Writer’s Note: Travelling to Ireland from France could sometimes cause culture shock. This piece started with my father’s reaction to my mention of thatching an old house. He’d grown up in one and knew its drawbacks. His generation believed in progress and change, saw a permanent and pensionable job or a profession as most desirable. They may turn out to be the last generation to profit from all that. I transposed my father into an uncle in the kind of generic family farm kitchen where I often found myself required to explain the actions of demonstrating French farmers. This piece began as a lined poem and some traces of rhyme survived the move into prose.
My uncle talks like sean-nós* singing and eats a boiled egg for tea. His wife cooks in the fancy new kitchen, as his mother once did in the thatched ruin behind, with scrubbed table and dash churn, where hens once tried all day to peck their way in (accidentally, mar dhea**) and there were peacock feathers in the parlour. I talk of buying an old house. ‘Isn’t that,’ Uncle shouts, ‘what we’re trying to get away from?’ he roars, ‘Thatch? Where are you going to find a thatcher these days?’ I mention loans and heritage and grants – ‘What’ll you do about smells, insects, rats?’ Then he goes for the coup de grâce: ‘and just you try insuring it.’ He follows the egg with Galtee processed cheese, finishes with home-made damson jam and bread. His son follows tradition, talks farming only and will marry late. ‘Why do farmers in France always get what they want,’ he asks, ‘by throwing fruit and vegetables round the roads, and burning a lock of*** tires in front of the town hall?’ Their windows are the latest double-glazed PVC, like the door a hen could never enter, because it is always closed. Anyway, what would a hen be doing in the tarmacked drive and yard – what sustenance in gravel paths and jeeps and wheelie bins? Who am I, who never lifted spade, to teach my uncle? What am I to him, or he to me – and where are you going to find a thatcher, these days?
*sean-nós: Irish for ‘old style’= unaccompanied traditional singing
**Mar dhea: Irish for ‘as if’
*** ‘a lock of’ = more than one, a lot of (local idiom, northeastern counties of Ireland)
Mary Byrne is the author of the short fiction collection Plugging the Causal Breach (available from Regal House, Amazon, Book Depository, etc.).
Short fiction published, broadcast and anthologized widely. Writes the odd poem. Born in Ireland, she lives in France. Tweets at @BrigitteLOignon.