Wet Coal

Bosco was it.



He – or she, I’m still not sure – was it. I can’t remember why I loved Bosco so much: I just remember that I did. I marvelled at my mother’s ability to have us home, every day, just before 4pm. I would anxiously ask if I’d missed Bosco – no, she’d assure me. Her responses were always utterly comforting. She was the final authority on time. My mother bent time to her will; if she wanted, she could wake me up in the morning, bring me to my grandparents’ house, and create time for me to have egg and chips for breakfast before going to playgroup.


I was three years old.


Bosco was a puppet who was broadcast on RTE, Ireland’s only indigenous television station. I lived in Dublin; it was 1985 and my world was a small and safe one. We lived in a cul-de-sac in Terenure, one of the south side’s nicest neighbourhoods. The older kids on the street didn’t really want me tagging around after them – I was too young and annoying – but I was friends with the twins and Sophie, a little girl who lived opposite. The twins’ mother used to quarter an apple for us and dip it into sugar. She called me “chicken”, and there was something bird-like about this warm, clucking woman. Our favourite place to go and play was what I called the “building society”, an unfinished house at the mouth of the cul-de-sac. We weren’t supposed to play there, it was dangerous, but Sophie, myself and the twins would sneak down there as often as we could. I went to a playgroup on the same street every morning, and in the afternoon we’d visit family or do the shopping.


Bosco appeared every afternoon at 4 o’clock sharp.


Watching Bosco now, it’s hard to see what the appeal was. He/she is clearly voiced by an adult woman pretending to be a child. Bosco is surprisingly small, almost frail looking; very vulnerable. She was the premature baby of children’s TV puppets. Her design is odd: is she a street urchin? A harlequin? A clown? The adult presenters mugged and gurned in a way which is, now, singularly unappealing. Bosco and her carers/minions presented links between various cartoons and live-action children’s programmes. A short portion of the Bosco show featured a cartoon in Irish – I couldn’t understand any of it but my mother had the answers again: I would learn Irish at school soon enough. Like most Irish people, my parents had learnt Irish until the age of eighteen at school, and had a good command of reading and writing, but they never spoke Irish in everyday life apart from the odd phrase.








There were always places to go and people to see. Bushey Park. O’Connell Street. The launderette my nana worked in. The estate agents my aunt and uncle ran in Ballsbridge. My cousins’ house, just around the corner from my grandparents’ in Perrystown, where Sinead and Eimear had a huge Barbie house. I loved the Barbie house because it had a lift, perfect for brutal shootouts between my Star Wars and GI Joe figures.


I loved to read, but I also loved to watch telly. I really loved to watch telly. I remember my mother scolding me one evening when I paid little attention to a visit from Sophie as I wanted to watch Spider-Man on television.


No repeats in those days. No tellyboxes. No on-demand sites. When you missed something, you missed it for good.


Sophie went home prematurely, annoyed by my lack of focus, and my mother warned me that she would stop playing with me. It was perhaps my first experience of an unwinnable situation: Sophie had left, my mother was angry, and Spider-Man had finished.


Let me just say it again: I loved watching telly.


There was a large golden coal scuttle in the living room, next to the fire.  I thought it was real gold at the time: to me it was a priceless antique. It wasn’t any good, though. For some reason the coal was always wet. My father couldn’t understand it. He spent hours scouring the coal shed outdoors, looking for the leak or crack which was letting the rain in. Nothing. The coal was bone-dry when it came in. Perhaps rain was getting in through the chimney? But the scuttle was facing away from the flue and anyway, that amount of water would never come in. There was always a little puddle of water at the bottom of the scuttle.


The truth was: I really, really didn’t want to miss any telly. At some point I had hit on a rather clever scheme – instead of risking missing anything by going to the toilet upstairs I’d simply cut loose into the coal scuttle. Fire off a hot jet of yellow piss into the coal while keeping my eyes fixed on the screen.


I was caught, eventually, but I didn’t get in any trouble: I hadn’t realised I was doing anything wrong.


My mother and father weren’t angry, but they did think it was time to reign in my TV addiction. My mother told me that all the mammies had written in to the TV station and complained because the kids were watching too much telly. From now on, the telly would only be on between 4pm and 6pm.


I accepted their version of events without question; I’d still be able to watch Bosco.


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