Saturday was St Patrick’s Day. And as with all St Paddy’s Days I think of my Granddad and miss him. He wasn’t a Great Granddad in the titled sense but he was the greatest of Granddads to his Grand children of which I was lucky enough to be one.
Many was the night he’d come up to see us and regale us with one of his many tales. I’ve lost count of the amount of times he began with the words; ‘Have I ever told you about old Ma McAffety?’ then he’d launch into a rich story time tapestry of Leprechauns and giants, he’d paint tales of Finn McCool and the fabled land of Tir Na nO’g; his words were precise and measured as his voice lilted high and low with the craft of a master story teller--- He was a true shanachie if ever there was one. In fact he’d often get so wrapped up in his own tales he was once heard to say that he couldn’t wait to get to the end of the story himself to find out what happens.
But this post isn’t meant to be some kind of sentimental eulogy to a great man; his memories did that for him. No, this is by way of a tiny nibble into the vast memory banks of the things that he said and did; the tall stories he told and to the way that, when it suited him, he’d become a professional Irishman.
A professional Irishman is someone who chooses to act up to the stereo typical Irish image as and when it suites them. And Bob Dixon was an ace exponent of the art. A perfect example of this was when one day, after he’d ‘won a few bob’ on the horses and had washed his good fortune down with a couple of pints of the hard stuff, he found himself looking at the winnings that sat in his large, shovel like hands. And he wondered what he was going to do with it.
Suddenly a spark of an idea came to him. It was Lynn’s Birthday soon and she’d always wanted a bottle of that Channel No. 5 perfume, and when he looked again to the winnings in his hand, he decided there and then that he was going to buy her that perfume. So with the determination of the slightly inebriated, he zigzagged off to find the nearest Boots store.
Five minutes later found him in the perfume section, tapping his hand on the counter like a toff from the old school. The assistant dutifully came over and asked him what she could do for him. He told her that it was Lynn’s birthday soon (as though everyone would instantly know he was married to someone called Lynn) and that she’d set her hat on a bottle of that Channel No. 5, and he was going to purchase it for her. The assistant nodded meekly and trotted off to get a bottle. My Grand Dad took the intervening few moments to take in his surroundings while constantly keeping hold of the counter, lest it suddenly make a break for it and leave him to fall flat on his face.
Presently the little assistant came back and proffered the tester bottle. Granddad opened it, sprayed the air liberally with the perfume and chased the scent around with the approving sniff of the connoisseur.
“That will do nicely. Lynn will love that. How much do I owe y’?” he ended with a debonair swirl of his hand; his other was still holding onto the counter for grim sobriety.
“Fifteen pounds ninety nine, please sir” came the reply
|Nan and Granddad at my Uncle Rob and Aunt Heather's wedding|
This was the point that Bob Dixon suddenly became a professional Irishman. He fixed the young assistant with the gimlet eye of the suddenly sobered and said:
“Jayzus! I don’t have £15? How much is y’Channel No. 4?”
He probably even doffed his cap and gave her a quick ‘Top O’ The mornin’ t’ye’ for full effect, before tootling off to the bookies to back some more losers.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m by no way saying that my Granddad was a typical drunken, gambling, brawling Irishman. True, he liked a drink like all men did in those days and it’s true that he liked the odd, well occasional...well okay, the very regular ‘flutter’ on the horses; he worked on a building site and those sites were filled with hard men and he had to live in that world, which he did rather successfully.
Which leads me very neatly onto another memory I have of him---one that both typified his sense of humour and the revered way in which his work mates on the building site held him.
It took place on a very hot summers’ day in 1967.I’d been dropped off at my grandparents for the day and my granddad had said to my Nan that he had to go out for about half an hour and that he was taking me with him (code for a trip to the betting shop). A short time later, and once we’d chosen the all the loosing horses for that day’s races, we set off again in his car to the strains of Al Martino singing ‘Spanish Eyes’, which my granddad lustily sang along to as we headed for the building site to pick up his wages. As we drove onto the yard and the dust billowed up around the car, just like in the American movies, my Granddad told me that I was about to meet some of the men he worked with so I was to be quiet and not say a word as these men were very different to the sort of adults I was used to.
So with a certain amount of fear and trepidation I placed my tiny hand into his huge, rough tradesman’s hand for reassurance and we walked into the builders hut. About ten giants sat around the cabin drinking tea while they cooked bacon on the back of a shovel that had been kept for the occasion. They all turned as my Granddad walked in and cheered his arrival. He held up his hand for silence and a little decorum.
“Now before we go any further, I don’t want to hear any swearing, see any spitting or hear any filthy dirty jokes” he announced
All the builders mumbled their acquiescence. My Granddad then pointed to me and said
“I wasn’t talking to you lot, I was talking to him!”
And that is a brief introduction to a great man. A great man that just happened to be my Granddad; a man who always let me steer the wheel of his car as we drove, a man who stood towering in your doorway saying 'God Bless all here' before crossing anyone's threshold, a man who, upon being told I wanted to be a cartoonist, clipped the cartoons out of every news paper, every day, so we could discuss them at the weekend. A man who invented wonderful games and told silly stories; a man who once told me that he had a stamp on his buttock which read Royal Doulton and that you could always tell the toilets he’d sat upon as they had his stamp on them. But above all, he was a man that laughed at life, told more Irish jokes than anyone else, was revered by his peers and showered love unconditionally and without any favouritism to all of his six grand children.
Saint Patrick may be the patron saint of the Irish, but for me, Bob Dixon was the patron saint of Granddads
Slainte and god bless y’ Saint Bob
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