voice. “She will be wanting me to say she’s sorry for not giving you time to paint the house proper.”

 

“Where’s the funeral going to be,” asked Bobby MacFee unnecessarily. “I’ll have to be letting everybody know.”

“You just set a spell and have a cup of tea,” said Ted MacGrath.  “It’s already posted.  St. Brendan’s has already seen to that.  And the women are already over at your house getting it ready for her arrival at five this afternoon.”

Bobby MacFee hund up the phone and sat down on one of the bentwood chairs to try to collect his thoughts.  A wave of panic cracked though his heart and for just a second he was transported back to that day – so many years before – when he had been left an orphan and Irene had become the only mother he would ever really know.  And after the panic had settled the tears started to flow.  Even though he hadn’t seen her for many a year – accept for Christmases and birthdays – he could not think of life without her tough stalwart presence in his life.

And then he thought of her precious rose garden, and he wept some more.

The body was brought home, the rosary was said, and Irene was waked with the proper music and with the proper amount of strong drink from the one remaining shebeen on the island, and with the proper rough and stalwart food that Irene liked to cook for herself and for her family.  The wake lasted until dawn, at which time Bobby  MacFee washed himself in the usual way and dressed in the black suit he was keeping for his own funeral.  He then brewed a pot of strong inky black tea and poured out two cups.  One for himself and one which he placed on a lace doily on a table near the coffin for his sister – along with a fresh-baked scone brought by Mary MacInnerney his neighbour.  Something special to fortify Irene for her forthcoming journey.

The funeral mass at St. Brendan’s in the village was read by Father Donald Fraser. A young newcomer to the parish who had a twinkling eye and a nice manner with the ladies, young and old alike.  Father Donald had a very lovely clear tenor voice, and all in all it was the most beautiful and well-attended funeral seen for many a year.  And in a parish such as St. Brendan’s where everyone is kin, that is saying a lot.

The funeral dinner stretched out over the following three days. And when everything was finally over and Irene had been buried in her parents’ grave and had been reunited with her loved ones – including all her bothers and sisters save the one that still lived – Bobby MacFee returned to the small, two room stone cottage and sat in the rose garden and stared at the sky.

For the next year or so, the rose garden stayed as it had been when Irene had gone off to marry Ted MacGrath and live on the mainland.  Bobby MacFee continued to live his life as he had always lived it –  tending his sheep, caring for the land, taking out his shrimp boat when the weather permitted, and working at the ironmongery.

But then came a day shortly before his seventieth birthday and his subsequent redundancy.   Booby MacFee felt a certain restlessness he nad never felt before.  After living the same life for close on seventy years, he suddenly was overwhelmed by the desire to do something special for himself.  For days and weeks and months he had been mulling this over, but now it was time to ask himself what exactly he wanted to do. It was not travelling he craved.  He did not want to unroot and move to an untried country such as Croatia or Albania or Serbia or Poland or Lithuania as so many cousins and nephews and nieces had done.  He wanted to stay in his own tiny two-room cottage.  He wanted to live near the only family and friends he had ever known.

And then the answer came to him.  One afternoon while he stood in the rose garden a gentle breeze wafted over the wall and carressed his cheek.  “Thank you, Irene,” he said. And then one by one he carefully uprooted all twelve rose trees from the centre of the patch.  And lovingly, gently, he took them into the village and, with the help of Father Donald Fraser he created a rose garden in the centre of the graveyard, just beside the graves of Irene and his sisters and brother and his mother and father.  And when he had finished, he said goodbye to his sister, after which he started to plan the special new thing he wanted to do all for himself.

It was on the day of his retirement when Bobby MacFee wandered back through the gardening supplies of the ironmongery that would – at the end of the day – be closing its doors.  He bought three packets of seeds, and also two or three frames which he could place in the sheltered ground next to Irene’s old greenhouse.

Came the day when it was the right time to sow his new life, Bobby MacFee prepared the ground as carefully as if he was preparing his own grave.  He planted the seeds, and watered them and over the next few weeks and months he watched his new ‘life’ come alive.

Bobby MacFee had no plans for his new family.  Although they were by far the biggest and best on the island – and perhaps in even the county – he had no desire to cause them distress or discomfort.   Or to uproot them or show them off to strangers or to subject them to ridicule or jealousy.

And at the end of the season, Bobby MacFee quiety buried his children in the compost pile he and Irene had nurtured for more than fifty years.  He said a prayer over their remains, and his heart sang in a way it had never before been able to sing.

And come the spring and the time for sowing new seeds in his tiny garden, Bobby MacFee planted a brand new crop of vegetable marrows and lived to see them grow to splendid maturity and then to bury them in the dank, moist compost just as he had done their predecessors.  It may have been the last year of Bobby MacFee’s life on earth, but as far as he was concerned, it was the best year he had ever known.  It was, quite simply, the best time of his life.

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June 8, 2010

MySisterEileen

Diary of a Mangy Hare named Pad as Re-Written by Bernard the Goose

Eyev bin axt tae riot hey feeiou tinz aboot meye sister Eileen.  Eye axt Bernard da Guuz tae hep mee bud hee sez fekkov heez god beddur tinz tae du. Leik shitin onder nu carz. Soz hear goze.  I eevun stowlt hey dikchuneiry fae da liberry sowz eye whunut sound leik wonodam fekkin illitruditudes fae da udder seit uf da eylunt ware they fekks dere houn sheeps tae saev munny on da studfleas fae da coopt.  Meye nayme iz Pad ur Paddy iffa ewe leiks, witch iz – az ya  noze but probly  duzn –  wot dey kallz Padraig wen dey’s nowan ya all yer laef or wen dey’s fambly or wen dey’s so dronkt fae drinkn dey can’t be boddered tae call youz wot dey should be callin’ ya only dey cunt meyek demselves to rememblerait id.  Eyem sumteiumz wunderun wye da gut Lort boddered tae gaevt us wot dae callz hay Chrischun nayum t’all.  Itz not aziff noboddy rebembleraytz it, haccep perraps da Blessit Virgin wot prayz fer youz wen no one elze iz after doin’ it.  A bonny lass, dat Blessit Virgin.  I wundur wye shes nevvur god herseff merriet proppurin da Kirk?  Insted of geddin herseff nokkert up da wey shee didn’all. Mein ya, deirz somtin goin’ on dere wot doun smellz tu gud.  Meye sister Eileen god herseff hay bonz in da hovvun an du yu tink dey’d ledder bak intae Kirk?  Noooo.  Ezpeshllee hafter shee wentin god herseff pregnunt five yearz runnin’.  Somtin uvva rekurt eevun heir wares dey ushallee taiks adleest hey fiyeev mont whollydee buttween prigunansiez. Nodda whoor sheez haint, ad leezt nodso yewed nodiss – nod like Hagnuz Macilluddee overn da council hustaitz wot heps oud widda sheepdippin evur sprink an shee charjiz a shag per ewe and a snatch likk fer evertoo lambleez.

Eileen haz wot u callz a wonderin’ twat.  And twaznt by her owun doon.  Shee god wonna dem holez wot wanderz off by idseff wen sheez asleepin innur bed.  An dontell hur nuffin aboudit.  Not leikly. An cuz I seen hur peeza furry bit sneekin down da boreen aftern da gud Lardz all tukt up in bed and Eileen sheez never evvun oudda da house, eye bleevz ‘er. Nooo, meye sister Eileen waz wot yud callz a gud lass an never did tuk off nuffin wen shee wentae da set-dansun ad da Tree Blind Feckerz on da turd Sunndy uf evree mont  – Ride aftur da fella in da black dress wid da wite collar round iz neck gaved hur wot fer fur lettin Jimmy O’Grady pud is sausage roll up er gloreebee tae god tae keepid warm fer im tae eets afturn da udder mens wit di udder black dress sprinklz da peepuls wid wadder an dey all runz fae da Kirk haffor he axt dem fer munny fer da widdy MacFarlin overn da bat sait ov da eyelunt ware nobuddyz god shoos. 

Wot ayem sayin iz dat dey gotz das Kirk all wireed up wid wonna dem electricacal barbt wires sos wen Eileen triez tae sneek in aftur mass tae robbles sum beer munny fae da collecshun plait, shee getzer hare all perummt up in dem little curlz an shee doun even has tae go tae Muddur Sullivanz beeudee den hover beehine da pier wair ya gets da fairee tae go tae da udder side uf da sea onwotz callt da manelan.  Hackexcepp on da Lortz dae, wen da lad wot runz da ferree iz still inna ditch somewherez wiv won uf the choirboyz heez been heppin hisseff tu after da mannin da black dress (da won wot trowz da wadder springkutz on everbodeez heddz aftur trettenin gum wid da Faddur handa sun handa holeee spurt

Maebeez eyel be hafter haskin’ hymn da nex taeum  heye goaz tae Kirk wye dey doun led Eillen in da Kirk wen dey letz da Blessid Virgun laedee hin.  Afur hall, da Blessit Vurjin’s sun waz setch hey sorry sun uv hay bitch dat dey strungut im fae hay tree. Han dey still ledz er in han heevun maekz hey statoo uv hur an puds hey liddel bokkz unner id soz da owld widdeez can givez er munny soz shee wone hafta bee goin whoorin’ at da Tree Blind Feckers ever Sabbidy night. Laeukk meye sister Eileen duz. 

Eyebin tinkin eye shud ax da menz inda Kirk wid da bleck dressus anta wite collers wot dey hez agin Eileen. Bod mebee not.  Nowin howtingz bee workin eyeull only bee amakin tings hay hoel lodworsted fur owld Eileen.  Enwot widher bein’ noctd up agin wid a cupla twins, sheel nodbee wantin da fellas in da blackdressuz tae remembrate er.  Id wudnut did dem twinz o’hurs enny fayvurs iffn dey sendz er straytoffta tae da fiers o’hell, wudit?  Infack, dey juss mite mayk mee taix cair o’da wee fekkers.  Eyekin hartlee kin tice meyun houn shoos, led aloun skrub alodda shite oudda hey pyel o’nappies. 

Ennyweys, heye noze beddern tae ax da fellas in da black dresses fer enny fayvers. I tryut tae gown axt him sometin wun taeum.  Bud honlee whonst.  Heye woz hay wee ting – hardty big enuff fer hey poacher tae bodder wid.  Bud da fella in da black dressus hee tought I waz sunsorta rat an hee beated me wid a broom.  So hiffun mae sister Eileen sheel bee wuntun tae ged bakk intae da Kirk han eetz dem free wayfurz leiuk wot ewe eetz wid eiuz kreem honlee ewe godsta paez fur dem in da co-op shop widder  eyeuz kreem kornutz, sheeul haff tae bee bye herseff.  Sheez hay cheep byatch iz Eileen.  Shee cud saev hall sortza munnys bye byeun wayfurz bye da caisuz bud shee doun wanna be spendin da munny shee gedz fae da soshul.  Sheez allaz hexplaning tae mee dat shee neetz da dosh fur nu close tae ware wen shee seez da mans inda blakk dressus.  Shee doun noz wich wonna dem iz da faddur hov er twinz han shee wonz tae luk bonny fur bod o’dem.  Wich eye kin hunnerstant.  Heveree slag neetz tae no ware tae spredda budder on da bred.  Heevun iffn shee dowen no whoz god da rite bred.  Hor hinnd dis case da rite wotzit.  Eileen sez shee preyz tu da Blesst Vurjin dat da faddur iz da short prees on accowntae him havin hey peenucles da sighez o da Sinnandrewzdae haggus han sheez god too boyz innur bump thad shee once tae givez hem hevury advantayge hin leyeuf.  Meye sister Eileenz after sellin dem offfur rent boyz han shee doun wandem tae taek aftur da udder prees da tallur faddur won on accown tae him hartlee avin nuddin aetall buttween is legs bud hare.  Fur hay hooer meye sister Eileen nose wod iz wot bud shee shuda thunk o’dat particyoularizt sittiashun afore shee wennen hopunt er legz tae da prees wid da wand uvva maoose.  Shudna shee.

Tangz uz happulink allovah da plaice sinz yisturdy.  Meye mam shee wentzun showert da wurl wid anoddur batch uf baybeez.  Han nowe heye godster shaerz mae roomwid anodder twenny fiev nu broddurs en sisters.  Eileenz seyez tae mee da girrelz haintso huggly ez da last lod wot wee soult tu da butcheroveron da manelan fur tree powns nyen pence per pown soz wee cud havvda ekstra munnies tae goes tae da set-dansin dat Sunndy nites ovur ad da nu Sivin Fat Hoorz fae da Bog Gedz tae Heven pob overrun da udder seit uv da heyelunt neer ware da widdy MacFarlin sheel bee kukin up summa dem moweldee tatties ansellz them tu da tooirits as trudichunnel heyelunt grub.  Dem tooirits buleevz henytink day duz.  Mae sister Eileen cellz her wanderink twat too hey busslode odimm evureee Sabbidee nide beehyuint da Tree Blayunt Fekkurs oud ware dey haztae goes tae smoak an emtlieez deyre bleddurs hafter drinkin’ too moch o dat tikk blakk beer wot dey callz Bowel Blaster. Coorz dey cannoo duz motch afturn hey cuppla dem Bowul Blesturz bud Eileen shee gets da munnys oudda dem ennywayz bye tellingum dey fekkt er ubwonseitendoundaudder on da weyz intae da pub onlee wid all da Bowal Blesseder dey cannoo remburait wot dere naimz iz motch less da seiz an smelly uv mae sister’s Eileenz twatole.  Sheed bee geddin richshe wud iffn ownleez she wudna keepz geddin moar baibees ever month or soz.  Ever pennee gouz tae neppies fur dem bratzo hurs.  Owenlee shee doun maikz er beybeez wares nuggun ate all.  Nod heevun wen shee clamez all dat muuny fae da soshul fur babbee fud hand nappeez han fur her nu connterry scepticles wot she fergits tae taik an cells em tae da prees tae pud inniz morning cawfee.  Witch iz wy he growun dem bigg duggz ware ushullee menz owenlee godzt hemply nipplezze en wye hiz wotzit haint hartlee dere adall.  Hee cannud unnerstan id bud meye sister Eileen wot nowz wotz wot tinkz itz funnee.  Han sheel still bee wundurin wye dey duzunt bee leddin herseff intae da Kirk.

Miy sister Eileen shee onest tae gouz tae beeutee skool han work fer owld Muddur Sulleevinz beeutee den ovvur en da udder seid uf da heyelund ware shee tinks noobuudy nowz hoo shee iz.  Wich owenlyn shewz wot a dumfek shee iz, cuz shee halwaiz wares hur nu pinnee da won wot seyz “Eileen Da Hair best blowjaps inda wurlt” ride hup onder bakk hinn neeongalaited leddurs.

Dis mournin me han owld Burnut da Guze haduz a reeal suriuz problumasticle sittooz wen we waz hichun hey rite onda traylur wot dey puts enbakko da cummoonidee buz tae kerry alla de shappin o da owld widdiez wen dey goze across da fairie tae da maneland hon turzdeez tae da supyrmarkut dey klalz Soopur-Seyev ur sommit leik dat.  O coarce de widdies gitz moasta dare fud ovur hat de co-opt wid dare munnie fae da soshul hen cooponz bud day lukz more posher iffn day getz evurtinkat Soupr-Seivorz soas wen dey goze tae da coopt hon da udder seit otoun neer da abber toiletz wae moasta my famblee hentzop wurkin dey leiks tae pot dare choppin in da purmananticle hevvydoodee choopun begs fae da Saloopur-Savior.  Soz dey evurbotee tinx deyz choppun leik da ryatch fokes fae da bikhowz.  Koorce evurbiddee gnowz dey steelz evurtank ennyweyz eevun da sheit dey gidz onndere sochul munny.

Me hen owld Burnurt da Gooce shed hourseffs hey reel circius diskushun hon da wey intae da toun.  Bernart wur allz wurreed bee hon akkownda his mam shee godsta jobb hat da Abbertoilet plaice wot iz abnut da honlee playce ware foaks leil hus wot haint binna skooel kan gits owerseffs a deesunt job wot eevun peiz hey cuppla pence spur pount.  Hey funee wey tae du biddyness bod az day seys munny iz munny nowadeyez.

Furstatall I axt im tae gose ovur da dis hear arkucul haboud Eileen heye bin ritun fur da coopts free weaklee nuslettur wots writ bye dosov us wot wurkz innda frondlion uf farmin.  Owld Burnart he tuk eot eye sed hant hee rerited hit in currek henglush. So naw yew nose whoo tae tank wen yew reedz dis han kin unnerstan hit.  Cuz bernurt hees bin livin hin bekk uv de shooel hen ee larnt reel gud by lissonink troo da windees.  Ennyways tank yew Bernert yooz a gud fren heven do yooz jessa stoopud dumprfekker uv a goose wot heint godda brane hacsepp hin is sfinktur hoel.

Ennyweyes heftur Bernart hee rerites hevurtin eye sais heevun do heye didnu tink heyud dun so bad az ee saiz heye dun, oui started intae talkun aboot his mam han how shee nevvur kompts hoam ennymore han eez afeart cheese runned off wid won odim travvler cokkrils wotz haftur bin gud ad sweetakkin de brichuz offn da laydees.  Han sumteims day cellz da laideez dey gitz incida da britches uv tae won odim ill eegul frintchiez wot duz allsorts odings tae da gooces din knowbuddy hevver ceez dem aggin.  Pursonabuloee heye tinkz deys entsup in dat dare Eegiptshun plaice heye keepz hereun aboot but heye doun reely nose wot it iz.  Doan sown neice tae me but wotdu heye nose.  Soze nodda gid owld Bernurred hall wurriedafiled heye didna sey nuttin aboot eegip oownlee dat hiz mam waz probabbably havin hersell a reel smashin teim.  Warevver sheel bea sentofftae.

Bud tingz doan allayz work oudfur da bessed espeshullee fur gooces han dokks.  Fur hon hour wey tae da aberytoydel da commoonidy buss id stopt infrun tuv da Souperymakut and wot duz yew nose but rite dare in da windy rite ware evurbuddy hincloodin hall de widdies hand me han Bernut han evun da Blesst Vurjin iffn sheed bin widdus honly shee wurnt cuz shee woz hanggin oot inda Kirk cowntin alla da munny sheez bin rraikin in dare woz da pooer owelt widdie Gooce.  Han da pooer owld muddur of Birnrut shee waznt lukin so gud.  Heye dint led owld Burnurd taek a skkond luk han tol im shee woz probiblee havin won ov dem bad deis wimmin gits fae teim tae teim evun gooce-wimmun.  Hen dat sourtae pacifuceitud owld Bernurt hen we deseededt tae luk hup meye sistur Elieen han teik her outta hear an gidz alltree uv us reeelly drunkipaitet hon Boowwul Blastur han sum odat cheeb hoamait wiskee dey cells hon da eyellun.  Honwly oui wonzna hon da eyelun bud onda manlan soze we hadda hole offa da gud stoff fae da shebeen hontil hanuddur teim.

Puer Bernut he tuk tae bein ehextreemnlee dipresscipaud hon haccownda is muddur bein hagun ap indae windee uf da Soupermarcut han ee wannut tae go bekk han rezcew her hans taikz er bekk tae da eyelun inwonna dem gif fud bagz yew steelz fur free in da liddel rakk owtsida da orflicentz.  Ee tunkt prappz hey liddel golt bag widv a ret ribbun wud bee naiz hon haccownda is mam allas lovvt dem colurz da bezt.  Han soz tae hoomur hisseff eye sat im dowun hinseid da Tree Jolly Rentboyz pob jezz him bekk uv da shob wid da durtee viddees hon da tobb shelfsez han eye brunkt imma bikglaz uv choklit han hasperugus wot iz da kynda dring dey leiks tae drinkun inda Tree Chollee Rentaobyz.  Han den heye tuk meseff orf tae da soupermarcud han axt da mannyjer abood a gooz inda windee heye sez id waz da muddur hova fren han ee wannit tae gaves id a proppur funyral ovvur onda heyelun wiv maebee da too menz wid da blekk dressies sayin olive dare gud wurts ovvur hur corpusclez.  Han den aldough heye wudna seiz nuffin tae Burnart onnaccownda da corpusculate bein is muddur han hall bod twean yew han me eyeud tuk owld Burnart intae da bekk rum wyul da menz inda blekk dressus hate owld Missus gooce fer dare tee. Han den dey wud giftus wid da chart remaynez in da golt gifted bag han we wud taik it doun da boreen han trow id inda waddur.  Han den weez cud ged drankz leik yer spozzt too wen yew muddur dyez hand is eeted by a prees.

Burnert han me god so dranked we fergetzt allbowd miy sister Eileen han heye nevvur sawed hur ennymores.

Oar mebee heye did honlee heye dint recogneize hur gud onaccownt uv olive uz harez luk alike eevun moorn gooces han we kunt telluz hupard nod eevun inda daelite.  Soyew cee id wudna dun know gud eevun tryun tae lukz fur hur onaccownda weed nevvur nowed wot we waz lukin fur.

Sum bunny heye waz fukkun hey fiw dais laedur wen heye ad eevun furgotz dat heye ad evur hadda sister namblet Eileen seid sheeud nowd hey hare wot waz a prastitutlee onda manelan wurkun inda hooorhowz jezz dounwinda da arbeetoyur han dat shee waz nod lukin tu gud onaccownda shee kepp onnhavin turdy or fordee babbees evur udder weeks.  Fur hey momuntz eye tought abowd goin tae luk dis hoor inda heyes hand axtin hur iffn shee waz mai sister or anoddur prostituticuleees bud den owld Birnurt ee axt me iffn wee woz goingtae went tae da pikchurz ware dey wiz showun da fillum abowd da were rabbit han wee deesidud dat iffn we wenda cee dis hoooor han shee waz mai sister Eileen weeud heftae taik hur tae da fillum wid oss.  Han Eileen shee allas dit tauk inda middle uv mooveez han ax wot waz goin hon han wot dey woz sayin onaacownd ohur beeun two laezee tae lissun hanso heye seiz tae Birnerd fekk hur wid a tyre eyeron ledda owld bich axt herseff iffn shee woz reeallee da reeul Eileen weez bin taukuin abowd han iffn shee iz shee cuntbye hur owen tikkut han sid way dowen infrond wid all da deff peeplees han me han Bernurt cunt sit indae bakk row han wach da fillum bye owurseffz.

Han so weedid.  Han den wee leff da cinenema urlee han wentz bakk taw da eyelunt hand god drunked at The Three Fekkerz hand avturwurdz wee woz wokun doun da boreen wen wot du yew nose but a grade big sputtz car runt uz overn.

Idz nodso badatall bein in hevvun.  Da fud iz gud anda girlz iz purdy han derez hey neic younk mens wid longhare henda beert wot stopz bye ever nouhanagin han passus da teim. De udder dais ee seiz ee sawd mai sister Eileen wich sirpeizt me a liddel onaccowend uv heye hadna hurt shee woz in heven espeshullee sinze shee woz never allout intae da Kirk.  Da fella wid da beert seyez sheez knot hegactully in heven but shee wurkz upstares fur the top menz han wen sheez wurkun fer dem deyz dae woz in hevvun.  Heye axtud hymn abood da BlessutVurjun hen ee seiz chee cumz evree toozdy fur lonch han chee seyez hallo hand id waz gud youz gotz yurseff intae hevvun allrite onaccownda yooz bein marturificaited han hall bye beeun runned ovvur bye da sportz kar.

Heye gotztae goes noo.  Heye wantae wadch da sunreiz wid Burnert da gooce han den iddel bee tyum tae went tae brekkfust han eye doan wantae bee lait on accownda idz da dae dey survz hare hand eyeum allaz hopin iddel bee hay owld fren or purhepz wonna mai sisterz han broddurs.  Nod my sister Eileen o’curse onaccownda cheese ubstares wid da bikk fokes han iz doin hallride fur herseff.  Wich iz gud han maikz mee feeul dat evertink woz wourt id.

                                             

May 27, 2010

FaerieLights

Where now are the sweet, savage Beasties that lived within the Bogs?

I love the savage beasties that live among us and who we rarely see.  I love the vagrant spirits that drift round in the dark, and whisper thoughts and dreams and admonitions when the clocks strike two in the morning.  I love the wee people that dwell underneath the ancient floors and bang their drums and dance ‘til dawn, and play their pipes and make us mourn for those we have loved and lost.   I love the icy fingers that wake when it is cold and damp, and grab our toes and fingertips and make our skin turn raw and red.  I love the way some spirits waft from room to room like ancient beings who cannot remember where they left their glasses and are forced to return again and again and forever and ever, amen.

When I first lived on the island – a land where the ghosts had always run free – I was told (with some regret I might add) that nothing had been the same since the coming of electricity.  And these words were spoken by those who were old enough to remember, yet still young enough to tell the tale as if it had happened only the day before.  It seems that when they were young and even slightly older than young, and the houses and barns were still lit by lamps and the light of a candle, the bogs surrounding each and every hill and dale were alive with the faerie lights that used to glow and glimmer and sparkle in the gloom-laden mists.  And those were still the days when young and old alike went on weekly pilgrimages to the holy well that was in walking distance of their dwelling. Sundays were an official day, it goes without saying, but they never forgot birthdays or saint’s days or the anniversaries of their departed loved ones.  Nor did these people of the shadowy past neglect the graveyards, in particular those where the unbaptised and the stillborn were quietly laid to rest at midnight; and those among their surviving kin who still lived and who lingered on bereft, would secretly pray that their lost little ones would one day find their way into the light – and perhaps would grant them forgiveness.

And then came electricity, and with the coming of electricity the faerie lights were seen no more.  Or at least that is what everyone said.  What they did not say, however, and the reasons for this are plenty, was that – with the coming of electricity and progress – many of the bogs had been drained; the spirits who had loved and nourished – and some say, created, the land – were driven deeper, ever deeper underground.  And then, of course, the people dwelling beside the bogs – the farmers and the fishermen who had lived on that land since before the beginning of time – entered a new era.  They acquired money; they sent their children to school; they travelled abroad – but not only for the sake of survival, but because their eyes were now focussing outwards towards different horizons and new possibilities.  And even when the new and educated generation did not leave, but settled on their family’s ancient lands to run the farms and bring them into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, they tore down the time-worn traditional houses in which they had always lived.  So instead of warming themselves before their old nan’s turf-burning hearth and drinking tea with the old Border Collie sleeping under their feet, they built new houses –  more comfortable houses, more cheerful houses, more efficient houses, new houses with satellite dishes, five hundred channels, and with the Internet thrown in for free.  Modern houses wired for every eventuality – houses in which every member of their modern, twenty-first century families could happily forget the past.  And because they had taken to shining lights into the midnight skies outside these new houses of theirs, and because everyone else was doing the same thing, pretty soon there was no darkness left at all (and still less ‘stillness’ to be found) in which the ancient faeries – who had cared for the land for such a long time – could come out and dance and do all of the things faeries like to do when the lights go out and all of the people are safely tucked into their beds.

And as a consequence, on those cold dark nights, of which the island has so many, there is little phosphorescence left to gladden the heart, much less enough to frighten those loutish, whisky-drenched fools who are out and about when they have no right to be. And this makes the bog faeries very sad indeed.  For it has always been one of their tasks to hustle such craytures back to their hearths and homes and lay them safely in their beds – that they might sober up before the coming morn and live to drink again.

I pay no heed to ‘them wot scoffs’ at those faerie beings who used to rule supreme.  Just as I listen to the wind and check the sky for shooting stars and twinkling lights where no earthly twinkling light can possibly be.  And who gives a shite if someone more learned than I claims that what I see is but a satellite or a weather balloon or simply a visitor from the planet Zug?

To this latter group, those unhappy feckers who ne’er look down at what lives beneath their feet, but prefer to wait for some ‘never-will-come’ deliverance from beings from beyond the stars, I say this:  perhaps you are right, for what does one know?   And perhaps the moon is made of cheddar cheese of a far more authentic type than any made by Kraft, and perhaps the slurry pit is filled with chocolate dip?  I do not know. And no more do you.  The only things my eyes have seen during my nocturnal meanderings through the bogs – after all the electric lights have at last been extinguished and everyone else is fast asleep – are the myriad flickers coming from millions of glimmers from within the earth itself.  And the only whispers floating through my ears come from ancient voices that tell me true, that the earth is but a very miniscule place, smaller even than the smallest grain of sand in the universe.  And that our earth it is full, very full indeed, and over-brimming with souls large and small, living and dead.  There is no room for visitors from beyond the stars, much less for new immigrants, and neither is there a welcoming mat on which they can wipe their feet.  Besides, these voices say: what with the earth being so miniscule, no other beings can possibly find us.  For the earth is so very, very, very small – so very wee and peculiar to look at – that no matter how hard the aliens might search, all they will see is a large parking lot with a McDonalds at one end and a Pizza Hut at the other.  And with a discount mall in between.

So you see, my friends, there are bog lights and faerie lights, and they are there for all to see.  Simply turn off your televisions and shut your computers down and switch off your phones – if even for a minute. And then extinguish your lights and quietly walk round to the back of your house, to that part where nobody ever goes.  And look through the stillness and into the bog.  And there will be the lights, and they will be shining and sparkling, just the same as always – and they will be as plain and clear and bright as ever they were.  Only please remember to greet them with a heart-felt “Hello!” and to tell the spirits that you mean them no harm. And that way, when next the foul wintry winds sweep in and carry off the roofs, your house will be spared and kept safe and sound.  And not a single slate will be blown from your roof, nor will your chimney sway nor will your heart know fear.   For the faeries are in charge of this land of theirs, and they will gladly protect those who have remembered them, and who have greeted them with a heart-felt “Hello!” And – just occasionally – have left them a wee dram of whisky or a bottle of the thickest stout.

Although many islanders no longer speak of the faeries, or of the wells, or of those still-born infants whose bones still lie under the hill, they are never far from their minds when it comes to those traditions they cannot otherwise explain.  One of these concerns the eating of the tiny blackberries that grow wild upon the dry-stone walls. As berries go, these are the sweetest berries I have tasted for many a year, but nobody ever eats them. Of course, when I first moved there and the berries had ripened, I picked several small baskets for jam.  But then I was told – by one much younger than I – that the fruit on those brambles belonged to the faeries and would bring me ill-health and bad luck if I ate what had always been theirs.  Besides (my neighbour did add with a smile) the faeries they came and they spat (and often did shit) on the berries during the night. Just to turn them sour.  And so, of course, I did not demure.  And because I did not want to eat what was clearly not mine, I offered my jam and a loaf of brown bread to the little people in the bog.

Yet another wonderful phenomenon had to do with the way the glowering charcoal clouds that constantly hung low above our heads would only occasionally part. But when they did, through the gap where the clouds had been rent in twain, would stream a shaft of brilliant sunlight.  When, one day, when I happened to comment on this, and say how very lovely it was, I was told in tones most dark and obscure, to pray a novena starting that very day and to light a candle in the church.  For such breaks in the clouds were the divil’s own work, and as for those gaps, they let in all the evil humours from hell. And those very same gaps were the gaps through which your sinful soul would be spirited come the tolling of the funeral bell.  In other words, they let in the ‘bad’ air.

And do you want to know something?  I shall never scoff.  And I do not believe and I do not disbelieve.  After all, what does anyone know that I do not already know myself?  What difference does it make if I talk to the faeries after dark and give them all of my jam and brown bread?  You see, I know there is something there. What it may be is unknown to us all, and you may shrug it off with a grimace – and you may call it anything you like.  But, the fact that it is there and was there from the start, is quite good enough for me.

The house that I lived in was not all that old, but it still had plenty of creaks.  And since the land on which it was built lay with the bog on two sides and the sea on the others, I would lay awake at night and wonder what was going on that I was too deaf to hear and too blind to see.

And I thought of the old houses I had lived in before, with their squeaks and their rattles and their groans in the floor, and I thought what a wonderful world it would be, if only I could sharpen my ears and focus my eyes and fill my heart with delight.  And then because it was what I wanted to do, I would ask my doggie if she’d like to go out for a stroll, to wander down the boreen and to fill her lungs with the night.  And, of course, she would immediately perk up her ears and agree.  And I could see in her mind – my sweet little dog – that she hoped our walk might well coincide with a hunt for that old foe of hers, ol’ Misther Hedgehog.  And it might also include – if for only a glimpse – that illusive owld biddy, Missus Badger, who lived somewhere down below right next to the spring, and who never invited us in for tea.  So all it took was for my mouth to form the word doggie loved so dearly to hear. “Walk?” And she’d be off in a flash and would be standing next to the door, on a place right next to her leash. And if it was wet, as was sure it would be, it would be into our waxed Barbours for both her and for me. 

And then we would set off – and it would be perhaps all of two in the morning or so – and we’d walk side by side, in the damp still of the night.  And not a sound would we make, and no shadow would we miss, and we’d keep our ears pealed for a crackle or a sigh or for those tiny bells that we both hoped we would hear.

And when we got to the cliffs, to the rocks jutting out from the moor, we’d sit down or sometimes we’d lie back in sheer bliss, and I would think to myself as I looked up at the night and felt the rain on my face, where else could I go and where could I find a more cracking craic than this?

May 19, 2010

The Slurry Wagon

North Atlantic gales and collies and labradors and a moment of ecstasy.

I adopted my doggie sometime late in the springtime.  Along the ridges and through the fields and bogs the furze was cloaked with blossoms of mustardy yellow. And all along the six-foot- high dry stone walls lining the narrow boreen that started at the top of the hill and wound its way to its eventual endgame  in the ocean, blackberry brambles were sprouting pale green leaflets and the sweet-smelling wild roses – tiny, old-fashioned, single-petalled and delicately white – filled the moist, cloud-drenched island air with fragrance.  I lived three quarters of the way down this boreen – a good half a mile below the double farmhouse at the top, with its cluster of barns and tiny fields in which fifteen or twenty calves grew fat and happy grazing on the lush, emerald green grass.  Two hundred yards above me was a small sheep farm; directly below and to my rear was the sea.  And it was here – in a typically squat, determinedly ugly, and utterly sea-worthy, bunker-like cottage – that I had unpacked my bags. For at that particular moment in time, I called it my home.

Like all such bunker-like cottages built within spitting distance of the jagged west-facing cliffs, the eyes of its soul – its windows – looked eastward, towards light and the morning sun and across the endless vista of hills and bogs and faraway grey mountains. Although the view on the western side was more spectacular, no one but summer visitors would think of inserting picture windows into west-facing rooms.  The constant north Atlantic gales that sweep through such islands and which have shaped the peoples since the dawn of time, and which enshroud the hills and valleys and bogs with perpetual mist and dampness and a sense of foreboding, simply laugh at such folly.  For as soon as the visitors move into to the new holiday homes they have built, the waves crash against their west-facing picture windows to drive their point home.  However, those  souls who were born to these gales, and who have lost generations of fisherman sons to the North Atlantic swells, and who have spent half their lives in darkness – for in winter the light comes late and does not linger for more than a few hours – such light as can be had is not a luxury.  It is a blessing and a necessity. Hence, windows face east, away from the storms and towards this life-giving light, as well as towards a gentler, more pastoral landscape; in other words, towards the dawning of the next new day.

Besides, as every islander knows, what good is a window unless it faces the road?  And what good is a window unless the neighbours can see that the window is spotlessly clean, and that the seldom-used front parlour behind it is as spic and span as spic and span can be.  For if it is not, never fear – the whole village and county will soon hear of it.  “Poor dear,” the biddies will lament with glee, as they gather with others to sit in their own back kitchens and hash and re-hash the foul tragedy over plates of scones and cups of black inky tea.  “Did you notice how she didn’t get up for mass last Sunday, and how she had to be helped with her shopping bags when she got off the community bus? There will be tears and a wake within a fortnight, with a Mass on a Tuesday, so you had better be getting yourselves over to Mary’s by the Friday before.  To have your hair set early, so it will be less frizzy, you know.”

In other words, everyone judges you by the state of your front windows.  And don’t think you can avoid the issue by simply keeping the curtains closed.  For to keep your curtains closed means one of only four things:  that you’ve gone away; that you are poorly; that you are dead; or that you are dead drunk.  Now, since I am not the type to clean my windows for the benefit of others, I always kept my front curtains closed.  True, I lived in perpetual gloom – for the windows at the back were so small that what light there was couldn’t find its way into the house – but being the stubborn male creature that I am, I couldn’t see any sense in going out in the middle of a raging storm to wash the windows.  Because, you see, there was always a raging storm in progress, but nobody else seemed to find anything strange about washing one’s windows right in the middle of it.

And speaking of gales and storms and howling winds, not even a hurricane-force howler would prevent even the most desperately ill pensioner from hanging her washing out on the line if that is what she had in mind to do.  And to be perfectly candid, if anyone waited until the weather was less rowdy in order to dry their laundry and not get soaked through to their bones, it would never be hung up at all.  When I first arrived I used to wonder why and how my neighbour would rush out into the fiercest gale and hang her wash and then simply forget about it.  For if we had been anywhere else on earth, all those clothes and sheets and towels would have been blown into the next county within a second and a half.  But not so on the island.   So I asked her how such a thing could be, and she let me in on the secret:  ‘Gale-Proof’ clothes-pegs!  And to think, I had never even heard of such a thing before.  Needless to say, they were by far the most popular item (after window-cleaning supplies) in the local hardware store – a store very much like an old-fashioned general store.    

I had not been there long before I decided it might be nice to be taken care of by a dog.  I didn’t want a sheepdog, simple because they are outside dogs and working dogs and I had no work for one to do.  They are not at their happiest if cosseted on a couch twenty-four hours a day.  Yes, sitting by the Aga and living the life of Riley might please them for a few hours of an afternoon and evening, but Border Collies are not among nature’s born contemplatives.  They grow bored and they grow restive (and, believe me, nothing can look as bored as a bored Border Collie).  They look out the east-facing window towards the fields of sheep and they sigh and they moan and they groan and they whimper, and should you persist in refusing to take the hint, they finally shout, “Please give me some feckin’ work to do!  Give me some sheep that I may take care of them and herd them this way and that and worry them half to death, and if you do what I want I  promise to love, honour and obey you forever and ever. And I won’t even nip you on your heals when you get in my way!” 

But even had I wanted one of these treasures, I had to remember that I was surrounded on all sides by small sheep farms, and on each farm on lived a couple of sheep dogs, none of which would be happy to welcome a newcomer. Of course, I could have made a compromise amenable to everyone – to the neighbouring dogs and to their owners and to myself – by simply adopting a Border Collie pup.  For many of the neighbouring sheepdogs were getting on in years. A puppy can easily be integrated into an existing community; it could simply join in with my neighbours collies in their tasks, and then at such time as one of the older animals died or got too weak, it could take its place.  Also, under this arrangement, if and when I should decide to leave and move elsewhere – for I have notoriously restless feet and little feeling for a settled life if it doesn’t suit me – my dog would have a home and a job.  And everything in the garden would be lovely.

However, as much as I love and appreciate Border Collies, what I really wanted – if I wanted anything at all – was a companion dog, a low-maintenance beastie whose natural inclination was to sit on the sofa and snuggle and be a best friend.  I also wanted a quiet dog, a tidy dog, and a dog that wouldn’t eat me out of house and home.  In other words, the last thing on my mind was a Labrador.  For although when it comes to food I am extremely disciplined and rarely give snacks either to myself or to any pets I may have, a labrador’s natural-born love-affair is not with its owner so much as with the owner’s refrigerator.  They can’t help it; it’s how they are made.  Now, every once in a while every well-behaved Labrador should be taken outside and away from its beloved refrigerator and its jealously guarded food bowl – for as every Labrador owner knows, a labrador’s fulltime indoor job – when not guarding the refrigerator – is to monitor whether, in a moment of inattention, an atom of food might not have made it way into this treasured receptacle; for surely, such a morsel must be there somewhere – just waiting to be slurped up by the labrador’s tongue.  And since a Labrador has a particularly suspicious mind where food is concerned, a speck of food can only mean one thing: that another dog will appear from the depths of nowhere and gobble it up. Right in front of him.  And since he is suspicious on an equal-opportunity basis, and insanely jealous in regards to every edible thing in the entire universe, he is – it goes without saying – profoundly distrustful of the neighbour’s cats.  For all cats – no matter what colour, no matter what shape, and no matter if the cats are never let out of their owner’s house – are always covetous of a labrador’s food bowl; they will stop at nothing to lure the poor Labrador away – possibly even to its death in the bog – so that they might claim that one tiny remaining titbit that is lurking on the bottom of the bowl. And that is the truth.

But as I started to say, every once in a while, every Labrador should be torn away from its beloved refrigerator and food bowl and taken outside.  And this, to every Labrador, means just one thing.  Playtime.  And to a Labrador, playtime invariably means water and mud and poking its nose in the neighbour’s business (which, in turn, often annoys the neighbour’s sheep dogs) and, of course, it also means raiding every neighbours’ refrigerators and cleaning their cat boxes and,  just perhaps, even relieving that one neighbour of her bothersome budgerigar.

 Now, Labradors are not scrappy individuals.  They are not terriers, always spoiling for a fight.  They are simply the canine version of the happy-go-lucky village vacuum cleaner.  From the minute of their birth, they know that no one – except for you, but you don’t count because you are evil-minded, pinch-faced and stingy – can resist feeding a visiting Labrador that extra wedge of cake (the wedge that was absentmindedly left unguarded for a nanosecond); for you see, as far as the labrador is concerned, everything that is within reach of his mouth belongs in his stomach.  And as every Labrador owner knows, a labrador’s mouth is faster than a speeding bullet and able to eat entire picnic baskets without appearing to move a muscle.

Now everyone claims that Labradors are ideal kids’ dogs, for they are patient, long-suffering and they rarely if ever lose their cool.  But the only reason that any labrador assumes this living-cuddly-teddy-bear disguise is that they know that sooner or later – whenever the kid is in the vicinity of food – he (the living-cuddly-teddy-bear) will consume every bite of it.  And if a kid should get upset and end up with a second or third of even a fourth helping, the kid still will go to bed starving. Because where food is concerned, labradors know their stuff.

As regards kids and food and Labradors, we should put aside – for the time being – any thoughts we might have about taking him straight to the vets for a permanent vacation. For, although you might not have given this much thought, Labradors are extremely far-sighted.  They instinctive know if a kid has a future as a high-fashion model. And that being the case, all it is doing is preparing that kid for a life of starvation and deprivation.  And let us never when forget the starving children of Biafra and Somalia and The Congo.  Had their parents not had Labradors at the beginning of children’s lives, those children would not have been as well prepared as they are for a diet of one meal per lifetime.

But are Labradors appreciated for their childhood starvation preparation talents?  Not a bit of it.  And does it occur to any of the stressed-out dieticians and healthcare professions that deal with the issue of childhood obesity that there is an easy and cost-effective solution?  Buy each kid a Labrador, and that kid will lose all its surplus avoirdupois in a day and a half.  Unless, of course, the kid simply turns around and eats the Labrador.  But you can’t win them all.

I will admit, Labradors do have one serious behaviour problem.  Should anyone within two hundred yards happen to be taking a deep breath when a Labrador decides to fart, that person will have no chance at all.  He will be dead.

Come to think of it, with all the problems the American seem to be having with their methods of executing their death-row inmates, wouldn’t it save a lot of time simply by feeding a Labrador two kilos of corn beef and cabbage and baked beans, and then simply locking it into a small, airless room with the condemned man?

It goes without saying that a Labrador is not for me.  Besides, they all seem to wear this perpetually happy-face, and I’m just not a happy-face kinda guy.

Did I finally settle on a dog?  Yes and no, for although I settled on a member of the canine family, she was not only not a dog, but she a bitch.  For if it is a nice clean undoggy canine you want, then I should recommend a female any day of the week.  But, “What was she?” I hear you ask.

 Well let me describe her for you.  She was about thigh high and her coat was dark brown.  She had liquid, almond-shaped eyes of darkest chocolate, and the figure of a supermodel; she could run like the wind, and she was as dainty as a gazelle.  She was completely fastidious in her habits; she was hypoallergenic and had no doggie odour whatsoever.  So polite was she that she would not even enter a room without permission.  She never begged; she didn’t appear to even know what a refrigerator was.  Her appetite was tiny – less than a cup of food two times a day – and being polite, she always left that one little bit on the plate. She was incredibly healthy and always maintained her perfect weight.  She preferred me to be in the room with her while she ate, but didn’t like it if I looked at her while she was eating.  She was also incredible quiet; she never barked.  And if she had to go outside, she would simply give me a certain ‘look’, and make an almost inaudible ‘squeak’. That was her sign that she was in a hurry – and if, in the middle of the night, she heard a hedgehog snuffling about on the grass, she would squeak twice.  It was her, “Let’s go hunt a hedgehog” squeak.  I only ever heard her bark once, and that was when a hare jumped up on the window sill and looked in at her. Otherwise, she never made a sound.  

When I first adopted her, it was during lambing.  It goes without saying I did not want to take any chances that – when I took her out for a run – she might take off after a new-born lamb. After all, she was born to the chase.  And so what I did was to fasten a thirty foot lunge line to her collar and take her as far away from the lambing shed as possible – down to the far pastures on the cliff.  And there she would run.  And run.  And run.  And when she had finished she had a habit of leaping on to the top of one of the great dry-stone walls, as if to say, “Here I am!”  And there she would recline like the lady she was – not even panting – waiting to be escorted home.

The rest of the time she was a complete couch-potato.  And at night, she slept under two duvets on my bed.  She never scratched, never chewed herself, and besides having a natural tendency to sleep right up close to me for warmth – which occasionally left me with only a few inches for myself – she never, ever disturbed my sleep.

The day after I brought her home was the day the farmer was spreading slurry on the fields.  Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with this practice, let me explain.  Slurry is usually cow manure that has been left in a vat to ferment for about a year. It is an ancient method of making fertilizer and it is strictly regulated.  

On the island, because of the weather and climate, the fields normally grew at least five cuttings of silage each year.  Each time the silage was mowed, slurry would be spread on to the stubble.

Needless to say, the day the slurry was spread the smell was somewhat strong.  Personally, I like the stink; to me it  smells like the earth and nature and how things ought to be.

Now, on that magical day, my doggie and I happened to be sitting outside the front door the first time the slurry wagon passed.  And the minute the wagon passed in front of us (for the wagons themselves smell very strong), her eyes glazed over; she tilted her head back and breathed in.  It was a very long, very deep breath.  She shuddered.  Her eyes started to water, her whole body started to vibrate.  And then she sighed.

Never before or since have I seen anyone transported like that.  It was – purely and simply – ecstasy.  And when it was over, she put her head in my lap, turned over on her back, and moaned.

Over the months and years that followed, she never paid the slightest bit of attention to the wagon, and since she was very fastidious about where she walked, she didn’t even like walking down the boreen with me on days when slurry was being spread – for, of course, the spreader dribbled when it was closed and left a string of splatters on the track.

It was just that one time. The first time. When life was new, and my lovely greyhound and I were sitting on the grass in front of our cottage; everything in heaven and earth was in its right place, and as a bonus she was given a special welcome to her brand new home.  For one split second, the cosmos held its breath and time stood still – and let the slurry wagon pass and give her its blessing.

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