Saturday, March 25, 2023

Jim O’Brien: After half an hour in the swamp, the muscles in the back of my legs felt ready to burst

Jim O'Brien: After Half An Hour In The Swamp, The Muscles In The Back Of My Legs Felt Ready To Burst

The recent hullabaloo about turf has, if you’ll pardon the pun, generated a lot of political heat. The villagers were out of the guard force of a certain version of Ireland and were relishing the fight.

Here are some of those who find nothing better than a good bout of apoplexy. Like fishermen waiting for the first sighting of a mayfly, they are always on alert, with placards prepared, stock phrases prepared and red faces lit at the first sign of ‘that mob in Dublin’ attack.

I have no strong cultural feelings about turf. I was raised in a part of the country where we neither saved nor burnt it. Wood and coal were the fuels of choice. My late mother didn’t like the stuff, nor did it smell or the dust it made.

Sometimes, merchants from the West would go door to door with wagon-loads of their peatland produce to sell it.

As kids, when their comrades or Thames Trader trucks showed up on the street, before they had a chance to drive we were sent to lock them up at the gate and put my mother through the torture of refusing used to go.

One day, when a turfman appeared in the yard unannounced and asked if he needed any, he was caught off guard. “Oh no,” she said. “I got a load off Stack last week.”

“That’s weird, missiles now,” he says.

“And what’s strange about that?” He asked.

“Because I’m the pile, Missile,” he said.

Even the embarrassment of being caught saying fib didn’t make him change his mind. He politely but vigorously directed a sweat and whispering pile as he drove his peat-filled vehicle out of the yard.

My first real encounter with turf as a primary source of fuel was when the current wife and I co-settled into married bliss in the Sleigh Bloom Mountains of Laos.

Being a midlander, she was well acquainted with the turf and soon found a swamp where we could defend ourselves. Initially, I pursued like an American immersing myself in the local culture. However, the novelty quickly wore off as the pain associated with this exhausting culture diminished the romance of the experience. The physical pain of marshy work was compounded by psychological damage, deep spiritual crises, and chronic bouts of existential anger. It also posed a real threat to marital harmony.

After half an hour in the swamp, not only did your vertebral bones feel like they were going to close forever, the back muscles in your legs felt ready to break.

Meanwhile, your spirit was crushed every time you caught a glimpse of the endless rows of sods waving your way to a line on the horizon that seemed to be getting further and further away. It was like thinning turnips in the steppes.

I started complaining about the quality of the field and wondered if it was the best use of our energy and effort. Myself, who was very child-loaded at that time, was fed up with my murmur.

“What do you know about the field?” He asked. “All the stomachaches in the world won’t give a foot to this stuff. Just turn your back, shut your mouth and go at it.”

Appropriately chasing and acknowledging my ignorance in all things turban, I bowed down, bowed my ample tail to the sun and did what I was told. If I had to give matrimonial advice to men, this is one method I would recommend.

In fairness, there’s a lot to be said for a day on the swamp. There are some lovely memories of going out there alone early in the morning and listening to the raw sounds of the waking planet. Somehow, in the fresh air of the young day, the work was almost pleasant.

In fact, people like me, who didn’t grow up with swamp work as part of our cultural diet, have a fairly benign view of the field and everything that goes with it. On the other hand, those who traveled to the Terai to rescue the black stuff as youth carry deep memories of the experience.

Eamon Ryan and the Greens are often accused of political ineptitude; What they propose is objectively good for humans, for the planet and the species with which we share it. Still, they manage to give their policies the full charm of a single dose of cod-liver oil infused with sulfuric acid.

I would say that 95.9 percent of the people I’ve spoken to, especially young people who have spent summers in the swamp, consider it an important part of their lives that they would prefer to forget. As far as they are concerned, only sadomasochists would idealize it and remember it fondly.

Banning turf savings should guarantee the Greens a lorry load of rural seats at every election, until the last man returns a sod of the stuff to an inanimate and organic state.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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