Title: Dreamin’ Dreams
Author: Brendan Gerad O’Brien
Genre: Collection of short Irish stories
A wonderful collection of short Irish stories that take you from humour to romance, from sad to sinister, from downright scary to laughing out loud.
Excerpt from My Brother’s Half-Crown:
Where we got the rusty old coal shovel from I’ll never know. But we had great fun out of it. The game was to throw it as high into the air as we could. We’d watch it pirouette and bank then spin dramatically back to earth and crash into the cabbage patch scattering the chickens and the dogs in all directions. The winner was the one who got the most spins out of it.
In Ireland during the summer of 1942 you made your own fun!
My turn came and I threw it the highest. But this time it came straight back down like a guillotine and took the tip off my brother’s nose. We all froze in horror. Then my sister picked up the tip and stuck it back on his face a second before the scream came.
Luckily for us Nurse Nelson lived next door and she kept a whole supply of emergency equipment in a cupboard in her kitchen. She was well used to us by now. It was a regular occurrence to see our mother charging up her garden path with a towel wrapped around some child’s head followed by the rest of us and the dog, and sometimes a few wayward chickens too.
Nurse Nelson found what looked like an eye patch and she slung my brother’s nose in it. Then she tied it in a big bow behind his head. Of course this added enormously to the drama and it drew amazed gasps from all our pals out in the street.
Later that evening when our Da came in from work he demanded to know why one of his sons had an eye patch on his nose. Of course I got the blame and I was told to go to bed without any tea.
But just at that very moment the front door crashed open and Uncle Dan breezed in. And he was mobbed immediately by a crowd of excited kids who piled all over him.
Uncle Dan was our favourite. He told amazing stories and he would keep us entertained for hours with the chronicles of his exciting business adventures. His latest was exporting livestock to England. The War was on and the Allied Forces were desperate for whatever food they could get. Apparently Dan went to every auction in the country and bought up all the bulls he could find. Then he had them delivered to Dublin where they were shipped over to Liverpool.
I’m sure I heard my mother say Uncle Dan was the biggest bull shipper in the whole of Ireland.
Anyway, Uncle Dan had two enormous white eyebrows that bobbed up and down when he spoke. They made his nose look like a rocket coming out of a cloud. And we loved his wonderful Kerry accent - especially when he got excited.
Then he sounded like a Gatling gun.
Now, however, he took one look at the patient with his nose in an eye patch and he was speechless.
He had half a dozen kids giving him half a dozen versions of what happened. And he managed to pull a different expression for every one of them.
Now Uncle Dan, as generous as he was with his advice and his promises, never, ever gave us money. He’d have to mortgage his house for that, there were so many of us. But this time, to our amazement, he took a shiny half-crown from his pocket and pressed it into my brother’s hand. My brother’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. In 1942 this was serious money.
‘A half-crown?’ he gasped. ‘For me?’
The rest of us glared at it, consumed as we were by a sudden overwhelming sense of jealousy.
‘I never got a half-crown when the cooker fell on me and nearly broke my kneecap,’ one sister said. ‘I was in plaster for weeks.’
‘Nor me,’ another added. ‘Didn’t the ceiling fall on me and nearly break my head?’
‘That was your own fault for swinging on the light!’
‘What about me?’ a brother put in. ‘When the milkman’s horse bolted and all those milk bottles fell on top of me?’
‘That’s ‘cos you hit the horse with a big stick!’
‘I was just sitting on the pavement minding my own business when the back doors of a van flew open and a roll of lino shot out and bounced off the road,’ another sister said sorrowfully. ‘Then the fella on a bike fell on top of me. I never got a half-crown for that!’
In the meantime our Da was surreptitiously trying to commandeer the half-crown.
‘I think I’d better be looking after that for you, son,’ he smiled, reaching for the coin. ‘Otherwise you might end up losing it!’
But my brother’s fist closed over it like a clam.
Our Ma was having none of it.
‘The child needs new shoes!’ She clutched at the clenched fist. ‘The one’s he’s got are falling to bits.’
‘Not at all!’ Our Da jumped between them. ‘I’ll look after it for him. I’m sure it would be safer with me.’
Our Ma accidentally caught him on the chin with her elbow and he shot back on top of the range.
‘Don’t worry yourself. ‘ She gave a queer laugh. ‘The money will be grand with me!’
Meanwhile Uncle Dan was elevated to sainthood by the rest of us. We formed a circle at his feet and worshipped every movement of his hand towards his pocket. And somehow in the confusion my brother made his escape.
Now he was showing off the half-crown to his pals out in the street and he and the dog were dancing with excitement. He tested the coin by biting on it to show them it was real. Then he flipped it way up into the air, squealing with delight as the late summer sun glinted off it.
Everyone clapped and cheered and ran around in little circles. The dog yelped and took a bite at its tail.
The coin went up again, higher this time and with a lot more spins. The dog went up with it and his jaws were open wide in a strange howl.
The half-crown seemed to have a halo around it as it hung there for a precious second before descending towards the waiting hands. And the jaws snapped shut and the dog gulped.
The dog landed on all fours and just stood there looking a bit dazed. It gave a sort of hiccup.
‘You’ve swallowed my half-crown!’ my brother gasped.
Instinct made the dog realise the enormity of what he’d done and his ears picked up.
‘You’ve swallowed my half-crown!’ my brother gasped again, only this time it was louder and more hysterical.
The dog cowered.
‘YOU’VE SWALLOWED MY HALF-CROWN!’
With that the dog bolted. The last thing we saw was a cloud of dust as he skidded around the corner at the end of our street and disappeared into the sunset with my brother tearing after him, his eye patch hanging loose and flapping in the wind.
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Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 13 November 2017
I really enjoyed this book of short Irish stories. The characters were colourful and interesting and the stories kept my attention without any problem. I think the author did a great job of setting the scene and I would certainly read more by Brendan Gerad O'Brien
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I was born in Tralee, Ireland and now live in Newport, South Wales.
As a child I spent my summer holidays in Listowel, Co Kerry where my uncle Moss Scanlon had a Harness Maker’s shop. It was a magnet for all sorts of colourful characters, and it was there that my love of storytelling was kindled by the likes of John B. Keane and Bryan MacMahon, who often wandered in for a chat and bit of jovial banter.
The numerous short stories I’ve written based on those characters have been published in various anthologies and eMags over the years.