Gordon Ferris is a sixty-two old year Dublin writer living in Ballyshannon in Co Donegal for the past thirty-six years. He is a member of the Dublin Writers Forum and has had many poems and short stories published in A New Ulster, Hidden Channel and The Galway Review.
On the way out the door wearing the new wrangler jeans, purchased with my hard-earned money, saved over several weeks and bought in O Conner’s of Capel Street, one of the few shops they’re available in Dublin. School finished now, possibly for good. I have money in my pocket, I’m off to celebrate freedom.
A short walk up the street, five doors to be exact, past Mrs Dillon brushing her footpath with a fag in her mouth mumbling under her breath in my direction, the fag bopping up and down, stuck to her bottom lip. This brought me to the Elis household where my pal Desi Elis lived. We had been best pals now for the past three years, not a long time really. With me, childhood friends seemed to go their own way once primary school finished, some went off to different schools or in opposite directions, some for better some for worse. Some of them thought I was too quiet, not tough enough, others thought I was too rough and a bad influence. If anything I was the one who was easily led.
As I approached the Elis house on the street and up the path to the bright sky blue door, a colour that ruined a good mahogany door. Coming from inside the faint din of music could be heard a strange fusion of music, wind instruments, acoustic and electric piano, and electric guitar. All playing different tunes, different styles. From the Parlour one playing jazz on a saxophone, another playing god knows what on the electric piano, sounded like scales. From upstairs, came the sound of a clarinet and a guitar. Somehow there seemed to be classical music from a piano from inside the front door, in the hall.
To overcome the musical mayhem inside I had to knock hard on the door, I could see a faint figure scurrying through the frosted glass in the door. Opening the door with a genuine good-natured smile was Mrs Elis. A four foot nine bundle of energy, a face lined with life worn wrinkles,
“Ah me auld segosha, how the hell are ya, are ya keeping well, haven’t seen you in an age, is your Mammy keeping well, how’s your da,”
all questions out there without waiting for an answer. Ushering me in she called Desi’s name out loud repeatedly, not realising he was sitting, head bent on a piano stool under the stairs where his piano was positioned, the only place available to put it with his three older brothers claiming the parlour and bedroom for their practice, the noise from both places being testament to this. Mrs Elis went on into the living room leaving both of us on our own turning her head at the door and saying,
“Would yiz like some tea, I’m putting the ket”
“No, we don’t want any tea” Desi rudely declined for me, cutting her off in the process, dismissing her without even looking at her. This made me feel uncomfortable. I wouldn’t dare disrespect my Mother like this. Seemed to be normal in this house. The males were very much the masters in this house, with Mrs Elis running after them nonstop, out to the shops seventy times a day to get thing’s the boys would take a notion for, want something for their dinner, then something different that’s not in the house for their tea, all normal everyday routine for Mrs Elis. Degrading as this was, Mrs Elis seemed to thrive on it, her whole life appeared to revolve around her five Men, she could just be about to sit and relax at the end of the day when one of them would want a cup of tea or a clean shirt for going out, for work the next day, and she would gladly do it smiling. It really gave her great joy to do things for her boys. Never understood that.
“Well are you ready for tonight, this is the big one, should be a good night.”
I said, excited at the prospect of letting my hair down and meeting up with the girlfriend.
“I am indeed, and maybe we might get served a few flagons’ of cider in Superquinn.”
He replied, rubbing his two hands together.
He quickly ran upstairs to go to the Jax and splash on some Brut, down the stairs in three steps grabbed his denim jacket and out the door and up the street with us, Desi shouting,
“I’m going out Ma, see ya later “
She came out running to the door,
“have you a coat on ya, that the weather could change.”
“I’m alright Ma, go back in will ya, I’m not bleedin twelve
Sheed do your head in, making a fuss like that.,”
If I spoke to my Ma like that I’d be killed by her, then resurrected by me Da and killed again. Then he would lecture my dead body about how one should worship and obey their Mother, always show her respect, no matter what is said, it’s only for your own good, you never answer back, under any circumstances.
At this we were both startled by Mad Max, the mad dog guarding the top of the street, appeared from nowhere, growling menacingly at us with bared teeth. Desi just made a run at him shouting,
“fuck of ya fucking eegit, ye frightened the shite out of me.”
At which the dog scampered away to its hiding place behind a hedge in the end garden.
Walking down Cappagh Road now, approaching the Church of the Annunciation. At this crossroads, we turned off to the left, past the row of shops and headed down Mellows Road towards Superguinn.
“We could always try the off licence in the Shamrock pub”, I said.
“What about walking down to the Autobahn pub and trying to get served, doesn’t your brother drink there, he might get us a few pints. Worth a try anyway, what dee ye think” “
“Not a bad idea, save us having to drink in the field at the back of the tech, no need to go there anymore”
The field between the church and the Tech is where us teenage lads went to drink flagons of cider before we were old enough to get served in pubs. Some of them were bad, and if my parents knew I was anywhere near them, that would be me stuck in the house for the rest of my youth. But at this age you don’t see any danger until it slaps you in the face, the older ones we emulated and wanted to be like them, we would copy them, within reason. Some just made fun of us. Those of us who could tell the difference between right and wrong only went so far.
One bright spark asked me once in this field what class I had first thing in the morning, like an egit I told him I had Miss Falcon for Irish in 1A, that was the first class near the main building, at this he finished off his flagon went over to 1A and put the glass bottle through the window, now you have a free class on Monday, you owe me, he said running. Everybody else scarpered in shock. The lad doing this was Vincent mc Cann, nicknamed The Mentler, he was older than us and already had developed a serious drink problem. Tragedy waiting to happen, senseless waste of life.
ANYWAY, before long we were approaching the Autobahn Pub. We ended up there without having decided where we were going, which is a mystery. Blabbering and jabbering as we walked about trivial stuff before we knew it we were approaching the door of the pub, telling each other to walk confidently towards the door, as if we belonged in this environment, pretend we are talking, don’t see the doormen, don’t show fear, as if we belong in there, approaching but deep down expecting to be turned away, we were shocked and amazed when he said, “go on ahead lads.” without even looking at us.
In the door we strode like two gunslingers entering a saloon, the smoky atmosphere immediately got me. Causing me to cough and squint my watering eyes to see. Chris the big brother was over just as we were in the door, ushering both of us with a tight grip to the arms into a corner.
“What are you two dozy pricks doing in here, if your Ma here’s about this, sh-eel blame me, you know she will” “No she won’t, how will she find out I won’t tell her, sure I didn’t know you were here anyway. We heard it was easy to get served so we thought we’d chance it, isn’t that right Desi” I said, nudging him.
Desi replies lamely,
“Ah now Chris we had no idea, just taking a chance getting a gargle”
“OK, go on in there and I’ll get them for ya, “ Chris said, steering us in the direction of the snug at the front of the bar.
Inhabiting the snug already was an elderly couple, probably in their seventies, maybe eighties or maybe late sixties, it’s very hard to tell. Both seemed like happy smiley people, the woman had one of those expressive faces that always smile, even when negativity comes knocking, there’s a smile and a glow hiding the sadness. The man eyed us suspiciously, nodded hello back to us, then went back to talking to the women, ignoring our presence.
Chris returned with two pints of Bass which he unceremoniously planted in front of us. How did I know it was bass, it was from the big red letters on the side of the glass.
“You two behave yourselves, right, dis is my local, don’t want you two maggots ruining my good name.”
Chris didn’t hang about long and away he went back to his buddies at the bar.
We sat staring at the two pints of mahogany-coloured liquid, and at each other, I picked up my pint and took as big a gulp, as big as I could take without gagging, I put the glass down with a false smile hiding a grimace, Desi followed suit with a sour puss on him as he put the glass down, his own fault for trying to drink more than me.
I noticed the elderly couple, the man’s arm draped over her shoulder and vanishing down her back, while at the same time looking straight into her eyes whispering things to the women that made her blush. I looked away quickly trying not to be noticed. From the way Desi looked away and started talking about football, I knew he had noticed the same. We couldn’t react or say anything in the close confines of the snug, we just talked, keeping a straight face.
Secretly I was thinking how fabulous it was for a couple of their age, to still have those amorous feelings for each other, hoping that I could meet someone who would be willing to stick with me through thick and thin, who could look into my eyes, the way these two do. I kept these thoughts strictly to myself, very un-manly to have thoughts like this; in the northside of Dublin in 1973.
Soon our glasses were starting to empty, thoughts of getting more beer entered our heads. Which one of us was going to go up and order the gargle, that was the question. There was a hatch at the end of the bar into the snug where the elderly man got up and ordered his two gold labels and glasses of stout, but that would be a bit chancy, the barman being able to clearly see us. So we decided to go into the bar and take a chance ourselves.
We left the company of the two elderly lovers and said good night, to which the women replied
“See ya boys” the man was probably relieved to see the back of us.
Into the bar we went, being assaulted by a thick cloud of cigarette smoke and noise coming from every direction, the TV blaring Match of the Day, everyone speaking in raised voices, shouting conversations across the bar. To my surprise, Chris appeared from the Jax(Toilet).
“Are you two still here, why didn’t ya stay in the snug”
“Dirty owl fucker in there trying to ride his miss-is, getting embarrassed looking at them. Desi was just going to go up and get two more gargles.” I added, hoping Chris would offer to get them for us.
“Hear, I’ll go and get them for ya, but give me the money, I’m not made of cash, Smart arse there would let me pay too” And up to the bar, he went, returning with two pints.
Chris again disappeared, didn’t hang around long. We got a free spot to stand with a ledge to put our pints on just outside the snug. We had a good view all around, without being in too open a place or drawing the attention of the bar staff. We made ourselves at home watching what was left of the football. I was just about to lift the glass to my mouth and take a slug out of the beer when I spotted the elderly woman coming out of the snug smiling at us when she was passed I nearly choked on my drink with the sight her dress caught inside her black cotton knickers. All I can deduct from the vision before me was that the dear old lady and her owl fella must have been having a right canoodling session with the man dropping the hand.
Desi was also taking a mouthful of beer and nearly spit it out when he noticed what had happened. We both looked at each other tight-lipped and when she was in the loo, out of earshot, we burst out laughing. Lucky enough we were the only ones who noticed and the poor old dear was saved without any blushes.
I don’t think she even realised what had happened. When she returned she was tidied up and smiled hello at us as she passed. Don’t think that’s the actions of a woman who had just flashed us. We finished the beer and left to head for the dance in St Michaels, a special night there for the end of another year with school and exams done and dusted.