It was in Dougal’s bar that I was befriended by Ted. He was a retired businessman from Dublin, who professed that he had made three fortunes and lost two. It was on the occasion of making his last fortune that he decided that he would leave Dublin and spend the rest of his life in the west of Ireland, and devote most of his time fishing. “I like fishing, backing slow horses and chasing fast women.” He was an inveterate collector, and in particular he liked to collect people. He was devotedly a man of Ireland and a devout Catholic
Sitting in his front garden, bare chested on nice days, he would talk to anybody and everybody who passed. And if nobody was in evidence he would strike up a conversation with the sea gulls that hovered nearby.
When I passed his door one day he asked my opinion of some books that a group of people had handed to him as he talked to them over his garden wall.
“What happened?” I asked looking at the covers.
“I was in me garden, sunning meself, frightening all the seabirds, as you might say, when up come these fellas in suits and skirts. ‘Hello,’ says I, ‘is there a wedding?’ Because you don’t get too many tourists done up in such finery. And your man, the leader of the group, asks me about the weather and the beautiful flowers in me garden. And I tells him all about the problems with growing flowers in the salty air and how difficult it is to get trees to flourish. But he didn’t seem too interested, so I enquired again about his business, and he asked whether I was a sinner.”
He stopped and looked troubled. It was as if a shadow had passed across his naturally sunny face.
“And what did you say?”
“Oi said that ‘oi bin sinin all day and oi bin sinin all night, but tomorrow I’ll ask the holy father an’ it’ll all be alright’….. And then he gave me these books.”
I scanned the covers again and looked inside to see “The Watchtower Bible”. I told him, “It’s Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
He looked at me blankly, like I’d uttered a shocking truth.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses?” he asked eventually.
“Not a big deal,” I said. “They’re like door-to-door salesmen.”
His shock turned to outrage; he’d nearly been the victim of some kind of scheme. He immediately scuttled indoors, and I could see him pick up the telephone to warn people of the impending danger from a marauding pack of loonies.
When he wasn’t sunning himself and frightening seagulls (and Jehovah’s Witnesses) in his garden, Ted liked to fish. He would motor up and down the small patch of coast in front of his house in his wonderful clinker-built boat. He had his special places where he would be able to catch a variety of different species, including ling, conger eel and cod. But perhaps his most prized spot was an area where there were many flat fish to be caught, including impressively sized turbot.
I remember several times when we had gone out in his boat and dropped anchor in a beautiful sandy bay, surrounded by towering mountains. Our first act was to catch mackerel, which in that bay were like some kind of infestation. At times they were a mid water obstacle to getting a baited hook down to the sea bed.
We would then wait on the surging tide for a variety of flat fish to come and investigate our hooks, and it would not be long before there were several plaice and the odd turbot lying in the fish box. We would dock at the same pier where the bailiffs had almost met their end, and then return to his home where he would cook it expertly. It is to my lasting regret and shame that in those days I did not eat fish willingly. I would join him for dinner, usually with some kind of beefburger cooked from frozen. The very thought of it now makes me cringe and shake my head.