17 July 2016
When I was a lad growing up in Northern Ireland, me middle name was not Aloysius, as it said on me birth certificate, it really was Gullible. Me sister's middle name was not Maeve, it was Trouble. I found the truth out long ago when THE FOOT CAME DOWN!
Ah the dreaded foot! When me sister would get in trouble, which was her vocation in childhood, God knows she had to have one, I also somehow was the cause of said trouble. Like the time Aunt Seonaid (pronounced in Ireland as Cee O Naid; here they say Shon Ah -- which annoys me Auntie no end) came over for a visit. She arrived early, me Mam was out buying things for tea and me Da was at work, so she found me and sister Sheila the only ones occupying the abode.
Well, Auntie Seonaid was never a favourite of Sheila's so the reception was standoffish at best on Sheila's part. We three stood in the hall awkwardly so seeing Sheila wasn't going to give a proper greeting, I went in the opposite direction and lunged at me Auntie (trying to make a magnanimous gesture) and wrapped me arms around her in a boyish bear hug. This quite set us both back, because not expecting the lunge I sent her sprawling along with me gangly self! Sheila covered her mouth but the laughing was loud enough that it annoyed me Aunt in a big way. I struggled to disentangle meself from me Aunt and then gave her me scrawny arm to heave her large self up, which caused her to rise and me to go back to the floor. This, as you can well imagine, brought guffaws from Sheila who, not being able to contain the laughter ran to the back of the house.
Me ears where hot from embarrassment, and me Aunt's face with indignation, but she helped me up and patted me head saying what a true blue fellow I was. That helped and I offered to hang up her coat which she gave me, and being heavy, it almost felled me to the floor again, but I got it somehow on the hook. Breathless from THAT exertion, I turned to face her with a now what look on me dumb face, and then with the awkward silence filling the hallway, I had the bright idea to offer her tea. Oh yeah, tea, I had seen it made many a time, several times a day in fact and never retained the method, but there I was, offering it up. Aunt Seonaid was or seemed impressed with me good manners and said yes, she'd love a cuppa. So off to the kitchen we went, where me sister was doubled over in laughter in a chair, still covering her mouth to stifle the sounds. As soon as she saw us she was out the backdoor. Oh good I thought, I be in real trouble because unlike me, Sheila had made tea and I was going to enlist her help, but now I was on me own.
Now making Irish tea is not boiling water and dropping a tea sack (teabag) in. No indeed, you measure loose tealeaves out of a tin and put them into a tea infuser which be a stainless silver ball with small holes and sometimes a chain attached. It has a top and bottom that screw together. Once the water is hot, you pour it into the Brown Betty, stick in the infuser to brew and wait, and wait, and wait. We had oolong tea and I knew it took a good 7 minutes to brew to a robust flavour, but we also did not have a clock in the kitchen, and time for me was ever flowing, so I lost track. One of the other things I did not know at the time, it is one teaspoon per cuppa, and well I had loaded the infuser up I did.
|Tea Things for those not in the know starting from upper left: typical British teacup, a Brown Betty (teapot), teaspoon measurer (yes, tea has its own measuring spoon), the infuser and of course the Irish Tea in its tin.|
Sheila pointed out later, how did I know it wasn't ready it being a dark tea in a dark teapot? Exactly me downfall. Finally, me Auntie couldn't take the suspense and asked me ready or not please pour her a cup she was sorely in need of one. When I heard the word 'sorely' it sparked something in what little brain I was using and I said, "Auntie Seonaid do ye knoo we are related to da McSorely's in County Doon?"
This stopped her from reaching for the sugar cubes, and with brow looking confused she answered, "The McSorely's? The Jaymes and Catrine McSorely's? Da ones arrested?"
"Yes indeed the same." I said proudly.
Now the McSorely's were not a family to be proud of, James was a known IRA man and his wife Katherine was said to be the brains behind the force. They were both arrested the week before Auntie Seonaid's visit and had put up quite the fuss in the newspapers and on the telly. Oh they were led away hollerin' and gesturing all kinds of slogans sprinkled liberally with curse words. It was even shown on the telly and as they were escorted from their small council home there was a woman with her son on the pavement watching. As Mrs. M came near to the camera she spewed out curse words (that I had tried to write down to remember later but she was too fast for me) and on camera it was caught the mother quickly throwing her hands over her lad's ears. We got a kick out of that, at least me Da did when he saw it on the news that night. From me Mam there was a lot of 'tsking' going on.
There was a discussion between me parents that Jamie boy was me Da's cousin twice removed and our family had nothing to do with the notorious McSorley branch nowadays, because of James and Katherine's supposed involvement in IRA matters of a dark twist (as he put it). Well, this bit of news I thought would enthral me Auntie, but no, it had the opposite effect, she forgot the sugar cubes and sat with open mouth looking properly horrified.
"On yer fater's side, roight lad?" She asked a shake in her voice.
"Oh yes indeed," I announced stupidly.
To be clear, at that age I had no clue what the IRA was. I was taken with all the talk and thought it was cool. But I was clueless and no one thought to educate me as I was thought to be too young to understand. I had been "drilling" with a wooden stick down me street thinking I was looking very much the man, as I had seen the British soldiers in Belfast do on the news and was of a mind that was what I would do when I grew up. Again, I didn't know why there were British soldiers in Belfast, why they did drills, nor that I was a natural opposite to all they stood for and worse that me neighbours must have been aghast at me antics. And why was that? Because, once again, the adults in me house thought I was too young to understand. Yes, I know what you are thinking, "Gabe, you were a dumb little fecker." Anyway, now the IRA thing seemed cooler than the British soldiers so there I was all about it.
"That's what I wanna be when I grow up." I stated with a fist bang on the table. "All that fame and probably fortune, dat's da life fer me!"
Well, as you can imagine me Auntie's mouth had dropped to her chest, her eyes were big with surprise and distress soon took over her features but I was too full of meself to realise that I hadn't awestruck her, I had shocked her to her socks! It was that moment me sister took to reappear at the kitchen door. She had heard the whole of me declaration and came in with a sneer on her face. She told me to fetch the milk she'd join us for tea but she required milk in hers, so would I be a dear and go to the front porch the milk was delivered and carry it in.
Stupid is as stupid does and that's exactly what I did. While I was gone, Shelia saw her chance to get out of trouble with her Aunt telling our Mam of her behaviour. Oh yes she did. She proceeded to fill me Auntie's head with what a troublemaker I had become in the neighbourhood. Marching up and down our street with a tree branch doubled as a rifle, I'd shout IRA slogans back and forth for hours. How I did this when me parents were out and how I had frightened the neighbours into not telling on me activities. Oh it got worse in the short time it took me to get the bottle of milk, but the damage was done AND believable because of me being a stupid proud arse and being all taken with the McSorley's. Oi!
I knew something was amiss by the way me Auntie Seonaid was staring at me, not looking, staring. I almost asked, what, but me sissy told me the tea was probably ready. She knew it was more than ready that is why she drowned hers with milk.
Well, I poured and knew right off tea should not be black, but it was flowing into those white china teacups black as black can be. I knew it had brewed too long and was going to have a taste probably bitter and much too strong for a ladies tea. But too late and I was too proud to admit me mistake and have Shelia make a fresh pot. I knew Auntie was in need of a cuppa and well this was strong and probably just what she needed. Such logic huh?
No one said anything but Sheila's sneer became more pronounced as she stirred the milk in. She took the first sip and acted like it was fine, and so I thought maybe it was. Me Aunt and I took our sips at the same time and oh my, she choked first and I spit mine across the table all over her -- it was that BAD. Thank you Shelia! Me Aunt's face was dripping black tea all down her ample dress front, as I sat not able to move in horror that I sprayed her like I did. She was still trying not to choke so she couldn't really talk or say a word. She gestured to Sheila for a tea towel, and of course Shelia was acting like she had no clue what Aunt Seonaid wanted. She pointed to everything but the bloody towel as me Auntie choked and shook her head. I grabbed the towel and went to wipe the tea off her bosom and she snatched the towel from me overly helpful hands, and finding her voice told me in no uncertain terms I knew nothing of serving tea and if a IRA man was what I was going to be, I could change me name to McSorley and go live with them! I'd not disgrace the family name that was associated through marriage with hers.
It was at that moment me Mam came in overhearing me Auntie's tirade. She dropped her sacks of groceries on the table and with a look here, asked what be bringing this drivel about. No one said a word. Then she noticed the tea in our cups.
"Wots dat yer be drinkin'? Liquorice?" She said picking up me teacup and smelling. "OOOH! Wots dis den? Who made waste of me tea?"
No one said a word. It was like we all were somewhere else.
"Do I hav' ta poot da foot doon?" She stood with hands on hips looking at all of us.
OH no not foot down time, both Sheila and I knew we were in trouble when the foot came down. I caved first and stammered, "Oh look Ma, Auntie Seonaid is here."
"Ah duh!" Me sister remarked unhelpful as always.
I know stupid, but like I say, not the brightest bulb in the box when one did not know what one other one had said about one. And that remark made me seem like I knew I was in trouble. And well, yeah. And without a pause, me Auntie told the story Sheila told her.
"Did ye knoo sister yer sonny buy here be marching oop an doon the rude barkin' orders like he be an IRA man? Wot bus' yer neighbours tink?" Aunt Seonaid had folded her arms akimbo with a huff and sat back in her chair challenging her sister to deny this bit of astounding information which astounded yours truly more than anyone else in the kitchen. Before I could shout in me defence, WHAT??? me Mam did it for me only not for me, for her disbelief.
Oh the whole sordid tale came out how I had practiced the IRA take down by pushing Auntie to the floor even before she was in the door. How I had "throne wit no respect" her coat over a hook instead of hung it proper-like. How I had regaled her with me adoration of the MeSorely's and finally and the best for last, how I had tried to poison her with tea. I tell ya!
No matter what I protested it went unheard. I don't know how many times I said, "Ma, coould I hav' a word? I be bothered by dis . . . " only to be shut down with me Mam saying, "It's foot doon tyme."
Well, when me Da came home he wouldn't listen either. Sheila had convinced me Aunt of the lies she told, and me Aunt Seonaid had convinced me Mam they were true so that was that. I was not to go out the door and carry sticks. I was to walk not march, I was to say to every neighbour I saw, "Lovely day isn't it though?" Oi! I was not to watch telly or look at any pictures in the newspapers. I was not to utter IRA, McSorley, and most of all I was to STAY AWAY FROM THE TEA THINGS!
I was looking forward to a life of childhood depression for weeks on end. I just knew it. Then to make matters more bizarre, me sissy (in her warped mind) got all upset at all the attention (unwanted as it was) aimed at me, that she came home with a new beau. She had shoved the ever present Dolan person (who she later married), aside to bring home someone that would get her all that attention away from me and on her. Yup, she told me later she did it to "save yer sorry arse," but I don't think so. The Dolan person was so jealous he went out and bought her a babble he could not afford, but she wanted to make it all up. Oh yeah she can be materialistically devious. Another of her many troublesome traits.
I was in me room pretending to read a book but I heard the telly lowered and the sound of voices. I quietly stole to the doorway where I had clear vision and hearing into the lounge. There she was, in school uniform, her green jumper not buttoned in the right holes, holding the hand of a dark haired lad who's features were overtaken with a huge smirk, her looking dishelveled for effect. The lad didn't have the respect to take off his cap, nor let go Sheila's hand in front of the parental units. No, he was dirty, he was trouble just by looking at him and suddenly me black heart swelled to overjoyed as Sheila said, "Ma, Da, this is Jaymes McSorley JUNIOR." Oh yeah it was a beautiful thing it was, the smirk left the laddie's face instantly me father took hold of him by the scruff of his dirty jacket neck and waist of his pants, and shoved him out the door, slamming it with a bang. Me Mam's other foot came down because Sheila was soon joining me in the "reading room" as I referred to it.
"Wot were ye tinkin'?" I asked her all a-wonder.
"I can't hav' yer stealin' me tunder." She said with a wink and then plugged her earphones into her ears and went about listening to punk rock making sure to cover the plugs with her hair and the wire down her jumper. Then she got out the Encyclopaedia and pretended to read. When me folks saw what she was reading she got out of punishment for being brainy! They were all impressed with her choice of reading material. I tried telling them to ask her something from that voluminous volume but that didn't happen. I tell ya, I couldn't cut a break and the reason I be even telling you this, is because I got the worse bit of news from me Mam this morning.
"Oh Gabe, I asked Tonya an she said it be alroight, but yer sister, her hubby and da 2 wee ones will be comin' to stay a week in August." And off she shuffled humming.
I nearly fell in a heart stopping faint at that bit of news. I haven't heard anything in years about the foot coming down, and why is that? Because I haven't lived in the same abode with Sheila in years. BUT I betcha as soon as Shelia arrives, there will be a lot of that coming about. Oh boy, first Dragon enters me life to make me miserable, now Trouble be coming for a week!
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