Bats, Boomerangs, and Badedas
At one point during my childhood my father wanted to popularize the boomerang. We were living in a rectory in the depths of rural Ireland, so I was somewhat surprised at this new project. He seemed to think the boomerang’s appeal had been overlooked outside Australia.
He may well have been right because he was often ahead of his time in such matters. For example, back in the 70s he was also very keen to get more Irish people involved in snail farming. He could spot a niche market when he saw one. And he was inventive enough to create a grand ‘choir’ in our sparsely attended local church by playing hymns sung by the choir of St. Martin in the Fields , London, on his gramophone. Passers by were amazed at the choral grandeur, especially since there were usually only a few cars and the odd bicycle outside the church during services.
Sadly, the snails didn’t seem to float people’s boats locally. And the wonders of the boomerang ceased to be discussed after a while. Exploratory attempts to launch the African game of Wari in Europe also seemed to meet with indifference. (The game is now on sale.) My father’s ability to ‘think outside the box’ wasn’t as valued back then as it would be today. But a campaign to offer Irish students an alternative to compulsory Irish in their final school exams was popular. At one stage huge bags of post used to arrive at the rectory from people who wanted Dad’s advice on opting for alternative qualifications. It wasn’t that Dad was against people learning Irish…his Dad had been a fluent Welsh speaker. He was an experienced, and savvy, teacher himself and he strongly believed that enthusiasm for any subject was not helped by heavy handed rules.
Popular psychology books like ‘The Power Of Positive Thinking’ helped Dad to keep upbeat, and often found their way into his sermons, which were far from dry and contained many a poignant and rousing transformative tale. I used to worry that he would cry at the particularly moving bits. His voice became quavery with emotion, but he never openly wept in front of the congregation. The sermons were sometimes spiced up further by the stirrings of the bats in the church’s rafters.
The sexton wanted to dispatch the bats to their final resting place, but my mother was the bats’ protector. She was an ardent fan of God’s creatures great and small, which is why we ended up with two chameleons and some tree frogs. She brought them back from a visit to South Africa. Our menagerie was considerable and also included ground squirrels, a tortoise and a ‘golden’ pheasant plus the aviary of birds, the dogs, the goat, a cat, a pony, hens and other miscellaneous pets.
On one memorable occasion I brought my pony Merrylegs into the house to watch television when my parents were shopping in Limerick. Two local Gardai arrived to check if my brothers’ gun licenses were up to date – they sometimes hunted. Merrylegs followed me into the hallway to greet them too and they looked suitably flabbergasted. It brought a whole new meaning to the term ‘Horse Protestant’.
Africa was frequently discussed because both of my parents had spent many years there. The rectory was dotted with African carvings and artifacts. And, of course, it had an Aga. Visitors were sometimes puzzled by my father’s suggestion that they make themselves toast because he appeared to be holding a largish wire object that resembled a tennis racquet. This, it had to be explained to them, was our toaster. Our drinking water had to be obtained from a tap in the cavernous basement. The water in the rest of the house came from a container on the roof. It sometimes had small, harmless enough looking, worms in it.
One of the eccentricities of the house was that the bathroom was huge for no particular reason. It was where I experimented with ‘Hint of a Tint’ shampoo.
I’m not sure if this product ever really changed my hair color, but the name was alluring to a romantic teenager. Badedas Bath oil was also highly respected because the intriguing ad said that ‘Things Happen After a Badedas Bath’, apparently it had something to do with the horse chestnuts. In one of the Badedas ads a woman, who had just had a bath, gazed through the window at a handsome man with a horse who seemed keen to meet her. I had many Badedas baths but no handsome stranger appeared out of the blue on the rectory lawn.
Home is now a terraced house, a carved wooden gecko climbs up a wall, and a contented Buddha sits by the fireplace.
There’s not a trace of a tree frog…