Wednesday, 10 July 2013
Whats in a name
Nancy Begley, Mom to me, was a lovely Irish girl of eighteen years when she was swept clean off her feet by a dashing teddy boy called Tony McFinnigan, or Dad. They first saw each other across the crowded dance floor in a parish hall way back in nineteen sixty seven. Dances in Ireland were a tea total affair back then. The girls would arrive early, sitting around the edge of the floor in their best dresses waiting eagerly to be asked to take a turn on the dance floor.Where there were girls, there were boys, lots of boys.
The air was thick with smoke, hair lacquer and body heat. So heady was the atmosphere you could nearly see it ripple with the beat of whatever band happened to be playing. One thing you were never short of back then was a crowd. These days, with so much to do, it's hard to imagine how special those dance nights were. Young people had one chance to go wild and that was at the Saturday night dance. It wasn't strange for people to walk ten or fifteen miles to get to a dance, then back again. Not surprising really when women weren't even allowed in the pub, a snug perhaps, but never the pub. Dance nights were an oasis of excitement provided by Mike Dell, Joe Dolan, Dicky Rock and the like. Young people danced, flirted, fell in love and made life long commitments all in the space of a few hours.
We all think things were different in our parents day, don't fool yourself, they were just the same. Even back then there were girls you wouldn't be seen dancing with but you'd meet outside after, in the handball alley. Then there were the boys a girl's father wouldn't let inside the garden gate and my Dad happened to be one of these.
While the dances were getting started, Tony and his friends would still be in the local, sinking pints or even a few shorts if they were flush. They'd laugh and make fun of the country boys in their mass suits having an lemonade or a single pint before tearing off to the hall, eager to find a partner. Tony was broke most of the time but he dressed like he was loaded. Trousers so tight he got pin's and needles if he sat for too long. A long grey jacket with the velvet lapels, narrow tie and shinny winkle picker shoes were his uniform. He looked sharp and he knew it. His hair gleamed like it had been painted with a tin of gloss black paint, not a strand of it ever out of place. Always a little sneer on his lips but his eyes gave lie to this as they couldn't help twinkling with good humor. About an hour after the dances began, the cool crowd would turn up. The boys would swagger down the street like John Wayne, talking loud and laughing louder. Lads they passed threw them dirty looks while the girls just threw looks. Bad boys are the same all over the world. Breaking the rules is just so sexy.
The Teddy boys would gather on the balcony, looking down into the heaving throng of dancers, laughing, whistling and calling out to the spinning girls as they whipped around the floor. In the middle of them all you'd find my Dad. Mom said she knew he was different because he never whistled, she also told me that in all the times they went to the dances, she never once saw him on the floor and he never danced with her.
Another thing not in short supply in the good old days, were lads not liking their girls being whistled at. A fight was constantly waiting in the wings for the right combination of sly remarks and hurt feelings to flare into spectacular life. As the temperature rose in the room, pulses raced, dig's were made and heard, looks were thrown and in the end voices grew threatening. Out they would charge, like two tides of testosterone. Fists flying, oiled hair whipped into greasy waves and boots swinging for anywhere that might hurt. Most of the time it was good manners to take it outside, not that there was always time. Sure it was all part of a good night out.
On this particular night James O'Brien, Dad's friend, had his eye on wild looking red head. Every time she came under the balcony she was giving him cow eyes over the shoulder of the guy she was dancing with, coming closer and staying longer under the balcony with each pass.
"Jesus Tony, will you get a load of the strawberry number with that big bullock chaser," he shouted into my Dad's ear over the drum of the music.
"Where about's?" he asked, scanning the floor.
"Here she comes now, past the tea table," he said kind of pointing with his elbow because being interested enough to take your hand out of your pocket was not cool.
"She is a fine thing right enough," said Dad, watching the bobbing mop of deep red curls like sunset on a summers night. "I think yr man she's with has you spotted and he's not looking happy about you grinning at his bird."
This time, as the couple came around the floor it was the dead eyes of the massive farm labourer that searched the balcony and not in a friendly way. The red headed girl was looking away but clearly quiet pleased with the way the young bulls were squaring up over her.
"What you staring at you greaser?" he roared up at the balcony as he passed underneath.
James leaned far out over the rail before shouting at the top of his voice, "A fine thing and a GOBSHITE, can you figure out which one you are!" The balcony erupted with shouts and cheers. Fingers were pointed and feet stamped as the man mountain below stood rooted to the floor, his face as red a a beetroot. The girl slipped away into the mill of dancers, giggling into her hand.
When the shouting died down the big lug eventually thought of something to say and shouted back. "If you had any balls you'd say that to my face and not be hiding behind the skirts of all your fancy boys up there!" Questioning anyone's balls did two things. First, it made sure blood would spill and soon. Second, it caused the parish priest to jump out of his chair and start yelling, "Less of the language you guttersnipes." Funny thing about the priest, he was not at all fussy about the number of teeth knocked out in the car park, but one semi bad word and you were going straight to hell.
"That fucker has it coming," said James as he pushed through the crowd for the stairs. The thing about James is, he talked a good game and was brave enough, but he couldn't hit a barn door with a Massey Ferguson. Dad pushed through the crowd after him, after all, someone had to save him if things went bad. By the time he got to the dance floor things were already bad and heading straight for disaster. James was toe to toe with the fella, who had looked big from the balcony, and enormous from down here. He was to far away to hear what was being said but James was the one doing all the talking right up to the point a hay maker lifted him clear off the ground. It only took a second for war to break out. Bodies were flying in from all directions, some picking sides, others just hitting anything that stood in front of them. In the middle of all this the band kept playing and some couples even tried dancing through the melee. Dad was trying to reach the stretched-out James when a sly little fucker snuck up behind him and leveled him, sending him crashing to the wall.When his head cleared he was lying on his back looking up between the ankles of the most smashing girl he had ever laid eyes on.
"Are you finished down their Mister?" she said, but made move to pull her legs away. Tony had the smallest glimpse of two shapely legs disappearing up into the darkness before he gathered himself enough to sit up. As the fight raged round them, my Mom and Dad fell in love.
He walked her home that night but she wouldn't let him hold her hand. As far as Nancy was concerned if he wanted an easy girl he could stay running around after the townies with make up applied with a trowel and skirts up to the crack of their arse. For her, he would have to put in some leg work. It was five miles to her house and when they got there they sat on the wall, down by the road, talking until you could pick out the hills against the brightening sky. I don't know what they talked about that night and I am not so sure I want to.
They became a regular sight at the dances and even though, like I said earlier, they never actually danced together, everyone knew they were a couple. Nancy would dance the night away with other girls, never accepting a dance from any of the men that asked. They would spend the night stealing looks at each other. In the end they would meet at the tea table just before the dance was over. The fights still happened but Tony wasn't interested any more. He went for a few drinks with the boys each week but stopped hanging out in the balcony. Every weekend for well over a year he would walk Nancy home and they would talk until dawn. Ok, ok in my mind they were talking, use your imagination.
It was about a year and a half later that Tony got a spot as an apprentice fitter in the Ford factory in Cork City. Realistically he didn't know what a fitter did, but he knew it was the key to a good future. Four years it would take before he was qualified and then he could take his skills anywhere in the country he liked. It was fairly standard in those days but to him four years seemed like a heck of a long time. He kept the news to himself, trying to work out what to do. It all revolved around Nancy. If he took the job he'd be gone for months at a time. Would she wait for him? Like hell she would. She was gorgeous and every guy in town was gagging for them to break up. Anyway, she'd probably think he was running around with every floozy this side of the Lee. How could they survive that?
What if he didn't take the job? What else was there around here for him. Building, labouring, farm work or he could try for a job with the council. He was fairly sure swaggering around town with the tough crowd for years had put the knobbler on anything but the worst of jobs. Would she want to be with a looser like that either, he didn't think so. He spent so long trying to work out what to do he still hadn't told her by the week before he was due to leave.
That Saturday night after the dance finished, he walked Nancy home as normal but was very quite. He'd been skittish as a wild cat all week, never knowing what to do with himself or what to say. He knew he was making Nancy worry as well. That night they walked the whole long five miles without a word passing between them and even so, to him, it seemed like they got to their wall in record time. He could put off his decision no longer. The killer was he still had no idea what he was going to say.
"What's wrong with you tonight?" she asked as they sat.
He sighed, "I have a bit of news."
She looked nervous and Tony thought that he spotted a tear hanging in the corner of her eye.
"Go on," she said looking up at the stars. "You better tell me so."
He gritted his teeth and went for it. "I've landed a job down in Cork. I starts next week. Tis a good job but the pay is cat. I wont be able to travel up and down all the time."
This time he was sure he saw the tear. She looked at her hands resting in her lap and said, "Are you breaking up with me?"
"NO, no," he said, not really knowing what else to say but the next few words came out all by themselves. To this day he's sure his brain had a hand in it. "I was thinking you might come with me?"
"Jesus my Da would love that," she said in a mocking half laugh.
"He won't have any say if you marry me." Now this was as much a surprise to him as it was to Nancy. Yet again his brain wasn't in charge, his heart was driving this bus now. In the silence that followed Tony knew there had never a better idea in the history of the world. It must have been infectious because Nancy dived from the wall in a flood of tears and wrapped her hands around his neck like she was drowning.
"Your not messing, you wouldn't do that to me would you, say your not messing?" she mumbled into his neck. He laughed as he stroked her hair and whispered something secret in her ear that neither one has ever told another person. Five days later she left on the bus for Cork and two weeks after that they were married.
At last we get to were I come into the story. They had a little flat over a shop in Bishops Quay. It was dark, a bit damp and tiny but they were in love and as far as they were concerned it was a haven. The wedding had the sum total of seven people at it. Afterwards they all went to the Royal Hotel for drinks and a couple of plates of ham sandwich's. If it had been a banquet in Buckingham Palace Tony and Nancy couldn't have been happier. Tony was working his job three weeks by then. I wont go too much into the factory at the moment except to say the best friend he ever made in Cork, he made on the first day at work.To my misfortune the man's name happened to be Harold Boyle. Dad insisted I be named after him, seeing as he stood for me at my christening. As easy as that, I was given the worst name in the history of names.
But where did Squid come from? This is a much better story.
A few months after the wedding Nancy came down with a bug and couldn't even hold down a cup of tea. She mentioned as much to the old woman who ran the shop down stairs one morning.
"I don't know why your shocked misses with all the new cracks in the ceiling. The banging and carrying on of yea. I was sure your name was Rabbit not McFinnigan. There'll be three up stairs before next Easter or my name not Peggy Sacks," she told my mom while Nancy was buying a batch loaf for Tony's sandwich's. Sure enough she was right. My Ma was up the duff.
From the get go I was a great little mover. One night, after a hours of kicking and twitching my mam turned to Tony with a hand on her stomach and said with a straight face. "I am telling you Tony I am not sure this is a baby at all. I'm sure its a squid or something." Tony laughed and laughed.
A few days before they had been walking along the jetty in Cobh when they came across a young lad trying to get a Thing off his fishing line. It was white and slimy and wriggling all over the place.
"Look at that," said Nancy pointing. "What kind of yoke is that?"
Being a country lad Tony had never seen anything like it either. "What you got there?" he asked the boy.
Just then the thing plopped off the fishing line and went skittering across the concrete.The lad tried his best to grab it but it kept slipping out of is fingers. It went sailing over the edge and into the water.
"Me fucking squid," wailed the boy, grabbing his head. To Tony and Nancy this seemed like the funniest thing anyone ever said. All that day for no reason Tony would turn to Nancy and imitate the lad making them both howl with laughter all over again.
So from the moment my Mam made her joke, in a small little flat on Bishop's Quay above an ancient grocers shop, I was squid then and ever more.