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.


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
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10 thoughts on “Mmmmmm…Fly cake …

  1. A testament both to your memory and your integrity that you balance the perceptions of childhood with the hindsight found in adulthood, Patrick. A great tale, as always.
    The equivalent for me was ‘Maggie’s’ when I was about six or thereabouts. Maggie’s shop was about the size of a large bedroom and took up the corner at the end of our tenement slum block. She had a son my age who would stand at the doorway some days and stare at any of us who had the temerity to look at the overcrowded, badly merchandised window of sun-bleached items and cheap toys.
    When I went up to Glasgow to research a few aspects of Beyond The Law (fifty odd years along the way), the tenements had long gone to be replaced by single-storey pensioner’s accommodation. Maggie was still there in spirit and in ‘Maggie’s Mini-market’ I was served by a guy my age, but at least twice my weight–he still stares at people, but now from behind the counter in much bigger premises. Give him his dues, the shop is four times the size, but his window displays are good. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  2. So many things here, Max.

    “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.”

    Yes, I remember when every adult in the neighborhood looked out for you, corrected you, considered you as one of their own when you were out on the streets. Not so now, sadly. People often don’t even know who their neighbors are, and some parents would threaten you with lawyers and the law if you tried to tell their kid anything even if it’s to stop throwing bricks at your windows.

    Sold single cigarettes? Never had that anywhere I know of in the States, but like you, my dad sent me to the store six blocks over when I was 6 or 7 to buy him a pack or two of Lucky Strikes. No questions asked.

    As for Dirty Aggie substituting your bottle refund with fly-strewn cake, and literally short-changing you, I suspect the old girl laid aside a bundle which she then forgot about when the Alzheimer’s hit. Might be bag of 1p and 5p coins hidden away somewhere…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My kids still slag me because we still used ‘old’ money back then – pre decimalisation.. tuppences ha’pennys and farthings.. the fact that I still remember the structure cracks them up.. glad you enjoyed it .. ☘️🎈

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Your stories usually get me reminiscing about similar people or places of my past and usually with fondness. We had a favourite like corner shop, albeit was not quite on the corner. It was run by two old sisters. They had a glass case on the customer side of the shop and if you wanted some sweets from there, the sister on duty would have to get the key from a neighboring room and then come all the way round to the front..It took forever. Some of the boys would use the opportunity to reach over the counter and pocket whatever they could get their hands on. R.I.P. Molly McGrath. Poor old Aggie. That cake sounds disgusting though.

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