Friday nights were always the best at Granny’s house. Derek and I would be off school for the whole weekend on Friday afternoon; I was finished before Derek at 2 o’clock ‘cause I was a whole fourteen months younger and baby-infants and high-infants always got out at two. The thought even of having to stay till three scared me and I wanted to get off school at 2 o’clock forever. Of course, as I got older I had to stay later.
I’d rush home from the Nial Mhor National School, down the hill by the Fire Brigade, up the Back Street and past the Bank of Ireland. We nearly always had to stop to play at the window of Thornton’s, even though they closed down a long time ago. Their window holds magic and not just for children either, because I’ve seen adults play on it when they get drunk – and I’ve been one of those drunk adults.
You have to press your face flat up against the window and look down to the end of it, with one eye closed, where one of your friends would be standing, lifting his left leg and waving his left arm, bobbing his head to and fro and by some crazy law of refraction you are able to see another image perfectly symmetrical to the other and it moves exactly the same except on the other plane and it appeares as one body moving the same way in two directions at once. Cool.
This joviality usually lasted for five or ten minutes depending upon the creativity of the performers. I’d say “see you later” to Declan or call him “Decky” or “Colonel Decker” when I got to the Sail Inn. I’d go up The Hill and he’d go on up to Conlin Road, he lived up past Curan’s shop, next door to Granny’s house, we didn’t walk all the way home together.
I’d trek up Stony Batter with Ciaran and John Martin and some other stragglers and Patrick Caraban but he was younger than us and he mother was English and his dad was an engineer or something. And even though he was younger, we liked him and with his round head and red hair I found him quite interesting, everyone in my family had dark hair and angular features, he didn’t look like any of them.
Without fail, at the top of Stony Batter, John James Burke, John Martin’s father, would be there to relieve us of our ‘mala scoiles’ (school bags in Irish). He must have been the strongest man in the world ‘cause just one bag nearly broke my back with all the copy books and school books and work books and pencils and rubbers and toppers and crusted pieces of bread. But no bother to John James, he took eight or ten bags and carried them the whole way up St. Cummins Hill, which was the steepest hill for miles and miles around. From the half way point you could turn around and see a spectacular view of the harbor with all the fishing boats tied up at the pier, you could see men driving forklifts in and out of the auction hall and the gulls would be shitting all over the place as they swooped down to snatch a stray fish fallen from a box. Beyond that you could see all the big houses over in Ben Roe and beyond that you could see all the way over to Ballyshannon and Bundoran, but you could see them better at night when their lights twinkled like fairy lights on a Christmas tree.
Recently, the County Council had put in a railing that ran all the way up the steepest part of the hill and we used it to drag ourselves up the bastard of an incline. John Martin was real proud of his Dad for carrying the bags. I wondered why my father never carried the bags.
At the top of the Hill, which wasn’t really the top at all, just the beginning of even more hill, was the first house, the Friel’s house. The grey hounds would be barking at us and the donkey tied to the ESB pole would be braying at us and old Eddy Friel, if he was not yet too drunk would be shouting at us and Leo would say hello.
Leo was Derek’s friend and even though he was older than Derek he still talked to me and even played with me, but I was still scared of him. Their house was no. 18 and ours was no. 14 and other people called him a tinker, but I liked him and his older sister babysat us. But I didn’t like the way their house smelled, it reminded me of Jayes Fluid and once I helped carry a baby’s cot for a new baby in the house and I stuck my hand in cat shit, I didn’t like going in the house after that.
At our house John James would unload my school bag and I would go into the house to start watching Bosco or anything else that was on Bog 1 or Bog 2, the names we called the Irish television channels and I’d wait for Derek to come home. Mam would make me a cup of tea and sometimes give me a treat if Derek wasn’t home yet. But my sister Jenny would have to have the same ‘cause she was she was younger and would have a tantrum if she didn’t get what she wanted.
There was a giant birdcage on top of the TV with budgies and cockatiels in it, spitting sunflowers seeds onto the floor. I use to love watching Mam hover them up, it was amazing to see the piles of seeds instantly disappear, sucked up into the Nilfisk. When I was able to, I hovered them myself, it was totally fascinating to see them instantly disappear, it was as near to magic that we got on our house.
When Derek got home Mam would nag us to get ready for staying over at Granny’s, ‘cause we wouldn’t leave the TV alone. So we grabbed the rough sacs and packed pajamas for after our bath and clothes for Saturday because Granda might take us to Donegal or Sligo.
In those days we only got one bath a week and it was always on Friday night, no matter if we were at home or at Granny’s, unless we were at Paddy’s then we didn’t get one at all ‘cause they didn’t have running water. So it became something of an institution among all the people I knew in Killybegs to get really cleaned up on Friday nights and try to stay half-way decent till the following Friday, even if they had hot water all the time and a shower in the house.
We had no car and Dad was always out fishing or working so we walked by ourselves down to Granny’s. He worked a lot since he stopped drinking and now we had a phone and a video and hardly anyone else had those up The Hill. John Martin told Mam that “I had the life of Riley.”
If it wasn’t raining and if we were brave enough we’d go the short cut by The Circle and come out the back of Emerald Park soccer pitch, and come in the back way by Granda’s workshop. But mostly it was raining and we weren’t brave enough cause of the Murrin twins and the Kerry brothers who lived around The Circle. They would try to bully us, they were much older than us and there was nothing we could do. So we’d end up going down St. Cummins Hill and around by the cottages. The cottages were just houses that looked like ours, only they were older and nicer. St. Cummins Hill was very new and we were one of the first families to move into it after it was built. Granny’s house was on Conlin Road, although some argued, like Stephen Laferty, that it was actually Marine Drive ‘cause there was a green sign that said so, like the one that said St. Cummins Hill. But there was no sign for the Circle, so I guess they were part of Cummins Hill too even if we didn’t like them to be. But we all called it Conlin Road; me, Derek, Declan, Mam and even Granny and Granda. Conlin Road was even older than the cottages and some houses had big trees in the front and back gardens.
Granny’s house had the biggest trees and the most beautiful gardens. They’d won lots of trophies for her and she gave the trophies to me and Derek when she didn’t want them anymore. Dad was looking at the one she gave me and the base fell off, it probably wasn’t his fault, but he’d broken my Transformer on Christmas the year before trying to make it into a robot and this Christmas he broke my huge black Gobot Jeep. I thought he was trying to break my stuff and I cried, but I guess they were just accidents.
When you walked up No. 64, you’d get the most beautiful smells from all the flowers and the cherry blossom trees that had coconut shells hanging from it. The shells were used to feed the birds, Granny would put left over fat and lard into them and the birds would go crazy hanging from them and eating the delicious lard. Granny’s garden always had tons of birds in it, more than any other garden in the whole world. There was on rock in it, brought from St. John’s Point years ago, that had a depression in it and collected rain water, the birds used it as a bath and it was amazing to see them playing in it, like they knew it was Friday and time for a bath.
Granny was usually in the garden pulling weeds wearing yellow or pink Marigold rubber gloves and had a trowel in her hand. She loved her garden and it showed by the beautiful growth. Anything Granny loved; grew very well.
She’d greet us with a big hug, she never liked to kiss children ‘cause you just never knew who had a dirty, disgusting old cole-sore and especially she didn’t like people kissing babies. She said that’s why Kenneth Murphy always had a cole-sore ‘cause someone kissed him when he was a baby and now he always has one.
We’d all go in the house and throw our stuff in Magella’s old room. She was now living in Aileen and Pat’s old room and we’d go in there even though we were told not to and she had pictures of naked women on the walls. Her room was very exotic, we learned that word from Mam, and interesting, we loved to explore it. There was an old clog covered in barnacles that rested on a shelf, we were told Kevin, her boyfriend, lost it and when they found it, all the barnacles had grown on it. There was also a peacock’s feather in a vase and we would tickle our faces with it, but the naked ladies always took the most of our interest. There was one lady inside a glass bubble and it looked like she was on the moon and all alone and I wanted to be in there with her and kiss her, then she wouldn’t be alone at all. Derek liked the one of the lady swimming naked on her back, the sun was setting on her and she glowed red.
Her old room was not quite as exotic but there were still plenty of fun, cool things to root through, like the wooden box that had old Irish money and English money in it, along with postcards and fancy soaps that smelled great. There was a calendar with a blue train on it, but it wasn’t Magella’s, ‘cause we were there when Granny and Granda got it in Sligo at the train station and Kenneth Murphy stepped on the side of the real blue train and Granda told him not to and people thought he and Lynn were sisters ‘cause they had the same furry gold colored coats and Santa gave him a girl’s present. That made him very mad and when we teased him about it he tried to beat-up me and my cousin Paddy.
Granny would tell us that dinner was at half-six and to bring a cup of tea out to Granda in the work shop. Granda would be in the office with Bruce the dog at his feet. Grand was always wild excited to see us and no matter how busy he was he’d get up and bring us into the part of the workshop with all the tools and where his inventions were and where Miles and Johnny worked. Johnny was a “useless bollocks” Granny said and Miles was a great young fella from down Glenties way. She said Johnny was always stinking up her bathroom. If a new order of equipment had come in then the big box under the bench would be full of the best boxes and bubble paper. Derek and I would root through it until we found what we wanted, making sure to shake off the cigarette ashes that Johnny flicked in there.
Then we would say we were off to the Cunnigham’s, Declan and Kevin’s house, which Granny and Granda and even Mam called The Boyle’s. They called it that ‘cause Una Cunnigham, their mother, was Una Boyle before she married Colm Cunnigham and Granny and the rest couldn’t get use to the name change for the house, ‘cause the house was there longer than they were married.
Declan was my age but Kevin was a year older than Derek, but he still played with us when his own friends were not around, some of them were mean and they didn’t like our cousin Kenneth at all. I hated being around Kenneth when people came to bully him, ‘cause they’d pick on us too and when Kenneth wasn’t there they usually left us alone.
After playing with Declan and Kevin and having dinner and taking a bath and getting dressed in warm clothes by the coal fire, it would be late enough to turn on Channel 4 and watch horror movies. Borris Karlov and Long Chenny were the two names that Granny would say and sure enough one of them would be in the movie every Friday night. I liked the Werewolf movies best if all, but I didn’t like the Mummy movies so much. Derek and I couldn’t figure out why the hell the screaming woman didn’t just run away and damn those tannin leaves, ‘powerful cup of tea’ as Granda would say. Dracula ones were good too, but no matter how he died at the end, he would be back the next week, leading the Werewolf and Frankenstein in some crazy scheme to chase after the stupid screaming girl again; run for Christ sakes, run!
Granda would fall asleep in his chair and Granny would wake him up to go to bed and she’d tell us not to stay up too late, but of course we did. We stayed up until all the channels closed for the night. We got to hear the Irish national anthem and the British national anthem and then there was just fuzz. We’d silently creep up the creaking stairs and jump into our cold bed, but then we’d feel a warmth at the end of the bed. Granny had put hot water bottles in the bed for us and we stopped shivering as soon as we warmed up enough. There was a book on the side of the bed and we’d look at the pictures in it for a while. The Titanic was in there and The Lusitanian and a giant squid, the book was called Forgotten Titans or something like that. By then our eyes were getting very sleepy and Derek would make me get up and turn the light off and I would try to make it back to bed in the dark without knocking the pee bucket over. There was no upstairs toilet so you had to pee in a bucket when you had to pee at night. I often missed the bucket and peed on the floor and on my hand.
I would always wake before Derek the next morning ‘cause I knew Transformers was on TV and you had to get up good and early to catch the first part of the show, but I’d also watch The Pink Panther on Anything Goes and The Gobots, Centurions and He-Man. I loved it when it was just me in the sitting room and I could be in control of the television and nobody could tell me what to do. Before I turned on the television the room would be very silent and there was a slight feeling of warmth from the dead ashes in the fire and the only thing that broke the silence was the tick-tock of the broken coo-coo clock that always ran five minutes fast. There was a big painting of Granda above the mantle piece in his hunting jacket and there was a gun up on the wall and the cabinets were filled with Granny’s antiques that Derek loved. Granny’s house was much nicer than our and I loved it there.
Then the rest of the house would be waking-up after nine and Derek would come down and try to change the channel and Granny would make us cereal with warm milk and bananas and Granda would be up for his tea and then go down the town for the paper and after that out to the office.
If we were lucky Granda would need to make a run over to Sligo to pick up rough sacs for making his electric fishers. Granda had a huge blue Ford Granada and we would lie on the floor in the back when we got tired. Once I was leaning in the middle when I was told not to and Granda had to hit the brakes very hard and I hit my face on the dash, so I learned never to do that again.
Even when we were going to Sligo, Granda would stop in Doherty’s Fishing Tackle Shop in Donegal Town and talk to the owner for a while and maybe buy us a pen knife or a torch. Granny would tell him not to be too long as she wanted to go to Dunne’s when we got to Sligo. She had to buy a 3.99 chicken for Sunday dinner.
Derek and I played a game along the road counting the different makes of cars and there was always more Fords than anything else. Star cars were popular too, Granda called them Mercedes’. When we weren’t playing the game I stared out the window and imagined that I had a huge blade sticking out of the car and as we passed all the trees and telephone poles I was slicing them down, but I’d make sure to lift the blade when we buzzed past a house. I didn’t want to hurt anyone.
You could see a Princess’s Castle when you drove up the hill before Kelly’s garage outside of Mount Charles. Granda told us that Rupunzel lived there and we always wanted to go up there, but nobody ever took us. So it had to remain a castle of our imagination, like the girl on the moon in the glass bubble.
Sometimes we’d call in to see our rich uncle Barry in Mount Charles. He owned a giant mansion down by the sea and it had a giant conquer tree beside it and we could dig around looking for chestnuts and collect as many as we could find. We didn’t really know our cousins, who lived there, but we loved playing on their toys, they had so many toys and we were all very jealous of them and my aunt Madge wasn’t very nice to us and Granny didn’t like her either.
When we got back to Killybegs after being in Sligo all day and we were well behaved, then we were invited to stay another night at Granny’s, even though she might be going to Bingo out in Dunkineely or down in Ardara. Granda would go down to Melly’s and buy us fish and chips, smothered in salt and vinegar and we’d eat it at the little table in the sitting room and watch the television.
Then when we were all cleaned up Declan would call on the phone and he’d be allowed to come over. Me, him, Derek and Granda would get out the Technic Lego and make things. I only knew how to make the same rally car over and over again, but it had an electric motor and it was very fun to play with. Derek had the yellow bricks and they had pneumatic pumps and he kept trying to make a digger, but it was very hard and didn’t look like much fun compared to my electric rally car. Declan was very skilled at making things with the lego and even had his own tool box out in his father’s shed and made things with us in Granda’s work shop. Granda showed us how to make catamaran boats with sails and we sailed them out at Fintra beach and Declan’s was the best one. He had Lego that you could make a fire station with and when we completed the station Granda took a picture of it.
When Granny got back from bingo Declan went on up home ‘cause he didn’t like to stay over. Granny told us we had to go to bed earlier ‘because we had to get up for Mass in the morning. We didn’t have to go to Mass when we were at home, but Granny made sure we went with her and we sat up the front, just one row back from the very front. I got to see lots of people from school at Mass and I even got to see a girl I liked, but she didn’t know I liked her and I was too shy to tell her. I often imagined she was the girl inside the bubble that was all alone on the moon and I was there to kiss her and make sure she was not alone. But she was rich and everyone knew her and I was not and nobody knew me.
Near the end of mass when the priest gave out communion I had to sit by myself for a few minutes, ‘cause Derek had just made his first holy communion and he went up with Granny and Ganda and the Murphy’s to receive communion. He made loads of money at his communion and I was excited to make mine next year, so I didn’t have to sit and I could go up in the line with everyone else and I would have loads of money.
After mass we got some pocket money to go to Molloy’s sweet shop and Granny went on home with Granda in the car to get the dinner finished. At Molly’s you could ether get ice-cream put onto a square cone with a knife or a quarter pound of canned sweets or boiled sweets. Cola-cubes were great but they stuck together in your pocket and bon-bons looked good but didn’t taste too good. If I couldn’t decide then I got a cone. There was a stack of newspapers on a small table by the chocolate bars and I always looked through to see if I could find the one with Dad’s name on it. If it wasn’t there then he was already up and about and if it was still there then I knew he was going to be in soon. Sometimes he came in when we were trying to make our minds up and he’d give us some more pocket money and you could get a can of smack pineapple or cola to go with your sweets or ice-cream.
Everybody in our whole family came to Sunday dinner at Granny’s house. The whole house smelled like food and it was a lovely smell. She’d have the best roast potatoes and corn and mushy peas, which I didn’t like, and stuffing. There was always a fight to see who’d get the leg and Mam would say to Dad, “Jaysus I wish your father would invent a chicken with ten legs.” My Granda Vial, who I didn’t really know, was a geneticist, but I didn’t know what that meant, but he lived in Dublin and worked in a big office.
Mam would tell us that we had to come home soon and we’d beg her to let us stay longer, but she’d remind us that we had school in the morning and we still had to do our homework and if we were really good then we could come and stay with Granny next Friday or go to Aidan and Francis’s house in Carrick to see Paddy. We wouldn’t argue and when we were full we’d go out the back to play and watch a game of football in Emerald Park.
If there wasn’t a game of football, then after we were finished playing, Derek and I would get our things at Granny’s and slowly walk back up the Hill to home and go back to our other life at 14 St. Cummins Hill. I loved my life better at 64 Conlin Road, but that was only my weekend life, the rest of the week was my real life and by Wednesday I loved that life just as much, until Friday came along again. And it was warm pajamas and roast potatoes and trips to Sligo and Lego and Vampires and Frankenstein and stupid Mummies and even more stupid screaming girls that wouldn’t run away. Damn those tannin leaves, powerful cup of tea.