Back in the late 70s my old Uncle John came to live with my highly dysfunctional family. In our small two bedroom flat there was my brother Jim, his girlfriend and their baby, my other brother David, his best pal Charlie, my mum and my old Uncle John.
Uncle John was my dad’s brother and when my dad and mum split up, Uncle John would sporadically live with us. He always seemed to never have a home of his own. I never questioned it at the time; he just lived with people, that’s what he did. And in the later half of the seventies he stayed a lot with us.
My mum and Uncle John hated each other. Most days were like a Mexican stand off with the pair of them.
“Is he drinking tea again? How many fucking tea bags can that big bastard use in a day?” My mammy would shout when she heard Uncle John clattering about in our wee scullery.
Uncle John never really shouted back at her much, he would just skulk off to his room, which he shared with David and Charlie, who were in their late teens at the time. He slept on a mattress on the floor and listened to the radio a lot.
Uncle John was maybe 15 years older than my mum at the time, so he was probably in his mid 50s at that point.
He was cantankerous, funny and I loved him. The feeling was mutual. Uncle John had a dodgy past, I knew he had been in prison before, I knew had never had a wife nor kids, but he rarely spoke about his past and refused to be questioned when I tried.
Still, I knew he loved me back.
I was just 16 at that point and I adored his quirky ways and stoical sense when the madness of our living arrangements exploded and everyone was arguing, Uncle John would take me for a walk. We walked everywhere together.
He was a bit of a drinker, yet I don’t recall seeing him staggering about drunk or incapable.
On Friday nights when I got off the bus from my work with my wage packet in hand, he would be there.
“Now what are the chances of bumping into my favourite niece today? Your Old Uncle needs a few bob to go for a beer, don’t forget who saves you bread for your breakfast?” he would giggle.
I would laugh out loud, as I knew his old tricks and I knew he was as poor as me, but with a wage packet in hand I would always give him some cash. I never missed it and he was good to me.
He must have been watching every single 62 bus that stopped waiting for me to get off.
What made me really giggle was the time he decided he wanted some of my mum’s cigarettes.
“Janey, here’s what we will do, I will get her in the hallway and argue and you sneak two fags from her packet”
“No, Uncle John, she will know and I will get killed” I hissed.
He ignored me and shouted loudly from the kitchen “Who the fuck used my last tea bag?”
My mammy screamed and ran through the house like a snarling wolf; she was well ready for this fight- tea bag occupation was her domain.
“You fucking have never bought a tea bag in years you big bastard” my mammy screamed as she grabbed at my uncle.
Uncle John winked at me and I ran into the living room and tentatively opened her cigarette box with the quiet careful dexterity of a bomb disposal expert.
I could hear them screaming in the back ground, I slipped two fags out of the box and froze as I heard my mammy shout from the kitchen “Are you opening my cigarette packet? I can hear you Janey”
I was stunned, how did she know? Did she have extra sensory hearing?
I quickly slipped the fags into my pocket and shouted back “No, I don’t smoke you know that Ma”
She came screeching into the living room, hair messy and spitting “Where are my fags?”
I pointed to the packet sitting beside the fireplace.
She grabbed the packet, opened it and I watched her face trying to work out just how many fags she had. I knew by her actions she didn’t know and Uncle John and I were home and safe.
I quickly left the room and threw the cigs at Uncle John as I passed him in the hall.
“See it was easy” he smirked.
Uncle John died in 1993; I miss his quirky mad ways._