In The Handles of The Plough . . .
Jimmy Norton worked for Wicklow County Council and when one particular road-widening project was completed Jimmy became redundant. Needless to say Jimmy didn’t use the word “redundant”. He ‘ d be more likely to throw in n a few expletives and say, “The councils doesn’t want me any more.”
When he was let go he didn’t upskill, as they would say nowadays. But he was in a position to get further employment. He was the owner of a few basic tools such as a hammer and chisel and a trowel. When I say he had a trowel I must point out that he wasn’t a bricklayer. He could do a bit of rough (sometimes dog-rough) building. There would be no point in telling Jimmy that you wanted Flemish bond, stretcher bond or Diamond Diaper pattern. And he wouldn’t be over familiar with the Pythagoras Theorem. But he could put one stone on top of the other and keep the resulting structure parallel with the perpendicular . . .more or less.
One day he was building a gate pier for a strong farmer beside Lacken school. He was smoking Velvan Plug tobacco in his clay pipe and the smell of the smoke wafted into the school where the Master (Hickey was his name) was at the blackboard.
The smell of the smoke brough a longing on the Master; he being a pipe-smoker himself. When he could stick it no longer he searched every pocket he had. Jacket, trousers waistcoat . . .but wasn’t he after leaving the house without his pipe. Addiction is a terrible thing and there was nothing for it only to take positive action.
He went out to Jimmy who was a former pupil. When Jimmy saw the Master approaching he took the pipe out of his mouth. You must remember that this was at a time when the Schoolmaster was held in high esteem. Little did he know what the Masters request would be. “Will you give me a few pulls out of your pipe” says the Master. O’ Coorse I will Master” says the astonished Jimmy, handing Master Hickey the clay pipe. The Master took out a big white handkerchief and he wiped an’ wiped an’ wiped the shank of the pipe and then he wiped it again. He smoked away for a good while and he handed the pipe back to Jimmy. And what did Jimmy do? He put the pipe up on the gate pier. He gave it a tip of the trowel and he cut about an inch off the shank. I’m telling you this by way of illustration, to emphasise that although Jimmy Norton was an ordinary, humble man like myself he was very particular about what he’d put in his mouth. It was in the winter of the same year that Jimmy got a job with a neighbour of ours the Swank Lennon; no relation. The Swank had a small farm, big talk and a desire for the sort of prestige that having a “workman” would, he believed, give him.
He had a fine Clydesdale horse (called Dan) and he put Jimmy ploughing with a swing plough. Did you ever get a belt of a swing-plough ? Now, you could get into a row in the roughest part of the roughest town in this country and you wouldn’t get a belt of a swing-plough. But where would you get a belt of a swing plough? Well, I’ll tell you. If you were ploughing in mountainy, stony ground you would be a prime candidate for a belt of a swing-plough. If the sock of the plough hits a subterranean stone the handles of the plough will rapidly jump skyward and if you don’t know your job you’ll end up with broken ribs, a dislocated jaw or God knows what other injuries. The Gospel tells us that ,”He who turns round in the handles of the plough is not worthy of Salvation.” But if Saint Luke was ploughing in Kylebeg or Ballinastockan he’d know something about turning around in the handles of the plough.
Jimmy was ploughing away when the plough hit a stone. He avoided injury but when he got the plough back into position and gave Dan his instructions . . “ Hup gee up . . up outa that . . “ there wasn’t a stir out of the Clydesdale. The Swank , who was walking around in “a supervisory capacity” came over. “Will you get that horse moving or what I am I paying you for” says the Swank. Jimmy tried again but to no avail. “Go up there and catch him by the head” says the Swank as he got between the handles. Jimmy obeyed and went to the horse’s head. I forgot to tell you that Jimmy prefaced nearly ever statement with, “What I mane to say.” “What I mane to say, Paddy” says he (Paddy was the Swank’s name.) “What I mane to say Paddy” , this horse’ ll go nowhere for he can’t see where he’s goin’. The eyes is after been turned around in his head from the belt agin’ the stone.” The Swank took a look and sure enough the horse’s eyes were inside out. Not in the best of humour now the Swank told him to go and call Roe, the Vet from Naas.
Jimmy made his way to Lacken and asked the Postmistress, Mrs Burke to, “ring the Vit.”
When Michael Roe arrived he parked on the road, took off his shoes, put on a pair of green wellingtons and a rubber apron and picked his steps, like a turkey-cock, in stubbles across the ploughed field. He checked at the horses head , opened his bag and took out a length of hose about three feet long . . .it would be a topper if you wanted to rob petrol to go to a dance on a Saturday night. He told Jimmy to hold the horse’s head and got the Swank to hold his tail.
The vetenery surgeon deftly inserted the hose under the horse’s tail. He put it in five or six inches.
“Now” he shouts to Jimmy , “ I’m going to blow into this. You put up your hands in front of the horse’s eyes. Because If I blow too hard God only knows where the eyes will go. And needless to say I won’t, then , be in a position to suck.” The Vet blew and Jimmy “reported back” that the eyes were now facing the right way. The Vet extracted the hose, put it in his bag and extracted three Guineas from the Swank.
Work re-commenced and Jimmy and the Clydesdale ploughed away without further incident . But . . .a couple of days later they were ploughing in the “five-acre field”. There were about three and a half acres in the field but the Swank called it “the five acre field . . I told you what he was like.
Then what happened ? Yes. You’ve guessed it the plough hit another stone. The Swank was over like a shot. An inspection revealed that the optical hemispheres of the animal were once again reversed. “I’ll go for Roe” says Jimmy. ” You’ll go for no Roe” says the Swank.” Here’s my pen-knife, go down to the barn , cut the hose off the knapsack sprayer and bring it up to me.” Jimmy did as instructed.
When he returned with the hose the Swank started giving instruction like he had heard the vet do.
He was almost word perfect. “Hold the horse’s Head.” “ When I blow” you do such and such.
If you didn’t know him you’d nearly think he was after going to Vetenary college. But . . .when it came to putting the hose into the appropriate body cavity of the horse it was a different story. Now, in fairness the vet had plenty of practice at such a procedure and I’m sure that the tube he had was purpose made. Sort rubber, tapered and God knows what. But, eventually, the Swank got the hose inserted. He gave a final instruction to Jimmy and he started to blow.
Do you think the horse’s eyes turned? Indeed they didn’t. If the Swank was blowing since it would have no effect on the horse’s eyes. After a lot of blowing he called up to Jimmy . “You’re a smoker and ye have better wind than me. I’ll hold the horse’s head and you come back here and blow." The Swank took up his position at the horse’s head, and Jimmy went to his rear . . and . . pulled out the piece of hose pipe and attempted to put in the other end. The Swank let a roar at him and started effin and blindin by the new time. “What do you mean taking that out” says he “after the job I had putting it in?”
“What I mean to say Paddy” says Jimmy “sure you don’t think I’m got to put the same end into me mouth that you had in your gob.”