Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Mad Fathers and Ferrets

1968 - In working class Belfast the real sages and gurus would meet daily in little backstreet dens, and the more they drank the wiser they became. There were many in the pubs who knew everything there was to know about life.

When I was four years old I developed whooping cough. My father was told a story in a pub about a ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’ who had mystical healing powers.

Take him to see that fella. He’ll sort him out.”

My da’ put his faith in what his wise drinking pal had told him. His entire philosophy about life came from what he heard in bars and clubs.

It was a fine summer’s afternoon when I was bundled into the car by my da’ and driven out to the back end of nowhere. I hadn’t a clue where he was taking me to and all my da’ would tell me was that “we’re goin’ to get that cough of yours sorted out.”

We drove along many winding country lanes and into the driveway of a white farmhouse. Chickens and dogs scurried around the car and greeted us with a cacophony of barking and clucking. The front door of the house opened and a man stepped out. He gave a slight smile and a nod as he waved to us. He was a large stocky man with thick dark hair, most of which was stuffed beneath a dark green woollen hat. To a skinny city boy like me the man looked exactly like how I imagined a large beefy farmer would look. He spoke with a deep-voiced country twang.

“You find the place alright? It’s easy to get lost round here.”

My da’ and I were brought into the farmhouse. The smell of dampness and home-cooking hit me. In his kitchen, the mysterious farmer told me to sit in a chair in the middle of the room. I gave my da’ a “Help me! What’s going to happen to me?!” look and he gave me a reassuring nod to follow the man’s instructions.

Without saying a word, the farmer slowly poured some milk into a saucer and placed it on the large wooden table. He disappeared for a few minutes and came back into the room holding a ferret. I was terrified and wondered what on earth he was going to do to me. The big Farmer held the wriggling beast who was making loud chattering noises over the saucer and let it lick the milk. Then he poured the ferret-licked milk from the saucer into a glass.

"Drink it –ALL!"

I took a small, repulsive sip and wretched.

"Go on! Drink it – ALL!" said the farmer again. My father echoed his words. I held my breath, closed my eyes and swallowed the lot.

"Good lad! You’ll be right as rain in no time!"

My father slipped the farmer some money, thanked him and we drove away. The farmer was still nursing the ferret in his arm as he waved us goodbye.

The thing about this weird encounter was how it all seemed perfectly normal to my Father to ignore the option of getting a qualified doctor’s advice and instead put his trust in what his drinking cronies told him - even when his child was suffering from whooping cough, a potentially life-threatening illness.

To make this tale just that little bit stranger, the whooping cough soon disappeared. Perhaps the thought of more visits to the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and his magic ferret scared the illness out of me forever.

Or maybe the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son really did have magical powers and the wise old men in the pub really do know everything…
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