What Does Nostalgia Taste Like ?

“I am a dull and simple lad
Cannot tell water from champagne
And I have never met the Queen
And I wish I could be like David Watts”
 ( Ray Davies )

Some people have commented on how my mind must work, even going so far as to compare it to a cobweb of ideas , all connected, linear, waiting to be called on. My mind is indeed like a cobweb, but it’s like that one from the NASA experiment where they gave the spider caffeine.

I met up with my friends Emma, Rachel and Briana, on Zoom last night. We met earlier in the summer on a writing retreat hosted by the poet and all round good egg, Colm Keegan. We were just having a catch up , but being writers, Emma felt that we should write something. Rachel suggested ‘Ice Cream’ as a topic, and we all wrote for 5 minutes on ‘Ice Cream’.

This has lead me , via Uncle Johnny’s 99’s, a detour around Mum’s meatballs in gravy, to a proper old butcher’s that had sawdust on the floor, Heinz ketchup in glass bottles, before ending up with The Kinks live double album, One For The Road , which someone once described “as convincing an argument for banning live albums as you’ll find”, but I adored it.

Anyway, first things first, ice cream. The pinnacle of Irish ice creams is without doubt the 99. I was spoilt by having the perfect 99 at a very early age, presented to me by Uncle Johnny, who owned the corner shop four doors down from us on Market St. in Dundalk. Uncle Johnny never did things by halves, be that his adoration of the Monaghan County team, cursing, hard work, practical jokes, laughing, and 99s. In Uncle Johnny’s shop the 99 was an art form. The cone was presented to the ice cream machine and a small squirt of ice cream was inserted into the body of the cone, before the curling cone was made. The ice cream on top was exactly two thirds the height of the cone, this meant that the cone could be enjoyed without the worry of it toppling over, or melting over your hand. A Cadbury’s Flake was inserted at a 60 degree angle and raspberry sauce was gently and sparingly poured over the top. No sprinkles were applied, they were an abomination.

Other shops used generic chocolate flakes, Uncle Johnny insisted on using Cadbury’s Flakes. Other shops offered other sauces, strawberry, or chocolate. If you wanted those Uncle Johnny was likely to tell you to feck off and go to that other shop instead.

As I was a very hard worker, from the age of three I collected empty bottles for Uncle Johnny, and filled the cigarette machine, I always got two flakes in my 99.

No 99 has ever matched one from Uncle Johnny’s shop on the corner of Chapel St and Market St.

When Mum and Dad got married they lived with Granny Bond, known universally in Dundalk as Nanny Bond. It was a small house. When I came along I shared a room with Nanny, Mam and Dad had the other bedroom and our dog Kim had the yard out the back. I have vivid memories of going up to Clanbrassil St. with Nanny every Friday to get the comics in Martin’s shop. Nanny got Jack & Jill for me, the Topper for my cousin Derek, and Jackie for the Muckians, my cousins and honorary sisters. Martins was a tiny shop and I was always mesmerised by all of the Matchbox and Dinky cars sitting on their little yellow cardboard boxes in the glass case along the wall opposite the counter. There was a butchers next door, tiled floor covered in sawdust , with menacing implements of war and destruction hanging everywhere. If Nanny asked for mince I knew we were going to have meatballs in gravy, and I would start to drool.

Mam made the meatballs with mince, breadcrumbs, onions, an egg, and flour. A large pot of oxtail soup would be prepared and the meatballs would be fried in buyer before being plopped into the pot of oxtail soup and would be left to simmer forever.

Mashed potato would be arranged like castle ramparts around the outside of my plate and then the meatballs and sticky gravy would be ladled into the middle. Heaven. I licked the plate clean.

When my Soulmate and I lived in our first house together in Fairview , around the corner from Meagher’s, I lovingly prepared this divine dish for her. She did not love it. She did not love it at all.

Years later, 2008 in fact, my Soulmate went to America for a week to visit her cousin Kim, and I was left in charge of the house and our three monkeys. I had lovely notions of dropping the kids to school, writing a chapter or two, walking in the Park, perhaps building that fence she’d always wanted as a surprise for her return. What I hadn’t realised was that the kids didn’t look after themselves. My week involved getting up an hour before the kids to prepare clothes, lunches, school bags, throw on a wash, fly over to school, late, apologise to their teachers and lie that there had been cattle on the road….which wasn’t a lie, as such, there had been cattle on the road…but an hour before I left the house. I would go home and seem to be ironing until it was time to collect them.

I’d also had this crazy notion that I would cook something different for them every day. The magic would start with meatballs in gravy. Knowing in my heart that they would love it as much as I did, I went into Mallons and bought 3 lbs of mince, a bag of onions, and four packets of Knorr’s Oxtail Soup. Oh my God ! The smells in the kitchen as I made it ! I couldn’t wait for them to come home from school.

When I collected them I was giddy with excitement. “What’s that smell ?” Jake asked as soon as I opened the front door. “Just you wait, you’re in for a treat.” I made castles of mask on their plates and then ladles on lagoons of gravy with meatballs. I presented it to them with a ‘Tah Dah !’

“What’s this ?” Jake asked.

“Is there any pasta ?” Robyn piped.

“I want pasta” Elliott joined in.

I sat opposite them, wolfing down my meatballs and gravy, “Eat this it’s heaven !”

They looked at me as if I was a stranger, not one they were afraid of, more like one they felt sorry for.
I ate four plates of meatballs and gravy, while I made them pasta. That was Monday. I had meatballs and gravy everyday until my Soulmate returned. I loved every single mouthful.

The only other culinary dispute I have ever had with my Soulmate and the kids is over Heinz ketchup. They think I’m mad when I argue that it tastes better from a glass bottle. It just does. My Soulmate argues that there is no difference, except that the glass bottle Heinz is much more expensive than the squezzy bottle Heinz.

This is false economy.

The only reason they changed to plastic bottles is because someone in their marketing department realised that a kid would have to ask their parent to give them ketchup, as it was difficult to get out of the glass bottle. The parent, being all parenty, would administer a tiny , reasonable amount to the plate. However , allow a kid to apply ketchup to his own plate from a squezzy bottle, and everything on the plate will be swimming in ketchup, most of which ends up in the bin.
The average household uses three times as much ketchup if they buy the plastic squeezy bottle variety.

Just as I write this Friendly Fire’s ‘Hawaiian Air’ has come up on my playlist. This is my Soulmates least favourite song ever. This is due to the fact that I used to roar it all around the house the summer I saw them play it at Glastonbury with an army of Hawaiin dancers. The only problem for my family was that all I could remember were the words ‘Hawaiin Air’ which I would repeat for hours on end.

So, yes, The Kinks.

I grew up in a house with very few records. There was a single Beatles album, two Abba albums, the soundtrack to Mary Poppins, and several Demis Roussos’ records. And that was it. Mam and Dad loved musicals, so there were many , many tapes of Jesus & His Technicolour Dreamcoat, and my brothers and I knew the words to every song in Evita before we went to secondary school.

I was the eldest. I lacked musical direction. I didn’t even have music to rebel against.

And then I met Mrs.Turley’s godson, Adrian. We lived next door to the Turleys in Quiglough. The Turley kids, Greg, Denise and Kitty were older than I was, and apart from torturing Greg to play football with me, I had little interaction with them. But then Adrian started to stay with the Turleys at school holidays , we became firm friends , and he’d sleep over in our house or I’d sleep over with him in Turley’s. On some of those nights Kitty and Greg would head out to town, but Denise would stay home and play music for us, real music.
I was introduced to Bob Marley & The Wailers, Fleetwood Mac, The Velvet Underground, David Bowie, and The Kinks. The Kinks ‘One For The Road’ was a live double album. I’d never heard a live album before. It seemed more real than the others. Denise told us that there wouldn’t have been punk, or heavy metal, without the Kinks. She played ‘David Watts’ and we believed her.

That summer I bought my first album, Regatta de Blanc, by The Police. I still have it. I can’t play it, I wore it out. I knew every single song, cord change, drum break…..

Anyone for a 99 ?

My treat.



 P.S. This is Friendly Fire playing Hawaiin Air at Glastonbury 

Author: paul

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