“Smoke is good, flames is rotten!”
30th June 2015
A couple of weekends ago it was the fourth of the O’Leary brothers 80th birthday. The first, Uncle Tom was a few years ago in a nice hotel, The second, my Dad’s, was at my local village pub and the third, Uncle Derrick’s was in the Mill House, here at Cotes Mill. That was the first time my extended family got to see the hugeness of the building and the daunting undertaking of renovating it.
This time it was Uncle James’ 80th and the Mill is not only finished, but every square inch is occupied. Nice for everyone to see how nicely it all turned out, but not too easy to figure out where we could fit everyone in amongst the antiques and kitchen displays, not to mention the dozens of customers milling about on a Saturday afternoon.
I finally plumped for the cabin; nowhere near big enough to accommodate everyone seated, but with an awning, some wind-breaks and some furniture borrowed from the Mill and a little bit of luck with the weather it could be, would be, a spectacular and memorable location with the beauty and character of the river leaving a lasting impression.
Barbeques or “Kebabs” as they are known in my family are so much less formal, so much more fun, especially for kids, and when you throw in all the outdoor activities to hand, it became a no brainer. If the weather was nice it would be a glorious venue. My Dad was in the RAF, and we were lucky enough to be based in Cyprus for 2 and half years, so when I was skin and bone we had Kebabs on the beach every day in the summer. The RAF beach was at the end of the runway, so we got to see the after-burners on the back of a Lightening jet up close on a daily basis. The RAF had a clubhouse and 3 speedboats, so all the kids were expert water skiers by the age of 7. What an amazing few years we had; yes, a kebab for all the O’Leary’s would be just perfect.
Here’s my Dad cooking sausages; it’s a shame no-one took a photo of Helen’s perfect Koftas, but, you know, you have to cook simple stuff for the kids too. The kebab stove was the drinking and bathing trough in the peacock pen two days earlier, but it made a perfect barbeque. It took a whole bag of charcoal and cooked for 50 without any need to add charcoal. In fact it was perfect, I was told at the age of 7: “Smoke is good, flames is rotten!” and, come to think of it there weren’t any flames; well trained you see!
There’s that time when you’ve lit the stove and you know it’s good and going, but you also know it’ll be half an hour before you can start cooking, and I was itching to get my Dad out on the river. Ever since he saw my blog with the hand made wooden canoe on it, he fancied paddling up the river. My Mum and Dad are boaty, well yachty; you know started with an 18ft cabin cruiser on Rutland water and ended up with a huge great thing that sailed like a pig. They did all their Yacht-master, Ocean-master courses and had their boats down on the Hamble, braving the needles and crossing the channel, all that malarkey. Somewhere in the middle was their favourite yacht, a Sadler 29, such a great sailing boat, small enough to crank right over and still grin and just big enough to sleep on for the weekend. Of course, as any boat owner knows, the best two days of owning a boat are the day you buy it and the day you sell it. But the day you sell your last yacht and know you’ll never buy another; that can’t be that much fun.
Well, I had detected all that missing and ruefulness with my Dad on the phone and I thought a little trip up the river might ease the loss. Of course, he is 80 odd, but he can still fall off a skip and laugh, so I figured the aches and pains the next day would be worth it.
Here’s the canoe at the party, tied up to the pontoon, which became a ferry over to the island; great what you can do with Ribena barrels and a drill driver.
Thank heavens Helen cut my hair last week, what a tramp! That’s me in red with my Brother, daughter and nieces.
My brother, Mark, the one who looks like someone out of Top Gun, does Search and Rescue in Anglesey and he has/had a business card that he used to put in the pocket of people he’d rescued that said something like: “You have been saved by Mark O’Leary, Action man, intrepid hero and all round Mr nice guy!” Or something like that. Mark and me went to an all boys boarding school run by priests and brothers. Mark had struggled with respecting teachers as much as they’d like, so a tough boarding school with no freedom, no girls and corporal punishment seemed like a decent option. I’m not sure if it had the desired effect, but he ended up doing the job that he can do better than anyone who had gone before him. He was meant to do it and here’s how I know.
We had a science block at school that was a flat roofed 3 story affair with a raised perimeter wall so that any footballs or tennis balls that went up there were gone for good. I was 13 and heading out of the classrooms when I saw everyone stopped and looking up. There was a ladder up the side of the science block that window cleaners had left unattended while they had a break. My brother, Mark was climbing it. I asked a lad next to me, “what’s he doing?” “Someone kicked a football up there”. Oh, ok. The trouble was; and this is why everyone was watching, was that the ladder didn’t go all the way to the top. It reached up to about 3 and half foot short.
Everyone was thinking the same thing, what was he going to do when he got to the top, and Mark, born to show off, didn’t disappoint…..
As he reached the top he carried on climbing the rungs with his feet and flattened his top half against the wall, with his hands spread out. I’m not talking tentatively, like a “I could die here” kind of a way, but nonchalantly, like he was 4 foot up, not 40 foot up. As his feet got up to the second to last rung we all watched to see him reach up and take hold of the top of the wall and relative safety, so we could all relax. But no; and this pretty much defines my brother, in that single moment of his life he was 100% Mark. As he reached up with both hands he let his feet slip off that last rung and just for a split second… he was falling.
Of course he knew in the act of falling he could still grab for that hold, and he did. Everyone, and I mean the whole school, had gathered to watch this spectacle and they all had their hearts in their mouths for that split second. As he hung there, legs dangling, he turned his head, looked down and grinned, a great big very naughty boy grin. And then with a sideways swing and heel hooked up over the edge he was up and over. A football launched high in the air and fell to the ground. And then he appeared, standing on the edge, shoulders chuckling and that slight head wobble that you do when you’re really chuffed with yourself.
He hung himself down to the ladder, flattened himself against the wall and stepped down those two or three precarious steps to safety and, as he took hold of the ladder with his hands, the whole school erupted in adoration of a daredevil who made most people squirm with worry. I just nodded in approval, yep that’s my bruver.
Now, of course he does that kind of thing for a living and is able to show off every day, happy days.
Ahhh ya see, this is why family get togethers are so important. And also why writing freely is a really good thing. It sets you off remembering stuff. It makes you feel a little bit of your childhood is right there, so close you could almost be there to touch it.
Uncle Derrick is used to a slightly more advanced craft, “Where’s the bloomin sail?”
One of the nicest things about having everyone over, was they all got to see and taste Helen’s cooking.
My Mum with her grandson, my boy Joseph. Mum was struggling after a knee op, but she just couldn’t miss it. So we set her up on her favourite chair with the best view and she took visitors. Not wanting to miss out, Mum made a few teetering excursions to the kebab stove and back again, to earn another glass of Shiraz.
Phil was of course on hand to help out with everything, my kids just love him.
Dad, he invented hobo chic, with Auntie Carol.
Just the perfect place for a family do. I’m happy to do it again and again and proud to help keep all our extended family in touch.
We are all the descendants of my Grandad, who raised all my Uncles and Auntie in colonial India; himself a descendant of an Irish farm labourer who joined the Army around the time of the potato famine and settled in India to raise his family, six generations ago.