Chapter 25 - Cooking and Other Dangerous Practices at the Technical School
Kathleen heard her cousin was home from nursing in England and decided to go across The Square to pay her a visit. She opened the shop door but didn't stop and went straight though the shop and into the kitchen. Her cousin was also a Kathleen and her sweet singing voice met her as she opened the kitchen door. She sat down and encouraged her to continue singing while she watched the wobble in her throat. Or was it a tremble?
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She had her usual cup of tea with them and her cousin remarked,
"I see you still have the iron foundry in your hair", as she took all six hair clips out. She was right. Kathleen liked her hair tight and tidy and always wore her clips. This cousin was a tall, blond, blue eyed beauty with roses in her cheeks and very ladylike manners. She had a disarming charm about her. It was strange she wasn't married, Kathleen thought. The men must be going round with blinkers on. She said as much to her cousin, who confided,
"Well it wasn't for want of being asked. I've had many proposals but haven't found the right man yet. By the way Kathleen, I hear you've taken to cooking in a big way";
"You mean you've heard I'm attending the Technical School for the Cookery lessons. God help me it's true".
As Kathleen left, passing through the Bar, Rosie Brady and Mick McCoy were separately enjoying their glasses of porter. Rosie said,
"God bless you child. It's well you're lookin', When are ye comin' down to see me again and say a decade of the Rosary, and maybe we'll have a good mug of strong tay. What you would call the rale McCoy".
Mick gave Rosie a baleful stare.
"So when you're not drinkin' you're prayin'. A powerful lot of both ye must be doin'".
Kathleen didn't wait for Rosie's answer. She just heard her say,
"When me temper's rizzed..", and she closed the door and headed for home.
This term at School saw Kathleen walking up with other older girls to the Technical School for the Cookery lessons. She hadn't the foggiest idea why she came to be chosen but in due course her mother provided her with a starched white apron, small banded cap and, of all things, starched cuffs. She felt and looked a funny sight in her white outfit with all the bigger girls around her.
The Technical School was situated at the edge of The Square right next to the Forge. It was impressive if only for the fact that it was protected by an imposing gate with spikes on it and very high spiked railings. Inside the building they were met by the Cookery Teacher, who showed them the way to the classroom, then stood by the door as they passed into the Cookery Room. She was a high and mighty one alright, giving them all the searching look.
"I'd better watch my step with her".
As she paused the teacher remarked,
"I see we have a wee sprat amongst our mackerels. How did you manage to get into my class Kathleen O'Hara?"
"The teacher sent me Miss".
She was thinking to herself,
"I may be a wee sprat but I don't intend to fall into your net".
A bit disquieting to say the least.
The Cooking Teacher entered the Classroom and showed them the ovens and, more important, the blackboards where all recipes had to be written out. Two very long tables faced one another and they all took up their positions. They had been told to take a Navvy Can with them, which they placed under their tables and waited for this new era to unfold.
The Teacher demanded very high standards indeed. Clean nails, crisp white outfits and the utensils they used had to be cleared up as they went along.
"It's cleanliness all the time. You know the saying, 'Cleanliness is next to Godliness'. While the food is cooking write down in your books the ingredients written on the board and describe how you cook your masterpiece".
It was enough to make a saint say,
"Holy Jasus. She'll be demanding our lifeblood next".
All the girls looked uncomfortable as they studied their tabletops and the blackboard and shuffled their feet. Mary Ann watched Kathleen who in turn watched the tall girl on her other side who appeared very competent about it all.
Eventually they were all filling their cans with lentil soup to take home which smelled like ambrosia. Kathleen being naturally tidy got a pat on the back from the Teacher as she passed from table to table, scrutinising their efforts. She reminded Kathleen of a General reviewing his troops. An exuberant Kathleen rushed home with her Navvy Can full of lentil soup and was very pleasantly surprised to see how quickly it disappeared. It was a sure sign of appreciation in their family. She handed her mother a sheet of paper with the ingredients she would need the following week for 'Apple Dumpling'.
"You must be making progress Kathleen".
"Ah you don't know the half of it Mammy. She thinks I'm very tidy but I don't know what she thinks of me cookin'".
It was amazing how popular she was becoming all of a sudden on the afternoon of the Cookery Class. Rock buns, sponge cakes, coconut cakes and marble cakes were all brought home and barely reached the table before they were demolished. Nowadays one of her family would be waiting for her at the gate of the Technical School as she emerged, to help her carry home the 'dish of the week'.
"If you keep this up people will think we're starvin'".
She had to admit she enjoyed her Cookery Classes, washing up and cleaning her rolling pin and pastry board. She no longer looked at the next table for help or inspiration. After all, the teacher had set her up as an example of what to expect from a good cook, "Cleanliness, tidiness, speed and flair".
When the Tech was closed, it was taboo to the children, who managed to climb the iron railings and use the playing field immediately behind. It was a verdant green field and sorrel flourished in abundance. The children would stoop to pick the odd leaf and eat it. The boys would play ball and the girls would try to catch their eye.
One Tuesday, it was lunchtime and their Mammy was about to dish it up to the assembled, hungry children. It was a meal they all loved; bacon and fresh green cabbage, finished off in the pan. Suddenly the back door opened and two men carried in their brother, Patrick, the way you'd carry a corpse. It looked as if his upper lip was falling off and blood spurted from it, falling on the white tablecloth and all within reach. Their Mammy raced round with disinfectant, trying to stem the flow of blood, while one young man rushed off for Dr O'Brien.
Kathleen didn't see what followed. Shock and anxiety banished all idea of food. Outside the back door stood basins full of blood mingled with water. Just inside the door the frying pan was on the floor, full of green cabbage that was never eaten. How it got there no-one knew or cared. All thought of anything but Patrick had vanished. Eventually they were told he was alright except he had five stitches in his upper lip.
Dr O'Brien asked,
"Did you ask him how it happened Mrs O'Hara?"
"Well he says he slipped while climbing the high rails at the School and the pointed tip of one rail went right through his lip".
"Wasn't God good", thought Kathleen.
It could have been much worse and Dr O'Brien was very impressed with the results of his stitching.
"Well what do you think of that now? I must be in the wrong profession. Do you think the Rag trade could do with me?"
"Oh no Doctor. What would happen if you weren't around?"
Kathleen thought it might be a wee bit selfish of her but she might be dead now if it hadn't been for himself and God and she wasn't thinking of Noddin' Tim either.
They all settled back into the old routine. Although she didn't know it, changes were about to happen. Kathleen always liked to go to the Evening Devotions on a Sunday. They never seemed to be home long on a Sunday when it was time for bed. Often as she knelt by her bed, saying her prayers, her gaze would stray to the window where she could see the light from the Dundalk Lighthouse and her ears were cocked for the sound of walking feet. Her cousin Bridie, younger sister of the blonde beauty, and her girl friends usually walked by at this time on their way to dance the night away at Culloville Hall and she always recognised their steps. She waited for those steps, always moving in unison and full of gaiety and laughter as they passed by their door. She watched them striding out into the dark night, Bridie with a lighted cigarette for sure, and her heart travelled with them.
It was quite different on Sunday mornings. Then she listened to the country people walking to Mass. Theirs was a walk of steady determination and military precision, born out of many years trudging the roads to keep their weekly visit with their Maker. There was respect in their steps and a feeling they were nearing their objective. Five miles was nothing to them and they were usually the first in Church. Afterwards the same steps passed by, slower, contented, relaxed.
Women mostly wore their black shawls and the men's hobnailed boots struck a tune from the road. Conversation was muted and irregular. Traps went by too with their ponies and they made a dainty sound as they tripped along, seeming barely to touch the ground. Those on bicycles often carried a second passenger and punctures occurred regularly each week. Their mother always kept a good supply of puncture patches and frequently there was a bicycle standing upside down on their pavement, while the grateful recipient mended a puncture.
Kathleen also knew the walk of their neighbour, Mr Quigley, as he passed by on his way to the Billiard Room each day. It was no trouble to identify him. His limp and the sound of his walking stick, tapping along the pavement, always gave him away. He was a gentleman who enjoyed his retirement and what better way than a mixture of billiards, cards, following the horses and dogs and some gardening. He was contented and free.
Sunday was rightly a day of rest and Felix Grant didn't bother to trot his horse and sidecar out to the Station at Culloville. Felix was a well-known character and famous for his solo Irish dancing. Boy, was he a master of the steps. He was an agile, lean little man whose nimble walk indicated his dancing ability. Whenever a melodeon started up in The Square and the music reached his ears, Felix would be out dancing a Hornpipe of a Jig, moving with the agility of a much younger man. He seemed unaware of his audience as they moved in quietly to watch him. His feet moved so fast he seemed to be on wings. He dominated the music, dancing on tirelessly, encouraged by an enraptured audience who clapped their hands in time. There was no doubt about it, he was a little genius with the footwork and no-one ever saw him run out of breath or mistime the music.
God love him. Wasn't he a kindly man too. He treated his horse with the same love and understanding he gave to his passengers as he trotted them between Crossmaglen and Culloville Station. Indeed there were always a few non-paying passengers begging a lift as far as the bog. That was a good mile away and the lucky children were quite willing to walk back, happy in the knowledge that a sidecar ride took some batin'. Kathleen knew about that because sometimes when he wasn't busy he would put her right up in the Dickey Seat and he would even put the reins in her hands.
"You're very privileged gersha but sure when I think of all the pain you went through, I think you're deservin' of it".
Now she was better she appreciated this gesture.
"Felix you're a good man. We all love you. You have a great big heart and what would Cross do without you - or us!"