People Are So Diverse

If people say to you ‘You really must come and see us!’ don’t take them at their word, often it’s lip service. My mother met a distant relative who said that, and when I was on my first leave, a little pleased with myself as a seagoing sailor, I arranged a visit. It was the height of winter, there was snow on the ground, the trains were unheated and I arrived looking for warmth. I rang the bell and was about to enter when I found my way barred by my aunt, who directed me to the tradesman’s entrance. When she open that door she instructed me to take off my shoes and leave them outside and enter in my socks, with the words ” Snow is bad for pine!”, and led the way to the kitchen. The house had won a prize for design and had a lot of interesting features, like a heated handrail on the staircase. This was one reason that I had accepted the invitation. I was taken on a tour, shown a plush lounge, plush bedrooms, and all the architect’s innovations, and then returned to the kitchen. In due course my cousin arrived, we had a meagre tea, in the kitchen, and then it was suggested that I should leave as they were going to the cinema. That was the last I saw of them for about six years when there was a ring of the doorbell of our post-war home in Belfast. Standing on the step were my cousin and his father. They said that my uncle was in Belfast on business and they thought they would call. In fact it was late evening but fortunately we were on top line, lighted fires, a fresh cake, and a welcoming smile. Later Sophie told me she was convinced that this was a sortie to see how we lived, as they had neither telephoned nor sent a card in all the years that had elapsed. We smiled, some other day they might have caught us on the hop.

A Disgraceful Superstition I helped out in a small newsagent and tobacconist shop with a man, Alec, who suffered from spinal curvature and as a result was undersized, with a severe hump on his back to torment him through life. It was alleged his sister had dropped him twice when he was tiny. In those days there were so many indignities suffered by people in that condition, from the cheeky remarks of ignorant children being funny in front of their friends, to the insensitive adults who touched his poor back, because they thought it was lucky to touch the hump of a hunchback. Alec would stand in the doorway of the shop, cigarette in hand, shoulder against the jamb, one leg crossed, taking bird-like drags on the cigarette and nodding to the regulars as they passed. All his actions had a quick, staccato movement. I don’t think everyone appreciated the pain he was often in which sometime made him fractious. I am grateful so many of these old
superstitions are no longer prevalent.

On the Contrary. The English Pub where drinking is less serious. In the first week I was instructing at Leydene three of the other instructors took me to a pub called the Jolly Sailor. As we approached the bar, the owner immediately turned and took down two silver tankards and started to fill them. He turned to me but said to the others ‘Has your friend got a tankard?’ It turned out that the regulars had their own tankards and set of darts kept behind the counter for whenever they should come. That night I had a glass tankard and borrowed darts, but the situation was soon remedied. The following Christmas, Sophie joined me and on one of the regular nights came with the others to the Jolly Sailor, where it was our pleasure to play darts and bar billiards competitively. She, not wishing to play was scoring. The owner of the Jolly Sailor came over, said to her “You must be bored with these chaps, come with me!” He went to the bar, collected a sherry, and led her to a seat amid a group of the locals, warming themselves at a huge fire, he introduced her and left her to a pleasant evening. This was a salutary experience for both of us, it was the best introduction Sophie could have had to the camaraderie of the English pub, but it also taught me humility, and the duties of a new husband and not to be selfish, all of which I promptly forgot.

The Family Call A relative who hailed from Yorkshire introduced us to a tradition of his – it was a family call. Originally I believe it was a whistle to a tune, with the first phrase being ‘ Is the old woman in?’.Allegedly called almost always by men assembling for a drink at the pub. We as a family, and later all of our close friends used this call in crowded situations to draw attention. When my children were small and we went Christmas shopping in packed shops, it was wonderful how just by calling they came running. I had an aunt who was in the hospital just beside Clapham South Station. On my way home from school I would stand outside and give the family call, within seconds, a window would open and a bag of sweets would come hurtling down to me. In our eighties, we still use the call – or whistle.

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