Sunlight Through Dust

There’s a smell that I smelled once when I was very small. In my head I call it 'Sunlight Through Dust'. Now and again, I may catch an olfactory glimpse of it in some odd corner. Not very often though. Mostly it was just that one time, back when I was small.

Memories like these are wispy at best. It’s possible that very little of them are true and that the rest is built up from other ideas and memories that were gathered around them as the years went by.

Here’s what I remember from this one anyway.

Back then, we didn’t have a car and sometimes, on fine days, we would get the bus to Rosses Point. The place to get on the bus was at the low stone wall across from where the statue to WB Yeats is now. I just had a look on Google Streetview and the wall is still there, just like it was, and, damn, there’s still a bus stop there too. Fifty years on, it hasn’t changed much.

Anyway, we’d get the bus there, Mum and me and some of the others, I guess. Though my memory just has Mum and me in it. Dad would have been at work. We had a bag with a blanket to lay out on the sand and I imagine we had biccies and diluted orange too. Once, I remember, we were out at the Point and it started to rain really heavily, and one of Dad's work colleagues gave us a lift home in his car. I remember this because, on the drive in, there was a place on the road where it just wasn’t raining anymore. You looked back and it was still raining but, in front, it was sunny and clear. Mum called it a ‘cloud break’ and I think she said it was only a sun shower after all. 

It's funny, the things we remember.

This smell that I remember came to me when I was getting on to the bus. You climbed up the steps towards the driver and I know that I must have been really small because the steps seemed very big and the interior of the bus did not reveal itself until I was right at the top step. Mum paid the driver and then you worked your way down the aisle to a seat (like you don’t know this already).

What about this smell though? What was it? 

How do you describe a smell? It was like the bright warm sunshine, magnified through the bus windscreen, had heated up some of the dust on the steps up to the driver. It was warm and musty and not overtly special and not particularly pleasant. Why do I like it then? Why do I remember it so well? I think it contained a promise of the day to come, the beach, the sea, the sandy biscuits, the pale orange drink. I think that’s it. It was the smell of a promise of a good day.

I can’t reproduce it. There’s no place I can go to breathe deeply of this ancient essence. Perhaps it's lurking there still in the stairwell of some sunny bus but I don’t do buses as much as I used to. I have done plenty in my time though and never found that smell there again.

As I said right at the start: once in a blue moon, I’ll think I catch a hint of it on a breeze. “That’s it,” I might say to myself, “that’s the bus smell.” But, by the time I’ve thought that it’s gone again, whisked away to wherever it goes.

The smell is tied up with memory, as so many scents are. It evokes a feeling more than a picture or a soundscape. A feeling of warm sunny days, adventuring out, family and safety.

I wish it were in a bottle.

Massive Fry Up

I like a Saturday sausage at the best of times. There’s no denying it.

But lockdown and all the related stuff has brought that once humble banger to a whole new level. The massive Saturday lunchtime fry up is now a thing and long may it last. All hail the conquering hero. 

Truth? It’s not all that massive. Not in actual scale, at least. It’s more massive in its social context, the importance of its role as a marker for where we are in any given week.

If it were just me and Patricia here, it would still be the humble sausage on its own. All instigated by me. Patricia is good and would not look to overdo it on the sausage front, but I would eat the little beggars all the livelong day. But it’s not just me and Trish, not since March when it all kicked off. The two boys-to-men are returned from university and we are a full family unit again. Some more truth? It’s been totally great. We love having our guys here at the best of times and being able to revisit the idea of our happy foursome settled under one roof continues to be a joy. Of course, in an ideal version of this world, it wouldn’t be happening. Not for so long at least. But it is and it’s no hardship.

I went through a phase of grilling my sausages. It’s okay. But look, you can’t beat a fried one. You just can’t. I like to fry them quite gentle over a low flame. I do them on their own. Let’s not crowd the pan. Get all those suckers brown all over, not too crispy, before you do anything else. I heat a big plate under the grill and the sausages go in there under some tinfoil. I learned that from seeing Mum do it for Saturday evening fry ups years ago. Everybody probably does it, but I like to pretend it’s only me. The hot plate will keep those sausage nice and warm while the bacon gets a solo run in the pan. Maple bacon cut nice and thick. Actually, I tell a lie about the solitary pan. The black pudding is sometimes allowed in with the bacon, sometimes with the sausages. It doesn’t take up too much space and it fries up pretty quickly and it imbibes everything else with a nice black-pudding vibe.

Bacon is done. Not too crispy but well cooked all the same. On to the hot plate with the sausages. There’s a sheet or two of kitchen roll in under all the sausage and bacon to take a little of the excess oil away.

Time to get some eggs on. Nice fresh ones. Crack them on the side of the pan, turn the cracked side up to the ceiling, open the shell up and let them glide on to the pan. They’ll be coloured a bit with the essence of the things that have been on there before. So they may not be as aesthetically pleasing as an egg fried in pristine oil but, again, the borrowed flavours are worth the trade off of the slightly unsightly end result. Nice to leave a little bit of runny yolk in there too.

Meanwhile, toast is being toasted. Tea is being brewed in the Bewley’s pot with real Barry’s tea leaves. Coffee is being brought along in the large cafetiere. There are cosies for both to keep them piping hot until they’re needed. The tea cosy fits perfectly. It’s like a little hat with ts own bobble on top and all. Someone knitted it for Patricia and it’s as old fashioned looking as it is treasured. The cosy for the coffee is another teapot cosy and it doesn’t fit well at all. But still it serves.

French baguettes from the shop, sliced end to end and buttered. J likes to construct an elaborate roll with everything laid mathematically inside. S hasn’t been up terribly long and settles for a roll with sausage in and a piece of bacon and black pudding on the side. Patricia likes eggs on toast, easy on the sausage, well cooked bacon, and tea. J and me have coffee. S and Patricia have tea.

Big white plates. Bigger than needed. You need room to move stuff around.

I’m sure Patricia would not be annoyed to see more of a veggie presence in the offering. Sometimes there’s a tomato or two but that’s it. Mushrooms don’t fit into this plan and beans always seem gauche and out of place. It’s a little meat feast.

I don’t eat an awful lot myself. A couple of sausages, a single slice of bacon, a single slice of black pud, occasionally an egg. I enjoy it but I get the most fun out of putting it together. Landing it all at once. It helps me remember it’s Saturday. I particularly enjoy the coffee.

It happens every Saturday at about half past one though usually running a little late. It’s lunchtime in the Armstrong household.

 We’re okay being here together. We’re doing fine.

Another sausage?

Love and Complication

Succession has got me started with thinking about Dads again.

Don’t worry, I won’t be doing any spoilers of that super TV series. I’ll keep it tidy.

I had wanted to see Succession for a long time. You know the one. HBO. Brian Cox as the leader of a multi-billion dollar media and entertainment conglomerate. A bit of a bastard. 

My friends, Marie and Katie, not only confirmed for me that it was indeed great fun but that it was also available for download from my basic Sky package. So, I got on it and we started watching regularly. I recommend it. It’s naughty and edgy and very well done. I’ll be sorry when we finish the two series’ that currently exist. We’re into the second as I type, one per night, lock down style.

Cox’s character, Logan Roy, is a pretty interesting one… for me at least. Apart from being a bastard and being colossally powerful while simultaneously being personally vulnerable, he also presents a heightened portrayal of the many different things that Dads are and can be.

Like a lot of other men, I get two shots at thinking about what it means to be a Dad. That’s because I am one and because I also had one. It’s a cloud I’ve looked at from both sides now.

So, what have I seen? 

Jees… I don’t know.

I know there’s a wide divergence between how I remember my own Dad and how I view myself as a Dad and I suppose that’s the reason why I’m sitting here, trying to type around this matter this morning. That’s also the reason why Succession comes into the thought process.

It’s about power. Well, it’s about a lot of things but it’s at least partly about power. I saw my Dad as a powerful person. To me he was a big man, able to take care of himself, nobody’s fool, kind and funny but not to be messed with. Though he never lifted a hand in anger against anyone, there was a not unpleasant feeling that there were lines that could not be casually crossed with him. I tried to think of a movie character who might evoke how I saw my Dad and the best I could come up with was the Burt Reynolds character in ‘Deliverance’ who was also the Lewis Medlock character in the James Dickey novel. Much more the person in the earlier part though, before that character’s failings and vulnerabilities began to show. Dad was an outdoors man, like Lewis. If he were stuck up a gorge without a paddle, he would fend for himself and the bad guys wouldn’t stand a goddamn chance.

There’s that gap in perception, right there. I could never imagine anyone perceiving me as someone of power, someone to be respectful of but also a touch wary of. For better of worse, these have grown to be traits that sort of define fatherhood for me. Don’t get me wrong, I reckon I’m a darned-good Dad, I certainly try my best at it and that hopefully counts for something.

But, even typing this as I am, without much of a plan or a road map, it strikes me that there are clearly two types of Dads in the world and they are poles apart. The Dads we had and the Dads we are.

Perhaps that’s part of the fascination with Logan Roy. As a character, he seems to stand astride both types of Dads (though mostly on the side of the one we had). Perhaps that’s what got me thinking.

And then the Dad/Child relationship changes so markedly as the years go on. Power and capability are unavoidably transferred. Something I saw in my own Dad's eyes years ago is now firmly settled in my head. A growing bafflement with the world. A dull surprise that an existence that for so long seemed incapable of change has finally begun to change irrevocably after all. The young generations have all the knowledge and stamina to exist effortlessly in the strange new world which has sprung up, while we, the Dads, seem increasingly out of place and out of depth with each passing year.

I look at Logan Roy on that telly programme and I dislike him. He is self-serving and cruel and merciless. But I love seeing him win too. He is a Dad’s Dad, he would survive up that canyon without a paddle. Man, he would bring that canyon down on everybody’s head and walk away smiling.

But he is fading too. A fading man. He doesn’t know when to stop pouring the coffee and then he piddles it out in the corner of his room. For all his high-power, the world is sailing past him as well.

Typing on, as I am, I am aware of people who will read this who never even got to meet their Dad. Also people who lost their Dad so recently that it is still so very raw (it is always a little raw). The Dad so recently passed, lives on in warm memory and stories and loving smiles. The Dad never known, gone so very long, still creates ripples of memory within the family. Those who knew him, evoke him meaningfully and we listen in quiet awe and wish we could have known him too.

For my part, I miss my own Dad, Eddie, gone now over eight years. Though the world whizzed on past him, as it does to us all, he never lost touch with it. He was never not funny or smart, never not someone to be respected and approached with care, never not the Father Figure.

It’s a messy post this week. It’s a messy subject. I think I’ll just go back to the next episode of Succession and see if that clears things up.

And, of course, it all makes a rough sort of sense when I think about it. I don’t feel about myself in the same way that I felt about my Dad and that is only right and proper. After all, I am not my Dad. I’m a Dad to two other people of the world and, in all likelihood, they will see me with all the love and complication that I did for my own Dad.

I can never see myself that way. How could I ever expect to?

It seems to make sense.