Spiced Ham

“But every time it rains
You’re here in my head
Like the sun coming out
Ooh, I just know that something good is gonna happen
I don’t know when
But just saying it could even make it happen”

Kate Bush

It may have been over the HallowE’en holidays, but I’m pretty sure it was Easter, and somehow , aged 12, and a first year in St.Macartan’s College, I convinced my Mum to let me and several classmates stay in Granda’s old farmhouse in Dernaseil.

No one had lived in the farmhouse for many years. It had electricity, an old range in the kitchen, and a tap outside with water from a well. Granda lived in Dundalk, 50 kilometres away, but visited the farm every week or so , and usually kept a few cows.

He gave his permission too.

So Michael, Cyril, Fintan, Fintan, Mark, John and myself cycled out to the farm with Mum following in her Fiat 127 crammed with all of our sleeping bags, some dishes, cups, a pot or two, bread, milk, cornflakes, eggs ,sausages ,rashers, kettle, toaster,  and a number of very sincere promises that we wouldn’t kill each other , or burn down the house…or any combination of both those promises.

A sense of elation flooded through all of us as the little blue Fiat 127 trundled away and we were on our own.

We ran around for a while , exploring the 30 acres of heavenly , but not particularly stoney, grey soil that , for the next few days, were ours.

We built dams in the wee river, explored the forest, ‘hunted’ rabbits, and only went back to the farmhouse when it started to get dark. We were all starving and looking forward to fried egg, sausage, and rasher sandwiches.

The first thing we discovered was that although the house did indeed have electricity , and the lights worked, all of the sockets were the old round pins and neither our toaster or kettle worked.

“Not to worry, we’ll use the range.” I said optimistically.

None of us had ever used a range before, and in all probability none of us had been born the last time anyone had used this range. But we worked out that you had to burn something in it and that tis would generate enough heat to fry the eggs , sausages and rashers. We went outside and found some twigs, and a log or two, and in the barn some very dry musty hay and most importantly a small bottle of paraffin.

There was an old Dundalk Argus newspaper in the press, so we scrunched it up, filled the part which looked like something had been burnt in it before, threw in a few twigs, a log , squirted in some paraffin, and then Mark, who had a lighter and a penknife with him, lit it. It whooshed into life and we closed the door , put a frying pan on the area above it, threw in all of the sausages, rashers, six eggs, a lump of cookeen , and started buttering our bread …drooling in anticipation.

After a moment or two we couldn’t hear anything sizzle, so we opened the door to see how our fire was going, and discovered that it was out.

“Needs more paraffin !”

This time we emptied the rest of the bottle into it, added more paper, lit it to an even bigger ‘whoosh’ and closed the door again.

We were all ravenous now, and had already eaten the first round of buttered bread, and were staring at the pan, looking for a bubble of hope to break on the surface of our rather unattractive cold pan of raw sausages, rashers and eggs.


“Open the door and see what’s happening.”

Mark opened the door and the influx of oxygen re-ignited our dormant fire with a loud whoosh and a jet of blue flame which singed Mark’s eyebrows. We all jumped to attention and the bravest of us manfully threw a cup of water into the range.

“PAUL !!! You fucking idiot ! It’ll never light now.” Mark roared.

“Cornflakes , anyone ?”

We ate all of the cornflakes that evening for our tea.

We must have slept at some point, but my memory is of lots of stories, farts, which we all thought hilarious, and then even more farts, all through the night. We woke happy, but hungry. All of our remaining bread was eaten, and I think someone even suggested eating the rashers raw, but after seeing the face he made, no one else wanted to try it.

We decided to cycle into Scotstown, three miles away , and replenish our supplies. We went to the shop opposite Urbleshanney church and , being incredibly wise 12 year olds , each bought 2 cans of Coke,  2 x Mars bars, 1 x  Wrigley’s chewing gum, and a communal box of USA biscuits. We cycled back out the road in high spirits singing ‘Turning Japanese’ by The Vapors, and eating our supplies. By the time we got back to the farm we had half a pack of gum each, and the box of USA biscuits which we all agreed we couldn’t touch until tea time…it was now 11.00 am.

We played ‘soldiers’ , which was really hide and seek, with the addition of throwing things at each other, and made forts with hay bales…and got very , very hungry.

That afternoon Granda and Uncle Terence arrived to check on the cattle and we followed them around, chatting , and then we all went back to the farmhouse. In the old sitting room Granda set a load of twigs in the fireplace and set them alight, and added a few heavier sticks before placing a pot of water on it. When it started to boil he poured some into two mugs for Terence and himself to make cups of tea, then put the pot back on the fire and broke a couple of eggs into it. While the eggs were poaching he and Terence held slices of bread up to the fire on forks to make toast.

At one point Granda looked around to see all 7 of us salivating and licking our lips.

“Have you no food with you ?” he asked.

“We couldn’t get the range to work, and the plugs are funny.” I replied.

Granda laughed. “Go open the oven door on the range.”

We ran into the kitchen and opened the large oven door to discover an old nest. “Even that nest is older than you boys.” He laughed and went back in to Terence and ate his poached eggs and toast, and then showed us all how to make our own toast and poach our own eggs.

It was possibly the most divine feast I’ve ever had in my life.

When he was leaving he gave me a £5 and told me to go to the shops and get more bread eggs, tea, and Spam.

“What’s Spam ?”

“Magic meat that you can eat from the can.”

And we did. We cycled back to Scotstown again bought two slice pans, 2 dozen eggs and 7 cans of Spam, and we feasted like kings for the next two days, lighting our own fire in our own farmhouse.

It was magic.

When we went home a few days later I told Mum that we’d cooked our own food and discovered Spam.

“You like Spam ???”

“Yeah, it’s deadly !”  

“I’ll get you some for next week.”

“Deadly !” I was thrilled.

There were no school dinners in St.Macartan’s college for day boys, which meant we all brought a packed lunch. That next week I had Spam sandwiches every single day. And I loved them !

The following week I had Spam sandwiches every single day…and I ate them. Iasked Mam if I could have something else, but she said that I’d been so enthusiastic about it , that she’d bought 6 cans of it.

The next week I started trading my lunch with the boarders who were always hungry for decent food, and willing to give you a Mars bar or packet  of crisps in exchange.

A week later even the boarders didn’t want any of my Spam sandwiches and the final can may have ended up in Quiglough lake.

I hadn’t thought of that magical week, with the not so magical meat, in ages, until yesterday in fact.

A few weeks ago I bumped into a lovely lady, Mary , in Rossmore Park and she said that she loved reading my blogs and I thanked her. She said that I’d never replied to her comments on them , and I apologised , but was sure I’d never seen any, but would look into it. When I went home I checked my spam email folder, but couldn’t see anything, and even got Gerry, our intrepid IT wizard to check that the emails weren’t bouncing into the ether somewhere, but all seemed above board, and , honestly I just forgot about it.

And then yesterday I got a notification from my website….

“What website is that Paul ?”

Oh, just the best website this side of Tattindonagh, www.SuperJetRobotDinosaurs.com

“Is it good ?”

Yes, its’ a damn fine repository of great stories….and as it’s nearing it’s 200th weekly edition, if you sign up to it’s newsletter who knows what gifts, surprises, and general goodness awaits….

So, yes , I got a notification saying that my ‘Pending Comments’ folder was almost full.

This was news to me. I didn’t know that my website even had a comments section, but lo and behold it did, and there were 13,996 messages awaiting attention.

Most were what you’d expect, offers of great wealth, stock tips, Viagra, pleas for assistance in helping millions of dollars escape the confines of my long time admirer, the incredibly wealthy , and recently deceased , Prince Fonzo, crypto fortunes, offers of naked cultural exchanges, diets that work, and the Third Secret of Fatima.

But in amongst the spam were some genuinely lovely messages from people, including Mary, who’d taken the time to go to the best website this side of Tattindonagh, and leave a comment…just for me.

I had messages from people that I bump into regularly, but whom I’d never realised read my blog.

I had messages from people I knew read the blog but simply assumed they didn’t give it a second thought.

I had two lovely messages I’d never seen before from my friend , and fellow Chemolympian , Denise, who I miss terribly.

I had a message from my Yankee friend Lisa, with whom, 10 years ago, I had weekly conversations that seemed to fizzle out, but were reignited yesterday.

And I had a lovely message from Mark Bannon’s sister, Ashling, who I haven’t seen in thirty years, who commented on last year’s post about getting together with my old school pals, and how Mark would have been in the thick of it if he was still with us. Yes, the Mark who had a lighter, who lost his eyebrows that week in Dernaseil. Mark who had a 10 speed racer before any of us, called me a fucking idiot before anyone else, smoked before any of us did, drove before any of us, had a girlfriend before any of us, had two girlfriends before any of us, got married and raised a family way before any of us.

Made a bigger impression on us than he’d ever realise. God rest him.

Our Jake’s second name is Mark.

These things write themselves sometimes…………



P.S. This is the wonderful ‘Cloudbusting’ by Kate Bush

Author: paul

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