A Word from the Author ... Barry Faulkner
I have a confession to make, I don’t think my family are blessed with great brains.
In fact I’m sure we are not. I first began to think that when I was a kid of fourteen watching my grandma throwing bread crusts into the street for the pigeons and the Vicar came by and said, ‘Such a waste when you think of all the starving children in Africa.’
Grandma thought for a moment and replied, ‘Well I’ll have a go but I don’t think I can throw that far.’ It was apparent that grandma’s brain was....well...limited.
We come from the East End, dad’s a docker, his dad was a docker in fact all the male members of the family were dockers. You didn’t need much brain power to unload a thousand Japanese colour televisions off a boat. The brain power was needed in working out how to smuggle one of them past the security gate.
There was an upside of course, Xmas was fun. I had three brothers and two sisters and we always got what had come in on the last ship to dock on Xmas Eve. One year I got a Nigerian refugee. We had a great time until the headmaster at school wouldn’t believe he was my cousin and called in Social services. The headmaster had a brain.
I thought that my Uncle Stan must have had a brain too because he worked in the Dock Offices and he had a briefcase. If you had a briefcase it meant you had made it. You were management. Management had brains. But when I had a sneaky look inside the briefcase there was nothing in it, just a marmite sandwich and an apple, but it looked good.
Uncle Stan got my eldest brother a job interview in the Dock Offices. They said, ‘If twenty people each gave you a pound what would you have?’
And he said, ‘A new bike.’
No, brains weren’t our family strong point.
There was the time dad answered the door and there were two chaps in smart suits with briefcases and one says ‘Would you like to take Jesus into your home sir?’
Dad said, ‘On hard times is he? He’ll have to sleep on the sofa with the dog ‘cause we’ve only the three
So you can see I was getting the picture that, no, my family wouldn’t pose much of a threat on Mastermind.
It is said that the female of the species has more brains than the male. But even that wasn’t true in my family. My elder sister came home one day and said she’d got a new boyfriend who had got qualifications....turned out he’d got a cycling proficiency badge and an ASBO.....and he got the ASBO for stealing the bike!
Even our posh aunt May from Streatham didn’t display anymore brains than the rest of us. She used to come and stay now and again. She didn’t like to really ‘cause we had an outdoor toilet in the back yard and she didn’t like going out in the middle of the night if it was cold.
One morning she came down to breakfast and said ‘thank you for providing the chamber pot.’ We hadn’t. Just then dad put on his hard hat to go to work and had a Hell of a surprise.
So there we were, stuck in Wapping thinking that there wasn’t much of a future ahead of us boys except as dockers and then my elder brother decided he was going to emigrate. Mum said she didn’t think he’d like South London much and when he told her he was thinking of America she broke down in floods of tears saying how she’d miss him and he didn’t even know the language. Grandad said he thought it was a good idea ‘cause the docks were slowing down and men were being laid off all the time. He said he’d pay for my brother’s air fare by selling his house. Dad said he didn’t think the council would be too happy if he did. Anyway my brother’s mind was made up and he was going.
I thought that maybe for once, somebody in the family was showing they had a brain and so we all wished him success a month later as the taxi whisked him off to the airport. It whisked him back ten minutes later ‘cause he’d left his suitcase in the hall. Perhaps I was a bit too quick in building up his brain power. He got the
flight and was off to a new life.
So everything settled down, mum got a postcard every week from him and that seemed to keep her happy. That was until Christmas Eve.
There we all were in the pub, the whole street was there having a great East End party and a knees up. Mum was sitting in the corner supping her third pint of pinocalada, dunking a jellied eel and looking more and more miserable as the evening progressed, and then she started.
‘My poor boy is in New York, all alone in New York. Xmas Eve and he’s alone.’
‘He’s having a great time,’ said dad as he passed by leading the conga into the gents where Uncle Stan was standing at the urinal. He got barged in the back and splashed his briefcase.
‘He’s doing well,’ added dad as they came back out, ‘He said so in his postcards,’
‘He’s never been away for Xmas before,’ mum said. ‘He’s always had me with him. I should have gone with him.’ And the tears started
‘I wish you had,’ said dad under his breath. ‘Now drink your pint and don’t be so miserable or you’ll ruin the party.’
So mum drank her pint and dad drank his pints but she wouldn’t stop, she kept on about her ‘lovely son all alone in New York for Christmas’ dabbing her tearful eyes with the bar cloth uncle Stan gave her after drying his briefcase.
But soon the tears became a flood and everybody in the pub told her to stop thinking about it and be happy
‘He’s all alone for his first Christmas away from home how can I be happy for him.’
Dad wouldn’t have it. ‘He’s probably out on the town with a lovely girl.’
‘He’s probably all alone in a bed sit.’ She wailed between bursts of tears. ’My son all alone on Christmas Eve.’
By now the drink was beginning to tell and all the wives were siding with mum and beginning to be tearful as well and the blokes were with dad saying ‘Shut her up she’s putting us off our darts.’
In the end dad had had enough.
‘Right then,’ he slurred after 9 pints, ‘If you’re that upset about him spending Christmas alone I’ll go and join him.’
‘What do you mean, you’ll go and join him?’
‘I mean just that,’ said dad putting his coat on, ‘I’ll go and join him.’
‘But he’s in America.’
‘Then I’ll go to America.’
‘You can’t, It’s midnight the buses have stopped running.’
‘I’ll go by boat, I’m a docker so I’ll go by boat.’
And he strode out of the pub with the crowd staggering along behind all singing and dancing and falling down and we all went down to the dockside. The dock was empty. It was dark and fog was laying on the river and the only boat was an old rowing boat way out in the fog at the end of a long mooring rope.
‘That’ll do,’ said dad and started hauling it in. Pretty soon he was sat in it sleeves rolled up ready to go, the pub landlord gave him two pints of brown ale, ten woodbines and a packet of crisps for the journey and everybody shook his hand, wished him bon-voyage and hurried back to the pub and the warm fire as he started to row off into the night..
Back in the pub they all toasted dad and then got on with the party.
About one in the morning the landlord had a thought.
‘Hang on,’ he said quietening everybody down. ‘Did anybody untie the mooring rope that rowing boat was tied to?’
Everybody looked at everybody else. No, nobody could remember untying the rope. So they all put their coats back on and hurried en masse back down to the dock side.
There was the rope, taut, stretching out into the dark fog on the river. The landlord called for silence and in the distant fog you could hear the splash, splash, splash of a pair of oars in the water.
‘Is that you Joe?’ yelled the landlord.
And back came dad’s voice. ‘Yes....how did you know I was coming?’
So you see dear reader, there’s no argument, you have to agree, my family are not blessed with great brains.