AIDA AUSTIN: Perhaps my ego is about to be stroked

If you’re a maker of any sort, as I am, you’ll know that your ego is at least partially dependent upon your ability to sell what you make. 

WE BUILD our ego around all sorts of things; possessions, social status, education, appearance, relationships, family history, beliefs, nationality, religion. I mean, you name it.

Sometimes, we build our ego around the work we do or a special ability. Such as being able to do the Rubiks Cube in five seconds flat — or make beautiful hats.

If you’re a maker of any sort, as I am, you’ll know that your ego is at least partially dependent upon your ability to sell what you make.

I make retablos and nichos; small, decorative boxes with scenes of everyday life inside or non-religious icons. These take between three and five weeks to make because of the labour-intensive metal-working technique involved. 

They take longer to sell. It’s a slow, niche market but I sell what I make.

You might think that I’ve been able to build some sort of ego around what I do. Not the size of a galumphing great elephant. Or even a pony. But maybe, you’d think, a sensible, modest… dog-sized ego. Labrador, perhaps.

But chance would be a fine thing, working in Paul’s over a typical week:


Paul’s friend Pat comes in.

“Go and say hello to the insane bitch upstairs,” Paul says.

Pat comes up the stairs.

“And while you’re up there,” Paul shouts after him, “tell her to stop her ******* hammering before we all go deaf.”

Pat peers over my shoulder and down at my box. It’s near completion.

I put down my hammer and pick up my screwdriver. I insert the icon and screw it into position.

“There,” I say, looking up, “three weeks’ work. You’ve come at just the right time.”

He looks at my box.

“The antique gold paint brings down the lime green and hot pink,” I say. Inside my Labrador ego pants hopefully, looking for a pat.

He stares blankly down at the box, then up at me.

“What the **** have you been taking?” he says, “LSD?”


I am beating a thin metal panel upstairs.

Paul comes up to collect my empty coffee cup.

“What are you making now?” he says, with withering disinterest.

“I promised my mum I’d make her something for her birthday,” I say.

He looks at me in disbelief.

“What?” I say, while inside my ego cowers, covering its head with its paws.

He picks up my coffee cup and strides off with it.

“MAKING SOMETHING FOR YOUR MOTHER,” he roars as he descends the stairs

[Thump, thump, thump] “At 50 [thump, thump]. Honest to god- the numpties I have to put up with. I MEAN ARE YOU IN ******* FIRST CLASS, NATIONAL SCHOOL?”


Mad French Elizabeth comes in. Mad French Elizabeth is a fan of my work.

“What amazing creation is she working on now?” I hear her ask from where I am sitting upstairs, wiring glass beads onto a metal bird.

My ears prick up: inside my ego lets out a tentative woof. Perhaps it’s about to be stroked.

“Another ******* dust collector,” Paul says, “and don’t ask me stupid questions, Elizabeth — I mean do you think she’s suddenly going to turn her hand to making something useful?”


James comes in.

Paul dispatches him upstairs.

James stands and looks at what I’m working on.

He looks a bit confused. As if he has mislaid something. I hope it’s speech.

“Don’t feel you have to say anything,” I say.

He says nothing for a few seconds. In Paul’s, silence is golden, when it comes to ego.

“I mean, what’s it for, exactly?” James says.


With a hammer, I am bashing one side of a small, metal wing against a pavement kerbstone, outside Paul’s shop so as to get a ragged, feathery edge.

Paul is standing within earshot, a couple of yards down the street, talking with a passer-by.

The passer-by, an elderly lady, keeps shooting me worried looks.

“It’s hard,” I think, “to build an ego around your special ability when your special ability is squatting on a pavement in a boiler suit, banging on the pavement with a hammer.”

“What’s she doing?” I hear the passer-by ask in a low voice.

“She has difficulties,” Paul says, with a deadpan expression.

“Bless her,” the lady says, “the poor misfortunate.”

“They let her out for occupational therapy on Fridays,” Paul says, matter-of- factly, “she does it upstairs.”

“Aren’t you very good to help her,” the lady says, looking fondly at Paul.

Then she looks at me and smiles. Ever so kindly.


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