Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Seaside And Sausages - Part 1

For some reason, I had a mental walk down memory lane when I woke up this morning and memories of Sunday afternoons spent at the seaside came flooding back, as memories tend to do.
The fact that today is a Tuesday seemed to make no difference to my mind, which is a mind of it's own !

I grew up in the small farming town of Ballymoney in N. Ireland back when 'the troubles' were still some way off and people wearing balaclavas were just protecting their ears from the bitter cold wind.  Simple times.

As my parents had to hold down several jobs to make ends meet, Sundays were special days, days for family and days to relax. Being strict Catholics, Sundays always started with Mass. Actually every day started with Mass and often my mum would be the only one in the church apart from the priest of course. We often said that if ever the priest didn't turn up, mum could've stepped in and made a decent job of the service. She often acted as the altar boy, who sometimes didn't turn up either, and if she knew this would be the case, she'd take the bell back to her pew and be a sort of alter boy from a distance. Like I said, simple times.

After Mass on Sunday, we'd return to the house where dad would make for the kitchen and 'sling the pan.' This wasn't a reference to some sort of domestic violence as I never once saw or heard about my parents even raising their voices to each other, never mind turning to kitchen utensils in times of stress. And given our financial situation, there HAD to have been numerous times of stress but my brother and I lived in blissful ignorance of such things.

No, the pan in question was the large family sized frying pan which was removed from the cupboard with almost as much solemnity and reverence as that shown by the priest when holding the communion chalice about 20 minutes earlier. The pan still contained the congealed lard from the previous fry up, complete with bits of anything that had escaped our attention, and our stomachs. 

Ahhhh lard. That artery plugging block of goodness. I can still see it now and more to the point, can still feel it's effects as I gulp down the pills that I take daily to ward off another heart attack. The 'enjoyment' of some foods can last a (probably much shortened) lifetime.

Once the pan was on the cooker and the lard was starting to soften, the breakfast items were gathered around it like some sort of culinary Little Big Horn. Just about every family had their own version of an Irish Breakfast and it's almost impossible now to think of what constituted a classic version. I say this in the past tense as I'd like to think that such breakfasts no longer exist but on rare visits to my old country, I have seen the 'Ulster Fry' as a proud item on many cafe blackboards. Hopefully lard is no longer the cooking agent used.

Anyway back to our version and this included large plump sausage links, thick meaty bacon rashers, eggs fresh from the chickens and generous slices of home made soda farls and wheaten (both breads). We used to give two old sisters a lift to Mass and they'd repay us with eggs so fresh that they were still warm and many had tiny feathers stuck to them. Probably best not to think about that last bit !  Now and again we'd be handed duck eggs which were much larger of course and had a taste that I can still recall to this day.

I can't remember if there were any other breakfast items as we didn't go in for the fancy stuff like mushrooms and other items like baked beans, black pudding and even haggis were never allowed to sully our lard encrusted pan.

My brother and I would've 'set the table' for this banquet, a small cloth covered table with fold down leaves as we didn't have much room in the part of the living room we used for family meals, and when the plates were placed before us, we all said grace and tucked in. The bread slices had been dipped in the hot lard at the last moment and were therefore deliciously crisp on the outside (coated with bacon, sausage and egg bits) and warm and 'bready' on the inside. Great for mopping up the egg yokes like an Irish version of nann bread.

With plates cleaned and stomachs full, it was still only 10am (Mass was at 8am) and time for mum and dad to sit in their chairs and have a bit of a nap. Given my poor memory, I've no idea what my brother and I would've done at this time. It's not like we'd have 'gone to our rooms' as we shared one bedroom and it contained.....a bed. Ok a wardrobe, a chest of drawers and a bed, but that was it. No laptop, no tv, not even a peat powered Playstation. In those sepia days, we kids made up our own games but I just can't remember what they were. Too much lard coating the old brain cells.

Ironically we had a bedroom next to ours which was twice or three times the size.  It was always kept in an immaculate condition but it was a 'guest' room for those times when relatives would stay overnight or for the time my mum dreamed about when The Pope would visit Ballymoney and would need a bed for the night. Or a priest...or a nun.  Even a passing altar boy.  Anyone vaguely connected with The Church at any rate.  It never happened.  

The priests always left after getting their free meal.

After nap time there came a choice. Did we go out to 'The Farm' to visit gran and those of the family who lived there or did we go off for a drive somewhere ?  Sometimes we did both and the anticipation of a drive somewhere later made the visit to gran slightly more bearable.  Slightly.

The drive could've taken us anywhere. We'd maybe visit relatives who lived surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery you'd ever hope to see. It might involve a trip to somewhere like the Giants Causeway, the local World Heritage Site, still free to see in those days.  In any case it would never be a long drive as nowhere we went to in N. Ireland was further than 50 miles from Ballymoney.

But our most popular destination was the seaside and this usually involved going to one or both of the twin seaside towns just 12 miles away, Portrush and Portstewart. The 'port' bit is the giveaway. These small resorts were located at the far north of the country and were a relaxing and enjoyable mecca for the local working classes and farming communities. These were days when kids could spend a whole day with just a bucket and spade for entertainment; when the highlight of the trip would be a cone from the local ice cream shop with a wagon wheel as a extra treat if they'd been really good all week and if the family budget would allow it.

This trip to the seaside was like the Victorians going to a spa town to gain some medical benefits from taking the waters.

In our case, we did it to run around on the beach to try and burn off that sodding breakfast.

More from my seaside memories another time.................


Daphne said...

Oh, more, please, I love autobiographical tales like this - it really "took me there". More! More! More! (Is that clear?)

Jennyta said...

See, I knew you had RC connections!

Debby said...

I got to sleep in the 'guest room'. I feel very special indeed!

Your mum's wheaten bread was wonderful.

Jan said...

What a wonderful post. You brought back some memories of my own. We had a frying pan just like yours when I was a kid, full of lard, and black bits from previous fry-ups. Sounds disgusting, but the breakfasts were always soooo good.

You also reminded me of trips to Blackpool, where the only entertainment was a bucket and spade, and fish and chips for tea, if we were lucky.

Thanks for the memories. :-)

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