Delighted, I hold in my hand, one of only three known photographs of meself as a young man. It was taken on my eighteenth birthday, back when I worked for local builder The Whimpy Dunne. The Whimpy was the finest craftsman I’ve ever been employed by, whether in Ireland, England or Europe, as I worked in all those places.
The Whimpy was good to me, and it’s a lovely thing for me to know, that after all these years, we still speak highly of each other. I’ve only bumped into him a handful of times since. So receiving this photograph, from his son Adrian, not only made my week, but brought with it a flood of memories.
Many young people have no idea of the great times we had back in the 1970s. It was a boom time in construction and drink was cheap as water. We drank oceans of drink and still had money to live on. We have, since those days, progressed beyond recognition thanks to technology. But the downside is that we’ve also become very different. Socially detached from each other.
I left school in 1975 before turning fifteen years old. Tried every builder in the whole parish of Tyrrellspass and further afield to get a job. It’s only fair to say no one back then wanted to employ a youngster who drank like I did. It wasn’t the amount I drank, but the amount of trouble that went along with it. Like having my name read aloud from the alter by the parish priest at least once a month. The “horizontal craic” I used to call it because I didn’t give a shite about much.
One summer’s day I was sat picking my nose upon the wall at the turnpike in Tyrrellspass. I just didn’t know what to do with myself. Didn’t want to go home. All they ever done there was run me down. Tell me how useless I was. And how I wasn’t worth rearing.
Suddenly a big green Ford Zephyr car pulled up and it was The Whimpy Dunne himself. This man had forgotten more about building than all the others knew put together. I couldn’t believe my luck when he opened the door of the car and this he did say to me.
“Young Feery, I hear that you are a great lad to work. Would you be interested in coming to work with me? If you do, the pickings will be richer than what your picking from your nose.”
Of course I jumped at the chance when he told me he would pick me up the next morning. I ran the whole mile home to find my mother was asleep in the armchair. So ecstatic was I that I climbed up onto the roof to communicate with her in my favourite way.
There I stood at the chimney stack, with my three foot length of plastic soil pipe, to wake her up when I roared down the chimney. “I HAVE A JOB NOW. WITH THE WHIMPY DUNNE. AND FUCK THE LOT OF YOUS NOW.” That’s just the way things were in my home. But I was determined to make the best of my first proper job. And I did.
The Whimpy Dunne was the first man I ever met that never criticized me. All he done was encouraged me, saw my potential and taught me all I knew. I spent the best three and a half years of my working life working for him. We worked hard. Lived hard. But everything was done with great craic and humour. More than just respect and friendship, it felt like being part of a family.
Because The Whimpy got all the best contracts, the work was always very interesting. Once we were building an extension to the castle in Tyrrellspass. One morning, at the start he came in with a big box of tea bags. “Jaysus!” The Whimpy said to me. “Nicky Feery these are some great yokes. Now all you have to do is boil the kettle, put a bag in the cup, and fill with hot water.” Up until this moment, everyone we knew used loose tea to make tea. And in a tea pot.
As the weeks passed, after every cup of tea I made for the two of us, I’d sling the tea bag right out the window of the extension we were building. One day the local farmer, Pete F., was passing by and called in for a chat. That was a lovely thing before technology came about. We took the time to interact, and get to know each other.
As Pete was chatting to us he kept looking out the window at the huge pile of used tea bags that had blue mould now growing out of them. I could tell he had no idea what the mouldy tea bags were. Then The Whimpy had to go to the car for some tools, and Pete then whispered to me, “Nicky Feery! What’s them yokes growing in a pile outside the window?” To tease him, because I knew he didn’t have a clue what they were, I said, “I’ll give you three guesses, Pete.”
He thought and he thought. Then he said, “Sex yokes. They’re sex yokes.”
“No, Pete.” says I, “They”re not condoms.” He thought again.
“Drugs. They’re auld drugs growing up out of the ground.”
“No, Pete, they’re not drugs growing up out of the ground.”
“Ah Nicky Feery. Tell to me, what are they?”
“They’re tea bags, Pete. That’s what we make the tea with now.” That said, I took one out of the box and showed him.
As he walked away, he took off his flat cap and scratched his head, saying to himself,
“Well Holy Jaysus. Tea bags. Tea in a fucken bag. The world is going mad. Whatever will they come up with next?”