Monday, January 12, 2009

Bog day afternoons


A romantic daydreamy teen was I. A lover, not a fighter, a thinker, not a grafter. I'd gaze out windows with my chin on my palm and imagine how I'd make my mark on the world. How I'd make the Cavan team before I was 20. How I'd make women laugh and their men jealous. I'd make glorious poetry too. I'd make a 147 in snooker, I'd make people sit up and take notice and I'd outgrow my enemies and make them quail. I'd make sweeping changes. I'd make restless infants sleep. I'd make an impression.

Well, it didn't work out quite like that because instead, I, ahem, made turf.

Sigh, yes, turf - the staple Irish fuel for fire and warmth enjoyed by generations and made famous by Peig Sayers, although I think she was smoking hers. Now I know I usually come across as all urbane and sophisticated here,(effortlessly so!), but there was a long contrasting phase of my life that I spent up to my oxters in squelching, sucky muck, making turf in a bog in Westmeath.

My Dad started it. I blame him the most. We used to just buy truck loads of it that some other poor faceless bastards had to make but he went economy conscious one year and hauled us all off grumbling to some desolate windswept bog in the armpit of nowhere. Here we would make our own turf and save the money instead. Communist in its organisation, I'd imagine Dad as my Stalin as we collectively farmed, doubled over and working, working, stopping for dinner (sandwiches and tea) and then working working...

I groaned when I got there and saw it for the first time. It was just a vast, bleak panorama of brown topped with heather that stretched on for miles, with hordes of people beavering away at the near edge of it where the land had been cleared. Starkly beautiful now, I can safely think at this remove but back then it was dirty, it stank, it had no semblance of cool and it would be home for the next ten summers.

I stood watching that first day as a large digger, spewing diesel fumes and clanking as it shook itself like an animal, cleaved massive hunks of earth from a cliff face at the end of the 'bank'. It fed the peat into a huge bucket/mixer on its back and then it would drive slowly along and, as I came to describe it, 'shite out' rows of turf sods on the ground. It was like looking at miles of gold bars, except they were brown, stretching uninterrupted for about 150 yards. A brown-brick road. My task, my chore.

Our family had command of about twelve of these rows every year, each row eight sods/bars across (see pic), and it was torture work because as soon as one side was dry, every piece of turf had to be flipped over so the other side could dry too. Up and down the bank you went with your back splitting and clouds of biting insects gathering in the late evenings so as well as being sweaty, filthy, sore and pissed off, you could also have swarms of midges and and be itchy as well. We used to light fires along the bank to smoke them away, or wear an orange-smelling repellent, because apparently midges don't like citrus fruit. Of course they don't, why would they bother with a poxy orange when they can have hot dinners instead, i.e. me.

All this did nothing for my cred as a teenager either. I was in that phase of my life where I desperately wanted to be different and individual, a trait I shared with all my friends, and we'd do this by studiously copying each other's taste in clothes, music etc. Something away from the herd like making turf, well, I was a bit of a joke.

Meanwhile, back at the bog, the lovely little turfies had gone through various further drying processes which I won't bore you with (up and down the rows again, Terence!) and if they were fit for burning, we'd put it all in large fertiliser bags we got from farmers. Your hands would sting as traces of fertiliser sank into the nicks and hacks made by the razor-dry turf. Lovely. Then it'd all be loaded on to a trailer and brought home via tractor, and we'd seemingly undo all the earlier work by hefting the bags into our shed and emptying them in a huge pile. And then I'd traipse in and out every day to fill a large bin to put beside the fire.

When it ran out, the whole cycle would start all over again.

Coming home from the bog every evening, after Papa Turf had mercifully decided we'd done enough for that day, we'd swing into a nearby village shop where we'd be bribed/rewarded with coke and crisps. So it wasn't all awful. By the end, it was just me and my younger brother, all the older siblings had fucked off or got their own lives by then.
Despite smelling like an orange rind and looking like a boy-sized shite with limbs, you wouldn't be embarrassed in the shop because they were used to seeing such dirty labourers around their way. We were as common a sight as coal-miners once were in Wales.

"Ah ya were in the bog today," yer wan behind the counter would say. "You're covered in the work anyway, God bless ya sure I can only see your white teeth there and nothing else!"

"No," I'd beam sarcastically. "I'm actually Al fucking Jolson. Give me my change woman."

You know, there was an irony that nobody noticed in how the adults always referred to it proudly as their 'plot' of turf.

Ah yes, the family plot, where little bits of me died miserably every summer and were fed to to the midges. Big sigh! I tell you, the day we got the OFCH in, I blinked away a tear and smiled.

Check out this photographer!!

17 moos and woofs:

Susan said...

Some of my childhood loneliness has drifted away reading this---miles away from you there was a teenage girl picking beans and cabbages in the same bent-backed misery. Occasionally I try to inform my own teenager just how lucky she is to be stuck with no more than baby-sitting, but she has no idea how long those rows can get. I swear they grow as you work.

Were you serious when you earlier spoke of considering emigration or time away? If a free house to live in would help, (and you could bear America) give me a shout. I won't ask you to cut turf, at least, and I'm actually being serious. Just in case.

Terence McDanger said...

Good Lord! Did that read so depressingly you wanted felt the need to offer me a holiday? lol! Just kidding Susan. I might take you up on that the way things are going at the moment. Once the apartment is sold, the world is my lobster!

Terence McDanger said...

More typos. FFS.

Susan said...

No no no--it wasn't out of pity, and the offer's serious. I was hoping my nephew would stay in it for a year or two, but he chose to go to Australia, the goofball.

Good luck selling the apartment!

Paul Heron said...

OMFG - I feel like I've been missing out, just when I thought Moo Dog was long gone dead and buried, it seems there has been several posts over the couple of weeks. Much fun and merriment to be had I hope as I pour over your recent entries. Hope Moo Dog is back for good this time ;-)

Terence McDanger said...

Susan, if things pan out, you never know what might happen!

Paul, it's fair to say the flame lowered and flickered at times, but it never died. I am always here for you my child.

The Man at the Pub said...

Wow. I thought they stopped digging that shit in the 13th century. I suppose they don't sell many Briquettes in Ireland.

Terence McDanger said...

Oh it's very much still a feature of rural life TMatP, but probably way less so than it used to be.

The briquettes, as you mention, have become the fashion if that's not a contradiction in terms.

Baino said...

So know I know a real 'bog-hopper' (learning Irish colloquialisms from another Cavanite!)

hope said...

Ah the mere images this one conjured up. Especially "Papa Turf". :)

Thanks for sharing.

Terence McDanger said...

Baino who's doing the Cavan linguaphone with you? I hope whoever it is is filling you in on the the more colourful colloquialisms we have. That's 'culchie' and 'bog-hopper' you've called me now, ya flamin' galah! (I learn all my Aussie from Alf Stewart on Hymen Wye)

Hope, I was especially proud of the Papa Turf line, I'm glad some of you BLOODY PHILISTINES PICKED OUT THIS VERDANT GEM OF SOARING CREATIVITY. Jesus.

Kath Lockett said...

You poor bastard. At a slightly earlier time (and for a mere five summers) I picked and cut apricots as my summer 'fun' job. Standing on a slab 'o' cement under a tin shed in usually sweltering 35C temperatures. Each cut from the knife meant that rancid apricot juice would stink the merry hell out of my fingers or at least help them on the way to becoming infected.

Nearly 20 years later and I still can't bear anything apricot flavoured.

Oh and I loved your Papa Turf reference too - nice work, son!

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