Sunday 13 November 2011

Charlie Ellis and the Fried Rice

Just back from a walk in Ballyseede Woods and cuddled up now with Freddie on the couch. One thing about this little fellow is that he likes his comforts, if you’re not careful you could find yourself snoozing on the couch all day as he is so cuddliable it'd very easy to do. Lisa and Paranormal Ruby have gone for a run in the woods now, poor Muttley the dog will be a wreck this evening. There was a radio program yesterday about paranormal activity in Ballyseede Woods and how groups meet  regularly to try capture it. We decided not to tell Ruby this as she’d never set a foot in there again. Indeed it’s only in the last few years that I’ve gotten over my fear of the woods and what you might find in there…..

This must have happened when I was about ten or so and in the Cub Scouts. We used to go on camping weekends to Fota Island. For weeks we’d be looking forward to the trip then the Friday evening would eventually come along, we’d pack all our stuff onto the Cobh Cork train and get off two stops later. Yes it was a mighty journey. This was before UCC bought the island and we had to get permission from Lady Bell to camp on her grounds. The island was also still in its original state with dark swamps and even darker woods a brilliant playground for us kids. Well a certain Charlie Ellis used to take us on supposedly guided walks in the woods but in reality he used to scare the living daylights out of us. He’d already gone out and placed red rags in trees and then showed them to us as ‘signs of danger’. Then was the story of the scout disappearing in the swamp. There was a group of cub scouts from Cork which used to share the camp grounds with us. One of their older boys was a tall sallow skinned popular lad. We all knew of him. Well that one year he wasn’t there, probably grew too old, so Charlie told us he’d gone into the swamp one evening and never camp back. I still remember the shiver of fear almost paralyzing me. As we went deeper into the woods I was closing my eyes in case I saw him, bumping into my friends as we walked. At the far edge of the woods there was a Pillbox built during “The Emergency” to guard Belvelly Bridge, the only roadway onto the  Great Island on which Cobh stands. A Pillbox is a large concrete underground gun chamber with an open slit at the front for the machine guns. My father used to do duty in the Fota one. Charlie, having told us stories of ghosts and people disappearing led us down the underground entrance to the Pillbox and into the main chamber. Then as we were almost all in, I with my eyes closed hanging onto whoever was nearest, Charlie’s friend Dave Maloney who’d been hiding in an ante-room jumped out screaming. Even now nearly thirty-five years later I can still remember almost passing out with the fright, scrambling to get up the steps and out. If they did that today there’d be parents ranting and raving calling for blood. It might have scarred me for life but despite the frights I loved it, can still remember it vividly, a great part of growing up, thank you Charlie and Dave!

There is a family from Mauritius living in a flat above my shop. They have been around for about four years now, first the father with his son and then this year, I think, they were joined by the mother. A quiet, unobtrusive family, the boy is in third year at school and the parents work in local hotels. Recently they have been told that their visa to stay in the country won’t be renewed and they have to leave on December 5th. The father comes in to say hello every morning and has been telling me of their troubles. As the visa has been revoked they can no longer work but all he’s really worried about is his son’s education. He and his wife have only primary school education as secondary is unavailable to them in Mauritius. Since he’s been here and working his son has excelled at school and he sees the benefit of a good education. Who wouldn’t want a better life for their children? Every evening I’d see the father cycling off to work not long after the mother had returned from her job. Now neither of them can work so they have little or no money and are readying themselves for the trip home. The boy takes time off school to go with his father to immigration appeals and translate. He must be one of the few people in the world who can speak English, Irish and Creole! A skill set to be valued. During one of our conversations recently the father and I were talking about food and how I liked spicy meals. That evening as I left he came out with a jar of curried cabbage and a load of chapattis rolled up in tin foil. “For you, for you” he said handing them to me. The gesture really touched me and they gave me so much I didn’t have to make dinner that evening. Whatever he did the curried cabbage was gorgeous despite what I thought it might be.

Earlier this week a fisherman came in and gave me a present of a large Pollock, as I’d done something for him before. Remembering that the family upstairs liked fish I put it in their fridge and told him later. He was really taken aback. That evening he came into me…..

“What time you go home?” he asked in his soft, gentle voice, “Five.” I answered. “Come see me before you go,” he smiled in reply.

At five as I walked into the kitchen the smell of cooking was gorgeous. The man, I don’t know his name, and his wife were busily packing up a big old ice cream tub with fried rice and vegetables for me. As she gave it to me he handed me a little tin....

 “Put a little of this on the plate then put the rice over it, make it nice.”

 As I left the building there were tears in my eyes at how generous they were to me.

The amount of food they gave my family fed Ruby and me that evening and gave me a lunch for the next day. In the little tin was lovely garlic with spice oil, very strong. The thoughtfulness of this man with nothing feeding my family has really touched me. His kindness will be missed when they leave.

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