29 November 2002

That Damn Lard

I'm looking forward to this evening, when I'll have a visitor from Dublin, my first since moving to Manchester. My visitor is one of my two oldest friends, the leader of a childhood trio that was -- frankly -- rather wild. At any given moment in our youth we were bound to be wandering around our neighbourhood's more remote spots, doing things we, frankly, shouldn't have been doing.

We each had our preordained role. My visitor was the oldest, and had a legion of older brothers to inspire him; as such he was the leader, and it was his job to come up with ideas. His deputy's job was to get enthusiastic about them so we would actually carry them out. Mine, invariably, was to get caught, since I was always prone to stitches, which made it hard to run far.

Getting caught was generally not a problem though, since unless I had been apprehended by an adult, our leader was always able to return and point out that he had numerous older brothers. Faced with the implications of this, my captor would almost always let me go.

One of the few exceptions to this rule was a thoroughly lovely fella, a near neighbour of mine, who was one of my childhood nemeses. This was almost entirely my fault, since I rather spoiled our friendships by once dropping a large chunk of cement on his head. It was an accident, but for some reason he took it personally. I still can't see why. He needed less than a dozen stitches...

My scarred nemesis took to hassling me constantly. He stopped, however, after once foolishly approaching me in the presence of my visiting friend, who was on foot, and holding a stick. This gave him a massive tactical advantage over my nemesis, who was on a bike. I'm sure you can imagine what happened.

One whizzed past on his bike, the other waited patiently; the cyclist whizzed past again, and my visitor turned slightly, but did nothing; the rider tried to whizz past yet again - and my guest thrust the stick between the spokes of the front whell. The poor bastard was hurled headlong over the handlebars. Quite a nasty gash he wound up with on his leg as I recall. Ah well. Kids, eh?

Many other anecdotes could follow, but I'd be here for weeks. Instead, one will do.

You may have heard this already... still, when's that ever stopped me before? In the mid-1980's Irish summers were phenomenally wet. I don't actually remember this, but I am assured that this was the case, and I certainly have very clear memories of glorious Septembers as we returned to school.

Well, on one particularly wet day, which itself followed several other insanely wet days, the three of us headed down to the local field. This is a field about two minutes' walk from my house, with several football pitches, some scrubby bushes at the edges, and back then, far too many marauding horses. Running through the field is a stream, or more accurately, an open storm drain.

It used to be possible to climb into the pipes from where the stream flowed, and indeed one gobshite once did so on a school sports day -- climbing through storm drains not being an approved activity so much as one engaged in by the dossers at the fringes -- but slipped and fell. When he emerged with tears running down his face he was covered in green slime. I think the rats may have scared him too. Ah well. But I digress.

Well, on this rainy day in, say, 1983, my guest decided that it would be good if we could dam the stream. Needless to say, we thought this was the best idea ever, so, well-armoured in raincoats and wellies, we began wading along the stream, hopping from rock to rock, gathering as many rocks as we could carry and piling them up.

We made a pretty impressive wall, which, of course, had no ability whatsoever to prevent any water from getting through. This was a problem, and my guest's oft-proclaimed and -- let's face it -- nonexistent knowledge of building wasn't helping us. My visitor's Dad, I should mention, was a builder. So, rather stuck for how to make our 'Dam' work, the three of us began scouring the stream and its banks in a determined quest to find something that would somehow enable the dam to actually function as a dam.

Amazingly, we found something. Something which astonishes me even to this day. Near where the pipes fed the stream, where the water was shallowest, was a giant slab of lard. It must have been a foot-and-a-half square. I had no idea that lard was available in anything larger than the little white bricks, which, as Eddie Izzard points out, tend to lie at the back of supermarket fridges, bearing the simple red legend 'LARD'.

What am I saying? That's projecting my later mystification. I had never even heard of lard then! All I knew, instinctively, that this strange white malleable slab was 'cow fat', and what's more, waterproof...

(And no, I have no idea how it got there. This happened. I'm not making it up.)

So, needless to say, we took the lard to the dam, and began to break it up into smaller bits, which we moulded and rubbed between our hands, before shoving it into the dam, plugging all the holes, cementing it over, and waterproofing the whole thing. And it worked. Okay, it wasn't very big, but it did succeed in forcing the stream to fill up behind it, driving the waterlevel up a good couple of feet. Somebody had to come and break it down a couple of days later. Deep down, all three of us consider that day one of our finest achievements.

Unfortunately, there were side effects. The most worrying was the fact that this slab of lard had been lying in a storm drain for ages, and smelled worse than usual. And we'd been playing with it. And it was waterproof.

So we stank. For days.

But it was worth it.

No comments: