Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

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Published: Irish Times, October 18, 2008

THE TAYTO YEARS

mr-tayto-2This week, I’ve been inveigled into writing on the topic ‘Food Memories of the 1980s’. It’s kind of a tall order, given that I was only a small boy during that decade. It was all a blur of penny sweets and Subbuteo as far as I can recall .

Go on, they said. There must be a few special Eighties food memories that stick out… Well, there was that time Duran Duran dropped by my house and we ate Rice Krispie Buns and played Space Invaders together.

Really, they gasped? No, of course not, you idiots. I grew up in Ballyhaunis. I didn’t eat in a restaurant until I was fifteen. My mother used to buy a chicken every weekend. She roasted it on Sunday morning and we ate it after mass. The chicken might have assumed that was the end of its ordeal. Not by a long shot, it wasn’t. She wasn’t finished with bird until the following Thursday.

And even then I’d have advised the carcass to stay well out of her way.

As a child, I was constantly baffled at how the kids on our favourite television programme Home & Away had the time to be sipping milkshakes in the diner on their way to school.

The morning routine in our house consisted of my mother violently roaring at us for several minutes to get out of bed. Sometimes she’d throw in headlines from the Morning Ireland, just to spice things up. (“Up, up, get up the lot of ye… The Tories have been re-elected… Up, up, up…”) No matter how well rehearsed the drill though – brushing, dressing, eating – we rarely made it through the school gates on time.

What time did Australian school kids get up at, I wondered? 4am?

The undoubted culinary highlight of my year back then came in August. Assuming Mayo had made it to that year’s All-Ireland semi-finals, my father would bring us up to Dublin for the day on the train. First stop was always McDonalds on O’Connell Street. Everything about that place was magical to me. Even the cheap plastic toys seemed to drip with cosmopolitan finesse.

Afterwards, as a quid pro quo, we’d go somewhere my father wanted to go. We were not the most conventional of football fans, it would be fair to say. I remember once having my Mayo flag confiscated by a security guard at the Hugh Lane Gallery. I bet that didn’t happen too often.

I remember once, in those days, watching a television programme once about a Dublin woman and her battle with depression. One of the exterior shots they’d filmed showed her walking past a McDonalds. On the voice over she was talking about how difficult it was for her to cope with the stresses of life, how sometime she even thought of suicide. To me, this juxtaposition was just utterly incomprehensible.

How could someone who lived within walking distance of McDonalds possibly want to kill themselves, I wondered? It just didn’t make sense.

Outside of that there was slim pickings. My mother had four small children and she ran a fairly tight ship. She did her shopping on a Thursday and we each got one packet of Tayto crisps each. That was it for the week.

But when needs must, you find you’re that bit much more resourceful. I had three elderly aunties who came into town for their old age pension on a Friday (I think). And while they were in town, they’d often stay on for a drink or two. I quickly learned that if I walked home slowly enough from school on pension day, a 10p coin might well be my reward.

My grandfather too, until his death in 1987, was always good for a pound note on a Sunday. As was (and is) my nature, I’d blow the lot straight away: Wham bars, Skittles, Mr Freeze’s… I never knew when to say to when.

My old sister Una, on the other hand, was a hoarder. She’d wait until long after I’d devoured everything. Then she’d slip a pack of Opel Fruits out of her pocket and very slowly savour each sweet. It was perfectly calculated act of sadism and I still hold against her to this day!

N.B. No comments about crisps or sweets you used to love as a child please.

June 30th, 2009.

15 Responses to “THE TAYTO YEARS”

  1. Matt Says:

    **** **** were fucking deadly all the same though… *ducks for cover!*

  2. Claire Says:

    My favourite were ** ****** and ******* ***

  3. Liz Says:

    Eoin, I am still so baffled at the amount
    Home & Away kids fit in before school…saving friends from forest fires, cults, their parents. It also killed me that they had unlimited cash to spend on mikshakes (of course its all smoothies now)

  4. Eoin Says:

    And the funny thing was, Liz, they didn’t even drink the milkshakes. They just stirred them. Imagine getting up an early to stir milkshakes in a diner. Bizarre.

  5. Jenny Says:

    So eoin-what’s your favourite sweets you loved as a child?

    Mine would have to be ***** *****, ***** *****, ******** & ******** *** ****…

    :-P

  6. leeona Says:

    ********* ******

  7. Eoin Says:

    Yeah, anyone remember Asterix Bars? Hahahahahahahaha….

  8. paul Says:

    I think Home & Away is the greatest television series ever produced: The Sopranos, The Wire etc don’t come within spitting distance. I once heard Alf Stewart say ‘Ya flamin’ sausage mongrel’. It doesn’t get much better

  9. Colin Says:

    My school was beside an old style sweet shop. Nearly everything was served from behind the counter which formed a u-shaped fort in front of the door.

    Mrs Hickey’s shop smelt of cooked ham, newspapers and apple-jacks. The garbled sound of the radio or tv always playing from behind the beaded curtains that seperated house and shop.

    She was short, plump, sly and popular with the kids. She also sold single cigarrettes for 10p.

    She did not however sell milkshakes.

  10. Eoin Says:

    Mrs Hickey’s milkshake brought all the boys to the yard, Colin. And their like is better than yours.

  11. Darragh Says:

    My Dad used to come home half-locked with chips for us. I’d hear my bedroom door creak open clumsily (‘cos he thought my mother wouldn’t hear him), and then I’d get a waft of vinegar. Didn’t get any better than that for a ten year old. A hot feed of chips delivered secretly to your bed in the dead of night. Class.

  12. Green Of Eye Says:

    You just reminded me of Fitzgeralds shop in Ballyhaunis where i used to get my bag of penny sweets and tayto once a week :)

  13. Eoin Says:

    I walked past Mrs Fitzgerald’s every single day wishing I had even 10p for a Wham bar (or was it 5p?) She’s still alive actually.

    Are you from Ballyhaunis? Do I know you??

  14. Green Of Eye Says:

    I’m from a place close to it but spent a good portion of my childhood on Knox Street! Aww that warms my heart that she’s still alive,heading to her shop was the highlight of my week.

    On the rare occassion where i was allowed down to the Gem after Fitzgeralds (the old,tiny,dark version filled with toys) my childish brain would explode from sugar and excitement :)

    Nope don’t think you know me.

  15. My shortcomings as a writer and as a human being (abridged) | Tripping Along The Ledge Says:

    [...] This isn’t the first time I’ve written about crisps. I wrote about them here too. It could be said even that I’m Tim Burton and crisps are my Helena Bonham Carter. But that [...]

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