Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Aslan Pay Tribute to a Great Ballymun Institution...

As I was walking past Eason in O'Connell Street this evening, I saw a poster for Aslan's new album, featuring the cover that you see above. Aslan, as you might know already, are an Irish rock band. Some of their members hail from Ballymun, the Dublin suburb where I've lived nearly all of my thirty-four years, and where I grew up.

I'm pleased to see that the ad features a "van", which were distinctive (or even unique?) Ballymun institutions of my childhood. Vans were simply van trailers from which groceries were sold. I presume they were pillars of the black market, though I'm not sure. Maybe they were kosher. "I'm going to the van to get some milk", tripped easily of our tongues. Non-Ballymunners who heard us speak thus probably presumed we had trailers full of supplies parked outside our homes.

What I remember most about vans are the sweets and crisps they sold.  We couldn't get enough of them as kids. We used to loiter around outside the van and pester passers-by for "tempence for a bag of cripps". (At least, other kids did. I was too timid.) Everything was priced "tempence", it seemed.

How well I remember all the goodies we devoured! There were Winks crisps, which had a picture of a woman winking on the packet and were the sauciest, tangiest crisps I've ever tasted. They had prawn cocktail flavour at a time when this was exotic. I remember Alien Spacers, which were crisps (or, as my American readers would say, "corn snacks") with a science-fiction theme and (marvels of marvels) actual comic-strip STORIES on the packet. They came in three flavours but nobody wanted the cheese ones.

There were A-Team crisps, Barry McGuigan crisps (Barry McGuigan was an Irish boxer of brief superstardom), Payday bars, Chomp bars, Mint Crisp bars, Macaroons bars, Burger Bites...I remember eating vast quantities of all of them, even the ones I didn't like so much. I think the only reason we weren't all massively obese is because we also spent hours playing never-ending soccer games on the grass, back before all the fields in Ballymun had been built over. No matter how long these games went on, and no matter what the score might be, they always ended in "last goal wins", when it was too dark to go on any longer and mothers were calling us back indoors from tower and apartment block windows.

 And then, after the soccer games (for those who weren't summoned back inside), there was the telling of ghost stories as we lay sitting or sprawled in a dark field and the evening air grew chillier. Those stories! One told of how a kid had drawn a pentangle on one side of a garden shed door, and a witch on the other. When he revisited the shed the next day, the pentangle and the witch had switched places. The sheer economy and oddness of that story seriously spooked me. Looking back, I can only admire the creativity of whoever made it up. If it was made up, that is...

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