It’s well known that the Irish have a “way” of doing things but few know of the hilarity of growing up in Ireland and the totally cringeworthy habits that are formed as a result. Like the time when I was in a friends house having just moved to London. We were watching a film and I asked him to “turn off the big light”. Now every Irish person knows that there are a range of lights that are turned on or off, not generally for ambience (try finding an Irish Mammy who
knows what that is) but to save electricity. There is also a “big room” but that’s another story. So it was normal for us to use the lamp by my Dads chair for most of the time and if visitors arrived or in emergencies “the big light” would go on… but of course sparingly. It of course was also normal for my mother to go through a small mental breakdown on discovering lights being left on around the house. This of course was nothing in comparison to “the immersion”. Oh the immersion.
So we were one of the first houses to have an electric shower. The house was in rural Ireland and there was no such thing as double glazing, so it was bloody cold. We had of course the huge and slightly clichéd solid fuel cooker in the kitchen which heated water but of course, if you needed a shower or to wash your hair in the morning, you needed the immersion. I think my mother could hear the thing or sense it somehow… there were two settings, bath and shower and we were under no illusion that bath was not ever an option. You needed at least 30 mins before you had enough water to wash your hair (in the kitchen sink of course) nowhere near enough for a shower that was always f-king freezing. The damn thing even had two little lights on the outside. I should explain… this is a basically a huge kettle like structure in the “hot press”, right so what’s that then. Well the room where the water heater is based also had shelves and that’s where the laundry was put – an ‘airing cupboard’ if you like. Now you can see where all the confusion comes from. I had someone visit the parents’ house who spotted the little lights outside this and enquired about the lift! In a bungalow. Anyway, the conversation usually went like this…
“Did you leave the immersion on”
“Have you any idea how much that costs to run”
“Who’s going to pay for all this?” Followed by “You’ll blow the bloody house up if you forget to turn the damn thing off”. The joys of washing your hair in 1990s Ireland.
Then there are the neighbours. Now most of the people who lived near to us were fully locals, they were born in the area, most were farmers and pretty much all were related, not in an inbred way, but just impossible to really understand. The majority of the family names was Ford, so you had “The Fords across the road”, “The Fords at the top of the hill”, the “Fords by the Church” and all were somehow related. What is not generally known is how networked they were and how the older members of the community knew literally everything, every movement and knew every single bit of gossip before it hit the church banter on a Sunday morning. Like the first time the parents went away and left me alone for a week. In my mind I was going to have this amazing week of freedom. Beers were bought, people were invited to the house and a party planned for the Friday night! I made it to Wednesday before the mother called. Why was a man seen leaving my house putting his clothes on? Now the truth of the matter was that it became abundantly obvious that people were told to call on the house to “check on things”. So when my friend called out and the neighbours started to look in, to walk by for no reason and in one case to walk down the driveway… I told him to take his shirt off and to leave putting it on. I was immediately a girl of questionable morals. Yeah, you didn’t need CCTV in rural Ireland.
As you can imagine, school in Ireland was also mental. Take the weekly trip swimming. An entire term of swimming cost £12, that’s entrance and bus fees and this was in old Irish Punts (pounds) years before the dreaded Euro. This was primary school time and we were bused across the city to “the baths”. This was a new one for me ’cause to this I had lived in Dublin and so I had no idea what on earth a bath was going to be. Apparently it’s a Cork thing. So 40 kids on a bus… how do you control them… well if you are the Principal… you get them doing the Rosary. Now I had a small early-ish Sony Walkman and would sneak to the back of the bus to listen to proper old school cassettes. I got away with this until I absentmindedly started to sing along with Def Leppard which obviously does not mix well with the Rosary. So yes, apparently I am set to rot in hell and will atone my sins for many years. Can’t beat an Irish education.
All this pales in comparison to having only 2 channels on the TV. What was worse, at 11.30 RTE 2 would close down and 30 minutes later RTE 1 became a test card. The national anthem would come on and that was it. Gone. There still existed a cynicism towards “English” programmes at that time and some of the Priests even expounded about the “filth” being broadcast by these “English Channels”. In fact, one Fine Gael (Political Party, meaning Family or Tribe of Ireland) Politician made what became one of the most quoted phrases of the 1980s to showcase Ireland. He was quite bonkers and had very random thoughts, but his phrase struck a chord… he famously claimed that “there was no sex in Ireland before television”. That was it, the clergy were off. Films were banned, I was almost incarcerated for having a copy of The Exorcist and the pulpit became anti media… but we only had 2 channels until… satellite TV. One channel became the focus of all parties. MTV. We loved it, it played from dawn till dusk and was mentioned at just about every mass. MTV was going to be our downfall. Loose women, suggestive dancing, impure thoughts and sex. Everyone on MTV was having sex. Then came Vincent Hanley and MT-USA. This was the glory time between being dragged to mass and sitting through Sunday dinner and bloody Biddy and Miley in Glenroe. (Google it). Hanley was Irish and MT-USA was broadcast on RTÉ from 1984–87. Each block of videos was followed by a segment filmed in New York City with Hanley introducing the videos, discussing American music and culture and there were loads of interviews. If MTV brought Thriller, MT-USA brought us ZZ Top (Gimme All Your Lovin’), Nena with her Balloons and then Madonna. Like a Virgin. Being touched. Christ. The video. Mammies all over the country were striding into the “front room” turning the “big light on” and killing fantasies. All the kids in my class wanted to be her, and all the boys I knew were afraid (in awe) of her. I was told in no uncertain terms that none of her material was suitable for a singing contest I was entered into.
(Vincent Hanley died way before his time at the age of 33 (AIDS-related illness), whilst Ireland has now moved on leaps and bounds, at that time his love was still a crime 😦 (decriminalised in 1993), in 1987 in a brave move the Sunday Times published a list and placed Hanley at the top of a list of Irish gay icons. 🙂 ) truth be told, he should have been on the list of Irish icons.
So yeah, the 90’s in Ireland were mental, you could’t go out with wet hair (you’d catch your death), Zig and Zag were puppets that you watched every day and you NEVER EVER forgot to switch off the immersion.
Good times. Miss them.