The Growth of Privacy; Day 18 –
The Lost Quotidian Journeys
FEBRUARY 21, 2020
My maternal grandparents lived a while away from us when we were growing up, in a little bungalow just outside Cork city.
This meant we didn’t see them quite as often but it also meant that when we did go to see them we got to stay. On our own, with our grandparents. This was the ultimate treat. Freedom from parents; those were blissful times.
My grandparents were both retired primary school principals, my grandfather had been principal of a boys’ school and my grandmother a principal of a girls’ school in the city. They had retired into a peaceful domestic life in the country consumed with gardening and baking and making jam, or at least these are the things that stand out in my memory as what we did there.
My grandparents were very traditional, they had very strong religious faith and my grandfather was a lover of the Irish language. They were creatures of habit. Every day had its ritual and routine.
The main ritual around which everything else revolved was daily Mass, generally at the church in Blackpool. The daily trip to Mass would involve a trip to town.
And then there would follow the trips to the various shops. There was the fishmonger’s on a Friday, the butcher’s in the old English Market and the tobacconist’s.
The tobacconist’s stands out most in my memory. They say that smell is the only sense that links directly to the brain without any intermediation; and there is a certain smell of tobacco that transports me instantly back to that place at 8 or 10 years of age.
My grandfather used to smoke a pipe and the tabacconist’s was the most amazing place. There was a huge old counter behind which stood the tobacconist and behind him was a vast array of old tea chests, each of which in turn was full of tobacco.
There were what seemed like endless different varieties, and these in turn could all be mixed into countless mixtures.
Every trip my grandfather made to every shop involved an elaborate interaction with the shopkeeper. My grandfather was a great conversationalist and could countenance meeting someone without having good old chat. He was always addressed as Mr Corkery, he had taught many people around the city and former pupils of his worked in many of the places we went to.
The tobacconist’s was no different, but there seemed to be far more ritual in this visit. It certainly was more interesting than most of the other shops. The tobacco would be discussed and inspected. Grandad had his mixes that he preferred and there would be great consideration given to all of that. Big handfuls of tobacco would be offered as samples to be smelled and even tasted. You could stick your nose into a big pile of tobacco and breathe in its aroma.
Funnily enough I don’t associate the tobacconists with tobacco smoke at all, but with the glorious smell of the tabacco itself. It really was incredible and there is simply nothing like it in existence today. (For good reason, I am not a smoker and hate smoking, but there will never be anything to compare with the tobacconists when I was a kid.)
I have gone on my own recently to revisit these long lost daily journeys that we used to make. The church in Blackpool is still there; and I have learned since that the great Cork sculptor Seamus Murphy was heavily involved in its construction and decoration. It has some wonderful pieces by him. The fishmonger’s shop is still where it used to be. The butcher’s in the old English Market is still there, though that is a far more exotic place now than it used to be when I went there with my grandfather.
The tobacconist’s, which I think must have been around Maylor Street in the city, is now long gone. It remains only in my Proustian aromatic memory.
Those were wonderful times just doing mundane daily things with lovely people.
What strikes me about these trips now is that while I can recall them and indeed can recreate them to some extent, all that exists of them is my memory.
Yet what can we say of our daily trips today? And what record of these will exist in 40 years’ time?
Will they still exist solely in our own memories or those of the younger generations who we may make them with?
The names and identities of the shopkeepers who addressed my grandfather as Mr Corkery are long lost to me, many of them, like him may since have died.
What though of our daily interactions? It is likely that many of them are made not with people but with, or via, devices, or through the internet of things.
Leaving records, that form data. Data that can be amassed and form great value; though not to us, unlike the valuable memories I have of those daily trips with my grandfather.
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