Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 27. Sid Virens 365. A Short
I know this guy called “Sid Virens”. Sounds Scandinavian, or maybe he’s a Hugenot. Now Sid, still runs a wee hardware store up on the Antrim Plateau. It’s been there since at least 1857. People, like my Granny Ferguson, used to refer to Sid as “The Boy”, yet he seemed so old and wise in his brown overalls. In his shop you could buy a particular kind of oil lamp, for any dark night of the year, for you see, it would never run out of the magic fluid that kept the lamp burning so clearly.
Anyone could buy one of Sid’s lamps. It didn’t matter who you were, which foot you hurpled with or which side you wore your cap. If he had one, big or small, then he would leave, one on the counter, just for you, with a free box of Sid’s matches, for he was the man to ignite any flame in the area, especially in your heart.
The light above Sid’s shop burned 365 days of the year. He always seemed to be open and his laugh rattled like an auld donkey kickin’ a galvanised bucket, and that’s the truth now.
He was a great man for whittlin’ wood and one day he had an idea.
He collected up a bunch of scrap wood (even pallets), and over time he built himself a gigantic lamb, in the local car park, (with permission of course from the local council), and on the thirteenth of July, in the evening, he decorated it, both inside and out with some of his magical lanterns. What a sight it was. How strange and new. People had never seen anything like this before, especially in July (never mind August).
There were of course, people who protested about this and called him a nutter. Some even threatened him, with a mob outside number 365, the High Street. So the local council met and the Lamb, after some depate, was given the thumbs up. Thirteen votes to Eleven. A close call, but the sense of the majority prevailed.
Outside Sid waited with his supporters and his detractors.
“There’s Love for you.” he mused. “Where’s the Love in a bonfire?”.
“I think I’ll make a pig next year. Oink!”, he quietly thought to himself. Or maybe an old goat, or a duck, or a chicken, an elephant, or maybe my wife’s mother! Now there’s a scarey thought” he chuckled.
Some of the local people, all neighbours to each other, of every persuasion, gathered to admire the wonderful spectacle. Food and drink was shared around the lamb and the lights.
A family of friends, all together, and not for the first time either. Old habits die hard (Ain’t that the truth hey.)
Then a very old man piped up . . . “Hey Boy! Do you remember when we used to burn bonfires? I miss smashin’ things. What use is a Lamb Lamp anyway?”. “Aye. Catch yerself on, ye auld ejit!”, replied his equally ancient wife, “That was then and this is now. Fancy another beer and a sausage roll?”
The old man paused and looked at the lamb with a certain discomfort. But something came over him, like a flame of old rage, hurt and the deepest of regrets. Up from the darkest sadness. For it would be easy just to burn the Lamb, or any bonfire. Beat it into the ground. Easy, to burn the effigy of your enemy, and his colours, but in the morning there would only be ashes and your enemy would still be your enemy.
Then the old man asked . . . “Where’s that beer, Maisy. And where’s the crack? I could do with a real holiday . . .”
Sid Virens. Still open, 365 days of the year.
P.S. This wee story was based on the motto of the Presbyterian Church, “Ardens Sed Virens”. Burning, ever renewing. A strong memory from my childhood and adolescence. These words, always present, along with a love of gospel music and the belief in something greater than myself . . .
P.P.S. . Lasse Virén was a well known Olympic long distance runner. Winning four gold medals at the 1972 and 1976 Summer Olympics.