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Excerpt from: "An Islander Looks Back"
My Eileen, "Aunt Fanny" and a Jag
Making good brown bread has eluded me since my first efforts many moon ago when Eileen and I first got married. It has always bugged me that I just could not get my act together. It was either underdone or overdone, never just right. However, in the last couple of weeks I decided I just had to make the effort to succeed. The last time I had tried was when Eileen had gone to the Bons to have the 7th Murphy - Audrey. I still remember the results. Eileen made beautiful brown bread and yet she never measured anything. A bit of this and a bit of that - never a dud cake!
Anyway, as she was away I decided I'd provide the cake. I still remember phoning her in hospital to get the recipe. With the gang watching I followed it step by step, convinced that I could produce what had always failed me - an edible cake. I remember letting it in the oven for over one-and-a-half hours - checking and rechecking for that hollow sound on the bottom side - but it never came.
Eventually I took it out of the oven to cool. I can still see the smiles of my heroes when it came to cutting it - the blasted thing was like iron! I was even put to the pin of my collar to break up the bread for the hens we then kept.
It took 14 years before I got the courage to attempt baking brown bread again. It was triggered by Darina Allen's book - Simply Delicious. I've now made five cakes, all with various degrees of success, but one thing for sure - this time it's being eaten by all the gang. The comments are humiliating: "Da, the crust is too hard" - being the main one. However, the taste is right and what does boost my ego a little is that they choose it before the white shop loaf. This time around I'm going to keep at it despite the jibs of family and friends.
Anytime I write or think of Eileen my mind becomes filled with a thousand wonderful memories. None stands out so much as the day we decided to get engaged. The anniversary was last Tuesday.
We were canoeing and camping on the Blackwater with over 20 friends. We left the campsite at Ludgates in Lombardstown early morning in my van, affectionately known as "Aunt Fanny". Remembered, I would say, my many in Dunlops as a 5 cwt turquoise jalopy with a roof rack that held five canoes and always rather conspicuous in the Dunlop car park. We caught the train at Mallow and headed for Dublin to a jeweller recommended by a cousin. We were fortunate that we had wonderful friends in Mr. and Mrs. David Ludgate as the night before we were able to iron our "best", well-wrinkled clothes after they being bundled into a rucksack at the campsite.
We duly arrived in Dublin and bussed it to Dame Street. I still smile when the jeweller called me aside to ask how I intended paying for the ring - cheque or cash - cash it was. I can tell you that on my then tenner a week in Dunlops my savings were not hectic. Eileen chose a single-stoned ring. When I had settled my bill the proprietor asked where we were going for lunch. He suggested we should splash out and go to the Shelbourne and said he would drive us there. What a surprise we got when we found he owned a white Jaguar. He left us outside the hotel with both of us chuckling over the fact that earlier we travelled from our campsite to Mallow in a jalopy and now had the icing on the cake with the Jag.
When we arrived "home" that evening to the campsite we had a memorable party - with Mrs. Ludgate's cakes, our canoeing friends around a campfire, and no alcohol! I never remember any appearing on any of our dozens of canoeing trips on the Lee or Blackwater. Yet we enjoyed ourselves telling yarns and with singsongs, always into the early hours of the morning. And yes! We always had a very rigid rule in our sleeping arrangements - no mixing!
Our camp fires on the Blackwater were something special. Everyday someone had the specific job to collect a couple of canoe loads of dead wood along the riverbanks for the night fire. The campfires started at round 11.00pm and were still lighting into the early hours. There is nothing more beautiful and tranquil than to be stretched out around a fire with no sound but the crackling of timber with a star-studded sky overhead. Yes, the young people of today have different ideas on entertainment. I wonder will they have as long-lasting memories as we, of our generation, have. It is the simple things in life that leave the lasting memories and, one thing for sure I had an abundance of them in my days with Eileen. It would be nice again if I could, just one, sit around that campfire with her in Lombardstown, as we both admired that engagement ring sparkling in the light of the timber fire.
Copyright © Matt Murphy