It was the silence that replaced what I thought silence was. It gave me the space to think this week.
Our cooker was acting up and with no jet burner in it, there is very little sound from it so you don’t really know when it has gone out until it loses the heat.
By Brian McDaid
It just has a wick, fuel flows in by gravity. Any problem with any of these things can separately or collectively reduce the heat output or even stop this cooker.
This year in the twenty-plus years that we had the cooker it’s the first time we are calling the cooker man because the temperature is too high.
For the last month or so the cooker has gone away up into the red and on these longer nights and colder days it’s making the kitchen a very comfortable place to sit in but not a great to try and cook, something with it burning everything if you take your eye off it for a minute.
Twas the night before the cooker man was due to arrive and as is normal the cooker is switched off that night in order for the servicing to take part the following day
In the lateness of the night, the kitchen feels quieter than usual even though there is no real sound of the cooker when it’s going. Tonight there is a different sound of silence when it was switched off or maybe it was me.
I think of how this cooker broke the silence the last time it was showing signs of needing a service. And how it introduced itself into a conversation, a conversation that was very difficult between me and my uncle Hughie who was then dealing with the news of his illness. A man who normally was the greatest to help others in time of need but had great difficulty in helping himself.
Conversations were very cold, and very frank about what the final outcome was going to be with my uncle’s health, that was until the cooker pushed its way into our conversation.
It broke a silence that was never in our conversation before. It gave us a place to go to discuss points of what could be wrong with this old cooker.
Did you try this, or what would happen if you tried that? This is what our line of chats when we swapped difficult conversations about health days we would drift off to chat about everything from oil lorry breakdowns along the roadside to punctures which my uncle pronounced as pump-tures which I just loved to hear him say again.
Listening to him talking about his early days on the road driving a Fordson Tractor for Ian Stevenson, drawing milk in creamery cans by tractor trailer into the creamery.
Then there were days he would be drawing stones for the council by tractor to roadworks outside Letterkenny where his late father Paddy McDaid was a ganger working on the road from Bonagee over Leck and up Rahan. And even days drawing stone to the railway near Convoy where repairs were carried out on the line.
So 2020 arrived and we are approaching the last month but one of a very different year.
We are in the second wave of a worldwide pandemic. In the middle of the first wave I lost my uncle Hughie to his prolonged illness.
That was in May. There were no goodbyes the way we are used to in Ireland. No stories told by people calling to the wake house, the pandemic robbed us of the comforts that these people bring to families in times of need.
So as I sit in the kitchen I listen to the silence, I think how long this year feels and how it feels far more than six months since the departure of Hughie.
I think how this cooker has managed sitting there switched off to push its way yet again into my internal conversation about loss. Thinking about the comfort of sorts gives us both who enjoy nothing more than trying to figure out the theory of a problem before trying to sort it out.
Memories of Hughie in better health when he would land over to my studio well into his 80’s with a project he was considering tackling and he would get me to search for a video of someone fixing a wiper arm on a Sante Fe or a water leak on a VW Passat. And he would set off to do the same repair job himself for someone in need.
Our cooker was serviced and as what sometimes could be normal it might not settle down when it was relit.
Our serviceman gave us a follow-up call to see how it was going following the service, he was right to call as it is not gathering heat. He leaves instructions to turn it off again so he can have a look at it the following day.
So I’m sitting there reluctant to turn it off, stuck in the memory of past conversations over cups of tea.
I turn off the electricity but got distracted and didn’t switch off the oil. By mistake I defaulted the cooker into thinking it was in a power cut which tells to cooker to work on “low fire” until the electricity is resumed and the electrically operated thermostat controls the heat is back in control.
When I get back to the cooker an hour later I find to my amazement that the cooker is now starting to heat up, a look into the shells around the wick as they are called backs up this.
So I switch on the electricity again and wait to see what happens. The next thing I heard is someone calling to me “You’re going to burn the arse out of that kettle” as I awake to find the kettle and the cooker back up onto full power steam pumping out of the spout, just ready to make a cuppa tea and a few slices of toast and get ready to head on.
Now, I’m on a journey without my uncle Hughie but with his memories engraved on my mind and heart thanks to the unsuspecting hero of a oil fired cooker on the blink.