"...stories birling ..."
There’s a house at the top of the hill in the townland of Ballysnod, and a family with four children walk there every Sunday with a Tansad. The children skip down the Old Glenarm Road, swinging the toddler over the knobbly bits of the footbath. They stroll along the empty, barricaded Main Street, cross the bridge at Inver River, climb the crooked horseshoe bend and traipse up a steep, country road, trailing sticks from the thorny hedges along the tarmac. They stop to look at the town with its smoky chimneys and long lines of terraced streets and they point to their home by the giant sheds of the GEC factory before waiting and watching the Townsend Thoresen cross the turquoise sea.
The children hold their noses and say ‘poo’ as the stench of manure rises up like steaming stew, and they stop and greet the cows in the fields with a ‘moo.’ The smell is still in their nostrils as the salty scent of vegetable broth filters from the kitchen in the house at the top of the hill. Inside, streams of women carry trays of sandwiches with thick ham cut straight from the bone, or egg and onion laid on a bed of Golden Cow butter. They come and go with China cups of tea brewed in gigantic teapots on the hob in a kitchen with yellow, fluorescent light.
The cousins have scarlet cheeks and they are sitting on a floor of swirly carpet, the girls playing with a new baby cousin wrapped in a white, bobbly, knitted blanket, and the boys tumbling over and tittering and tee heeing because the blood’s rushing to their heads. In the corner, Granny smiles and goes clickety click as mighty knitting needles conjure up an Aran cardigan with honeycomb stitching, and below, an enchanted ball of wool unwinds itself atop a high pile of freshly knitted jumpers.
Granda’s on his chair, his arms wrapped around his grand belly. He’s half snoozing with one eye on his lamb sheep huddled near the orange fire. There are brass bells and and black leather dangly things with buckles on the fireplace and a shiny, golden bucket of coal that rattles when one of the aunts quells the streamers of fire. The fire goes siss against the damp, shiny coal, and a draught wafts the burning cheeks on the children. There are porcelain horses on the mantle piece, the ones with the furry, white feet, and silver platters and silver wine goblets gleam from the side cabinet, perfect for pretend communion with squished up plain loaf and Ribena when none of the aunts is looking.
But the children need to be careful, because the aunts are always looking.
Eleven sisters come and go with their sandwiches, their winks and their crafty smiles, and five brothers appear from time to time, shaking a fist at the boys who are upside-down.
There are also the uncles who are married to the sisters and the aunts who are married to the brothers, but they're all just aunts and uncles to the dozens of children who are told to give the men peace. The children take no heed and creep along the hall, the smell of Imperial Leather soap clinging apparent as they pass by the bathroom, and they peek through the crack in the door to see the peace. There’s a finger pointing from an uncle before the children scarper, unconvinced of the merits of the peace when there’s a chance of bourbon creams next door.
Back on the swirly carpet, there’s a commotion at the door, a fluster and a flurry of wind as the aunts and cousins arrive from far away. More children bunch up on the floor, a row of white tights, black, patent shoes, and red, velvet dresses.
The children are contented and proud because they have the most aunts and uncles and cousins in the world; the aunts are gabbing and jabbering over a great yarn that someone’s expecting; Granny’s smiling one of those crafty smiles that she gave to her children; Granda’s sleeping by the fire; the baby in the belly of the aunt who’s expecting is happy and warm from a big bowl of vegetable broth filled with barley and the four children with the Tansad are relieved because one of the aunts is piling them into a car to drive them to the town that looks so far away with its starry lights and dusky, rippling sea.
Angeline King is the author of:
"An enjoyable coming-of-age tale with a Belfast twist" (The Irish Times)
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A Belfast Tale:
“Uniquely, authentically and enjoyably Belfast" (Tony Macaulay, author of Paperboy.)
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Children of Latharna:
Lyrical and nostalgic; wistful and humorous, Ian Andrew, author
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