I met a lovely man yesterday. A dote of a chap. He could have come straight off the set of Finian’s Rainbow were it still 1968. Or he could double for Mickey Rooney, were he still alive. DH, a man of indeterminate age, says openly that he has a lot of mileage on the clock, but no one is quite sure where the odometer is at.
As we enjoyed a cup of coffee, the conversation was peppered with amusing sayings and colourful descriptions. Commenting on the youth of today and the fact that he’d survived heart surgery and outlived most of his siblings, he spoke of the ould dog for the long road, and the young pup for the path. He talked of times gone by, when he’d been famous enough for his partying and commented somewhat soberly that it wasn’t a big job to fill him now. He told me that he goes dancing every weekend – and still enjoys it – despite the fact that no one else in the family would dance culm.
I’ve sat through many a similar conversation and thought I’d had a handle on all such Irishisms, but this was a new one on me. Apparently, back in the day, poverty drove people to mix waste coal slack (culm) with other material (i.e. dance the culm) so that they could burn it.
Recounting this conversation later that afternoon, more village stories came to light. A man with a hump on his back went into the hardware shop to buy something or other. He thought the price very expensive and when he said as much, the shopkeeper said that the cost of everything had gone up since the war. After some idle chitchat, the shopkeeper asked him what had happened to his back – particularly where the hump come from as he hadn’t been born that way. Ah, says he, sure it’s just me arse – it’s gone up since the war!
The same shopkeeper would display his wares on the street outside the shop and had a good range of chamber pots for sale. The publican across the road thought he’d get one over on him and offered a local lad a free pint if he’d run a message for him. He gave him half a black pudding and a bottle of ale and told him to go across the road and pour the ale into one of the chamber pots – and then to drop in the pudding. The lad duly obliged. Free pints in those days never came as easy. When 6pm came, word had travelled and a crowd had gathered in the pub, glued to the windows, waiting for the shopkeeper to come out and collect his pots. This was back when people made their own entertainment.
This week (which has been a good week all round) I’m grateful for the Irish in me. I’m grateful for the wit that has been handed down through the ages and keeps the country alive and interesting. And I’m grateful that there are still ould lads out there who can hold their own in conversation.
Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52