There was an autumn for eight or so weeks when my fathers brother Mick would drop off bags of groceries mid strike in the factory, we watched the miners being charged by Thatchers horses and felt bad. Vinny would be mumbling and I suspect feeling fairly useless but we cared less as long as we got fed and the tension would be replaced by those funny times we had in the summer. The money was short and it took its toll on the household, I was not having a good time in school, I was weird and mean to everyone especially my sister, I hope she forgave me.
But through the toughest times In the front room Vinny would be escaping, he would lay down and sing badly at the top of his voice his favourite ballads, ring out his chords to the fields of Athenry and a hundred other hair raising anthems bleeding through his own personal Walkman. If it was Saturday or Sunday he would religiously go see a game, Dalymount, Croker, Parnell park. I suspect any excuse to relax out of the house, bring me and distract himself from the awful life a trade union dispute would have brought to his doorstep. After shifts of 14 hours when it was sunny he might cut the grass or do some fixing about the place, he might sleep some days – “Don’t wake him” my mam would warn, barely awake at the table he’d eat quietly his hands always looked swollen from work. He once taught me how to use a hand saw and a trick of applying soap to the blade which would ease the length through the wood, he shouts “I told you it works” – he never thought I would be a worker, I never knew till later he probably seen my efforts at labour and just folded his arms with a sigh.
Inside furiously Mam would take up his jeans if they were too long, nothing fashionable always those workman essentials, a blue blue denim that wore longer than his rolled up shirt sleeves and frayed collars, the long used pure white cotton that finished just below the tidy cut of his hair at the back and near his presentable sides. My mam says I look just like him now, he would have been 69 this year if the morphine hadn’t had finished him.
One of the strangest photos I’ve ever taken was a snap from the top bedroom window down to the front garden, where he was happily pushing his electric lawnmower around a patch of 12 feet square grass, he needing to be doing something as always took pleasure in sunny days. Then if he wasn’t doing that we would sadly laugh at him dozing off on the sofa, the last hours of the day the fire burning, helping. We were stupid.
He would always take great delight in other times when the thunder and lightning of the night would drift over our house or the joyriders so famous in our parts in the eighties would screech around in the maze of streets, listening he’d predict which street, open the new aluminium windows at the same time, smile at the guards, always too late. He would shout tirelessly at the TV as his red devils on saturday would dance around the grass, weeping at eulogies for heroes of the game, he liked Brian Clough. Probably would have adored Berbatov, like his coffee slices and the Mirror newspaper.
He was a big man but not huge, strong and never had a problem with helping someone’s dead car needing a start, he’d just shoot off and give them a push, you never see that now. Because his brother Kevin and Brendan drove the 12’s and 22’s he knew everyone on the buses, we never paid for fares back then, frowned on now he would stand up front and talk to the drivers about anything, he would absolutely talk to anyone, make friends quickly, I imagine when I wasn’t looking he was amazing talking to women, charming, funny and always had an answer standing there smelling freshly shaven and looking for an In. He knew everyone anywhere he walked. He was from the original group of men who came up with the phrase “Work hard – play hard” and it was very easy for him to be this way.
The other side at this time was a little darker. There are numerous family photos of himself with many empty glasses of ale beaming smiles and red eye, this was the time of hotel ballrooms bars with shutters down and work functions, full breakfasts, old bars in Phibsboro and Finglas, no seatbelts. The money came from somewhere to pay for those pints, god knows exactly where. This was the time when if you didn’t drink there was something wrong. This state of mind still exists in a male society driven by tribalism, that machismo rife in working class places, men = men and where’s my dinner? Curry, empty bottles and laughing downstairs.
He was sadly drifting away from me, it was my fault too being separate from everything, I didn’t know but I was not adjusting to anything and didn’t want to and all the while I was still under the roof of someone who had been the greatest at adjusting. Those early Days started to become the change days, you can’t stop getting older, hard trying to either emulate or break away completely from a force and wishing for the chance to turn that time around I would have been less selfish and said more, said more than I probably should have, probably for the better, for the feeling that it was said and not later on when it was nothing and far too late.