Author Archives: Slightly Bemused

Zinc hair salon, Dublin last Summer

Slightly Bemused writes:

So, as the Erc Carmen song went, I ran a comb through my hair. This morning, I had snarls. I did not think my hair was long enough for snarls, and certainly it is short enough that they were easily dealt with.

Now, her Little self has longer hair, and she had snarls. She would not let me help, as she said she needed to feel them as she freed them. Makes sense to me. But whether related or not I am still finding strands of long hair about the place. And before anyone asks, yes, I did clean and hoover. I think though that these are like the pine needles off a Christmas tree. No matter how hard you try, some will still turn up in July.

She had to clear the shower drain several times while here. While I did my best to keep it clean, snarls of hair were never the problem.

Where I work is at a hospital. I am not clinical staff, at best I am support, and I will do my best to support. But one of my jobs has me randomly walking about the building. On one of those days, I crossed paths with a nurse taking to an older lady, who would be about my mother’s age. They were going down to an empty room so the lady could get her hair washed, and combed. A seemingly simple thing, it was about restoring the dignity to the lady. The remnants of her auburn  locks were visible even before the wash.

It reminded me of my own mother, and hers. My Grandma, for all the time I knew her, had white hair. Not silver, white. And my mother once told me that she always wanted white hair like that. She never dyed her locks, but as her younger sisters grew grey and some added colour to retain their honestly youthful looks, my mother’s hair stubbornly did not change, and for so many years retained the kind of lightly reddish brown that I also ended up with, after apparently having very white blonde hair as a child. My Dad’s was much darker, and a brother and sister in particular ended up with his very dark black hair. So we were all of us either slightly auburn, or very black.

And over the few too short months she was here, my Little one’s hair grew out. The remnants of the colour she had put in it cleared, as it does, and underneath her original colour returned. A colour I see in the filaments I still find around the house. A colour that reminds me, every time, of her grandmother. My Little one, looking at the photos, wanted the black from my father, with whom she was very close, but she got me. And she got her Grandma.

Slightly Bemused writes:

I have been having trouble sleeping recently. And the other day I figured out a reason. I felt I needed an extra hour of sleep before the schlep to my work. So I used my kitchen egg timer, a simple clockwork jobbie, and it ticks. I fell right off.

Many years ago, as I started on my travels, my beloved aunt Nuala gave me a travel alarm clock. A simple folding job, when closed it was encased for travel, and unfolded open when needed. Mostly I kept it closed, under my pillow when no bedside table was available. And it ticked, quietly as it lulled me to the land of nod.

I have had many other clocks, but there was something sweet in the gentle lure of that one. Without making a pun, I am not sure where it wound up, but I always slept well with it by my side.

These days I have a digital clock radio. It uses a system known as a phase locked loop to ensure it keeps time. My digital phone is locked to the phone company’s time clock. But my radio drifts by a minute a week. My phone company occasionally drifts.

But a man called John Harrison, not a watch maker but a carpenter, invented a clock running on gears and springs that was less than a second out across thousands of miles of turbulent seas to allow sailors know where they were. A clock made in the 1700s by the hand of a carpenter was, and possibly still is, more accurate than my digital clock. And my aunt’s little clock kept better time. The tick of the kitchen timer lured me, with true clockwork precision. The tick of the new clock is merely that.

Strangely I am reminded of the wonderful television adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy from the 80s.They thought digital watches were the greatest thing ever, and Arthur Dent got upset when he lost his. Admittedly he lost his arm too, decided to go mad, and chased a sofa. I am not sure what any of that had to do with digital watches.

Where I work I am constantly reminded of that show. The lift talks to me. Thankfully does not say ‘Glad To Be Of Service’, but it is not far off. And we play what I like to call lift lottery. Different people can call it as a priority, so you get in, and think you are going up, but you may end up going down. A lot more more accurate than my current clock, it knows where it is going, but sometimes I do not.

Somewhere out there is a timepiece that kept time to the dreams of my soul. I hope I can find it, and pass it on to the Little lady of my heart, and it can keep her safe too.

Slightly Bemused‘s column appears here every Wednesday.

Alamy

Slightly Bemused writes:

My Little one has gone home, but the resonance of her stay is still here, in every facet of my life. From the mess on the floor in her bedroom, to the mess on the couch, to the ton of dishes I need to clean.

And she said the most wonderful thing. “Can I leave stuff here for the next time?”

Oh, she managed to break Geoff the dishwasher again. She was surprised when I called him by name. “You named your dishwasher?” Of course I did. But this time it will need a little surgery. And this morning as I sought a clean t-shirt, I pulled the grey one off the drying rack in the kitchen, and realised this is not mine.

I am thinking of doing an instructional video. How to service a baby dishwasher. It would have been useful to have one earlier, but I had to figure it out for myself. Before you get worried, don’t. My Dad was an engineer, and I follow in his exalted footsteps.

Growing up, we had this wonderful round rack for drying dishes. As part of a large family, we were set into teams.

One would set and one would clear the table, one do washing up. One team to wash, one to dry, and one to put away. And in the middle of all of this was this round drying rack. If done right, you followed the march of the dishes around the rack as they dried a bit before getting the towel. and this wonderful central bucket for the cutlery.

Years later my father admitted something. This was the remains of a dishwasher he was given. It did not work, but came to him through friends of my Mum’s eldest brother. They took it back to the house, and as my Dad told it, once of a Saturday they decided to fix it. My Dad was an engineer, did I mention that?

So screws were undone, the cover came off, and eventually little bits and bobs were undone. All while a little scotch (the whisky not the tape) lesson was had here, and there. And in the end this wonderful washing device was, as my Dad’s own mother said, ‘taken totally to part’. And do you think they could remember how it went back together? After too many scotch lessons, even the best engineers forget things!

So our fabulous dishwasher ended up as a drying rack, a few interesting pumpy bits, and strange enameled panels in interesting places, and eventually a wonderful story for a hungry audience.

My little laddie (dishwasher), whom I call Geoff, to my Little one’s confusion, has been on quite the opposite of a diet. A sudden explosion of use, and confusion of communication about how best to treat the poor thing. A real trooper, he has held on, and come back to me. Screws had to come off, but thankfully I knew where they had to go.

For Geoff, I need to fix the racks, so will be in touch with powder coaters over the next short while. Small job, I know, but could add years to his life. See if I can get it piggy-backed onto a larger job – definitely not worth it for just one rack.

Powder coating is amazing. In one of my previous jobs, we used make up large racks for sound equipment, and would have them powder coated, not painted. Beautiful job, done by a very nice crew out near Tallaght. I must check if they are still there. They could transform a simple framework of steel into a beautiful matt finished work of art. We mostly went for black, but I know they had other colours available.

So I am wondering if it is worth doing an instructional video on how to fix your mini dishwasher. To be followed later with ‘how to replace the shock absorbers on your washing machine’. This definitely would be the fool’s guide.

Preferably without the ‘scotch lessons’, at least as we go along.

Slightly Bemused‘s column appears here every Wednesday.

Pic via istock

The Firhouse Christmas Fair.

Firhouse Road, Tallaght, Dublin 24.

Slightly Bemused writes:

‘This is my latest game, and an unashamed plug! If any of you are in the vicinity tomorrow and want to pop over, we have a great variety of lovely locally made crafts and gift ideas. My sister is taking part also (incidentally my younger brother’s birthday) and while she has her Teegan’s Treats available, the whole fair should be fun….

Slightly Bemused writes:

My Little one has left me. Sadly she had reason. A really tragic event happened in her home town in a parade that featured a marching band she was part of. She said this was the first time in ten years she had not been part of it.

In Dublin Airport Terminal 2 (which by the way I personally really do not like from the inside), after a strange and exhausting and possibly dangerous trip to get a test to prove she could go home, she leaned to me and asked if I was okay. Being the polite person I am trying to be, I said no, but what should I write about this week.

She said Honey. The magical mystery of the honey pots. I was confused. She said they kept appearing everywhere. She turned around and one of them was there. I was told there are four, but they keep moving, and she does not know why. I did not realise this was a cause of concern for her. I did not tell her of the fifth on the top shelf.

Apparently honey does not go off. They found some in a pot in some dead pharaoh’s tomb. How they knew it was noy bad is a mystery to me. Like, someone goes ‘here is 4,000 year old stuff. Who wants to taste it?’

Mine is not 4,000 years old. I think the oldest is maybe 6. But they crystallise. And what you do to them is heat them, and they re-melt into liquid honey. But I turned my storage heating on to warm the cockles of a few travellers not used to our climes. Why waste the heat? So as I found them on the heater at the bottom of the stairs. As fluidity returned, another one changed its place, but of course I put one down before picking the other.

And so the march of the honey pots became a thing she did not understand, but fascinated her. She had no idea what was happening, and I did not realise it. But even in these times I am glad that I can still somehow bring wonder to her life. Even if it is slightly sticky when you forget, and honey overflows.

And then she asked me can she leave stuff here, for her next visit? I am not a proud man, love and tears overflowed.

Slightly Bemused‘s column appears here every Wednesday.

Pic by Slightly

The scene of Slightly’s bell-ringing shame

Slightly Bemused writes:

So there is a new grotto in town.

I have only lived here for forty years or so, but it took a new arrival for me to find out about this. Back behind my church, where apparently mobile coverage does not work, there is a little sanctuary to Mary.

Finely ensconced in a glass cage, she looks out over my daughter as she sits and thinks and reads, and peruses her day’s thoughts.

When I found out about this place I realised something. In order for this grotto to be here, something had to go. That something was the convent of the Presentation Sisters.

Many of them were teachers to us, through the years. I am not sure they liked us. One famously took a ruler to my sister, who promptly took it from her and whacked back. Our family do not take lightly, so tread carefully where you may.

The grotto where the convent once stood looks out across a lawn to the room I used study science in. I will tell you of the blue water another time. The main school is now a shopping venue, but once my doctor was shot there. Thankfully he survived, and I am still able to tell people that I went to school in a field. And a one-armed man who taught me science found evidence of an old settlement there, sadly now buried under signs of saving.

The sad thing for me is I recognise the statue. It used be in the hall of the convent, welcoming all in. Or at least as many as never took a rule to a sister. I am not a believer, but I do respect those who do, so I am glad to see her recognised by the community.

But just down from her place of fame is my place of shame
. There is still the old bell tower, which still rings out the Angelus, and the tidings for the Mass. You can see the bell from Little Slightly’s window, and it bongs each day at the noon and the hour. Actually, it is early these days, about ten to. Back in the day old Skinner, the sacristan of those times, would only chime in time. And God help the late.

But Skinner was also just a man, and he got sick as do the rest of us. So when he did, an altar boy was sent out, in his rainments of crimson and white, to sound the bells and bring the faithful to their true home. The church wherein I was wed, but that was a few years later.

On this day when Skinner (the local barber, by the way. Hence the name) coughed in sick, a certain young lad of the very slightly build was asked to ring the bell. So out I went, past the convent where a grotto now stands, and I faced off on the bell. These days it has a solenoid, an electric ringer. But of course, not then.

Back then, it was old school. The bell still sports the rather big circle ring whereupon used rest a chain. And to get it ringing, a seasoned campanologist would pull the chain, let it go, and pull again on the backswing. Gaining momentum. Eventually it got to the point where the clapper sounded out the call to the worthy to come and pray.

Funnily enough, this was not one of the lessons in altar boy training. So here I am, looking at the bell and chain. There was a low wall around the base, now extended to the top. And I thought if I grab the chain as high as I can and then pull, it will work. So to get as high as I could I clambered up this little wall. I reached high, grabbed the chain, and jumped.

Now, here is a lesson in both physics and momentum. A one ton bell will move when a ten-pound altar boy pulls. But it pulls back, as it swings. And it is a lot heavier. So there is me, swinging up and down the side of the bell tower, not letting go for fear of my life. And the Mass bell went bong… bing… bong…

And Skinner got out of his sick bed to make it right for the next Mass, and never let me near his bell again.

Slightly Bemused‘s column appears here every Wednesday.

Pic by Slightly

Slightly Bemused writes:

“I am heading back upstairs”

“Fine. Love you” to the retreating pounding of footsteps on the stairs

“Love you too” comes back, softened by the pace of upward departure and the closing door keeping the heat in. Through the now secure portal a deeper voiced rumble comes in response, as a certain fiance type person thought the comment directed at him. Who knows, maybe it was.

It got me thinking about the little terms of endearment we use for each other. Some used in my family, and I know regularly across Ireland, occasionally brought an askance eye when I was in the US. My mother always called us ‘sweetheart’, a term seemingly reserved for beaus and belles there. If we were ill, or my Mum just thought we needed a little more love, we would get the appellation of ‘dearheart’. Now that one is definitely one between fasted partners in certain parts of the mid-western states. But I recall several times when I was feeling poorly in my bed, and this angel with a cigarette in one corner of her mouth would bathe my forehead and mutter words like ‘Don’t worry, dearheart. This will help you sleep.’

I am not sure it really did. The cooling cloth felt good on my fiery brow, but the smell of the ciggy was, and still is a trigger for me to come awake. As a child it presaged the maternal alarm clock arriving in the bedroom to roust us out for school. But the words were soothing, and treasured even to this day.

I do not want to make the mistake I made with my parents. I never told them enough that I did love them. I think they knew, I hope they did, but verbalising it would have done no harm, and may even have warmed my heart a little more each time as it did when they said it to me. I cannot recall which of us asked, to some comment about who was the favourite, ‘how can you love us all equally?’ To which the one replied succinctly ‘we don’t’, and as this sunk in the other said ‘you are all too different to love equally. We love you each as you are.’ A subtle difference lost on me at the time.

There are those I know who are in constant touch every day, even when they will see them that night. My boss’ partner calls him several times a day. We were, and still are not that type of family. In one of my many travels I was unable to call home for months. Communication was via the old airmail letter, with coded missives carefully handwritten on both sides of paper lighter than a tissue. Occasionally more important news had Dad steam open the envelope, and the message was continued inside, before being resealed for the journey to whatever part of the world I was in.

A problem with this is that while you can hear the voices of your loved ones in your head, hearing them for real is more important. So I got a break, and set about trying to call home. In those days, where I was still used old mechanical telephone exchanges. Getting an international line could take an age, and halfway through dialing may just drop out. Finally after what seemed like hours there was a click, and the sound of a phone ringing at the other end. An inevitable delay, and an echo which did not help, and my father’s voice answered.

I said hello, this is me, to which I got a glad reply, followed immediately by ‘what’s wrong?’ We only called when we needed help. Thankfully all that was wrong was I needed to hear their voices. Talking in a verbal code not unlike that used on the letters, we caught each other up on the events of the days, a little like what Slightly does waiting up for me each evening to get home from work.

And I learned that I had a niece. Not even a new one – she was a year and a half old. In the interim I had received several letters, and even been home, but somehow this important bit of information eluded me. She still occasionally ribs me about it.

As with many Irish people, the language used between people who are actually fond of each other, while unprintable here, really does say how much they think of each other. I am occasionally reminded of a time I was at my cousins’ place where my brother was staying. Apparently the terms we used to each other caused wincing amongst this group who were not shy of telling their own siblings where to go and where to get off.

One eventually asked my brother, Glitter’s dad, although she and Little Slightly were way in our futures then, and she wondered why we spoke so seemingly unkindly to and of each other. Maybe it is a Cork thing, because I know it comes in part from my Dad and his side of the family. But the response was along the lines of ‘of course I love him. If I did not, I would not even mention him!’ If anyone is familiar with the film Freaky Friday with Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan, and Gibbs, there is a point where her little brother admits to the woman he thinks is his mom that the reason he gives his sister such a hard time is that it is so much fun when they fight. I guess our interaction was somewhat like that.

I do recall telling a very lovely lady of my acquaintance, from another land, that there is little to worry about in general when Irish people eff and blind at each other. It is more like punctuation than anything else. It was time to get serious, though, when they called you ‘friend’ with that particular emphasis. Time now to cut and run before it becomes ‘listen, friend!’

But my Mum and Dad gave me advice when I was getting married. Never, they said, go to bed angry with each other. Life is hard, and there will be tough days. But let the last words from your mouth be ‘I love you.’ And if you are together in the same room, always cuddle while standing for long enough for the tension to ease. Not a cure-all, they emphasised, but it was the first step in taking the next day on as a couple, not alone.

As my partnership started coming apart and I did not know what to do, my mother gave me more advice, based on those simple but tough concepts. ‘Love,’ she said, ‘is a decision you make every day.’ And as my beloved daughter went to snuggle under the covers with her loved one I realised something. It is a decision I am still making. Not the same, it never can be, and not just for the sake of this amazing young person that somehow we brought into this world.

Maybe I did not call her sweetheart enough. Maybe neither, dearheart. Maybe we did not cuddle enough before bed, being separated by oceans and skies. And maybe I failed to tell her I loved her enough. But I still do, and in a strange way I blame my father for that. As my mother ailed into her final months and weeks and days and hours he never left her. When asked by the doctors if he was sure he could support her he replied in surprise ‘Of course! I made her that promise 47 years ago.’

He once told me that to be born a gentleman is nothing but blind luck. But to die a gentleman is an achievement. He would then get a wicked glint in his eye, usually as he raised his pint to his lips, and would mutter ‘I am not dead yet!’

For him, it was immutable. A vow is a vow. If I can be a quarter the man he was I will die a reasonable facsimile of a gentleman. And I will remember to tell my daughter I love her. And when she lets me, give her a hug even if it is really me who needs it most.

And I still slip when talking occasionally to her mother, and call her sweetheart.

Slightly Bemused’s column appears here every Wednesday.

Pic by Slightly


Slightly Bemused writes:

They say good fences make good neighbours

Granny Weatherwax knew this, and so lodged next door to the biggest dealers in stolen goods in Ankh Morporkh. And along the way with practical advice enabled a certain lady rise to head up the Seamstresses Guild.

I was thinking of that over the weekend as I received my new uniform for work. Thankfully not a bad one, it is a very nicely made jacket and trousers, officially dark grey, or charcoal, but so close to black I cannot tell the difference. Little Slightly started to point it out, using the black trousers I have been using as reference. Then she took one look at my face and stopped. She was not met with confusion, merely amusement and that male issue of there only being primary colours. Everything else is a pigment of your imaginations.

The problem is that none of it fits just right. The trousers are the right waist, but they come in very long leg lengths. Cutting it to size will give enough for me to make a whole ‘nother pair. And I was commenting with Little Slightly about getting them taken up.

Now I was met with a face of confusion – this was not a term she was aware of. As she constantly reminds me when the chance arises, she inherited the short gene from me. This necessitates many times shortening the legs of her various trousers, pants, slacks, jeans, chinos… But she had never ‘taken them up’. So a new phrase for the lexicon.

She kindly offered to do the job for me, but not using my sewing kit, an emergency kit designed to reattach a button or hold together a seam until a more qualified and experienced seamster or seamstress could do it. I must suggest she speak with her aunt, my sister, who is an incredibly deft worker of sartorial miracles. And jam. She brought a pot – it’s gone already. Sadly with too much demon spread to help it along.

I grew up in a family with various excellent skills. My Dad cobbled our shoes and replaced the soles and heels often. He still had his lasts and his cobbler’s anvil last time I was in his garage, not long before he passed. He had a whole set of tools I believe he got, along with the lasts and anvil, from his own grandfather, who taught him this skill. Now, none of them were cobblers by trade, they just came from generations where you turned your hand to anything. And he taught me the best way to use impact glue, a skill I have used many times since.

He also cut the boys’ hair. Short back and sides was the order of the day, or indeed any day. The first time after I moved out I went to a hairdresser near my apartment in Dublin, wonderfully located across from my uncle’s camera shop so a wonderful chat and cuppa were in the offing. I had let my hair grow long for me, and sat in the chair. The lady could tell I had only ever had the ould SB&S treatment, and looking askance asked ‘Same again?’ To which I replied with delight ‘Absolutely not!’, I took off my glasses and explained that I was now blind as a bat.

I left my bangs to her experienced eye, gave her her freedom to remake my head as the world would now see it. And we had a great chat. As she was just across the street from my uncle’s shop we were doing the whole 6 degrees before that was a thing. My Dad, far from being upset, did compliment it the next time I was home. As he explained, he only knew one way to cut, and in his generation that was the way everybody’s was cut. Unless you used Brillcreem.

My Mum was a seamstress who kept our clothes together. Many was the time having worn out the seat of a pair of trousers, a gusset was patched into place, sometimes a mismatched colour for contrast and to provide a source of ribbing in college. In our home town no one cared – we were all in the same boat. But some of my college mates found this far beneath them. Patched trousers and a donkey jacket did not make me the epitomé of cool. But I was warm and dry in the winter, and my trousers fit.

And my Little one and I started talking about how much it would cost to have it professionally done. Before anyone gets upset, I truly think that those offering the service deserve to be properly recompensed. But I recall one time going to see if I could have a zip changed. It was from a pair of chinos from a certain shop that used have a whole lot of things for Christmas.

The cost of the repair was more than the cost of a new pair. So I demurred, and commented this to my family. Whereupon my sister asked for the old pair. A new zip was put in, and for a few years the chinos continued their life for her son. Until he grew up, and most definitely did not get the short leg genes. The short leg jeans I gather ended up on another family member.

So for a while yet I will be making do with my not quite the right colour black slacks, my shirt, and I will be going jacketless for a bit. At least the tie fits, but it is a clip on, and for that I am thanking any deity you may care to mention. I am not a fan of ties, and the last time I knotted one it was very close to a granny, and most certainly not the Windsor I was attempting.

And Tuesday morning I awoke to the sound of furious cutting. The fence between my garden and my neighbour’s has been gradually falling apart for a while. The brambles have been encroaching from what theoretically was our back line, keeping the low tennis balls at bay. About 4 years ago two panels between us came down. So we removed them, and this made it easy as we share a lawnmower. Whichever of us starts first cuts both.

Eventually more panels died, and we spoke occasionally about trying to find the end panels behind all the brambles. And Tuesday was that day. I wandered outside to see a small possie braving the thorns, using the right equipment and gear. So I talked nicely to the boss man and we agreed that he could do to my backline also. A price was negotiated, and I was up front that I could only pay once I get paid, later this week. He did the job anyway. Small town, if you give your word, you honour it.

So I have finally seen my end fence. Other than the excitement of seeing it, it looks pretty much like the side fences. And in surprisingly good shape. I learned that ivy and brambles do not mix. They fight for the same resources, and whichever gets the first hold wins. I will miss the blackberries this year, though. Although I do have to explain púca’s p*ss to Little Slightly at some point. She is talking about setting up a diorama for Hallowe’en in my porch, so it is kind of timely.

But the ivy got first dibs on the side of my shed, and one of the panels. More negotiating done, and people who knew what they were doing have released my shed from a quite literal bondage. It will probably collapse now, as I imagine that the ivy was actually holding it up.

So at this point, barring the end two panels, there are no fences between me and my neighbour up to the very first one behind the gates. It seems that contrary to the adage, good neighbours means no fences are needed.

Darn it Now I feel a Garth Brooks song coming on…

Slightly Bemused‘s column appears here every Wednesday.

Pic by Slightly

Slightly’s kitchen and multi-grain loaf – cut with a ‘sharpened’ serrated knife

Slightly Bemused writes:

I got up yesterday morning to find something dreadful. We had no bread in the house. Breakfast would have to await a trip to the shop.

Little Slightly and I have this agreement. Every time we buy bread we buy a different type. I am going for the wholesome brown breads of various types. She is loving the simpler white sliced as it makes a better peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We are ranging on butters too, from real butter through the various forms of spreadable. I think she has a cunning plan on trying every form of butter against every form of bread. A carbohydrate loaded path awaits me. I have yet to introduce her to soda bread.

But this morning was a problem. I bought a lovely, still warm multigrain loaf from a popular little supermarket down the road. They have this wonderful machine that makes your bread better by turning it into sliced bread – the best thing ever, or so the saying goes. Actually, it was “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped”, but who is checking?

You can choose from a range of options, from thin to doorstop, and it makes this satisfying thunky sound while working. And always there is a lonely, abandoned end of crust which did not make the cut. Or rather, did, and got left behind, along with the crumbs of many other loaves who wished to enrich the lives of their new found families. I have to admit to snarfing a few random ends to see what that particular loaf tasted like.

The last loaf I bought there had an errant end piece. It fell off after the first cut, and was recalcitrant in deciding to get into the bag for the journey home. In solidarity, the other ends decided to go on strike and went against the grains by slipping under the rest and making for freedom. But all was held in check, I managed to bag my ends, and home we went for a little second breakfast.

It must have been good as I got up the next day and it was gone, with telltale evidence of plates and cutlery and remnants of a product I thought would never grace my shelves was smeared across my knives. It turns out that my local supermarket, known for keeping a certain brand of sausages alive that I have not introduced her to yet, has an American Section. Among other things it has the very brand of this hideous paste that she prefers, and a mix for making ranch dressing. I can almost forgive them because of the latter. As a very young one ranch was her favourite, and it is not easy to come by. So a small taste of home while she nibbles and reads the next book just released from her favourite pair of authors.

When she was little, Little Slightly loved what she called ants on a log. Take a stalk of celery, fill it with peanut butter to the level, roughly smoothing the surface, then place raisins along it. At the time, she would devour loads of it. Apparently the really devious parents would cut this concoction from hell into bite size pieces and serve it at childrens’ parties. Admittedly, this was usually alongside slices of ham smothered in cream cheese and rolled up, similarly sliced into cocktail size morsels.The young lady next door, who has adopted Little as her own, had never had peanut butter. Another cunning plan is under way to get her to eat more veggies by introducing her to ants on a log. I will keep the secrets of the ham rolls to myself for now.

All this aside, I will not be involved with the ants. I do not consider celery to be food, as it takes more energy to digest than it gives to the body. Parasitic foliage. And while I love peanuts and peanut oil, peanut butter is the food of the devil!

But I digress a little. Yesterday morning I went to the shop for bread, but the lovely funny cutting machine was not working. No thunking, no slicing, no ‘greatest thing’ as this was just unsliced bread. This loaf was coming home whole.

Did I tell you about our divorce lottery? For some reason, I ended up with Little Slightly’s mother’s cutlery. This is good stuff, and ended up in my half of the roughly divided belongings. Little Slightly I think has grown fed up with me saying ‘Oh, that used be your mother’s!”. A little less so about “We bought that in [insert place here] together.” Apparently her mother says the same, sometimes, and I wonder what I had that not only is worth the memory, but lasted this long!

But my various utensils also include a knife set given to me by Glitter Slightly’s father. Among its many cutting options is an old fashioned style bread knife. So home I come, out comes the breadboard, and away I go slicing my breakfast into the second best thing. Little Slightly was not impressed. I am not sure, but I think she may not have understood the way to slice bread like this, before machines did it for us.

My Mum used occasionally treat us to warm batch loaves. For some reason batch loaves were always unsliced, and we would have to cut them to our own preference. Debates raged over the best way to cut, with the hard crusty top and soft four base, did you start from the top and risk going awry, or from the bottom up and take the crust from below, when the main slice was already mostly ready. A risky strategy, as it required balancing the loaf on its rounded top of crunchy loveliness. My Mum’s wisdom was the sideways approach, offering the best of both worlds. Sandwiches were made with warm chicken for some, egg salad for others, whatever our fancy that day. My favourite has to be corned beef with real butter! But four batch loaves had to make enough slices for us all, so we had to learn how to measure our cleavings.

My mother was a cut above the rest, as far as I am concerned She could pare with the precision of an engineer’s tooling shed. Particularly cheese. We owned this carving knife that had been in her family for generations (Glitter’s father has it now) and it was as sharp as a scalpel. We were all taught how to whet on it, and failure was not an option. No ridicule, merely the withdrawal of permission to use this blade. And hours of practice on the more modern ones until deemed worthy once more.

Between Mum, and Dad teaching us to hone chisels, our house was a very sharp place. I need to do the same with Little Slightly: my favourite blade is protesting her different style of wielding the steel. I understand more fully why chefs have their individual sets –  self and steel become almost one.

I was taught how to sharpen a serrated knife. If you want a whole load of not so much fun, try it! Dad left me his micro whets.

But with that familial blade my mother could shave the wind. In particular, we got big blocks of cheddar cheese, rectangular but about the right size to fit a sliced pan. And my mother could cut it so thin it was translucent. Window cheese, we called it, and wondered at this magic. In later life we realised she was making it go as far as she could, but none of us have yet reached her level of mastery.

I can still wield a hefty bread knife, and set out with board and blade to cut slices to help me celebrate the new born day. I carved what I needed, and rewrapped the rest. When she arose, Little Slightly was unimpressed. Out for groceries, and a different, more proud pan was bought, and my bread knife was consigned to the dishwasher before its time.

Which begs the question: should I have sliced all the loaf, and if I had, would she have noticed?

This morning I will want a slice of life, and I do not mind having to work for it. Out will come a board,  a knife, and a loaf. Not sure what adornments may follow, but I will enjoy them, And my Little one’s paste is safe from me for another granary day.

Slightly Bemused‘s column appears here every Wednesday.

Pics by Slightly

Slightly Bemused writes:

Although I come from one, I often find it funny how interlinked small towns are.

I was feeling good. I had lost a tyre to an accident that proved not to be of my doing, and the company involved called me to let me know that I could expect reimbursement for the replacement. On the day it was damaged, Little Slightly was having her hair done by an old family friend when she called for help. She had not brought enough cash for the payment. She called just as I was realising that either cars have gotten heavier or I had gotten weaker. I needed to enlist the help of one of the strapping young lads doing the road works to help jack up the car and put on the spare. Which of course was almost flat too.

So I talk to the hairdresser, who in my mother’s final years would travel to our home to fix her hair regularly. She brought with her all the gossip of the town. She went to school with my sister, and her husband used play in a band with Glitter Slightly’s father, my brother.

The phone was passed over, and she was assured that I would sort the payment issue out once I got my car to the tyre centre. To which she mentioned someone, a known old curmudgeon who knows lots about tyres, and changed those of my first car more years ago than I care to mention. Still the same, still entirely dependable, and still working at over 70 years of age.

Then I learned of the sudden and untimely passing of a lovely lady in our town.

The lady in question was the sister of another legend of the town, who set up his family pharmacy more than 50 years ago. Today, his grandson is head pharmacist, and the family are still there. One helped me choose a nice pack of Irish-made smelly stuff to welcome my Little one. Her sister in the same shop years ago suggested a shower gel for my Dad for his birthday – apparently it would make his bits tingle!. I went to the shaving set instead.

Coming from a large family, many of us went to school with the various members of the pharmacist’s children, and those of the lady just gone. Also with another set of their cousins, who sadly lost their mother many years ago, One of the lady’s sons became a Garda, another roamed around South America before it was a hipster thing to do, and his tales of $1 hotel rooms better than our 4-star ones were great. As were his tales of weeks on end with just a bedroll and no shower.

I went to school with a daughter who later became a baker, and such wonderful confections were a delight. Her older sister married a dentist who took one look at the reconstruction of my tooth from Somalia and said he would not touch it unless and until it caused problems, such was the level of the work. He sadly passed suddenly too, so now a double tragedy for that lovely friend.

And the connections went further. The lady used to work closely with my mother in the development of a centre for the intellectually challenged (my youngest brother has Down’s syndrome, but all are welcome) and for the physically challenged. The former was established in my old primary alma mater when a new boys’ school was built in the town and the old building, developed in the early 1800s, looked to be abandoned. The playing field was converted into a tennis club that still rains balls on my back garden. But the main building has become one of the county’s premier day care centres.

The latter was developed in an abandoned house known to all as The Doctor’s House, where a doctor who was later shot in a field where an Aldi now stands once stitched up my eyebrow where it was split by a flying mop head. It is now a major centre for the Irish Wheelchair Association.

And developing them both was a triumvirate of my mother, a gentleman rogue, and the lady. With her passing, all three are now gone, and sadly those currently working in these wonderful places do not know their names, or the role they played in setting them up. Nor the battles all three fought with councils and governments, developers and tennis players to get what they saw as essential services for those who could not. But those of the town of a certain vintage remember.

So, in a few days the community will gather to honour the memory of a wonderful lady who truly changed the shape of our village. We will look to support her family, just as they did when we lost loved ones. And I will continue my struggle to get her memory preserved in the monuments to her love and dedication to those who were unable to help themselves, and their families who had no support in their struggles to care for them.

Unlike the nail that scuppered my tyre, this lady was deeply embedded in the very fabric of our town. Somehow, being reimbursed for a repair seems a little less important.

Slightly Bemused‘s column appears here every Wednesday.

Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews