The Miracle of ‘Soft’ Metal

Farmer With Buckets-By: Colleen Quinn

By: Mike

In this day and age whenever a ‘new’ invention appears on the market very few people even bat an eyelid. However, it is hard to imagine the surprise, amazement, admiration and excitement that a ‘new’ invention made in days long past. Generally speaking we now hear of new devices via T.V. and radio news, newspapers and magazine articles a long time before the actual item appears in the shops.

Imagine if you will a time and place where there was no radio, where television had not yet been invented and papers and magazines were a rarity. Any information on such new marvels was by word of mouth and in a society where storytelling was the norm; word of anything fantastic was taken with a great pinch of salt.

And so it was in the middle of nowhere in my grandparent’s village back home in the middle of Ireland. The year was 1947. They lived in a quaint thatched whitewashed cottage with no electricity, no gas and no radio whilst television was still waiting to be invented. There was no running water and a small wooden outside toilet. All the cooking and washing was done over a large open turf fire.

The fireplace was in my memory enormous with several hooks and grills to hang and place the various pots and pans when cooking. My two older brothers and I would visit and stay there during the early summers of our boyhoods. I adored both Granny Gorman and Granddad. I dearly loved every moment spent there at the time and now, more than sixty years later, still cherish those wonderful memories.

As I said, they had no running water so it was necessary to go to the village pump with one of the large stainless steel buckets that were kept for the purpose. Even empty they weighed a ton to a small boy of seven or eight. It was only 100 yards to the pump at the crossroads but I can well remember the struggle it was to carry a full bucket of water back to the cottage.

The fun and games used to start whenever there was heavy rain and the race began between Granny Gorman and Mrs. Doyle her next door neighbour. The prize, I hear you ask? Well, it was the use of the school drainpipe opposite to fill the buckets with precious rain water, thereby saving several trips to the water pump. It was prized by Granny for washing her hair and underwear.

Just after the war, my two brothers and I would be sent off on the train and bus to be collected by Granny at the main town Portlaoghais with the donkey and cart. She loved having us. In that part of Ireland, in high summer, it is still bright almost until midnight and it was the only time when we could stay up really late. They would take us to an abandoned orchard at the Manor House where we gathered gooseberries, strawberries and as many apples as we could carry. I won’t mention the rabbits, as they were part of the staple diet of all country people in those days. (Here I must curse Myxomatosis).

So back to the story and the ‘new invention’: On one of my dad’s return home trips on leave from the Royal Air Force in England, he brought with him a couple of little surprises. He probably ‘nicked’ them from the RAF stores knowing him. ‘They’ were two plastic buckets which quite honestly we had never seen their like before in our lives. They were a brightly coloured red and were flexible to the touch. We were to take them with us on our next visit to Granny Gorman. We were very happy as they weighed less than one tenth of the stainless steel buckets.

Not long after they arrived, away we went on the train, the bus, the donkey and cart and arrived at Grannies. We presented her with the buckets and other small presents from home.

Now if you think that we were surprised and amazed when we saw the buckets in the first place, you should have seen her face. She looked at the buckets from all angles; raised them above her head; pushed the sides in to see them spring out again. Whilst doing all this she never spoke. Eventually she exclaimed ˜Mother of God, will yez look at that. Sure what will them Yanks invent next?” To her it was some sort of magic…

Much to our surprise, she insisted on going with us to the water pump to show off her new presents to the neighbours. She must have filled both buckets at least six times and emptied them again. I can still see the look of pure pleasure and joy on her face.

All went well for a couple of days until Thursday arrived for we never had any idea that this day was part of Grannies ritual. You see, once a week she used to boil up her underwear and small items in the steel buckets. So, in went the water, in went the soap and in went the clothing. Onto the hook over the roaring fire went the bucket. Not the stainless steel one but one of the new plastic ones…

Within minutes, a hissing sound caught our attention. We ran to the fire and saw the bucket melting, the water escape onto the fire and grannies drawers and such now congealed with melted plastic. ˜Mother of God” she cried ˜the blinking bucket is melting. That’s impossible…”

You know something? I now reckon that that was Grannie’s introduction to modern inventions. God only knows what she would have made of the latest televisions, I-phones, microwave ovens, computers and such…Then again, knowing her, she would without doubt have made some use of them – what that use might have been God only knows…