In My Father’s Words

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In My Father’s Words

B.M

03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018

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Talking with a Stranger

2011

Living on one’s own, as I do, has advantages and disadvantages; the major disadvantage is the lack of companionship, to say nothing of something even more vital, love.

On the other hand, there is an absence of aggravation which can arise, and in my case did arise, in a failed relationship.  I am also aware that women, well one woman, can be pretty special and I have never stopped missing my one special lady.  Women, as a gender, are not always as wonderful as they may imagine, but they are, on balance, worth the trouble.

When I was in a relationship, I went shopping with my better half, content most of the time to push the trolley and pay at the checkout.  Since that option closed for me, I developed my own system.  This is to walk along every aisle and pick up what I think I need.  Yeah, yeah, I know, it isn’t fool proof, but I get by.

My once every month or so, ‘big shop’, has gone from Sainsbury, through Asda, Tesco and has settled on Waitrose.  It was because of John Lewis and Waitrose that I ended up speaking to a stranger the other day for about fifteen minutes on the shop floor near the wine and spirits section.

Mr Waitrose, in his wisdom, issues a little green loyalty card, and from time to time gives away shopping vouchers to attract the customers.  I acquired several of these recently and so it was on 30th July I found myself strolling around the supermarket with the offer of spending £50 and getting £10 off.  Well, I thought, a tenner should buy me a decent bottle of something dry, chilled and alcoholic. It is also important to know that the voucher expired the following day.

Not being totally stupid, well not totally, I had carried out some research before leaving home and had confirmed that I was low on whiskey, gin and Bacardi.  With this in mind I picked up a bottle of Bushmills whiskey.  Bushmills is manufactured at Bushmills, a small village in Country Antrim in Northern Ireland. The Bushmills distillery is the oldest in the world having started in 1608.  I no longer buy Scotch as I am content to keep my financial support away from people who wish to break up the United Kingdom, like the evil Scottish witch of the North and her mates.

As I turned away, I was bumped by a trolley.  The pusher of the trolley said ‘sorry’ as I also did.  I was reminded of a song recorded many years ago by Frank Sinatra called ‘Polka dots and moonbeams.’  It went ‘A country dance was being held in a garden.  I felt a bump and heard an ‘oh, beg your pardon’. Suddenly I saw polka dots and moonbeams, all around a pug nosed dream.’

I turned and saw no polka dots or moonbeams, nor sadly, any pug nosed dream, but a man of about my own age.  More, he spoke with an Ulster accent.

“Are you from Northern Ireland” I asked,

“Yes” he said, “Are you?”

The conversation took on a familiar pattern.  What part? I asked. ‘Belfast’ was the reply.

Belfast was my home town and even after many years it is still dear to my heart.

We moved our trolleys to a less customer threatening place.

We discussed the city of our youth in the hazy distant days before the Troubles started and discovered we had a great deal in common.  We had both managed to rearrange our lives to remove the prejudices and aggravations of our narrow religious upbringing.  Both of us had beer reared as Catholics in Protestant areas of the city and both had had non Catholics in our families.

I stuck out my hand “I’m Ben.”

He held out his hand, “David.”

“I went to St Malachy’s”  I said

David laughed and nodded.  “I was at St Mary’s.”

“They were nearly all priests at my school, the teachers, I mean.”

David nodded again.  “Yes, mine too.”

“Bloody Fascists” I said.

David nodded for the third time.  “Evil, wicked bastards” was his verdict.

I told him about my having failed my Christmas and Easter Irish language exams and getting six belts on each hand for my efforts.  The headmaster, Father Mc something or other had said, “This is your Heritage, you should be proud to learn.”  My reply was perhaps not as diplomatic as it should have been.  “It’s a waste of time Father.  I don’t know anyone who speaks Irish and in any case it is not a requirement for joining the Royal Air Force.”

David summed it all up.  ”You didn’t get caned for failing the exams.  You were punished for impertinence.”

He was right.  He understood the position exactly.

Our little meeting lasted for about fifteen minutes.  We shook hands and went on our way.

In that time, Waitrose, Epsom and Surrey had all disappeared and I was back in Belfast in the 1950s.  I had been pleased to leave the bloody place, but just occasionally glad to return, albeit briefly. I was strangely uplifted by my short meeting with a stranger.

Written by BM

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