At the entrance of a small key-shaped cul-de-sac, stood a gooseberry bush. It wasn’t located in front of a beautiful view, and it wasn’t even that pretty, but every year without fail, it would ripen full of gooseberries.
The bush was situated in a dense thicket in front of a medium rectangular-sized, and overgrown grassy patch. Sometimes, early in the mornings you could see the droplets of dew glistening on top of the grassland, basking in the glow of the watery sun. The grassy and musky aroma would fill your nostrils and permeate the air, as you approached the spot.
To the side of this thicket, was a small forge run by old Furlong himself. You would know the man was there working, when you happened to catch a sight of his thick-bodied, tan and white Jack Russell – Jack. On a working day, you would be sure to see the oul’ dog, rambling around and sniffing outside the building, or else cocking his head to one side as he tried to recognise who was approaching the forge. Jack was elderly and half-blind you see, so it took a while before he would figure out who you were. However, most of the time, you would hear Furlong beating the wrought iron into shape, before you would even see him or the dog.
Making horseshoes was Furlong’s main trade. He was a master craftsman and so were his brothers. However, I never saw any horses outside waiting. (In later years, I was told that people did bring their horses to his forge). I only ever saw stocky and ruddy-faced men. You know, the type who always wore a grey suit jacket, with an open necked shirt and sometimes a flat cap. Often, I would see them loitering around the forge, and overhear them mostly chatting about the weather.
Across the road from the forge was a small farm, owned by a man called Cassell and his sister. They were quiet enough people and I don’t recall ever seeing them that much. The farm was only accessible by a lane that ran behind a large galvanised gate. If I remember correctly, at the end of the lane was a bunch of hay sheds, small stables and a field or two. It was perfectly hidden away from the road, a little spot of Eden nestled within an urban setting. To the side, like a sore thumb, stuck out Cassell’s large three-bedroomed, granite stone house. Morning and night, without fail, the front bedroom windows gazed over the farm and the road, constantly noting that everything was in its place.
There were about twenty-five two-bedroomed townhouses gathered around the cul de sac. My great aunt’s house was nestled right in the middle. Until I was thirteen, I stayed over in her home on occasion, and I have many fond memories of the place. Great Aunt Peg was a type of lady whom you would never meet nowadays, since these types are an ‘old fashioned’ and dying breed. She was a lady who would never dare to venture outside the door, unless she was well-presented and her hair was perfect. Peg had her own set of rituals and routines that she never strayed from and although my aunt could get cross and speak sharply, I don’t recall a time when she ever shouted or raised her voice. Guests who came over to the house would always be served tea in a small flowery cup and saucer, along with slices of Victoria sponge
cake and a never-ending supply of triangular-shaped sandwiches. I still remember so well the patterned carpet of rust, beige and green and the smell of the lavender wax polish that engulfed the air.
I recall one particular summer’s morning, when I came downstairs half-asleep and noticed my aunt standing at the front door. When I joined her and looked out, all I could see were some cows! Black and white cows, mucky cows, stunned cows, smelly cows! Cows that seemed to be enjoying their new-found freedom, away from Cassells farm. One or two of them were running around the road, their eyes large and mouths open, trying to get away from the lanky, hired hand who was chasing after them. There was another cow, just standing idle in a neighbour’s garden, not bothered in the slightest. Instead, she was more interested in eating whatever delicacies that lay in front of her. The chasing and handling of these lofty bovines went on for the whole morning, for as soon as the men managed to bring them to their gate, they would break away and the whole comical situation would begin all over again. I was the grand old age of nine years when this occurred during the final summer of the 1980s. It was a retro summer of hot sunshine and warm pavements, ice creams, the blaring radios, pebbles, the beach, beautiful gardens, Victoria sponges and the gooseberry bush.
I would sometimes sneak out during the late afternoon to meet up with some of the cul-de-sac kids, and play outside on the road. I wasn’t allowed to play with one or two of them you see, as they were rather naughty. Yet these naughty kids always managed to tag along with the rest of our small group, trying to figure out new ways to be mischievous. Mostly, we avoided taking part in their shenanigans, as we knew we would be the ones to get caught and not them!
We always ended up stopping at that all too familiar gooseberry bush, playing around it. Going in and out of that bit of grassy land, through a small opening within the briars. There was a feeling of magic that hung in the air whenever we would enter, and it was like a thick red curtain opened and allowed us to cross over into another world. We used to scare each other, telling tales such as the one about a haggard spectre, who sat behind the briars waiting to grab you when you least expected it, or point at you as you walked past, with an outstretched and bony, curved finger.
Sometimes the group of us would pick a few of the ripened berries, and pop them into our mouths. They were of a yellow-green, chartreuse-like shade, with vertical lines going down the sides of each round berry. In the bright light of the day, they were almost transparent, reminiscent of green hot air balloons ascending into the blue afternoon sky.
Although these places and the people are long gone, the above are a sampling of the recollections that have filled my heart with joy and nostalgia over the years. I will forever be grateful for those happy childhood experiences and the memories that were created as a result. I will treasure them always.
RONA FLEMING is originally from Bray, County Wicklow, but now lives in Gorey. A crazy cat lady with two cats, Lucky and Megan, she loves to partake in anything creative and finds writing and painting very therapeutic.
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