Signs that your mammy may be Irish

Tue, Oct 30, 2012, 00:00

She’s suspicious of charity packers in supermarkets, is afraid of the ‘damp step’, and has an on-off relationship with her mobile phone. Comedian COLM O'REGANidentifies some of the key characteristics of The Irish Mammy

ANTI-COLD MEASURES

There is nothing better in the human experience than a child’s path through life as they explore the world around them. Irish Mammy’s job is to ensure they don’t get a cough or a cold while doing so. Ireland’s location makes this a constant job – and Science is not on Mammy’s side: Ireland is sitting in an awful draught.

There are two main ways in which colds are contracted. The draughts are the most pernicious, chiefly because this is the reason most Irish Mammies themselves catch a cold. The draught occurs most often while they are at a gathering or a group occasion where they have no choice about where they are sitting. There is the dark suspicion that Mammy’s anti-cold measures have been breached by the perfidy of a male.

The second type of cold-transmission is inexcusable: Self-inflicted Due to a Lack of Sense.

It is the cold contracted by a child aged between zero and forty-two years of age.

It is inexcusable, because the child may have done that which they were expressly warned against – discarding a coat too early in the year or sitting on a damp step.

Although there is no medical evidence that sitting on a damp step causes a cold in your kidneys, nor any official medical pathology that indicates there is even such a thing as a cold in your kidneys, it’s hard to gainsay the advice of generations of Irish Mammies.

Top reminiscible diseases and ‘health events’

* Will I ever forget that winter? All three of ye had croup. Can you imagine that? Three small girls under the age of five. And what’s more, your father in bed with a cold.

* Do you remember when you had whooping cough? I was up and down that stairs with the kettle.

* We were all set to go. Next thing the phone rings. It’s the school. “We think Deirdre has chicken pox,” they said. And that was the end of Malaga.

* I can’t get over how much sleep you need now, when you wouldn’t sleep for me until you were about two.

* I don’t know what you were doing but didn’t you swallow the crayon. And Dr Phelan was as cool about it. “Don’t be worrying,” says he. “That’ll pass naturally.”

THE WEEKLY SHOP

She’s making a list; she’s checking it twice. She’s going to find out who’s home for the weekend and whether she needs an extra sliced pan or not. Irish Mammy is preparing for the weekly shop. Now she just has to find her bags-for-life and she is ready to go.

Once at the shops, Mammy faces obstacles that are perfectly surmountable but annoying nonetheless.

“Why do they keep moving everything around? Aren’t they very cute now?”

At the checkouts, Mammy flinches as she sees someone packing bags for charity. Yes, of course, the smiling children in outsized T-shirts are a credit to their parents and their school, but Mammy would much rather pack the bags herself.

“Where had they put the sliced ham? Only in with the raw chicken. Of course I said nothing – just gave them the few bob.”

SENSIBLE STUFF

The following are felt to be sensible by Irish Mammies:

* Most newsreaders, except those appearing too much on “giddy” programmes.

* Most weather forecasters, except those appearing too much on “giddy” programmes.

* Pat Kenny, especially after he stopped doing The Late Late Show. “I always thought it didn’t suit him.”

* Miriam O’Callaghan, “And she with eight children, ’magine.”

* Mary Kennedy – “Ah, Mary is grand.”

MAKING SANDWICHES

To truly appreciate Mammies in action, one needs to go to a function. When a group of Mammies converge en masse at a do in the hall, armed with sandwiches, buns and tea, it is a sight to behold.

This is tea-making on an industrial scale, and the conversation is even further compressed.

Jesus’s carry-on with the loaves and fishes in the Bible makes no mention of the real miracle: how all that food was distributed to the hungry thousands. There must have been Irish Mammies in the supply chain.

Irish Mammy:

What’ll you have, Mrs Zechariah? Fish. And you’ll have a loaf? Oh, the Lord save us, I completely forgot, Mrs Zechariah, shur you’re a coeliac. I’m sorry. Did you ever see such a crowd, Mary? No preparation at all of course, and they expecting the likes of you and me to work miracles here. Only for Sarah Hartigan bringing the baskets for the scraps. We’d be lost only for her. Says she, “I thought I was mad bringing these, and we only have two loaves and five fish, but I says, I might as well.” What about yourself, Johnny? Loaf. Right you are, Johnny. Butter and marmalade over there.

Jesus (wandering over, looking pleased with himself):

Ye’re doing great work here altogether, Bridget, The back-room team. Hah?

Irish Mammy:

Oh sure, you know yourself.The show must go on.

EVERYONE’S BROWN BREAD IS DIFFERENT, BUT HERE’S HOW I DO IT

I use two pounds of brown flour – Howards extra coarse if I can get it – to one pound of Odlums white flour. I put in a heaped tea-spoon – not too much heaped now, mind – of bread soda and I like to put a couple of eggs in. But you can have very nice brown bread without eggs. And then I keep on pouring in the milk. I use new milk but you can use buttermilk if you want. I put a pinch of salt in it too. Then I mix it around with the spoon. My mother never used a spoon. She never measured anything. As a matter of fact it was my mother taught me how to make it. The year before I got married, she says to me: “You can’t get married without knowing how to make brown bread!” So she taught me and by degrees I got it.

Anyway I mix it until I’ve a fairly stiff mixture. Then I put a bit of greasepaper under it. Put it into a medium-hot oven and then I kind of forget about it for a while and just turn it from time to time. It just comes from experience.

NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH

You can tell when there are lots of Mammies in the area. The community has a different feel. The Irish Mammies are like the eggs in the brown bread, subtly giving the area a softer texture and holding it more tightly together. They are to be seen bustling around with half the under-14s in the back of a people carrier on the way to a League semi-final against a hated rival district; they are Walking the Road, arms swinging, clad in fleeces; they are stopped in conversation, asking for the latest news on ailments, spouses and children; they are leaning on the gate, waylaying passing walkers by putting talk on them.

List of useful things to say to facilitate continuity in conversation

* So that’s the way.

* Wait till I see if I’ve any more news.

* Go wan!

* Go way!

* Isn’t that a good one?

* So that was grand.*

* Oh, I know, shur.

* Sure, who are you telling?

* Ah, that’s more of it now.

* And where are they now?

* “So that was grand” is an extremely useful conjunction to allow a longer form of narrative to proceed from one stage to another. It does not imply that “that” actually was “grand”. In fact, taken in isolation, “that” can be anything but grand, but compared to what’s about to come next in the plot, “that” is relatively benign. It also signals to the listener that “that” is not the main point of the story.

For example: “He told me: Three thousand euro to replace the carpets . . . But anyway so that was grand. Then he starts telling me how much it’s going to cost to fix the walls.”

UPWARDLY MOBILE

Of all the small, fiddly yokes to be invented in the 20th century, the mobile phone has surely come closest to 100 per cent Mammy market penetration.

Watch an Irish Mammy, for whom time and toil has taken its toll on limbs, suddenly leap vertically like an impala up from the chair at the merest electronic sound, even if it’s just the low-battery warning on someone else’s phone.

For those Irish Mammies who don’t know how to find out where the missed call originated, they will drop everything to find out who it was.


Taken from Isn’t it well for ye? The Book of Irish Mammies, by Colm O’Regan, published by Transworld Ireland

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