West Cork does strange things to perfectly ordinary people. Back when we first moved to the Peninsula, I was told about the ‘West Cork air’ and the effect it has on anyone who spends enough time absorbing all its goodness.
You may think I’m joking but there is something very strange going on down here. I tell you this because it seems that this West Cork effect has taken control. Back in January, as I strolled around the fantastic farmers’ market in Skibbereen, I met the wonderful Sally McKenna. Now, Sally and her husband John produce the Bridgestone Guide, which is the guide to all things good to eat in Ireland, and they have long been my heroes. Indeed, to me they encapsulate my ideal West Cork lifestyle: writing, eating and enjoying the landscape with all that it has to offer.
Anyway, Sally had set up a stall at the market in Skibbereen selling cosmetics that she makes from harvesting seaweed along the coastline and when I told her about my West Cork adventure living on the Sheep’s Head for a year she smiled. ‘Oh, you’ll never leave,’ Sally said. ‘West Cork won’t let you; one of these days you’ll have a stall at a farmers’ market. Wait and see.’
I laughed at the idea but Sally is on to something; Firstly, you get the itch to grow your own vegetables (which we do), and then you find you can’t leave the house without your camera (I never do), somehow food tastes better (yes it really does) and everything seems to slow down. For those hardcore individuals who really get stuck-in to the West Cork lifestyle, it’s all about dreadlocks, yoga and making your own clothes. I’m not quite at that stage yet but my wife has crossed the Rubicon, so to speak; well, of course, she was born here so maybe it’s not that strange. As we have learned, one of the main ways you know that West Cork has gotten under your skin is opening your own stall at a farmers’ market.
For many, this involves selling their excess veg or the eggs from the chickens they now keep, or homemade cakes, or the ceramics and pottery that they create themselves. However, my wife has come up with a unique product and is now selling it to some very appreciative customers.
Ladies and gentlemen, my wife has unleashed her Carrageen Moss Pudding on the people of West Cork. Regular readers will remember my first encounter with this pudding when I described it as tasting like straw and having the consistency of rubber. Well, it seems that I will never get a job as a food critic because the general public can’t get enough of it.
Twice my wife and I have gone to the Skibbereen Farmers’ Market, set up the stall, and sold out of the pudding on both occasions. We also set up at the Sheep’s Head Producers’ Market in Kilcrohane and again sold out. When I say ‘we’, my input involves nothing more than helping to set up the stand and offering moral support. Caroline does all the work. She has spent hours perfecting her recipes and trying new flavours. Vanilla, orange and lemon, Irish cream liqueur and carrageen pudding with stewed rhubarb or apple – all have been received with gusto. At the markets, I play my usual role of arm candy for my very successful better half. Well, that’s what I tell myself anyway. In reality, I just stand there, run for refreshments, and then help to load up the car again. While I am damn good at getting the tea, my standing there and the loading of the car is only undertaken with the expert supervision of my wife. I know my limits.
But getting back to the so-called ‘West Cork frame of mind’, now that we have opened a market stall, I would like to inform you all that I will not, repeat not, be attempting to grow dreadlocks or take up yoga. I have, however, embraced my new life in West Cork in my own way. My many suits, for example, are, as I type, gathering dust in the wardrobes and sometimes I can go two (yes, two) days without shaving. However, I fear that my body has now built up an aversion to wearing suits. The last time that I wore one, I ended up on a trolley in Bantry General Hospital. I was waiting to speak to the Minister for Health who was opening a new unit at the hospital when suddenly I found the room spinning. When I opened my eyes, I found that I was hooked up to various machines with doctors and nurses in attendance; all this because I wore a suit after months of casual clothes. But I still got the story and, no, the Minister for Health did not call to see if I was ok.
So, it seems that if you’re not careful, the West Cork lifestyle can in fact damage your health. I may try and wear a suit again one of these days but I’ll have to have at least one doctor standing by first.
Beware of the West Cork air.