Friday, 22 February 2013
I am the servant of Sutekh He needs no other.
All week I had waited for for answers and just as I was about to get them our television died. The whole family was gutted. They too had been looking forward to Saturday night in the way that people did in those days. All except my da. He did not care about a television. I could see him through the living room window scatching away at that awful fiddle tucked beneath his chin playing some no doubt mournful irish tune. He played some sad tunes.
I had begged a friend to let me into his house to watch this weeks episode but his da would not wear it. He said the people on Doctor Who could not act the idjit. A damning insult. He never really liked his sons friendship with me. He thought I was scruffy and odd. Which is quite true. He could not work out why his son did not hang out with the more popular football loving boys. There was no way he would have me sitting on is sofa on a saturday night watching Doctor Who of all things. And this made me even more distraught. Their television was a colour one and everything just looked amazing on it. The minutes were ticking away too. Transmission time neared and television in those days was a one off affair. No such thing as home recording. That in itself seemed a science fiction notion.
I gave up asking people to let me crash their house for half an hour on a saturday night and collapsed on the kerb in frustration. I even buried my head in my hands in Whovian despair.
A neighbour leaned over her gate and asked me what was wrong. It was a first from this particular neighbour. She and her family sort of intimidated me and just about everyone else. They had just sort of turned up one day as neighbours and nobody knew a thing about them. On a street where everyone knew everything about everyone else. Or so we all thought. The years since have taught us all the world is full of secrets. They were a strange family, dark and loud and violent and their house had the same vibe. I never looked in as I passed their house. One of the sons really did not like me and would punch me at every oppurtunity. So I tried never to give him one.
OUR TEEVEE IS BROKE AND DOCTOR WHO IS ON.
SURE YOU CAN WATCH IT IN OUR HOUSE.
I looked up her path at her front door which seemed to recede into the distance the way the Tardis did in the time vortex off the Doctor Who opening credits.
SURE COME ON AHEAD.
She opened her gate stepped back and gestured up the path.
Sure enough I was welcomed in. The whole family were sitting on chairs and on the floor facing the television just as my own family would have. I was still very nervous entering. Even with her blessing. This family had a fearsome reputation on our street and I had good reason to be afraid of at least one of them.
WE ARE GOING TO WATCH DOCTOR WHO WITH MALACHY.
It was all she said and they quietly welcomed me in. Their home was not much different from our own. Same sacred heart picture. Same picture of the Kennedys gazing heavenward in spectacular catholic colour.There was a fuzzy photograph of a dead son on the fireplace. His face was hard to make out but he was smiling through the blur of gray smoke that made up the picture. The second part of Doctor Who And The Pyramids Of Mars started and it was just as brilliant as I could have hopd for. Egyptian mummies shambling around leafy english forrests, Osirans, Timelords and Victorians and the truly heroic Tom Baker and Elizabeth Sladen. The family watching this never made a sound. They seemed as absorbed as I was was. Thirty amazing minutes. When it was over I thanked them and left. The whole family said goodnight to me and I went back to my unusually quiet home. I tried to hold on to that amazing episode in my mind. Even the unusual circumstances under which I had watched it.
It did not change my life. The sunday that followed that saturday was as any other. Twelve O clock mass and vegetable soup for sunday dinner. And a Planet Of The Apes weekly if I was lucky. Even the comics I read were in black and white.
The older boy from that family continued to punch me at every oppurtunity only now he called me Doctor Who before he did so. His other brother became one of my best childhood chums and I still remember him with the deepest affection. He was bright and articulate and endlessly funny. He could not read though and I have fond memories of sitting under a hedge reading a World Distributer Planet Of The Apes Annual aloud to him. He was forever sticking up or me. Even taking on his own one eyed brother on one occasion. He did not win the fight but he was the champion in my eyes. In many ways he still is.
That whole family is gone now bar one. Every person who sat in that room on that saturday timetime long ago is dead now. The years were not kind. Their path a hard one. One by one they died untimely and awful deaths. One was burnt in a house fire.One died a drink related death the other from drugs.The son in the photograph had died near the start of the troubles in Ardoyne. Shot in the head. The fuzzy photograph was the only one his mother had.
My chum died at the end of a rope. By his own hand. He took his own life.
All gone. A long and sad story. The demise of a whole family in such heartbreaking ways. As an adult(If not an entirely correctly functioning one) sitting typing this I have difficulty processing such a tragic end for a whole family. The desperate humanity of it all.
I wish I could in words find some way of remembering them appropriately. Affording a dignity that life did not. A respect that time has not.
They did for me. For thirty minutes one saturday teatime in 1975.