It’s the Summer of 1991, the heat of the sun is beginning to wane, I am legging it home to be back in time for dinner, cycling shorts on and scrunchie in hair, I know the time by the sounds coming from the open windows of the houses I run past. The familiar theme of Baywatch starts and I up my pace, God forbid if you are five minutes late with no reasonable excuse. I shudder at the mental image of David Hasselhoff and his brillo pad chest standing on some beach, arms on hips. It’s Saturday, so I know ahead of time what is for dinner. I am praying that I can get away with wolfing it down and being allowed back out, it is the Summer after all.
I make it up the country roads and am secretly delighted at how much busier it is now families are down for the summer months. I am manoeuvring around children out playing, abandoned bikes and someone’s dog, a stark contrast to the lonely road that you might not meet one person on, during the walk home from school in October.
The Waterboys “Whole of the Moon” can be heard from someone’s summer bungalow radio, as a woman I haven’t seen since last Summer tells me to tell my Mom she was asking for her. The different smells of dinners are wafting through the air and I am on the last stretch down the boureen home. There is a fry for our dinner and my Dad is on the house phone as I go in, his distraction means the fact I am a few minutes late go unnoticed and more importantly, means the possibility of getting back out later is in my favour. I breathe a sigh of relief.
The one thing about a Saturday night in the Summer is that the Merries are open and your chances of getting there after 7.30pm mass is a given. You really want to go to Saturday night mass and avoid having to get up early on the Sunday, plus one of the main highlights of the week is spotting the talent going up for communion, The Saw Doctor’s had the right idea, mass is THE place to be.
I had this uncanny ability from as young as I remember to photograph and store memorable moments as they happened and appreciate them as they occurred. I will never forget being in the car with my Mother on a hot Summers day and it felt like I was in an episode of “The Wonder Years” as we were driving through a group of really happy kids running around just enjoying their summer, the song “Americanos” by Frankie goes to Hollywood was on the car radio, we passed a few of my cousins who waved and it was just a picture perfect moment in time for me, still as clear as day to me and I must have been about ten years old at the time.
Crosshaven was a generational destination for us, it was where my Mother’s Grandparent’s went, were her parents brought her, where we went as very small kids on our Summer holidays and eventually ended up moving to while I was in primary school. Every corner of it stores a trip down Memory Lane, on a rainy windy day when the sails on the boats are clinking over The Point, when the tide is out and the smell of seaweed is strong, the long forgotten Fog Horn on a dreary night, a summer evening when you get the whiff of candyfloss from the gates of Pipers or when the pubs had closed, the smell of salt and vinegar chips wrapped up in paper, just one smell and you are suddenly transported back in time, each unlocking a memory.
Graball Bay was full of families from the City occupying timber bungalows strewn down lanes and along fields for the months of June, July and August. The same families returning each year, whose children would grow up together and spend year and after year together building memories long before the era of social media, where if you were lucky enough to capture moments, it was with a camera you had to wait a few weeks to get the film developed from and hope that the photos turned out okay. In fact we probably have very few memories captured on photographs, it is all stored in our hearts and heads, some we have long forgotten until a relative reminds us.
Like that time my cousin and I were in a bungalow on a rainy day, my aunt in bed as she just came off her shift in the door from work and our younger cousins came legging it into the garden and locking the door, out of breath and scared shitless, we knew no more until a mad man with red hair, similar to the guy in The Bodyguard came in behind them and in the door on top of us, as we were all suddenly screaming in unison, half of us with no clue why, as my aunt came barging out to see what in the name of fuck was going on as she was greeted by this fella who had taken the hill after the boys insisting they were pelting him and his mother on the beach below with stones. Well, he was ran back out of the garden twice as fast as he came in, he met his match in our aunt who put him back in his place fairly lively.
It wasn’t unusual to find us going down to the beach for a swim in the lashing rain while everyone else was trying to find shelter, or deciding to have a barbecue as it pissed down around us and normally this was always led by one of my older cousins who was always up for a laugh. The same fella had given a relation, a new thing called Bulmers to try at one of these social gatherings, telling her it was an apple drink and sure she knew no more until she tried to get up to go home and was legless.
We were lucky enough to have a tiny shop on the steps to Pegs Beach where Charlie sold icecream and wafers, where McGregor’s had a shop at the top of a very steep hill and you could get your bread and milk on tic until your parents came home and would sort her out. Where at 5pm you would stroll down the road and Graball Hill to Birminghams shop, with some coins from an aunt or two, to meet the delivery driver who drove down from town to bring the Echo which every Dad insisted on getting, being in the country now this was their only link to what was happening. There was no mobile phones or email then, christ you were considered well off if you had a house phone, if it was known you did have one then it wasnt long before people knocked at the door and asked if they could use yours and leave 20pence for the trouble.
How you filled your days with being on the beach when it was fine or in someone’s bungalow tucked up in a sleeping bag watching a movie relative to your age on a rainy day. The promise of homemade chips in your aunts made your day as you pleaded to stay for tea. How you would make plans with your cousin to try and have a sleepover, you would decide between you which one would approach the parent of choice to convince them of our argument, although we spent the whole day together, we still had loads to talk about through the night too. The novelty of the outside loo wore off when you were bursting to go in the middle of the night and there was no light, just a torch if you could find it, you knew you were sharing the tiny space with a few spiders and every time the chain you had to pull to flush, brushed off your shoulder you nearly shit yourself as you thought it was something that fell from the ceiling onto you. You would beg someone to come with you and then jump back into the sleeping bags, this could be before or after the midnight feast you had stocked up on.
When the village was simply divided into two car parks down the middle and you tried to walk and balance yourself on the bars that were outside Cronin’s pub while the adults leaned against the concrete posts. Prior to the time of it being unacceptable for a child to be in a bar after 7.30pm we used to be sitting underneath the tables with our bottles of coke and a straw, bag of tayto’s whilst our parents were having a sing song with the guitar our Uncle used to always pull out of somewhere. We filled that bar full of songs, laughter and tales between our family, the Murphy’s, the O’Keeffe’s and all the other families who trickled through those summer nights. As the nights went on and we tried to make our way through the crowded bar, an uncle would press a pound into our hands and we would be set for the Merries for another hour or so. We still laugh when my cousin was given money and stopped dead, saying “and what about my brother?”. The later it got, the more money people gave you and as a parent now I can see why, anything for ten minutes peace. You would try to make that money last though, you did not want to go back in the pub and God forbid be one of the first to have to leave.
Our childhood’s were spent in the Merries where “tickets, get your tickets” was shouted the moment you went in the gates, how there used to be a scatter for the chairoplanes, at the end of the night you were trying to hook a duck, you would find a relation or two playing bingo and you would be pleading with someone to go on the bumpers with you, how the boats made you sick but you still shouted to go higher and at the end of the night when the gates closed, you still may be able to win something on the slots, all in time to go to the chipper, where you were lining up following the bars in and around to the counter and were ate without salt if you skipped the queue. How you would all sit on the wall outside while the chipper was divided out and then up the road you strolled trying to get up the hill before the lights went out. If someone had a car you didnt want to get in as the best part of the night was the walk home, how you would leg it ahead to jump out and scare the shit out of who was coming up the road behind you and how you would fall into bed that night and hope to do it all again soon.
When you filled your days with packed lunches for the beach where you had water fights, went investigating rock pools and you will never forget the day your cousin dropped his banana in the sand so you had a funeral while the rest of the beach looked on not sure whether to laugh or cry. You would perk up when you spotted someone you knew coming across the cliff to join the rest of your crew especially when it was an older cousin you may not have seen in a long time, or who may not be staying down like the rest of you were. It was like a little capsule in time preserved, that you had full plans on repeating for your own children but something they only really hear about now.
The nights not spent in the merries we often went fishing, heading over the cliffs to Bulls Rock depending on news throughout the day on where any mackarel had been breaking. It was like something out of the Goonies, the men leading the charge and us all following behind taking turns in casting out, I even insisted on buying my own rod in town one year, in I went to Patrick Street to the shop beside The Moderne, delighted with life. I was amazed at how my aunt would gut them and we would all be stepping back in disgust at all the little sprats that would fall out of the stomach. It didnt stop us from lining up and devouring them though when she coated them in flour and breadcrumbs and fried them on the pan, a highlight of the summer. Another being the infamous picking of the blacka’s and how you would never tell anyone your spots because when you got there they would all be gone, we would fill what we could with what we found and then return to a bungalow to make jam and probably add more sugar than blackberries.
We used to hear tales from our parents of when they were small having to share a bed in the bungalow they stayed in, which happened to be the house we ended up living in. With seven children, all the girls were sent into sleep with their Grandmother and used to drive her to drink as the minute she would doze off they would pretend they were cycling a bike and have all the covers up in the air. Then their Uncle who had no family of his own would drive my Nan spare and start shouting at 3am that a liner was coming and get everyone up out of the bed, everyone would be running out to the window to see what was coming only for him to help himself to the best bed in the house making a fool out of the lot of them.
As we were growing up we were able to sit and watch the Tall Ships and the QE2 pass by the window of the house while crowds lined the cliffs with flags. We lived in a house that wasnt accessible by car so you could only park so far and every single thing had to be brought down by hand, Im talking shopping, appliances, furniture, coal, the works. It also had no lights so you basically were on your own when you left the road and started on the boureen in and down to the cliff, something that makes for great memories and stories.
I’m sure it caused my Mother a hernia when I went missing before the age of one as she searched the garden high and low and spotted the garden gate was open and I was half way along the cliff crawling as my faithful sidekick, Japp, a border collie my parents owned was walking on the outside and nudging me in anytime I got too close to the edge. He remained by my side, all of our sides until I was fifteen years old.
I used to be able to stand in the garden and look up and be able to spot any car driving in or my cousin who was down for the summer but travelled everywhere on a yellow bmx. I dont think my poor Mother will ever forget opening the gate and spotting the postman coming straight at her down the passage at a ferocious rate shouting “I cant stop me bike” as my Mother stepped back and pulled the gate in so he didnt go clean over it, watching as he landed straight in the neighbours hedge bike and all.
Or when my Dad got up one morning looking out the back window and asked my Mother if she had taken the Lawnmower and all the tools out of the shed the night before. She didn’t. On closer inspection, Dad found about eight 20 odd year olds, my cousin and his buddies, doing heads and tails in a 6 x 4 shed after a feed of beer and coming back from the pub, realising they were not in any fit state to pitch a tent, they decided to sleep in the shed but not inform anyone. This was the same crew I pleaded with my Mother one night to let me go to a bonfire on the beach with. My cousin promised her he would look after me and I thought I was in for a great night with much older and cooler people, only for me to spend an hour or two sitting beside a fella the same height as me telling me how much he was depressed, I nearly ran home in boredom. He may or may not have been the reason I was one of the last of my friends to drink and didnt drink myself until I was about sixteen.
My younger years were spent fondly in Blackpool, surrounded by family and neighbours who may as well have been. It was ironic that my Grandmother was an only child, her own Mother was married, a widow and had her, all in the space of a year, in 1916, never to remarry again. The house that they lived in still remains in our family to this day and is where I grew up and all my cousins ran around in. My Nan married my Grandfather who came from a large family and she had no qualms about taking anyone in, the more the merrier in her opinion. She had seven children, my Mother being the youngest. I never met my Grandfather as he died the year I was born but from the tales I have been told he was a gas man. He always kept any boyfriends on their toes and his sharp wit and their lack of comeback meant he was unimpressed. My Dad then arrived on the scene in the seventies, he was like Jesus Christ, long hair with beard to match and the day they met around the kitchen table he gave as good as he got. My Grandad shot a “you’d want to go away and get a haircut” while everyone stopped breathing waiting for a response, as Dad retorted “you’re just jealous Kojak” as he burst out laughing, everyone left out a sigh of relief and the rest as they say, is history.
When I was small, my Dad was in an accident which left him in a wheelchair and it also meant that we shared a house with my Grandmother and Aunt. To say I was spoiled rotten is probably an understatement, my Aunt had no children so if I had my eye on something she would get it for me. If my Nan went to get her hair done on a Saturday morning I would go with her and keep her company, if she was down the Community Centre helping out to fold the Bridge newsletter, I was too. You always knew where any of us were on the street, all you had to do was look out for Japp, he would be sitting outside.
Japp was probably a celebrity in his own right to be fair, he had an ongoing feud with a dog on the street called Bonzo and went through the double glazed pane of glass in the front door twice just to get at him. When the insurance man called on a Saturday evening one of us had to stand guard with the dog out the back as he would have went through the wall to get at him and it didnt help the insurance man was terrified of dogs and married to Mom’s cousin.
When we went to France when I was about two or three years old, we left Japp with my Nan and Aunt and what was meant to be a two week holiday apparently turned into a two month long one. Japp who was normally fed a King’s diet and treated to a cup of tea and a creamy cake on a Saturday stopped eating. They took him to the vets and the vet told them that he was depressed and he was put on anti depressants until our return. Christ, if you even mentioned you fed a dog a creamy cake today the PC brigade would be out with their pitch forks.
That dog was a hero and we never ever had a dog like him since, I think none ever compared. I remember quite vividly being in my cousins house in Blarney Street for the afternoon and walking back down to Blackpool that evening and as we drew nearer to the house we could see lines of furniture and belongings all out on the street. It was only when we got to the house we realised they were ours. We had all been out and a spark from the fire which was lighting had caught onto clothes that were drying on a clothes horse and the front room went up in minutes. It was only due to Japp barking incessantly in the hall that alerted people that something was up and why the whole house didnt go up in flames.
When we were in Crosshaven he would sit where the car would be parked and wouldnt leave until we returned. He would spot the car turning into the field and bark and bark with delight, he would go around in circles and there was no stopping him until you got in the door home. He absolutely detested men, detested them, we maintain a man did something to him and left him to die, where my Mom and Dad found him and took him home. There is a running joke as a good friend of the families was helping to do work to the bungalow in Crosshaven, he said that house had the best view in the land and he was forced to look out the back window at the hedge. Japp would let him use the kettle and be in the room he was doing the work in and that was it, no further.
Another night the neighbour babysat me while my parents went out, I was in a cot at the time and if I cried there was no way the babysitter was allowed into me, he was allowed go to the loo and back to the couch and that was it. My parents had a few dogs when I was small, Mom had this vision of when she was heavily pregnant on me that if anything happened that like Lassie one of the dogs would go home and alert my Dad. Until the time she went for a walk on the beach and fell over and like an upturned turtle all the dogs sat on top of her. They had a Pyrenese Mountain Dog and a fiat car at the time, the dog used to sit in the back seat and take up the whole car, he used to shake his head and cover everyone in the front seat with drool. Each time Dad left the house he would tell the dog to mind the house until the one time he forgot. The dog went berserk thinking Dad wasnt returning, when Dad got back he couldnt open the front door, when he eventually got in, the dog had taken up all the floorboards in the front room.
In Blackpool the house was always a social event when my Nan was alive, there was always a party, I have vivid memories of people sitting on chairs in the front room and lining the stairs when we ran out of room and my cousin and I would do a party piece and get a round of applause and we would run out and practice another one in the hopes of getting money or at least a bit of praise. There would be cans of beamish and bottles of ritz, plates of sandwiches and a sing song and a house full. It wasnt uncommon for there to be a fancy dress on occasion, whether it was my Nans birthday or just a night out they always found some excuse. I think the young fellas who knocked on the door one night as my Dad answered dressed as Dracula asking “vat do you vant?” are probably still running. Monica’s fancy dress over the bridge was the point of collection for all these parties and she was a close family friend, she was as mad as a hatter herself so didnt bat an eyelid at my Dad and his antics. The winter evening he took a gorilla costume, left with it on and started pounding on cars bonnets stuck in traffic in Blackpool was a tale often told. He said the poor woman whose bonnet he landed on nearly lost her life. They would head to The Watercourse Inn then and I was friends with the owners daughter and some nights could be found upstairs watching wrestling with her while the rest were downstairs in the bar. There was one night they got home and realised they forgot me though, “Jesus Christ I forgot the child” as my Aunt says laughing as she recalls the night.
The neighbours on that street were probably one of the best things about living there, it is a completely different world now and sometimes I wish more than anything that my own children got to go back and experience what it was like even for a day. We are still laughing as one neighbour used to get our dogs name confused with a man living on the street so she used to call him Japp and our dog Sam. My Nan used to knit for Blarney Woollen Mills so she was always found sitting in her seat by the fire and the knitting needles would be going ninety, she would be talking away and not miss a stitch. Live At Three would be on and she would have her Woman’s Weekly out and be jotting down her answers on a postcard and never missed an episode of The Sullivan’s.
Alot of Sunday’s my Aunts and Uncles who had all moved away would still come back to Blackpool on a Sunday morning for mass and come in for a cuppa after. There was no visit to mass without a trip to Maureen’s sweet shop though, the biggest decision was apple drops, cloves or bullseyes as you watched, head barely over the counter as she weighed them out and if she was in good form she would throw in one or two extra.
I will never forget the evening my Nan and my Aunts and Mom were sitting downstairs in the front room, my cousin and I were in my room upstairs and we heard all this commotion, we ran the two flights of stairs down to throw the door open to be shouted at to “go back upstairs, close the door” as we scarpered not knowing what the hell was going on. Unknown to us, in mid conversation as Nan was sitting in her chair she picked up the poker not missing a beat and fired it through into the opening to the kitchen as everyone in slow motion was wondering what she was up to. As they were all sat with their back to the kitchen, they failed to see the rat which had appeared out of nowhere and was sat on the counter helping himself to something to eat. There was a scatter and men were summoned from all corners of the County, you had my Dad with a golf club, my Uncle with a hurley and someone with a tennis racket and another with a baseball bat.
For the fright that gave us, I repaid it ten times over the night I was inside in bed fast asleep. It was a three storey house, so my bedroom was on the top floor next to my Aunts, my Nans was on the middle floor and my parents slept on the ground floor. I woke in the middle of the night in the dark, the light was off, I felt something sticky on my hands and as I put my hands to my face and nightdress I felt the same sensation there too. I called out for my Aunt who came running and in the light, was gone, she took the stairs two at a time to wake my Dad as my Mom was pregnant on my sister at the time. There was major panic stations, I had burst a vein in my nose in my sleep somehow and I, the bed clothes, sheet and my surroundings were a sea of red. I was bundled into a car to The Ear, Eye, Nose and Throat while the doctor cauterised my vein with some strong drugs. I was high for about three days but when I returned home later that morning there was no way I wasnt making it up the stairs to see my Nan who was in bed. I got to the corner of the stairs and just spotted her and then proceeded to pass out again, all you could hear was “Jesus, the child”.
My Mother loved to dress me in denim, aran jumpers, cords, basically anything that was not pink or frilly. So when my Mother worked I used to go to town with my Aunt and she used to take me into Buckley’s on Shandon Street where the frilliest dressed known to man with matching knickers could be found. If it was Easter, Christmas, or just because my aunt would spend her wages on me and the flounciest dress that could be found to my Mother’s disgust. I would then insist on wringlets and would spend a Saturday night after my bath where I would scream the house down unless my Aunt washed my hair, I would sit on the floor as rollers were placed strategically throughout my head. They would be taken out then the following morning and would be tied up with ribbons as I twirled around the room and my Mother was empty reaching behind me.
Saturday mornings were spent walking into town, we would go to the Coal Quay for a look, the butchers on Shandon Street on the way home for meat for the next day and we would have a walk through the Queens Old Castle, I always insisted on looking in the window of Driscoll’s toy shop by the North Chapel and used to insist on buying tickets for raffles for the huge doll that always used to be on the window front and centre. We would go to the English Market for tripe and drisheen, to the fish shop out in Blackpool for our red fish in white sauce which was and still is one of my favourite dinners where my Aunt would painstakingly make the sauce from scratch using corn flour and I would lick the plate clean. Bodice, I could take or leave, on a Sunday though, the papers were out after mass and Oldies and Irish was on the radio, there may be a match on the telly and it didnt matter that you only had one telly as you were too busy playing out on the street with your friends.
I had one best friend in particular who I was probably glued to the hip with, we even held hands and kept each other company when the other went to the loo. I would accompany her family on their Sunday drives to Gougannebarra and have the best memories of her Mom and Dad singing all the time, especially “Leaving on a Jet Plane”. We used to dress up in her Mom;s clothes and I used to relish in delight at the fact that her high heels fit me as she also took a size three foot at the time. We lived directly across the street from one another and on the days where she refused to come home, her Mother would cross the road with her dinner on a tray, we were a scream.
We did Disco Dancing up the Glen, played up the Alley or were happily on our bikes or playing chasing on the street. One of my best memories has to be the day it snowed and it stuck and fell heavily, how my Dad came out and suddenly all the neighbours were out and there was this huge snowball fight on the street, the shrieks and people ducking behind cars trying to get away from one another was hilarious. Alot of the neighbours were older and people called in to see Nan everyday, or they would be gathered around one anothers doors for a chat, or you would be sent next door to ask a question or for a message. There was only a small yard out the back so when it was very hot we could be found getting out Nans bedroom window onto the flat roof for some sun. I’d often accompany those on an over 60s trip on a Sunday outing for lunch or to Killarney on a day trip. I remember getting my knickers in a proverbial knot as I wanted lamb that was on the menu and they had none left, one of the older neighbours pulled the waiter and told him to bring out pork and tell me it was lamb and Id not know the difference, she was right too.
There was no central heating then, so you needed a hot water bottle put into your bed or your sheets would be damp with the cold. When you got up on a cold morning you would venture downstairs to have your cereal in front of the telly when all your cartoons were on like Jem, He-Man and She-Ra, Inspector Gadget and Super Gran, you would pull the night dress down over your toes as your feet would be like ice blocks.
We had the best times there on the street, the magic of Christmas Eve and mass, on New Years Eve we would have a bell and go out at midnight and walk up and down the street ringing it and wishing everyone a Happy New Year as people came to their door and out onto the street. Moments, faces and memories forever etched in my mind that I was absolutely blessed to have been a part of. Alot of the neighbours have sadly passed away and some moved years ago, it is when you go back and meet them that you can recall events like they were yesterday.
It was at one of these removals with my cousin a few years ago that had us in stitches. We were in the Funeral Home on Shandon Street and my cousin was bent over talking to someone, as she was, her hand bag was falling off her shoulder as an elderly woman and her daughter were sat next to her. The daughter, pointed out to my cousin that her bag was falling off her shoulder, to which the elderly lady replied “Its Tuesday girl, there’d be nothing in it on a Tuesday”.
When we got to the church we were met with a group of local women my family knew, all in their eighties arguing about who was younger. One said “Im eighty six so you are definitely eighty eight” to which the other one disgusted said “you had two hip replacements” while the third one chimed in “c’mere girl, I had nothing done, I am going back out the way I came in”.
It is this drole sense of humour that I miss and that I grew up with and around……
Taken from a book in the making called “…and the rest in Penny Jellies..” by Lenore Good, mother of six