Albert and myself leaned backwards watching the workman climb unafraid to the roof of the bell tower on St Patrick’s church. We had only ever seen antics like this in the circus. The workman pretended to slip then laughed heartily at the squeals of terror from the local Skerries people standing far below on the path. He smiled down at them and continued to scramble along the tiles like a circus monkey.
We had heard that the bell tower on St Patrick’s Church was having a new top put on it and had come to ask the workmen for pigeons’ eggs. Albert had seen a report on the BBC about incubators. He explained that an incubator was a kind of oven. If you put eggs in it, and heated them up, they would hatch into fluffy chicks in no time. I was stunned to think that new life could be created with nothing more than an oven and a few eggs.
We knew that the bell tower was full of pigeons so it stood to reason that it would also be full of pigeons’ eggs. We pestered the workmen until they came down with half a dozen scruffy looking eggs. The eggs were stone cold and had probably been lying in the old bell tower for years. This didn’t matter at all to us. Our delight would have been no less had we been given gold nuggets to carry home. I wondered if this incubator thing would work the same for pigeons’ eggs as it did for hens’ eggs. Albert assured me that the man on the BBC had said that it would work for any kind of bird’s egg.
We had seen the local pigeon fanciers release pigeons for the Saturday afternoon race; seen the explosion of feathers, heard the great noise of beating wings as they headed skyward to lands foreign and strange. Now we had our own dreams, right here in our hands, inside these eggs. We couldn’t wait to get home to put them in the oven.
Albert’s mother was ironing that afternoon, so we couldn’t go to his house. My mother always went to visit Granny every afternoon. I knew she wouldn’t be home ‘till six. We had a whole hour to hatch out our very own pigeons.
We arranged the speckled eggs on a baking tray placing them on the top shelf of the oven where my mother always put the apple tarts. Turning the knob to 100°C, we slammed the heavy door and headed for the living room to watch TV. Thursday was the best day for TV. The Lone Ranger was on at five o’clock and Skippy at half past five.
Completely wrapped up in the episode of the Lone Ranger and Kimo Saby (his indian sidekick) we forgot about the eggs. Once the Lone Ranger had spoken his famous last words "Hi Ho Silver Away!" and ridden into the setting sun, we dived into the kitchen fully expecting to hear the chirping of six healthy pigeons. To our great disappointment the eggs remained silent and unhatched. I thought they looked a bit swollen but Albert said they were fine and not to worry because he knew what he was doing.
Albert reckoned that at this rate though, the eggs would never be hatched before my mother came home. We reasoned that there were two parts to this experiment, one was the amount of time it took to hatch the eggs, the other the amount of heat applied to the hatching eggs. As we had only a fixed amount of time, there was only one thing for it, to turn up the heat. We wound up the heat to 500°C and the lamp glowed red on the big oven knob. Off we went back to the telly, happy to let nature take its course.
Skippy was just explaining to the park ranger the whereabouts of the lost boy in the mineshaft, when we heard the blast. For a second or two we stared blue-eyed at each other, then raced for the kitchen. The eggs had exploded! The glass oven door was splattered with a mass of yellow and white gunge mixed with pulverised eggshells. A pall of sickly smoke filled the kitchen. What was really horribly, sickeningly awful though, was the smell. Those eggs had been lying in the belltower for years rotting away. The smell of rotten eggs was truly awful. We stumbled out of the kitchen gagging for air. It was then I heard the key turning in the front door. Mother was home!
My mother stood rigid in the kitchen doorway for a second then dropped her shopping bags in a heap on the floor. Bottles tins and tubs went rolling everywhere. I doubt if I will ever hear such a terrible scream again. She stared open jawed as the two terrified experimenters tried to explain how they had turned her once spotless kitchen into a scene from a horror film.
I was grounded for a week.
Albert arrived a few weeks later wild about something else he had seen on the BBC. He thought they called it "hang gliding". He swore that all you needed were a few sticks and a bit of old sailcloth. You could make a wing, strap it to your back and fly from cliffs with it. While he was rabbiting on about how we would jump off the cliffs at Barnageeragh, I slipped quietly away. Sure enough a few days later I saw him and Barney Mc Grath heading for the Balbriggan Road with strange contraptions strapped to their backs. They may have flown, I never found out, but I very much doubt it!