Thursday, August 8, 2013


When I was in Primary School, there was a caretaker called Jimmy.

Jimmy whistled and wore one of those jumpers that every man wore in those days.

He had black hair and was small. He wore steel toed work boots that had a sort of dimpled, leathery surface. He was nice.

He appeared to be assisted in his work by a man called Peter. Peter looked facially like Ronnie Barker and always wore black. He wore a black flat cap, a black jumper, black trousers, black boots and a long black coat.

I never heard him speak English. That's not to say he was a foreigner, because he wasn't. I just never heard him speak English.

He spoke gibberish, I remember. A mellifluous babbling of repeated noises and nonsense words. He rode a black bike too.

One day on TV there was a thing on the news about old people in an old people's day centre. I saw him there on the TV and said to my mum 'That's Peter from school'.

I never imagined him having a life away from school.

I can't even remember what he did in the school. Maybe he was a nuisance to Jimmy, and just fucked about. I vaguely remember my mum saying the school paid him by giving him a dinner at lunchtime. Fuck me, I thought at the time, that's scant reward. That's because in my early primary school years, I hated school dinners. I couldn't see them as being worthy recompense for picking up crisp bags and Umbongo cartons.

I remember that Peter was from Fermanagh- my dad told me. He was very religious and went to mass every day.

He was supposed to be from a very wealthy family, or something. He never married.

He moved among us like a visitor from another planet. I never spoke to him.

Imagine Ronnie Barker, all in black, riding an old black bike.

That was him.