To live and shame the land from which we sprung
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose:
But young men think it is, and we were young.
The Old Sod
It wasn’t long ago that Joe escaped from Ireland. 1967 was his year of flight. For others down the centuries it has happened for whatever reasons - social, financial, and political - but at twenty-three years old Joe refused to be dragged out of his crapulous bed anymore by a sister intent on his confessing. The familial trappings had gotten too much. He had a father that was ancient, having fought in WW1. What could he possibly know of The Beatles? The hardness of the old fella and the forgetfulness! Joe used to see him standing on the bridge, staring into the river. He would have to walk dad home up the hill to Knockbrogan and his mother, the saint, bless her.
And besides, there were rumors of a pregnancy. There were secret visits to Liverpool that maybe Joe had funded. The small town gossip forced the hand that fortunately held a diploma and an open invitation to Johannesburg.
He had been seen as the lad about town of Bandon. He could tell a tale and he was regarded as semi-exotic after his trip to Paris the previous year. That had been a confirmation. The world outside had inside bathrooms and running water. Not only that but atheism too. Now he would wave goodbye to Maxwell, who had matched him step for step these past twenty years. He would get on that boat and have a look at infamous old England before heading for the sun of Sin City. Only it didn’t quite work out that way.
In a café in Matlock in the middle of the Midlands he entered into a competition. He was there with John who was from back home and had offered a couch. The rules were known to both and the waitress was the prize. She agreed to a drink later and said she would bring a friend. John and Joe butted heads and snorted and pawed the ground, Burton Ale was downed, bullshit was spouted, and later John went home, and Joe went home with the waitress.
It’s the same old game with similar consequences for the young, feckless and fertile. It is ageless and it makes the world go, if not round, then at least the shape it is. Joe decided to stay and look after Sue and the son they were expecting, but man did he feel trapped. They got married when she was three months pregnant and he felt the eyes of his mother-in-law burning into the back of his head. Gone were his dreams now, but that’s all they were. He had made it someplace else hadn’t he? All he could do was to be himself, he was good at it. He got a decent job in London based on his charm, and the three of them started again.
It was the place to be in the late sixties. He had a time of it. He was the top salesman on Old Bond Street and even measured Princess Margaret for a pair of patent leather heels. They came and went, the celebrities; Joe schmoozed before he knew what it meant. There were free trips and free drinks and more pressure. Sue was at home and it was too much. So he gave it up and they settled for less.
Over the years there were jobs in different towns and more babies. They headed further north, away from any vibrancy, away from the temptations of cities. Everyone grew up and the only constant was booze. It helped. It didn’t help. Free days were spent walking on English hills that were somehow a replacement for the fields of youth. Joe’s frustration bubbled up sometimes; the family all felt it at independent moments. It was no good but it was all there was. The days became a routine and the stories became worthless. Things came to the inevitable head but he was too old now to care. He didn’t want to work anymore at saving this part of his life. It had gotten away from him. His lashings out were followed by self-pitying tears and yet indifference from his kids. They found themselves growing stronger.
He was no longer needed and so found a hole where he could soothe himself the only way he knew how. Still it had the rolling backdrop of ancient Lancashire moors that seemed to soak up everything and yet remain.
He got himself a dog and took advantage of it. He was liked in the village and spent a fortune of time in the bookmakers placing fifty pence accumulators on horses that always seemed to finish in fifth.
And then it was over. Pneumonia got Joe, but there were bottles of pills on his bedside table, and bottles of brandy in the bin. His sister requested that he come home, so his estranged sons did some kind of duty and brought the ashes back to Bandon. He is buried now in the same plot as his mother and father, after a priest had blessed his return. He had escaped for a while there.