Conversation recall · Memories · Notes from West London

Sawdust and Black Pudding

Sawdust and black pudding. No, not a new dietary regime, but the subjects of a couple of stories that my father told me.

There are stories that we heard and repeated often as a family. Not just things that happened to us, which we had our own memories of, but things we had been told and remembered. A few of them appear on this Blog, the only place where they are available for all the world to see. The others are part of my family’s oral history, for want of a better description. There are a few stories that I only heard once, from my father or my mother, and we never returned to them. Now that both of my parents are dead I only have my own recollections of them. I can’t go back and confirm whether I have remembered them correctly.

Until recently, black pudding was something I would only eat on holiday, as part of a full Irish breakfast. In the last few months I have taken to eating the full Irish at a local café once or twice a month. It comes with black pudding. I could substitute it for white pudding, or any other breakfast ingredient but I take it as it comes, a couple of slices to accompany the eggs, bacon, sausages and so on.

When my father was a young man, back in Ireland, the sight of someone biting into a ring of black pudding was a familiar one. He told me a story about getting a lift from a lorry driver one time. He didn’t notice at first that the driver had a ring of black pudding resting on the steering wheel, under his hands. A few minutes later he leant forward and bit a chunk out of it. From the corner of his eye it looked to my father like the driver had just bitten through the steering wheel itself, but it soon became clear what had happened. This definitely made an impression on my father. He told me about the incident many times.

By contrast, there was another story involving black pudding that he only told me once, returning from his sister’s funeral in Kilkenny in March 2005. He knew the people concerned but I have no memory of their names. I was driving at the time, and the story was mixed in with other reminiscences, many of which i was already familiar with.

The local priest called by at the timber yard to arrange for supplies that the church needed. The typical arrangement with local businesses was that this sort of thing would be provided for free. There was no expectation, on either side, of an invoice ever being presented. On his arrival the priest found the owner of the yard with a ring of black pudding in his hand, biting chunks out of it. It was a Friday. The priest called him out for it, saying that he shouldn’t be eating meat on a Friday, what was he thinking of? The yard owner defended himself saying that it wasn’t meat, it was just a bit of black pudding. The priest didn’t accept that argument and told him so. Eventually the subject changed, to the purpose of his visit.

“So, about that half-ton of timber we talked about. Any chance of delivering it over the weekend?”

The yard owner said he’d do something about it. After the priest had left he gathered half a ton of sawdust and loaded it onto his truck. [I don’t know whether he turned the agreed-upon amount of timber into sawdust, or whether he had enough of the stuff lying around.] The next day he drove to the church and deposited it on the street outside.

The priest came out, raging.

“Sawdust?” he cried. “Where’s my timber?”

“There,” said the driver. “If black pudding is meat, then sawdust is timber.” And he drove away, leaving the priest to deal with the mess.

Apparently this is a true story. If my father were still alive I’d ask him for a few more details, an idea of when and where it happened, and check if I’ve remembered it correctly. Unfortunately this version is all I can offer you.

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