Death of a Bachelor


Part 1

Hard to imagine a time when a young man was paid £1 {2 Euro} per week. Said week being six ten-hour days. In the old currency, this worked out at forty pence per day – or three shillings and fourpence. A pound of butter was three and sixpence – forty-two pence. So, you see, the old talk about ‘things being chape’ is very relative indeed. A day’s wages wouldn’t even buy one pound of butter – and less than three pints! Think: how many packs of ‘im’ would you get now for a day’s pay? Maybe fifty? So ‘pull the other one’ about the good old cheap days. In some ways they were; in most – not.

In the early ‘fifties I was ‘digging it out and throwing it back far’ for a small farmer. For the stranger, it’s important to point out it’s the farm that was small. The farmer could be any size at all. I will have to disguise the setup by adding or subtracting people in the family involved. The old Army cliché – ‘no names – no pack drill.’

I’d show up at eight in the morning, having walked a good few miles from home, wet or shine. Sometimes down one road, across fields, over the river on a fallen tree-trunk, then up through woods to the house. There was always rain, snow, or dew on the grass, so, after the trudge, my feet would be wet all day. This due to my Welly boots being useless – having been spiked by thorns, the tines of an ill-used sprong, or the odd demented-doggy bite. A week’s wages to replace them, even from a ‘Chape Jack’ at the Fair.

More times, I’d walk all the way round ‘by the other road’ – as we used to say. But that was a mile farther. My feet would have been drier – but who cared? Nostrils were well attuned to the rank smell of ‘toe-jam’ – a black and foul-smelling hot damp OXO-like substance that accumulated between the indescribably-grimy toes over months of sweaty foot-confinement. Still, I was used to it all, knew no better. Such a life only looks grim in retrospect. But you could be happy in any kind of shite in those times. Lots worse off.

Having got to Latitudes, a bit of breakfast would be served up by the Mam – as good or better than most farmhouses, I freely admit – {credit where it’s due.} Then out I go with the only son, Jack, to dog away all day. We might be scarthing {cutting} ditches, ‘laying’ them {intertwining the bushes}, setting spuds, turning hay, spronging dung, or ‘spinning’ it, making stooks or hand-stacks, hay cocks or tram cocks, cutting calf-horns – {saw’ly} – relieving young piglets of their future daddy-joy equipment, sitting on three-legged stools milking cows – or any of many tasks, depending on the time of day or year. {Note: why three legs? Because three legs always balance – even on cobbles.}

Jack was a grand lad, and a pleasure to work with. He was no slave-driver, and didn’t expect me to do any more than himself. Which, sometimes, wasn’t a lot…. He had two sisters married, and one home – a spinster. You heard lots of stories about ‘bitter oul maids?’ All those writers must have known the diminutive Kathy! She wasn’t the prettiest girl in the world – but not the worst-looking, either. It was the old acid smile and the cruel, bitter, word that done for her, romantically. Couldn’t resist having a snap, whoever she was with. But I always thought the ‘divilment’ was in her from her Mam. Basically, I’d say Kathy could have been so different.

Her love of small animals was true. Before I got there, she’d visited a cousin. There she saw a shep dog – one of those black and white lads with bright ‘china’ eyes. Seeing his abused state, and being able to count his ribs, she returned that night – and stole him! The doggy loved his new home – and owner. I often saw, at dinnertime, a plate of our type of food put down for him. Bacon, spuds and cabbage! He’d gulp it all down – the only time I ever saw a madra eat cabbage. And Kathy called him Nell – in spite of his obvious ‘dog-ness!’ Her cuz knew where his shep dog was, used often pass the gate on his way to the Creamery. Would call the dog when he saw him. The happy canine lad would ignore him! Cuz was too scared of the flammable K to ask for ‘Nell’ back. I only saw Kathy’s really beautiful smile – when she looked at Nell.

Getting on into her thirties, in the end Kathy’d probably have had a lash at any hero with a few acres who showed up. Even a villain might have done, in her fading days. But she ran right out of men to bite. No phones much – but the ‘hard word’ travels. So, she was stuck. Even though I always had a secret liking for her, she’d not waste a word on me.

By the time Kathy realised her many mistakes – it was all over. ‘The bus was gone,’ her old schoolmates on it – boys and girls – happy – or hapless – with their choices. A man-less and childless future loomed. Which may have been some unknowing bachelor’s – and some unborn unconceived baby’s – great and good fortune. Everybody’s good luck, maybe; except her own. A cruel situation. But if any woman ever dug a loveless grave with her tongue – it was Kathy.

And it could have been so different – with a few of those glorious smiles – for lads.

So, the only soft target now was Jack. Her mother didn’t suffer – being only too willing – and able – to fight her corner, and ‘dish it out’ herself. Both loved a vicious verbal brawl, and when they’d clash, they’d circle each other like fighting greyhounds – darting in quick for a fangy verbal snap – then out again. It seemed to be their only pleasure in life. A rather doubtful one.

They’d hardly ever speak to me. A blessing, that. I didn’t matter, anyhow. A raggy youth. I was a ‘nobody.’ It was the only farmhouse I ever worked in where the females lived for the insulting word. In spite of having a rather modest position in life, they still had big ideas: ‘I’m a larger dung-beetle than you,’ sort of thing. I suppose if you look at tramps on the street in any city in the world, there’s a pecking order. Even day-old pups and cats brawl their way towards the best milk-point! {As they say in Oz about lucky people: “Must have sucked on the hind tit!”} Which, biologically speaking re our human mob, is not at all feasible. But there’s the Aussies for you….

The tormenting of Jack took many forms. But the main one was………

To be continued

Ned E


The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of The Kilkenny Observer.

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