Celtic Illumination, part 357, Insanity doesn’t run in the family, it gallops.
Many of you will know what it is like to wake up the morning after a serious drinking session, when the only thought in your head is ‘Death please come and take me now.’ I couldn’t believe the pillows in Ireland could be so vicious. In your own home, if you wake up with a hangover, you know that you can take your time, usually you have to because the water is too loud, and when you get downstairs help yourself to some comfort food. Normally I would go for liquid and sugar, Irn Bru for those of you not yet professional drinkers, followed by tomatoes. Of course at the back of your head is the suggestion that a little nip of vodka will straighten you out. I’ve never done that, had the urge to many times, but never actually taken the hair of the dog, I think. It didn’t matter anyway as we were in mother number one’s house and she didn’t have any alcohol. She had made toast, which was sort of miraculous, as not only did she not have any alcohol she didn’t have any bread either.
Don’t ask me how or even why but I had brought home some garlic bread from the previous evening, all neatly and nicely wrapped in tin foil. Mother number one correctly identified this as a bread related product and when hearing us getting up had put it in the oven to heat it up. Not only had she heated it up but she had dried it out, so rather than the satisfaction of soft, quiet and easy to chew, comfort food I was faced with a cup of tea and lumps of dried out garlic bread. It was like eating supersized croutons. The noise was horrendous and the overall sensation somewhat strange. I was tempted to put some strawberry jam on my garlic croutons but decided that might be a culinary step too far even for my advanced palate. Funny how you pride yourself on never having the hair of the dog but how you would keep checking your watch, seeing how long it was before they opened so that you could get a quick half pint of shandy down your neck to help you see the day through.
That day we decided to shoot up and see Nora in Glenarm, mother number one decided to stay in Warrenpoint, which was fine with us. I had so much that I wanted to show Irene we would need to be pretty mobile and truthfully mother number one wasn’t really up to it. I stuck with the main roads until I reached the outskirts of Larne and then took to the back roads. It must have been a good twenty five years since I had been on these roads but I seemed to remember them as if I had only been on them the previous day. Rather than come in to Glenarm along the coast road, which is a heavenly drive in itself, I wanted to come in from the mountainside so that I could show Irene the family grave. It is at a very remote location known as Feystown, above Glenarm, a very wild and bleak place, where I spent many Sunday afternoons cleaning and tidying graves.
I’m not sure why I showed such respect to these graves, it was as if I understood the concept of family and the responsibilities it brought, but there was no reciprocation, the family didn’t want to know me, and who could blame them. I showed Irene the grave and realised that there was a week’s work there so I left it to the elements and drove down in to Glenarm. I know my world can be a strange place at times but as I came past the forest entrance I saw myself already parked outside the house in Glenarm. I had a large, green, automatic Ford Mondeo and that’s what was sitting outside the house. I pulled up behind it and wondered who on earth could have such good taste, or make dolls houses?
The Americans had landed, well Auntie Claire and Uncle Ashton. Claire was a surgeon and Ashton some sort of cancer research expert. Nora was sat sitting in the dining room by the fire, where she always sat. We sat with her and I noticed the collection of empty gin bottles under her chair. Nora had been in medicine too and had also been in the British Army during the war, she seemed to be the only member of the family who knew about real life and who you could have a proper conversation with. Nora was always straight to the point and told me to get in to the kitchen and make a cup of tea. Like the rest of the house the kitchen hadn’t changed and I don’t mean in the thirty or forty years that I had known it, I mean since they had moved in to the house. The sink, table and fittings were so old they were coming back in to fashion.
I felt so comfortable standing there waiting for the kettle to boil. I could still see Nora out of the corner of my eye and wondered why she was calling Irene over. A chill went through me when I heard Nora ask Irene, while pointing at me, “Who’s that in there?” The four of us went in to the front room, leaving Nora alone and it was explained to me that she would be moving in to a home soon so that she could receive the care and attention she needed. I had to go, I had to get out of there, I was so embarrassed that I should have been home, I should have been there helping to look after Nora and Billie, but I wasn’t wanted. It was a confusing time for me. Mother number one always told a story about Claire to me, saying that on our birthday, if you remember my sister Carol and myself shared the same birthday, even through Carol was five years older than me and came from a different biological family. Irene thinks that we were bought on the same day and that the day we consider to be our birthday is nothing of the sort.
We were in Glenarm and Claire came in, it was our birthday and she made a big fuss of presenting Carol with a birthday present but ignoring me. Since that day, or being reminded of it, I knew Claire had no time for me. So as we made our excuses and began to leave, I was surprised to have Claire present me with a gift. Now I know that you lot are a bunch of old romantics, otherwise why would you be reading this? And you are probably thinking when I mention present, a nice box, wrapped in gift paper with ribbons and a card. It was more like she grabbed a couple of sheets of newspaper and took two ornaments off the mantelpiece, wrapped them in the newspaper and handed it to me. But it was the way she handed it to me, as if it were a holy relic, it wasn’t, it was a pair of Staffordshire figurines, the fisherman and his wife. We set them on the rear seat of the car and drove off. Irene was excited as it was obvious that they were antiques but to me they were a pair of figures that I had known all my life and all I wanted to do was set them on a shelf so that we could spend the remainder of our life together.
Mother number one was as interested in the figurines as Irene, I just felt sad as I knew that both Nora and Billie were on their way out and for some reason these people were keeping me away from what I saw as my duty. Mother number one then asked me if I could help her make some more room in one of the bedrooms upstairs. I went up with her and she pointed at all the books, asking if I could take them away, if I wanted them, or take them to the town dump. I had always thought that I was a switched on type of guy, that I hadn’t allowed myself to put any real worth on to possessions. It was the old rule of being able to carry whatever was important, or necessary, to you and move on. Suddenly I was faced with a dilemma. There were hundreds of books and each one was hugely important to me, these were my religious relics.
Many were from around the turn of the century and had been presented as prizes for academic achievement through the school years. Each book would have been signed and awarded to one member of the family usually by the Earl of Antrim. The oldest book was the History of the Irish Insurrection of 1798, by Edward Hay, published in 1862. A small, green, book with a curve on the hard back cover where, I think, some rodents had been chewing on it. Apart from the stories and information contained in the books we had this weird family tradition of placing photographs and letters in books. I have no idea why we did it, and I still do, but it does provide some nice surprises now and again when flicking through books. Irene wasn’t impressed as she began to question where I was going to store these books.
It was interesting to see the difference between Irene and myself concerning the books, to her they were things, books, nothing more or less than something that might have to be dusted once a month. To me they were connections stretching back hundreds of years, what was even more important was the personal connection between the family members who had owned the books before me. What I could never get my head around was the fact that I cared so much about these connections despite the fact that these people didn’t want to know me, perhaps one of you lot, the Illuminati, will be clever enough to work it out. Although I have to say that there were certain members of the family I didn’t want to associate with. Mother number one informed us that Sunday lunch would be late, mid-afternoon, so that Seamus the pervert priest could come and join us. Sadly something happened, a slurry trailer jack-knifed at high speed on the main Dublin road so we would have to leave early, and miss Seamus, imagine that. We lunched at the actual battle of the Boyne battle site. I said it was out of respect for auntie Billie but in reality it was because by the river down there it is such a beautiful spot and I needed to sit and drink it all in, for I knew I was slowly losing Ireland and all my connections.