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Thursday, 16 October 2008

Uncle John and Auntie Irene

Uncle John taught me about whiskey, not its finer points but how much of it you could put away in an evening. Eventually they took over the tenancy of 24 Helsby Road, and turned the front room into a mini-bar, or so it seemed. They were immensely generous and great fun.

Irene liked to dance and retained a pre-war, slightly raffish air. Imagine Princess Margaret with a Liverpool accent. John always had a smile on his face, sometimes puzzled, wistful, but always a smile. One Christmas Eve, Irene had a sudden yen to attend Midnight Mass at St. Peters (a black and gaunt Anglican Church now knocked down and replaced by Sheltered Housing, where Aunty Irene eventually died) It was in an adjacent street – Church Road.

I was tipsy, she more so than me, but we made it in time and sang what might or might not have been the opening hymn. And then the Holy Spirit struck. Irene was riven with remorse, a bad attack of the religious guilts.

“I’ve been bad…Mike. I’ve not been good.” Delivered in a doleful whisper that carried the length of the bench.

“I’m sure you have.” A consoling murmur.

“Been bad, I know. I can’t help it Mike. I’m just a bad person.”

I was aware of a stillness peculiar to those who are listening. The two rows in front were occupied by mannequins, their necks turned ever so slightly to one side. The Vicar was extolling the joys of Christmas tide, but everyone wanted to hear what Irene might say next. The Christmas message and gossip as well.

“No, you’re funny and generous. You’re a good person.”

“No…No not me, Michael.”

Michael…? This was serious then.

Her head shook slowly from side to side. “Not me.”

“We’ve all been bad – at times.”

“Not like me.”

I think I dissuaded her from taking Communion. It was a long walk down. Instead we persevered with our ‘how sinful we’d been’ double act, until it was time to go home. Five minutes later we were back at the party where Irene was happy again.

John and Irene had two children: John, known as ‘Little John’ (in case we got confused) and Joan. I have two childhood memories

• ‘Little’ John had some kind of exam coming up and it was decided that I would coach him in English or something. I was considered as ‘bright’ because I wore glasses. On a hot summer’s day, two miserable boys were stuck in the front room, neither really knowing what they were doing there or why.

• A game at our house where we were chasing Joan around the room until she got upset. Hmm, that reads as though that was the purpose of the game. In truth there was no purpose; just a chasing game in a 12΄ by 12´ room and an excuse to run over table and couch. Laugh? We cried.

John Parry died of cancer. Irene died in 2007 in the care home that had once been a church.

'Little' John, I believe works in Rochdale and Joan is enjoying life in the Wirral. I doubt we’d recognise each other, nor probably chase each other around the room.

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