There have been a few men who captured my heart during the course of my life. Some held to it for longer than others and some who were only ever meant to be brief custodians, very brief when I come to think of it; “The Mean Fiddler” had a lot to answer for back in the day. Then there are the ones who will forever have a claim on it and there were the ones who never even realised that my heart was there for the taking. I went through a phase of doing serial not quite unrequited romantic love, whilst allowing myself the odd night of distraction in the aforementioned Mean Fiddler. I’m pretty sure that I never broke someone else’s heart well at least not romantically.
It was way back, in and around the summer of 1975/76 , when my heart was won for the first time by someone who was not my Dad or my big brother. It would have been August, as that was when ‘The Quinns ( my family on my dad’s side) came home from London which usually coincided with my Dad’s two weeks holidays. These two weeks were filled with trips to Tramore, fishing, trips to the Guillamenes, traipsing up and around the Comeraghs and of course a visit to The Gullet, where I now live.
Back in the 1970’s there were still archways connecting all the streets of the Cork Road. We lived four doors down from our archway or the arches as they were called.
Through that archway, past the small green and a short walk you arrived at the local shop Revells. Outside Revells stood the public phone box. I’m old enough to remember the black phones. Rumour had it if you were light of touch you could tap out the number and get connected for free. Nobody I knew had a phone in their house back then,they arrived in the 80’s. Our phone box exploits are for another day, there were serious rules of engagement around that precious commodity and if those arches could talk, well what a few tales they’d tell. Shakespeare could have set some of his sonnets in them.
Revells was your quintessential corner shop, it sold a bit of everything but was more a sweet shop and newsagent as the L&N, (which became the VG,) was the local grocery shop further along Hennessy’s road.
Revell’s was my mecca. I could buy fizzle sticks, 4p sherberts, Ha’penny jellies, fruit salads, black jacks, big time bars and peggy’s legs. Not all in the one go mind you, I can remember having 5p to spend on my Sunday sweets and God it would take me an age to make my mind up. I remember once being so caught up in accounting for my money and working out the different combinations that I could afford that I asked how much were the penny jellies
Anyway, on this particular sunny day Uncle Jack, who was home on holidays with his wife who was my Godmother,( my dad’s sister Eileen) brought myself and my sister up through the arches and to Revells shop. He then instructed us to buy a bar of chocolate, any bar each, it could even be Cadburys. It was akin to having a second birthday.
A present day lotto winner could not have been happier. I mean a whole bar to ourselves. We probably took as long as a present day lotto winner would, deciding how to invest their winnings, on deciding our purchase. I don’t ever remember Jack getting impatient with us. I like to think that it was delight in our uncontained joy and not desperation at our indecisiveness and the desire to get out of the shop with some of his holidays left that made him up the ante by insisting on the purchase of two whole bars each. I recall I went for a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and a Crunchie, the latter being the epitome of decadence for me. It was on a par with Flake in term of unsubstantial chocolate bars. Even at a young age I appreciated value for money. So with my little sweaty hand in his and a gob full of chocolate, no delayed gratification for me, I looked up and decades of hero worship began.
My Uncle Jack was a hard working man who I also remember as being very dapper and smelling of aftershave. I didn’t at the time know much about mens’ toiletries except for Soap on a Rope which we bought as a Christmas present for my Dad & Old Spice. Jack had a more sophisticated and less common smell to my untrained nose. He was widowed when I was about 10 years old and it is true to say that My Auntie Eileen was the love of his life.
Jack’s love of love, his sense of romance is one of the things I adored about him. He continued to be regular visitor over the years to the our home in the Cork Road. When my own Dad died back in 1988, I was lucky to have an uncle like Jack in my life. My Mam was lucky to have a brother in law like Jack and more importantly a friend and a touchstone to the life before and a welcome fixture in that time’s, sometimes lonely present. Lives intertwined by friendship more than family bonds.
So for all my life there in the background was Jack. My first clear memory of Jack though is those chocolate bars..shallow, cupboard love indeed. In the 1990’s we used to meet in a pub in Victoria in London where Jack gave me my first taste of bitter as the Guinness was shite. I never acquired a taste for it though. Having being both father and mother to his youngest daughter who was a young teenager when Eileen died he was well versed in giving timely and prudent advice which I’m fairly sure I duly ignored . There was, even at the time, a solid grounding sense of safety in the getting of it though and it was dispensed with kindness.
Jack became a returned emigree not long after I became an emigrant. I rarely came home during those years without organising a meet up. Revell’s shop was replaced by Jordans on the quay where we both supped creamy Guinness. I have no idea what we talked about except that it was easy conversation with no rush to get away. With linked arms we walked at least part of the way home together or at least to the taxi office, often singing a tune or two on the way.
Jack sang at my wedding reception, full of emotion and I loved his distinct way of carrying a song. Sing songs were such an important part of both our lives and we were both quite social beings. I hear echoes of his voice often, the echo of the layers of his years in South London lacquering his native Waterford tongue. I have never heard anyone else sound like Uncle Jack. He had a tenor and timbre to his voice that to my ear was uniquely his.
There is a sad irony that when I too returned home I saw less of Jack. We’d bump into each other occasionally up the town. Outside ‘The Food Hall’ in Michael Street appeared to be a favorite haunt for us both. Jack on his way from mass and me buying sausage rolls to keep myself and some child happy.
There was the occasional visit to his pristine residence and Lord knows he put my best housekeeping efforts to shame. I like to think that he understood that I was cocooned in a bubble of love, baby making and childrearing in those years. We kept track of each other though, through my Mam and my cousins. Over the years Jack’s forays into town became less frequent and his home and his castle became his world.
On the 29th January this year, Jack died. We and the world said goodbye to one of the nicest gentleman I ever knew. He is like a back stitch woven into the fabric of my childhood memories and my life. Even if he had only bought me a fizzle stick, the truth is I would have loved him anyway.
Rest Easy Jack.