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Poitín, a vaccine for the ages

A note from the ESB told us we would be without power for a few hours on Wednesday last. Even though we had time to prepare, when the outage happened the loss of electricity was keenly felt.

The moment the supply was cut off the computers went dark, the wifi stopped winking, the water dried up (we have our own well), and the central heating stopped. The stove in the living area had to remain unlit as it heats a back boiler, which would have exploded without a functioning circulation pump.

Luckily we have a gas hob so we could boil a kettle and make tea. Thanks to a small stove in the sitting room, we at least had heat in one corner of the house.

Under normal circumstances the power-cut wouldn’t have affected us. At the time it happened the students would have been at school and the current consort at work. I could have relocated to a ‘hot desk’ at the local business hub, or thrown my wellies into the boot of the car and found a farm to walk in some part of the country.

But in these strange times we had no option but to sit it out in a house of dead computers, limited heating and fading mobile phones. To add to our misery the day was grey and damp and shrouded in a dense fog that hung over the place like a sodden blanket.

If all that wasn’t enough, hopes of the imminent arrival of Covid vaccines were dashed as the number of doses expected from Astra Zeneca took a nosedive. According to the radio Ursula Von der Leyen was laying into the manufacturers, but was getting little satisfaction.

The cumulative effect of the fog, the power cut and the bad news gave me a longing for a vaccination of hot whiskey and a dose of the bed.

Astra Zeneca, what a strange name? Sounds like something Captain Kirk and Dr Spock might have fretted about on the bridge of Starship Enterprise.

In a curious association of memories and musing, it struck me that when Star Trek first appeared on our snowy television screens the rural medicinal cabinet contained three staple remedies; Epsom salts, Sloan’s Liniment and poteen.

Poteen was the original generic cure for ailments afflicting man and beast, capable of healing anything from diarrhoea to dropsy. It was generally stored in innocent-looking bottles designed to carry more mainstream beverages such as Nash’s red lemonade or Mi-Wadi. The illicit distillation could equally be found camouflaged in bottles that had once contained a brand of legally distilled whiskey.

For years I stored a personal supply of the finest Rosenallis poteen in a gin bottle. I arrived home one evening to find the current consort and her sister in great form, enjoying what they thought was an ‘interesting’ gin and tonic.

In my original neck of the woods I remember hearing about a part-time farmer who came in from the pub one night to the unwelcome news that they had a ‘cow down’. The animal was lying in the shed unable to stand. The man immediately changed into his strong boots, reached into the dresser for the bottle of poteen and, telling his wife not to wait up for him, set out to resurrect the sick cow.

Daylight was peeping over the horizon when the wife noticed his absence from the marital scratcher and, grabbing an overcoat, made her way straight to the shed. There she found the cow in an upstanding position calmly chewing the cud while her husband lay snoring on the bed of straw cradling an empty bottle. She roused him from his slumbers and asked him to explain himself. Propped up on his elbows he told her that when he came to the barn he administered half the bottle of poteen to the cow and, seeing how well it suited her, he administered the other half to himself. In an act of solidarity or stupor, he went down beside her. Surveying the scene the wife remarked, “I suppose it isn’t all bad; you could say I’m a cow up and a man down.”

Happily for me, and the current consort, I didn’t take to the bed or the hot toddies. The electricity came back sooner than expected and the computers whirred into life. We all returned to our desks and the house resounded once more to the clicks of mice and the clack of keyboards, the signature sounds of our Covid cottage industry.

We wish Frau Von der Leyen well as she strives to secure a steady supply of potions from the medicine men and women of the new frontier.

But, if all else fails, we can reach into the dark recesses of the old dresser, beyond the box of solidified Epsom salts and the bottle of coagulated Sloan’s Liniment, to where the good old mountain dew, improving with age, stands ready to ease whatever ails us.

First published in the Farming Independent, Tuesday, February 2nd 2021

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