I assume there are as many characters today as there were in the 40’s, but the streets seem more crowded and they don’t stand out like they used to. There was a man with a military style to him, I used to see in front of the Belfast City Hall. Smartly dressed, wearing a trilby and carrying a walking stick, he would suddenly raise his stick like a sword, holler ‘Charge!’ and then obey his own instruction by careering down the pavement , brandishing the sword. As quickly as he started, he would resume his walk as an ordinary passer by. He was a shell-shock victim twenty or so years on. The older trams in Belfast were fitted with bench seats running the full length of the tram, downstairs. Many a night, late on, I was entertained by a small, vigorous 60 – 70 year old who would get on close to Town, and leave near Belfast Castle. When the tram started on the straight stretch, and he would be secure on his feet, he would rise, start singing and then dance up and down the aisle. The trams were almost empty, the passengers were content, so the conductors left him to his routine.
MAC In an office I was in, he was a character of the ‘Old School’ who was very clever but had lost his way some years earlier and now sought solace from a bottle. His natural politeness insisted that whatever he was taking, he could do no less than offer share. When he laced his mid-morning cup of tea he invariably offered a snifter to anyone standing near him when he opened his drawer for the miniature of Irish. This pick-me-up was to tide him over until mid-day when he would go for a serious tipple in the bar nearby. Later in the morning, the temporary shot having run its course, he would hold out a handful of phenol-barbitone, offered like a child would, with dolly-mixtures, for me to take one, yet I never saw him incapable or affected in any way, and he could always be relied upon for the mot juste or a quotation from the classics.
FREDDIE Mac had a friend who also worked with us who was an even greater character, if that were possible. Freddie was also a single man, as many of the Council staff seemed to be, which I put down to the low wages they were paid when they were of marrying age, that and the fun they were having at the time, so, by the time they were financially capable of supporting a family the choice was probably very limited and perhaps they were also more circumspect. Freddie lived with his mother who I suspect still thought of him as a boy, because she would lock him out if he were late home. He was between forty and fifty at this time. He owned a greyhound he referred to in the local vernacular as The Groo. On one occasion he returned home, found himself locked out, so for the night he shared the kennel in the yard with The Groo. On another, he came home the worse for wear, he was partial to Guinness. He looked for something to cure his hangover and when nothing seemed to be to hand he used Bob Martin’s Dog Powders, which apparently did the trick – if he was to be believed. Freddie worked beside a window overlooking Donegal Square. In summer, at lunch time, office workers would come to sit on the grass and sunbathe. Freddie had a mate called Sam and the two of them were talent watchers. One day I joined them. When I saw the age of their choice I couldn’t resist mildly pointing out that my daughter was about that age and there was no way she would look at two old reprobates like them. They aged on the spot. I was unfair, it was a harmless bit of reflection on their part, but life is unfair.
The Odd Day Out In the early days, skint but happy, our holidays consisted of several rides on Public Transport, to and from some local beach, with a swim and picnic between On one occasion a relative, Jim, accompanied us. He was a tall, ascetic, aesthetic, high church vicar, with an academic view of life in general. His lofty, six foot four inch viewpoint, may have been physical, but it was also part of his psyche, his unconscious conviction, that he was part of a breed which should be cherished by all with whom he came in contact – he was definitely odd. It was the twelfth of July, a public holiday when everyone who was not watching the Orange Lodges parading was rushing for the seaside and as the weather was extraordinarily Mediterranean, the beaches were crowded. It was time to go home after a wonderful day. Everyone in Helen’s Bay seemed, to have come to the same conclusion. The station platform was stacked to the wall and a very diminutive Station Master strutted back and forth in front of Jim shouting ‘Keep back from the rails’. Jim was not fond of children generally and certainly not en masse, as we were now experiencing. It was all more than he could bear and he took his frustration out on the poor official. After about a dozen exhortations to ‘Keep back’ Jim lost his cool, looked down upon the bumptious little man from his great height and said in a thin crisp tone, which carried quite some distance. ‘Cease, Pimple!’ Surprisingly, Pimple did, I think he was dumbfounded, he had never experienced anyone before like our Jim, nor any one so rude.