When we are going to Cork, the elder child gets excited about The Big Dunnes. The Big Dunnes is out the road from my mum's house, and the elder likes to go there with her granny for a good old nose-around and to pick up anything from a dressing gown to a raincoat.
The Big Dunnes is distinct from The Old Dunnes, which is up the road in the other direction and which still soldiers on as a more manageable place for the mother and her cronies to get their day-to-day messages.
I, on the other hand, get excited when we get past The Big Dunnes, because once you pass The Big Dunnes, you are on the road proper to West Cork, and my body almost hums as it vibrates with the place. I'm not even from there, though my duchas and my muintir are located there. And I feel at home and relaxed and excited as we hit that road. Hope and history rhyme for me once we pass The Big Dunnes.
We have our various stops around the place, mainly to do with food, and this time we added a few more.
I'll give you a great tip. About a mile or a mile and a half beyond Clonakilty, on the left-hand side of the road as you're heading to Rosscarbery, there's a portakabin on the side of the road. It announces itself with a sign a bit back, but you need to be ready to stop suddenly-ish. There's a sprightly looking lady in there, with perfect skin and piercing eyes that belie her age, and she will sell you the nicest potatoes you've had since you were a child.
I don't know really what went wrong with potatoes, how the ones you get in the supermarket became so divorced from what we used to eat. It took these ones to remind me again that what passes for a potato in Dublin is a pale imitation of the real thing.
For four quid, this woman will give you a bag of memories. She will transport you back to when life was simpler and spud were spuds. Some people down this part of the country will tell you that Coughlan's are the only spuds to eat. But I would challenge you to try this woman's textural and flavourful masterpieces. When I asked her if they were nice, she told me they'd be 'bursting out', and that's exactly what they did. But the centre held.
They got floury without breaking down and stayed perfectly dry, all the better to absorb a half-pound of butter. And the next day, the extra ones you steamed, for slicing up and frying, make the best chips you've ever had.
You could eat these potatoes with nothing else and you'd feel you'd had a meal fit for a king. Or indeed, you could have them with this woman's cabbage, and another half-pound of butter, and you'd have dined like a god.
It reminded me of dinners when I was a kid, so I called in again a few days later on the way back up to Cork to get some more to bring home, and some for my mother, to present her with, along with the Field's sliced pan and other bits and pieces I'd picked up.
"Didn't I tell you?" the potato woman said smugly when she saw me arriving back. I conceded that she hadn't lied. I told her they were queuing up for some fella's spuds in Skibbereen market, everyone buying two or three bags as if they were going out of fashion. They were probably Coughlan's, she said. She said hers were better. I said was sure Coughlan's were very good but I had held out for hers.
Then she gave me a bit of advice on the old broadcasting career. Another guy arrived along then, a local, and he wanted to discuss with me, as if we had known each other for years, how they are re-releasing all of Joy Division's ouvre on vinyl.
I am coming to terms with the fact that I won't be going to Italy this year. But, in fairness, you wouldn't get this in Italy.
By the way, don't misunderstand me here. I'm not saying you shouldn't go to the market in Skibbereen. I hadn't been in a few years. It is, obviously, better than any market in Dublin.
I got the nicest breakfast roll I ever had, bread from a Frenchwoman that I spent the next week bemoaning I hadn't bought three loaves of, and the most gorgeous little yellow and green courgettes with flowers on them for my courgette pasta, which is solely courgette, oil, butter and cheese, so is heavily reliant on the courgettes being good. I wanted to buy a courgette plant but my wife was already surrounded in the front seat by stuff and she refused to travel the two legs of the journey home with a semi-matured courgette plant on her lap.
We got feta and basil dip from the olive guy the like of which my girls tell me you've never had, and Gubbeen breakfast sausages that were divine, but, if I may say, were more of a dinner sausage.
After eating the cabbage with more of the spuds at home a few days later, I was reminded again of the mother, and I rang her to see if she approved of the spuds I got her. I didn't even have to ask. She had just had some of the magic memory spuds with the cabbage and with some bacon. She told me it had reminded her of her own mother, and of the dinners they would have at home in Glengarriff in West Cork back in the day.
And that's it, maybe that's why I vibrate with the place. It's digging spuds, digging memories, digging into the past, into the earth I sprang from.