Dem Bones. Dem Bones..

I have been remiss. In all the time I’ve been posting on this blog I have never photographed my dinner. So here it ..was. You might think that I made a dog’s dinner of it, but not so. A kindly Jamaican lady on Youtube showed me how to cook an oxtail.  She pointed out that it was in fact, a cow tail. First catch your cow/ox.  “Christmas Eve and twelve of the clock/ Now they are all on their knees,/ an elder said…” Not exactly the Christmas spirit. She spoke of ‘our oxtail’ in ‘our pressure cooker’ with ‘our spices’.  Pressure cooker? I don’t have joint ownership of a pressure cooker with any Jamaican lady, no matter how kindly. It’s a lie, Your Honour. I hardly know the woman. Anyway I have a mortal dread of pressure cookers ever since my father made porridge in one and blew the valve off. I still speak in admiration of his courage as he grabbed the device and ran for the back door, drawing a line of porridge along the ceiling. It looked like the Battle of Jutland or a reconstruction of Vesuvius on a bad day. Porridge—bad for the blood pressure, despite what the experts tell us. Anyway I fried (off) our vegetables and browned (off)  our oxtail and added (in) our spices. I popped it in our oven and waited… And waited.  It took a while. I thought about Hardy’s meek mild creatures. The oxen opened up the great expanses of the world, accepting their burden every day and waiting patiently through the night for the labours of the morrow. That Hardy language is catching. No wonder the Romans made conquered opponents pass under the oxbow (Juga, the symbol of subjugation.)

If someone said on Christmas Eve,/Come; see the oxen kneel/In the lonely barton by yonder coomb/Our childhood used to know,’/I should go with him in the gloom/Hoping it might be so. 

I felt guilty. I thought of Dean Swift and his description of the carnage left on dinner plates every day all over the world. I remembered the account of Picasso jumping up from the table with the skeleton of the plaice or sole that he had just devoured and using it as a stencil to produce a piece of art worth, no doubt, millions. Henry Moore made a good living from items just like these, cast in bronze  and ten feet high. I felt hungry and guilty. I plated (up) our oxtail. It was delicious.

This is a taba, used in a game of skill in the Southern Cone of South America. It is a bone bleached by the sun, possibly from a sheep or a young colt. It was used for divination in the temple of Hercules. It was played by the Greeks at Troy. Patroclus, friend of Achilles, was a bad loser. It was used to predict the fall of that city. ‘I feel it in me bones.’ Who hasn’t used the phrase? The practice spread throughout the Mediterranean civilizations and came to the Americas with the Spaniards.. Gambling at the taba, was so rife that the practice is illegal nowadays, except, by dispension, on election days. Everything is on the hazard on election days.

By the way, how are your teeth, the bones most visible to others? I was told once by a careers officer that the minimum requirement for recruits to the Irish army and air corps is twenty seven teeth. These could be decisive in close combat. I fear that I would be kept in the reserve line, called upon for some back-up gnawing of the enemy.  These young lads in the prime of their lives at Waterloo, were presumed to have had excellent teeth. So much so, that these young heroes were dug up for their teeth some time after a decent interval had elapsed. Waterloo teeth were highly prized. After a slightly longer interval, their bones were also dug up by a grateful populace and used for fertilizer. So much for the glory. Queen Elizabeth the First had a mouthful of black teeth from overindulgence in the craze for sugar. No ‘ring of confidence’ there, Out of consideration, her subjects blackened their teeth to match. George Washington, a slave owner in his time until late in life,, had a set of gnashers made of elm wood. Try not to picture that. It explains his grim and disapproving expression in portraits, even on the currency. In the days of sail, when warfare took an obscene toll on the limbs and lives of sailors, doctors were known as ‘sawbones’. Long John Silver, who sailed with Captain Billy Bones, the apocryphal story tells us, remarked to Jim Hawkins,  that if he had his life to live over again, he would take more care of his health. Ahar!

Jamaica, sugar islands and men before the mast put me in mind of slavery. “Put your back into it.!” Not only oxen felt the lash in the march of civilization.  Maybe I’ll settle for a few scrambled eggs for lunch, although I read that Natalie Portman opposes the taking of eggs from hens because they are female. Where can we turn? It’s back to porridge…

Turn to music perhaps….Oh you should see Mr Jones as he rattles the bones. Old Parson Brown fooling round like a clown. Aunt Jemima, who’s past eighty three, shouting and full of pep, ‘Watch your step. Watch your step…’




The Birds are Back in Town. WAGS and The Spice of Life.

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The making of laws, observed Bismarck, and the making of sausages, should not be too closely examined. The Germans know a thing or two about sausages, as do the Italians. Think for a moment on what constitutes a sausage. No, don’t. Just enjoy it. The film 1900  has a memorable scene in which a pig is slaughtered, dismembered and re-assembled into hams, bacon, joints, brawn, crubeens and sausages. Every component of the original animal, every component, was used.  It would be a grave discourtesy to the animal to throw any of it away.  As to sausages, it’s all in the seasoning. I saw a headline in a newspaper yesterday: A spicy diet guards against dementia. Job done. I love a good sausage. (Latin botulus)

Did you ever dismember a golf ball?  With The Ryder Cup in full swing, I am reminded of how we used to peel a golf ball to get at the  miles and miles of rubber inside. Miles and endless miles of mini catapults and that was without even stretching. Inside that again were a few miles of broad rubber band, a flaccid version that was good for nothing. At the very core was/is a small balloon of deadly poison, a bacterium, a living organism that swelled and grew, constantly reinforcing the tension of the outer skin. Considering the treatment meted out to golf balls, it’s not much of a life. Is it?  Don’t touch that. You’ll die. At least run it under the tap before you try to blow it up. Those balloons won’t blow up. They are no use for anything except for imprisoning bacteria. I threw an old golf ball into the fire. It writhed and squirmed. A hissing reptile emerged from its shell and bombarded me with a blizzard of burning scraps. The golf ball’s revenge.

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As children we went down to the harbour when the trawlers came in. The fishermen always put up a box of fish for the lads. The harbour master always chased us away. “Get off the quay. Get off the quay.”  He actually said ‘Kay.’   “Get off the kay.” It has a ring of authority about it. I recall the cold of winter evenings and the pain of the string  when you carried a hank of  ‘whitenin’.  If you were lucky you had the comfort of a bike. You could drape the hank over the handlebars. The handlebars were freezing too. Most of all though, I remember the gulls, screeching and wheeling, emerging from darkness, yellow in the trawler lights and disappearing again, to squabble in the water over scraps and fish guts. The gulls bred on the islands. They knew their place. They swarmed after the boats, as press men swarmed after Eric Cantona. (He is a poet, fond of a good metaphor.) For a couple of decades the gulls moved into town. They nested on the houses, with broods of squealing chicks.  They white-washed the roofs in dry weather. They bullied cats away from their food and stalked imperiously around the bins. They became commuters, from one dump to another, from Ballealy to Dunsink and Kill in Kildare, crossing and re-crossing the flight paths to the airport, without a care for their own safety or that of anyone else, thinking only of their own gratification. Jet-setters. But always they came,  impeccable as golf WAGS, in their white suits, to The Brook at low tide. How can they stay so clean, given the nature of their work? The gulls, that is, not the WAGS.

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Then came botulism, dodgy sausage disease, bad food disease. If you dine out in low dumps, what can you expect? Clostridium botulinum. Dammit. Those sausages are ‘on the blink.’ I meant to cook them days ago. No amount of alchemy by Olhausens, Haffners, (clever Germans), or even Dennys, Kearns or the wizards of Clonakilty, can ward off that sinking feeling, that fruity whiff of a deceased sausage, that ruined breakfast. Not even the iron constitution of the sea gulls could withstand botulism. Their numbers dwindled spectacularly. They became, for a few years, rare birds indeed. Even the Iron Chancellor, a thrifty man, would not have endangered his health to a superannuated sausage. That would be the wurst fate imaginable. He wore a military uniform because he could get one free. He had a pickelhaube, a spiked helmet. I always wondered what he put on the spike. A pickle? A sausage? Nah!

On the other hand, if you are feeling bedraggled and worn down by age, you might consider spicing up your life with the miracle of botox treatment. Botox is a derivative of botulism. It is.  I understand that the sausage meat is injected into the areas in need of an uplift, eyebrows, sagging cheeks, scraggy necks and all points south. Get it into you. You’ld be mad not to. You will look swell.  The seagulls are back at The Brook, in greater numbers than I can ever recall. A man with a golf club, put them all to flight yesterday. A great golfing spectacle.