Ham I confessing to something? You bet your life I ham
Family Fortunes: I spent most of my holidays transporting half a pig across the continent to my sister in Geneva
“The ham-trafficking ritual began the day prior to my flight.” Photograph: iStock
Hannibal may well have brought elephants over the Alps but for years I brought legs of the finest Irish ham over the Jura Mountains into the city of Geneva in Switzerland. This ham-trafficking activity of mine had much to do with my sister Eadie, who left home at the tender age of 18 to work with the United Nations.
Eadie spent most of her life working in the major cities of Europe and I spent most of my holidays transporting legs of ham across the continent to her apartment in Geneva, where she finally settled.
The ham-trafficking ritual began the day prior to my flight. Purchasing a fine leg of ham, my mother boiled it in a large saucepan on the kitchen cooker. The following day, the ham was securely sealed and I’d set off for the airport with my passport, assorted baggage and, of course, my mother’s leg of ham. The ham and myself sailed past security, God knows you can’t hijack a plane with a lump of meat, and checking in was never a problem except to say that the ham regularly accounted for half my baggage weight.
Cigarettes and booze
Once on board, I packed away my carrier-bag, chock-a-block with duty-free cigarettes and booze. But my carrier-bag was only half the story. Away in the nether regions of the plane my other bag lay. The bag with half a pig in it! Tucked in a corner of that holdall lay my mother’s massive leg of ham which had, as travelling companions, two or three pounds of succulent sausages, a batch of our butcher’s best back rashers and, to round things off, a slab of tasty, tangy country butter.
Crazy isn’t the word for it. I’m off to Switzerland for six days and I bring enough provisions to feed the Swiss army for six weeks! Was my sister hard up? She was not. Was I crazy to be doing this? Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s just an Irish thing, a kick-back to the Famine, the thinking being: whatever happens, have enough to eat.
As the aircraft landed the tension mounted. Would my ham be apprehended and detained? Would I? Thankfully I was never stopped but if I had been, taking my cue from one Oscar Wilde, I had my answer at the ready: “I have nothing to declare except my ham – my mother’s leg of finest Irish ham.”