The space in the break of my heart…

The space in the break of my heart…

A reblog on the day that is in it…

Maxpower's Blog

My mother died 25 years ago. She was sixty. To be honest it was a devastating loss. We lost our father two years earlier through a long battle with cancer but Mam? Well she simply disappeared one night, or at least that’s how it felt. She had come through a brief enough medical battle which in itself was life threatening. She was on the way back out of that battle all seemed well.Mam went out with her sisters for the first time since her battle began as if to celebrate her return. She dropped dead holding on to her sister’s hand, singing.

Today is her birthday. She would be eighty five. I saw her two days before she died and I never saw her again. I was called to the hospital at two in the morning, but the body that lay on that hospital bed wasn’t Mam. She was gone…

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Getting a tan in the rain and the loosening of corsets…

Getting a tan in the rain and the loosening of corsets…

Have you seen any of those ‘Who do you think you are’ sort of programmes on the telly. You know the ones; some semi famous person, delves into their ancestry only to discover they carry the bloodline of some famous general, Emily Pankhurst, the Wright brothers or at the very least, Marie Curie.

Isn’t it interesting that they never find that they were related to the first nut job to ride on a bus? Some looper talking in a loud voice, while the person beside them wondered; is he talking to me? Only to discover that when they eventually summed up the courage to look at the crazy person, he started slapping his own forehead and then they knew, it was the odd bus-person’s imaginary friend that was sending them over the edge, and no – he wasn’t talking to them. Or that the most interesting thing about their great grandmother, was that she liked to collect stamps…that she dedicated her life to her collection and that when she died, she only had a total of seven stamps to her name.

Some people are fascinated with their ancestry, me… not so much. There have been interesting theories regarding my predecessors, more rumours if you ask me, some with good stories attached, some quite boring, but I like to imagine the patchwork quilt of my origins with a little more flavour if you will.

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My father’s side is simple. The Power name came through with the Norman invasions of Ireland in the 12th century, and the origin of the name itself, hints at how wonderful my noble ancestors might have been… (See – I’m already doing it, looking to bask in some imagined, reflected glory.) Its origin comes from the French word for poor ‘povre’ which comes from the Latin ‘pauper.’ It was based on a voluntary vow of poverty rather than involuntary destitution; hence, we were basically kind auld souls, who gave to the poor and probably still have a free pass into heaven because we were so lovely. That’s what I take from it anyway, if you feel different, your ancestors were probably begrudgers and it’s in the genes so you can keep your opinions to yourself, thank you very much.

We will say no more about them as I’ve clearly established to my own satisfaction, that we were (and of course still are) wonderfully kind, gracious and giving people, who looked after the poor and the needy. Line drawn…now on to the other side of the family.

My mother’s bunch, well… their history is a mixed bag of what seems to indicate on one hand, a certain level of affluence and poshness and on the other …well let’s just say going back a few generations, one side married better than the other. To be fair, they are the fun side of the family, the side that brought me up and had the biggest impact on my life. But you see there is a niggling question …

Now I’m Irish, born and bred, through to the bone. But, you mightn’t necessarily, pick me out of a line out as being Irish. I’m the quickest man alive to get a tan and retain it, which is tantamount to being a foreigner around here. I get a tan if I go out in the rain. My sallow skin is something I inherited from my mother, so I always suspected it came through on her side of the family.

I did hear stories, few of which are true and most of which I have embellished – because hey! – That’s just more fun – and one of them involves my … now let me try and get this right – my great, great grandfather. We’re heading back to 19th century Ireland now at this stage, back  to when Ireland was well and truly a part of the British Empire. Despite our constant uprisings and shouts of “get out the feck you English fecker,”  and a million rebel songs 55 verses long, many Irishmen took the Kings shilling and fought for the empire around the globe. Indeed isn’t fighting one of the things we are supposed to be famous for…

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Anyhow… my great grandfather fought with the British at Gallipoli, or so I am unreliably informed and his father, my great, great grandfather, was part of a military contingent in India. Now this is where my version, the scraps I’ve picked up, and my natural inclination as a writer to tell a ‘good story,’ might blur the lines a little bit.

So he was serving in India, let’s say for the sake of a good story that he was high ranking, as that serves my lust to be pompous, and that his beautiful wife was left alone for long periods of time, in the torrid heat of the Indian summer. Now given that one of the rumours is that a somewhat less than pale skinned, freckly, ginger, scaldy lookin’ Irish child returned with them from their last trip to India, I’m going to run this version by you…

Lonely, bored and for some reason that is quite inexplicable, but in my head nonetheless,  bearing the accent of a southern belle – my great, great grandmother sat on her veranda, day after day, struggling with the foreign land she was expected to call home. Separated from friends and family, with a husband abandoning her for duty, she would fan herself to avoid fainting beneath the hot Bengali sun and sip tea until noon, while the punkawallah sat quietly in the corner, zombie like, operating the large overhead fan by pulley. He was deaf of course, as all good punkawallahs would be, to avoid the danger of him overhearing conversations of a private or delicate nature.

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Her chaiwallah I imagine to be a kindly, ever smiling young boy, who would be always available, a silent almost ninja like presence, ready with a cup of perfect tea for when she needed it most. Once the sun had crossed the yardarm and purely for medicinal purposes, she might have sipped on a cool gin and tonic – or three. It was for the quinine that she pursued this course of action don’t you know, and to keep her medicinal tipple cool, ice would be carried up from the ice house in great blocks and broken up in the kitchen, by the ginwallah. Carrying the heavy Ice block, was a startlingly handsome young Indian boy, all of twenty years of age. He had a strong frame, striking brown eyes and a smile the illuminated all that were fortunate enough to fall under its spell.

She would watch him carry the ice and as he passed her each day, she couldn’t help but notice the curve of his back, the line of his neck, his muscular torso and his youthful athleticism. She might have perhaps given a nod to the punkawallah to speed up the fan for indeed in such moments; she may have felt a little flush. Perhaps it was for such moments that I imagined my Irish great, great grandmother far away from Ireland, having an accent more at home in the American south, as for some reason I can feel she might have softly whispered something along the lines of,

“Why – I do declare.”

There may have been some heaving of bosoms, a flirtatious glance or two, and a strong desire to loosen one’s corsets, but in my mind one thing would have led to another, lonely, frustrated, perhaps driven crazy by the heat and the mosquitos, whatever the feck – cue the opening bars to Barry White’s “Let’s get it on” and we can all see where I’m going with this one. No need for me to paint the picture really is there? After all this is my great, great granny we’re talking about!

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Now before you get too excited there could be lots of other reasons for my ease of tanning. There used to be blonde in my hair and some of the Scandies, despite their northern origins, tan quite well. Coastal towns on the Eastern seaboard of Ireland were of course, overrun by Vikings until Brian Boru kicked their arses in 1014. There could be a good story in there? There is always the Norman angle I began with and sure those French lads take a tan, or maybe somewhere down the line I had a convict in the gene pool. Now that would be just as cool. Sentenced to deportation to Van Diemen’s Land for stealing a pig, he thought he’d never see his homeland again, only for his son to return a generation (or 2 perhaps) later, to reclaim the land once taken from his father/grandfather. There might even be a duel involved.

Whatever… the romantic in me is going for the Indian icewallah in the hay barn after a couple of gins too many and a very understanding husband. (I won’t say dopey – I prefer to see him as a forgiving soul) There would have been cover ups a plenty and a lot of “no… sure everyone knows that in the heat of India, babies get tanned even inside their mother’s bellies” type of Blarney when they got home.

It’s a toughie I tell you, trying to decide on my favourite. I’d hate to check it out for real and discover I’m descended from a bloke whose sole achievement in life, was coming seventh in the annual courgette growing contest – and that he had a rosette confirming this to be the case – which he kept in pride of place – above the mantelpiece – beside a picture of the Sacred Heart and his empty milk bottle collection. That’d never do…Oh no, no, no, no, no…

Haven’t read a Max Power book yet? I think it’s time to pick one up.
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
You can find more details about Max Power’s books here : –
http://www.amazon.com/author/maxpower
https://maxpowerbooks.wordpress.com
fhttp://facebook.com/maxpowerbooks
twitter @maxpowerbooks1
Universal book links
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood-II
http://getbook.at/Little-Big-Boy
http://getbook.at/Larry-Flynn
http://getbook.at/Bad-Blood

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Mmmmmm…Fly cake …

Mmmmmm…Fly cake …

Dirty Aggie was the only name I ever knew her by, although her real name wasn’t Aggie or even something close like Agnes. It seemed to fit. The origin has been speculated upon but never really tied down, so I won’t add to the debate other than to say, whatever about the Aggie origin, the dirty part had some sense of logic.

I came across her as a nipper and she frightened the living bejaybus out of me. You would have been able to see her shop from our house, were the view not blocked by the corner of the pub across the road from us. As the crow flew it was about two hundred yards away, but you had to cross two roads to get to her shop as our house was very close to a cross roads, whose traffic flow was controlled by a sprawling roundabout.

Even as a little waifling, I was allowed to cross both roads without an adult. I had to cross roads to get to school by myself anyway, so the road crossing rules were well drilled into me and back then, there was very little traffic compared to today.

Most people in our neighbourhood only aspired to own a car, so most of the traffic was passing through and much of it was large and hard to miss as in buses and trucks. Trucks were always a source of amusement because as they slowed for the roundabout, the local boys would try and scut on the back of them. It was not uncommon to see lorry drivers slam on the brakes and jump out to chase them off. They ran the gauntlet, especially if they weren’t closed trailers. Not all the boys were just scutting for fun. Some had more criminal intentions. I didn’t scut. My Ma would have reddened my arse if she caught me and there were far too many aunties, not to mention random auld-wans floating about the place who knew I was May’s son, to take the chance.

Now to be fair, Dirty Aggie’s was very dodgable, but there were times when you had no real choice. She opened long hours and sold a range of goods, tinned food, milk, bread, sliced meats, cake, shoe polish, jam, flour, sweeping brushes…you get the idea. She opened odd hours and sold single cigarettes and single matches, to kids as young as could make it to her shop on their own steam. Back when shops weren’t 24 hour affairs and we were lacking supermarkets, sometimes Dirty Aggie’s was the only place left to go. It’s funny to recall buying a packet of fags for my da without her even blinking an eye when I was so small I could barely see over the counter.

Of course she wasn’t known as Dirty Aggie for nothing. Hygiene was…well let’s just say you left your highfalutin ideas about cleanliness and hygiene at the door. We didn’t have health and safety back then…No siree! At a time when at the very least shops had electric fly zappers with nice flashy blue lights in the summer, Aggie had strings of sticky, fly covered fly paper dangling over the fresh meat.

We could return bottles in them days and get a few pennies on the refund. Aggie never gave kids the money. Instead she would give you cake. She used to have a slab of sponge cake covered in pink icing, which she would cut into small squares, and that was the best you could hope for. In fairness, we didn’t get much by the way of sugar in those days as money was tight, so fly covered or not -they were quite the lure. I loved cake.

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The trouble of course was that the flies liked them too and on a hot summer’s day, they looked more like current cakes, until she swatted them away before slicing through the slab and tossing it on the counter for you. Mmmmmmm…fly cake.

I always entered her shop with a sense of foreboding. She’d rip you off on your change if she could and the place always had a bad smell. Often it was from the older boys throwing stink bombs in through the door and shouting some abuse as they ran away.

What I didn’t know of course, was that she was more than just a cranky old bat who ran a smelly old shop. She was more than the sum of the parts we imagined. Her real name was Louise Moran and her life was dotted with tragedy. She had been married, but lost her husband young and later her son tragically committed suicide, by hanging himself out the back of her house in the shed while she was unaware in the house. She eventually gave up the shop after a few years and moved to a nearby suburb where she fell under the spell of Alzheimer’s. She ultimately died in her early eighties and was buried in her home town land with the wonderful name of Yellowbogcommon. These facts I learned much later in life while researching for my book Little Big Boy.

Of course all we ever knew about her was that she ran a smelly shop and had the enduring nick name of dirty Aggie. She seemed to be a private woman, for even our parents knew little about her. The memories of my childhood are not always happy ones, but I generally look back with a fondness that seeks out the best of those times. In remembering Dirty Aggie I smiled, for she and her shop, the sights, sounds and smells that accompany those memories, are all part of a rich tableau that ultimately shaped my life. Yet I think it’s important to not forget that behind the walls of people we encounter, even those that maybe only barely touch our lives, there are stories filled with joy, sadness and in Aggie’s case, terrible tragedy that we often never even consider.

I can’t reprimand my tinier self for not seeing past her gruff exterior. My mother taught me well enough not to be mean, hurtful, or indeed to join in when others taunted her. I was an observer but my little mind only saw what it needed to see. I saw Dirty Aggie, a woman who challenged me to count my change for fear of it being short. I saw Dirty Aggie, the woman who served me before other boys for I was polite, waited my turn and said please and thank you.

Sadly beyond her soiled apron, the smell of old meat and sugary iced cakes covered in flies, I never gave her much of a second thought at the time. That being said, she still remains large in my memory as indeed she surely does for a generation of children who knew her only as Dirty Aggie, made up songs about her to sing before tossing stink bombs in through her door, and bought single cigarettes and matches from her the very next day. Whatever else can be said about her sad life, she left her mark on this world, for good or for otherwise, but for me at least, a mark dipped in nostalgia, reeking of cold ham, shoe polish and stink bombs. Long may her memory endure…

Haven’t read a Max Power book yet? I think it’s time to pick one up.
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
You can find more details about Max Power’s books here : –
http://www.amazon.com/author/maxpower
https://maxpowerbooks.wordpress.com
fhttp://facebook.com/maxpowerbooks
twitter @maxpowerbooks1
Universal book links
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood-II
http://getbook.at/Little-Big-Boy
http://getbook.at/Larry-Flynn
http://getbook.at/Bad-Blood

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Goin’ de shops for me Ma…

Goin’ de shops for me Ma…

I was reminiscing the other day almost by accident. It’s funny how a word or a phrase, can instantly draw you to another time and place. It was a dropped word that kicked it all off. On my way out to the local mini-market, I said that I was “Goin’ the shops.” Joanna started to slag me for dipping into my childhood vocabulary with such ease. Growing up in my neck of the woods, we tended to drop the word ‘to’ quite often, something I no longer do, but in that moment for whatever reason I dropped it without even noticing.

“I’m goin’ de toilet” or I’m goin’ de shops” were simply the way things were said and essentially part of my childhood dialect and accent. Though I pompously like to imagine myself as a man of the world, I really am just a Dub at heart, a little boy from Dublin in a grown up body.  Such little colloquialisms went unnoticed in my young brain, and a part of me pulls one out quite unexpectedly, every now and then.

Laughing about my slip to the past, I started to explain and thus I began my little trip. Goin’ de shops to get de messages, was something that happened far more frequently back then, than it does today. My mother or ‘Me Ma’ as I would have said, (Pronounced Maah not Maw) didn’t have the luxury that many women today have. While we did have  a car, that was my father’s car, for his use only. She didn’t drive and the notion that he might actually drive her to the shops on his day off, was about as ridiculous a thing as either of them could imagine.

We had no local supermarket for many years when I was small. Eventually they started to appear, an import from foreign places where people had far more money and less sense than we did.  The earliest version I recall was one called ‘The Elephant’ and then there was ‘Powers’ which I loved of course because of the name, but they were hardly supermarkets as we know them today. The inevitable invasion of supermarkets began in more affluent areas, but even in our little working class corner of the world, they began to creep in as I grew older, to eventually eradicate many of the small local shops.  They had strange names like ‘3 Guys’ and ‘Gubays’ and then there was ‘Pat Quinn’s’ and eventually Quinnsworth. Nowadays we have the multinationals, Tesco, Lidl, Aldi and the like, but for me as a small boy, goin’ de shops meant a trip to the butcher, the baker and the green grocer.

For the most part, my mother did the shopping by herself. She took it very seriously and knew not just the price, but the value of everything.  Sometimes she’d drag one or more of us along and I’d spend half my time tugging on her coat going, “Ma…Ma….Ma…” when she stopped to chat to some auld-one about whatever Mas talked about. I really couldn’t have cared less. They could talk for ages and it drove me nuts, standing there in the cold bored off my face.

It was a stop and chat procedure, that could happen five or six times in the space of two hundred yards, and then we’d have to face the gauntlet of auld-one chat on the way back again! Having no real supermarket; and she wouldn’t have trusted them anyway, my mother would make several trips to the shops every day except Sunday. The shops were all closed on Sunday back then, save the local newsagent. She couldn’t carry everything at once and everything had to be fresh. Milk came to the door, but bread was bought fresh in the morning, a bit later in the day meat from the butchers and in the afternoon, she might go to buy some veg for dinner. Different times indeed. But sometimes, only sometimes mind when the pressure was on, she’d make the mistake of sending me as her envoy.

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I hated going to the shops for me Ma, especially to the butchers. She could never just ask me to get one thing and there was always the complication of some additional, overly prescriptive option, that had to be adhered to precisely. To be fair, I was sent to the shops when I was still a tiddler, no bigger than big enough not to be taken by a big gust of wind. All that was in my head was being a cowboy or a commando. I was lucky by the time I got to the end of our path, if I hadn’t already got distracted enough by the injuns on the roof of the pub across from our house, to forget where I was going, let alone remember what I had to get.

“Half a pound of rashers. Lean back, don’t let him give you streaky. A pound of his best lean, round mince, and a half a pound of pork sausages.”

For the love of God! I’d barely get Rashers, mince and sausages. She be lucky if I came back with one of the three, without her turning the order into the vagina monologues! She was immersing me into political theatre. Sometimes she’d say,

“Oh and I need corned beef for your Da on Sunday. Tell them it’s for me… silverside.”

Ok, I don’t know if you’re getting the whole picture, but I’ll explain. First, she’d get me to repeat it back to her, so she felt confident that I’d remember. I doubt she ever was, because it would take me several goes to get it right. Out I’d go with the money in my pocket, with a detailed estimate of what everything should cost and under strict instructions to count my change and make sure I brought it all back. I’d walk the railings, jump over the gate, and then cower down to avoid the first arrows flying in from high above in the canyon. ‘Pesky varmints!’

By the time I’d made it to the butchers, and before I forget, we had more than one butchers locally, each one offering differing quality depending on what you were after. So me Ma in her wisdom, could easily tell me to get half the order in one butchers and the other half in another.

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“Go to Payne’s for the sausages, but get the rest in Mc Loughlins” she’d say. I mean seriously, I had Comanche on my tail! I’d get to Payne’s as that was the furthest and try and remember what she wanted. There I’d queue up behind a line of women wearing scarves, all towering above me, some occasionally offering me platitudes or tussling my hair. (I was cute, what can I say.) I’d trace out shapes in the sawdust with my foot and always be surprised when the butcher would call me for the third time.

“Earth to skinny arse- come in?”

What the…sausages- Payne’s for sausages – but how much?

“Eh sausages please.”

“Pound? Half pound?” his questions worked as a prompt.

“Half Pound…Please.” I was always polite.

“Which ones Skinny Malink”

I’d sart singing the song in my head ‘Skinny Malink Malogeon legs, umberella feet...’
I was damned if I could remember, so I’d shrug.

“What are they for? A fry? A stew? Did your Ma write it down?”

“Pork!”

He’d start to pick them ‘…went to the pictures and couldn’t get a seat, when the pictures started, Skinny Malink Farted …’

And so it went, then on to the second butchers, by which stage I could barely remember my name. Chastened by the embarrassment of forgetting one thing, trying to remember mince, rashers and corned beef, not to mention the specifics was always a challenge. Rashers were easy for some reason, lean back stuck with me, largely from the time the butcher asked me on a previous occasion “what type?” When I answered “lean back” he leaned back and said “what type” laughing as though he’d never told that joke before.
I’d get some version of mince and when I ordered the corned beef I remember saying what my mother had told me. “… and some corned beef please…silverside …” followed by “It’s for me Ma.” I said it because she told me to tell him, even though it made no sense to me at the time. How would he know who me Ma was?

But back then, the butcher knew my mother of course and he would have recognised me as her son. They knew all of their customers, most by name and by their preferences. They’d know what each woman’s husband liked and who could afford a big cut or a small cut. They recognised the nonverbal clues as to when someone was counting their pennies and would adjust their pitch to suit.

My, how things have changed. It’s funny how I hated goin’ de shops back then, yet I have fond memories of that time and place, as vivid and as real as if they were only yesterday. They are conjured up with just the drop of one word. I could tell you a rather bizarre story about going to buy sweets in the local chipper, or fags for me Da in Dirty Aggies, but that’s another story… and I’m not sure you’d really want to know about Dirty Aggie…

Haven’t read a Max Power book yet? I think it’s time to pick one up.
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
You can find more details about Max Power’s books here : –
http://www.amazon.com/author/maxpower
https://maxpowerbooks.wordpress.com
fhttp://facebook.com/maxpowerbooks
twitter @maxpowerbooks1
Universal book links
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood-II
http://getbook.at/Little-Big-Boy
http://getbook.at/Larry-Flynn
http://getbook.at/Bad-Blood

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