Wood Smoke and the Emerald Isle
by Rebecca Campbell
Wood smoke. When I least expect it my nose catches the fragrance of peat, coal and wood evoking childhood memories of Ireland. Cycling along the River Thames, exploring the country lanes in Devon, or sitting out in the garden with a cup of herbal tea, my head turns catching the scent. Breathing it in my lips curve up into a smile and staring off into the distance I relive my childhood growing up in Ireland.
I resided in Crosshaven in Cork, and lived with my grandmother, two older cousins, their baby brother and my aunt and uncle. We lived across from a potato field which saw my cousins and I competing to find the best. While at the back of the garden and over the hedge was a bail field. At every opportunity I clambered over the nettles, berries and thorns to climb on the golden bails that dotted the field. Once on top and with the breeze rustling my afro and the summer sun warming my skin, I was on top of the world.
Memories of my grandmother also come to mind. She had leathery skin and deep wrinkles set into her face while her fingers were knobbly and bent making it difficult for her to write. This didn't stop her from pulling out the wooden spoon for a quick smack across the bum as you scampered away. In rare moments though and wearing a thick colourful wool jumper a smile would light up her face, making her blue eyes twinkle.
However, while I may have escaped the sting from the spoon, I remember another daily battle: dinner. Failing to eat everything off my plate I was forced to remain at the table until I did, or it would reappear on my plate the following day.
Of course, the prospect of attempting to eat dry chips, chewy liver or black pudding again didn't appeal to me, and I realised that drastic measures had to be taken. Scowling down at the mountain of chips I turned my head and for the first time realised the benefits of sitting next to a cactus plant.
Unknown to the rest of the household I used the cactus to get rid of anything I didn't finish: chips; remnants of black pudding; peas, carrots; anything that was small enough to go unnoticed. But, unfortunately, after a couple of weeks of storing my food around the cactus, it died.
Yet, my childhood in Ireland didn't just consist of ingenious ways to get rid of food. Wood smoke brings back memories of racing my cousin down the hill on my BMX bike minus a bike seat with the wind whistling in my ears and stealing penny sweets from Mr Ned's shop. Or the winter months when a fire blazed keeping us warm as we gathered in the front room watching Emmerdale on television.
The smoky smell of burning peat, coal and wood would remain with me for years triggering memories of my childhood in Ireland.