1946-50, Old Ned

Staying with us in this expandable house where all were welcome was yet another member of the clan, Old Ned and he and Linda often had a running battle. He was close to or in his nineties and behaved like a child himself. He sat in the corner of the room behind the door leading to the scullery in a cane armchair. Alec occupied the one on the other side of the fireplace. Linda would sit on the floor and play with her wooden bricks, building them higher and higher, as carefully and meticulously as she still does things, with the result they reached considerable heights when one considers her age and dexterity.
Ned was lame and walked with a stick. He dozed a lot, but when he was awake he would reverse his stick and hook the handle round Linda’s tower and topple it, at which time he would cackle with laughter and she would get cross. She was resourceful, nonetheless, and on one occasion waited until he was a sleep with his head supported on a hand, itself supported on an elbow, on the arm of the chair; then she attacked. She drew back the door behind which he sat and then hit his hand with it as hard as she could. The shock must have been devastating, he complained to everyone as they entered the house I have a feeling the toppling stopped after that encounter.
Ned was both a character and a knowing old devil. He was Liza’s father. In his late eighties, tall but stooped, severely rheumatic, lame and rheumy of eye, he was nothing if not amenable. His gratitude to his daughter and son-in-law, for taking him, in were expressed almost daily.
He set out on his travels round the world on a sailing ship. He had served his time as a joiner and ship’s carpenter in the shipyard in his home -town shipyard at Carrickfergus where he had also learned to drive a ‘Donkey Engine’. The type of Donkey Engine he was referring to would be called a steam driven winch or capstan today. A ship, with square rigged sails, had been launched and the skipper was looking for a carpenter cum donkey man, and Ned rushed home to tell his mother that he was applying. Back at the yard his boss recommended Ned and, in short, off he went to sea to sail in a sailing ship round the Horn, with all that implied in hardship in those days.
Ned And The HaircutBecause he was so lame the time came when he could walk very little; so Liza employed a hairdresser to cut his hair at the house. It seems the visits were too far apart to suit Ned and one Sunday, when the rest of the family were out with the children for a walk, Ned insisted that I should cut his hair in spite of my protestations that, not only was I not qualified in any way to do so, the result would be a disaster. Nothing would deter him and I, still complaining, put a towel round his neck and proceeded to operate in the best way I could with the cutting-out scissors.
When I had finished, or rather, when I dared not take any more off, we went through the ritual with the two mirrors, as in a reputable hairdressers. Ned was delighted, I was relieved and for a while he kept eulogising my many talents, the greatest of which was as a hair-cutter supreme – unfortunately his eyesight was not of the best. In due course the rest of the family returned and he immediately showed off his tonsorial transformation, explaining who had done it. I tried to intervene and explain that I had been press-ganged against my will, but the hoots and roars of laughter at the remnants of the poor old man’s white locks, drowned me out.
I have never seen such a transformation, it was lightning, it was quick-silver, it was instantaneous and it was virulent. Now I was cast in the roll of the villain who had taken advantage of a poor old pensioner and made a mess of his hair. Fortunately his memory span was as poor as his eyesight and next day all was sweetness and light once more.
I have implied he was an old rascal, which he was. He would sit in his corner and think up statements designed to shock and there were none he liked to shock more than maiden lady visitors.
The family always had someone on duty in these circumstances – they knew him of old.
There was an instance, when a lady of similar background went to talk to him about his travels round the world and he admitted having visited quite a few places in the Southern Hemisphere, ‘Like that sharp place,’ he said. ‘You know, wallop you’re arse with a razor.’ He was referring to Valporaiso, and we were sure he knew the name as well as his own, he was just out to stir the pot, it was all the fun he had left
Linda and the flowers Linda and I had a problem with the word ‘flowers’, which for me illustrated better than anything the working of the child’s mind when it came to language. Linda, shortly after she started to talk, called flowers, ‘swowers’ She was in the garden with me while I was working, and was hunkered down smelling the flowers which were quite profuse, they were a border of pinks which had a lovely sweet smell. I unconsciously mimicked Linda’s interpretation, as some stupid parents do when they shouldn’t and was immediately reprimanded. I had referred to the flowers as ‘swowers’. Linda’s face suddenly became stern, as if chiding a child, and in a strong, loud voice, filled with emphasis, she said ‘Not swowers, swowers.’

Categorized as General

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