Friday, May 12, 2006
Gardiner Street -- at the back.
I know that I left you on the landing outside of our door, but before inviting you in and introducing you to life in our home I thought I'd bring you up a bit closer to the flat and how the building looked.... from the back.
This isn't a very clear picture, but I'll do my best. In fact the picture only shows half of the building. If you could see slightly to the left (out of picture) you'd see the chimney housing for the fireplaces in each flat. You can see part of it here. And then to the left of the chimney housing you'd see more windows, because each flat had two windows at the back and two at the front. The windows at the back were arranged one each side of the fireplace.
You'll remember that I mentioned Mrs Fox who lived in the ground floor with her family. Well that small square window that you can see just above the wall o four backyard was their toilet window. Above that window and on each toilet landing you can see a bigger window. These windows were over the toilets and served no other purpose than to allow natural light in to the staircases. So even on the darkest nights, although there was no electric lights on the stairs or landings, some light came through those windows and helped you to see where you were walking in the dark. We were lucky. In many of the other houses in the area the people had to use some kind of torch or a candle to light their way upstairs after dark. I remember seeing people twisting newspapers tightly and setting fire to them to light their way up the stairs.
The next window up, the one that the frame looks like a cross was that of the Valente family. This family owned a chip shop around the corner on Summerhill and were considered to be wealthy by their neighbours, because of owning that shop. The Valente's were a very nice family and if you bought 8 pence worth of chips in their shop you'd get enough to nearly feed a family of four -- and indeed it often did! In the shop they had these big deep friers and they'd scoop out the chips onto a double sheet of newspaper, shake salt and pepper over the chips and then fold over the newspaper, making a sort of parcel of the chips. I can smell the chips now as I remember, and the sharp tangy smell of the vinegar. You'd hold the parcel of chips under your coat against your chest to keep them warm as you made your way home on a cold night, and there'd be a smell of vinegar off you for the night.
One evening old Mr Valente died. The wake was held in their flat and all of the neighbours attended, as did anyone else who heard about the late Mr Valente, because back then a wake was like a party with free drink and food, usually big fat ham sandwiches. Sometimes a wake could go on for two or three days. Us kids always made sure to drop in to pay our respects mostly because we were given lemonade and either cakes and biscuits, a nice treat. So death had no real fear for us as kids, it just meant a free treat.
Something my father said after Mr Valente's wake sticks in my mind.
Unlike the tradition of the day when those who died were laid out in a habit, usually brown, with religious symbols stitched onto it, and the late lamented's hands were joined as if in prayer with rosary beads strung through the fingers. Mr Valente was laid out in his best suit and shoes, fully dressed, looking as if he was off to a dance rather than a grave.
My father and his friend's Andy Sweeny and Tommy Munster came up to our flat after the wake and a discussion ensued after my father remarked sadly, "What a terrible waste!" I remember Tommy Munster nodding and agreeing with Dad, saying something to the effect that Mr Valente, the poor man, would be sadly missed. My Dad said he didn't mean that! What he meant by the 'terrible waste' was that Mr Valente was off to his final resting place and along with him was going a lovely suit, new shirt, tie and shoes! Andy agreed and said you'd have got a lot on them on them in Jack Rafter's pawnshop!
So Mr Valente went off to his final rest, the best dressed corpse you'd ever see!
Above Valente's window is that of the Judge family. If the photographer had stood back a few feet you'd have been able to see the piece of wasteground where Mr Judge used to park his taxis. He had two of them. That meant he was wealthy like the Valente's also! We hadn't a penny, but we lived among a better class of people! And in a better class of house too.
One day I was standing on the running board of one of Mr Judge's taxis when he came along toward me. I thought he was going to complain to me about touching his car, but no, instead he asked if I could wash the car. I was delighted and said I could. So he gave me a bucket of water and some cloths and left me to it. That made me feel important, and I told any other kid that came along that I was too busy washing the car to go and play. I had thoughts above my station! And that was to get even worse. A while later Mr Judge came down and examined the car that I'd just washed, told me I'd done a great job (that alone would have made my day) and then he gave me a shilling! A shilling!! I couldn't believe it. I remember wondering just for a moment if he was fooling, but as soon as I realised that he wasn't I thanked him and as I started to run to show off my new fortune to my Ma, Mr Judge called and asked me if I'd wash the cars another day for him. With that kind of pay I'd have lived in the cars and caught the dust before it even had a chance to settle on the shiny bodywork!
Ma was delighted when I showed her the shilling and send me off with the usual admonition, "Don't spend it all in the one shop, now!" I don't remember all that I bought, only that I bought a Flash Bar (chocolate with a toffee center, priced 2 pence -- leaving me 10 pence) and a Lucky Bag for another 2 pence. And I got great mileage out of telling my pals that "Oh yes, I work for Mr Judge, washing the taxis." God, Jimmy Doyle was dying with jealousy!
Mr Judge's daughter married a chap named Paddy Weafer and the day that my brother Tony swallowed a glass marble (at the instigation of my sister Marie), there was panic because Ma thought that Tony was going to choke. Next thing Paddy arrived in our flat with a knife in his hand, looking for Tony. But that's Tony's and Marie's memory so I'll leave that one for them to share.
And above the Judge's window, at the top of the house, that's one of ours. You'll notice that the Judges and the Valente's toilet is on the same floor, but ours is all to itself on the next floor. Very posh! And if that window of our flat could tell tales, including a couple of stories about those drainpipes that ran beside our windows! But they're tales for me to tell. And if you come back I'll tell you, and more too.