By Vincent Coyle, (Dungimmon) Rolestown, Dublin, 2018
In the good olde days….ah no not again…not this good old days garbage …we used “deal” or more colloquially “dale” in three shops in town….town being Oldcastle and it was not called “town ” then….it was called ‘the town.’ We dealt mainly in Gibney’s where we paid the bill monthly in arrears. The Da loved “crop credit” but hated having to pay for eaten bread. We also dealt in Trinnears. Finally we dealt in Porter, Sons and Co. Ltd. which later transmogrified into the Co-Op or the cope as it used be called.
Now take Trinnears… They had a grocery side and a hardware side. The counter on the hardware side had a brass 3-foot ruler permanently screwed on to it, used regularly for measuring lengths of rope, cable, twine, chain etc. Overhead the counter was the standard roll of brown twine and this was used to tie up every parcel with brown paper matching the shop coat of the attentive shop boy. Behind the counter was a series of wooden boxes containing a myriad of hidden treasure; fuses for those who resisted the temptation of trying the silver paper from cigarettes; “Sweet Afton” being a common one then of the untipped variety and they, the cigarettes, carried a poem by Robbie Burns on the cover:
Flow gently sweet Afton among thy green braes
Flow gently and I’ll sing thee a song in thy praise
The boxes had pig rings, rabbit snares, bucket repair thingies, vulcanised patches and split rings for joining lengths of chain; washers and washing soda, spokes, bottom brackets, split pins and gudgeons; rubber tubes for the lad that fitted into the tube of your bicycle and for the ultra sophisticated- needles for record players. You could find sticks of chalk and raddles. You might come across a nipple for a carbide lamp but a magnifying glass for same source of nighttime illumination would have to “be ordered in”.
Stays for corsets were just impossible to get but a puce pencil for writing cheques was at hand at all times and doled out with the respect due to a man who wrote cheques in indelible writing. You could easily get a mantle for a Tilly lamp or even a wick for a paraffin lamp and globes for same were easily visible hanging from the low roof. Frost nails for horses in icy times were available by the dozen and reasonably cheap verses the hassle of having your geegee slip slide away down the street onto the tarred road.
Other more select drawers contained Wernet’s powder for ensuring that one’s dentures stayed close to the mouth roof rather than gambolling gaily around one’s gob with abandon. Mac’s Smile blades were there to ensure a cleanly shaven gob while Mrs Cullen’s powders were there for all kinds of aches and pains. You could get Sloan’s Lineament for those aching muscles and the old reliable Andrew’s Liver Salts were always in stock to keep the populace free from liver idiosyncrasies and other nefarious immigrants. You could buy a jar of Bovril which was mainly flavoured salt and sat on the shelf with the Irel Coffee which resembled coffee just like elephants armpits are mildly reminiscent of the gnat’s elbow.
Now when one made one’s purchase and had it wrapped and tied the twine was snapped with sheer brilliance by the “shop boy.” Some of these lads were 70 + and still shop boys but the breaking of the twine was done with a degree of speed and skill that left the gauping customer mildly slack jawed. I promise to stop saying phrases like ‘slack jawed’… becoming a bit over used and cliched and boring. What about the mouth hanging loose like a bullock heading for the first new grass of the season? I learned the twine trick many years later and was proud of the simple skill. Doing this without the essential knack could sever one’s digit.
Now this is the real puzzler; the shop boy wrote out a receipt in long hand, often very long hand and took your, say four shillings for a three and sixpenny purchase and popped it complete with receipt into a small jar-like receptacle and then popped the jar jobbie into a container which was suspended on a series of wires going all the way down the shop to a glass enclosed office where ‘a girl’ sat demurely on her elevated throne. These lassies might even have been chosen as “Dawn Beauties” in their tender youth. Shop boy threw a series of levers or pulled appropriate switches and quick as a flash yon sealed container headed with much rapidity to Miss in the glassed-in, hermetically sealed office far from the madding crowd.
This hardware shop contained everything that any self respecting farmer might want – bales of bullwire, wellingtons, six-inch nails, blades for mowing machines, blades for Bushman saws, chisels, paraffin oil, axle grease, saddle soap for making leather supple, carbolic soap, washing soda, bluestone, knapsack sprayers, fork handles and four candles.
There were butter spades, wet and dry batteries for the radio and bicycle lamp batteries; shirt studs, collar studs and a vast variety of button and skein thread for capturing birds. Hurricane lamps hung quietly from the ceiling waiting for their day of glory when they’d light the late farmer into the outlying shed to give a wisp of hay to that cow that needed a “white drink”….possibly had a murrin or indeed a murrain.
Some say that life was less complex then as opposed to now; not quite so I think. Now as I type on this machine I’ve no idea how it will enter your realm, what corrects my spelling mistakes, what changes my font from this beaut to the one you probably see on your own gizmo. I don’t know how it enters the ether and like the southward swerving swallow in late summer wends it’s weary way to South Africa… how does this all happen?
As young folk in the 50’s we were told that mysteries were truths of our religion which we were meant to believe but couldn’t fully comprehend when we don’t know what comprehend meant. Now what do we know of the magical mysteries of the PC laptop, iPad etc…. not a lot and yet we of great faith believe that by a series of tricks known to the great and the good and the not so good, this gem of total serenity will wend it’s weary way to you by magic.
Now here’s the trick…. the Da knew that the knotty bits on bull wire would lacerate a frisky bull and curb his enthusiasm. He knew that the very twist of a pig ring would calm the exasperated sow. He knew that wellingtons were waterproof until punctured and that even then a vulcanised patch could render the afflicted wellie good as new again and even more important… leak proof. To give you an idea of the era I’m talking about talking about…. McGee’s of Donegal, great manufacturers of tweed and suit lengths and such items used liberally advertise their suits as being ‘thorn proof’ as if every second guy wearing a ‘Sunday best’ McGee suit spent his day rambling casually through hedges testing the thorn proof capabilities of the material.
I know now that some of you will understand the stuff I’m typing, some will be mildly flummoxed, and some will say ‘Ah yes we were there on the day that he finally lost it’ Fear not I shall recover and return but ever mindful of the Patrick Kavanagh admonition:
We must record loves mysteries without claptrap
Snatch from time the passionate transitory.
Can one say more, dare one say more? Like yonder ever present lily, gild not you heathen, leave well enough alone. Suffice to say that in years to come there are those of you who will type merrily away – I mean talk to the screen, and tell of your strange and deprived youth where one could read a book only from a weird thing called a Kindle and that oil was used to provide heat. You’ll brag quietly that you went to work in vehicles that used gallons of this stuff called petrol while nobody nowadays goes to actual work. It’s all done at home on the one work day of the week. You’ll talk to your grandchildren about the fact that your house was wired for electricity and that stuff had to be plugged in to selected holes in the wall.
Jim Cunningham…. now a mere 96… same class as Kit Seery for a while in Ballinacree School, or the same “book” as they referred to it then, still sharp as a tack, told me in his youth – and my extreme youth – that when he grew up he’d have a “push button ” house. I knew then that he was away with the fairies; but how right he was. We saw with amazement the electric kettle, the lights that used no oil, the fires that heated at the flick of a switch, the magic talking machine, all the mod gizmos of today.
Your day will come and you’ll look on today’s magic as so much old hat. Remember now that when folk like me talk of the deprivation of the ‘olde’ days we’re so aware that only from deprivation comes appreciation. When we talk of the different times we really mean to say we’re so thrilled to turn on taps and flick random switches and access the wifi wonder world of boundless knowledge. We almost forget to give thanks to the One and the Only who makes it all possible.
I won’t be delaying you now… I have to put down a bit of Dak…. mice in the back shed…. did any of you see me sharpening stone? I must have left it in the high field when I was clearing out the back sward…. Trinnears were out of them last week but said they’d order one in.
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