1975 - I was very envious of my mate and his family. They just seemed so normal in comparison to my family of hillbilly freaks. The head of their household was Arthur, a conservative Ulsterman who had an array of quirks.
I remember often watching the ‘Benny Hill Show' in my mate's house along with Arthur. As semi-naked, busty, blonde women chased Benny Hill across the TV screen in classic 1970s sexist British comedy style, I would hear Arthur making lustful "phwoooaaarrrr", "mmmm...." noises at the titillating sight. The ladies in French maid costumes seemed to bring forth a rampant lion that lay underneath Arthur’s Ulster Protestant Christian exterior.
Arthur loved Bournville chocolate bars and Lucozade. Every night he would treat himself to six squares (it was always six squares) of Bourneville placed on a small plate and a glass of Lucozade. He would settle down to watch TV with his treat. This odd little nightly ritual seemed to comfort him.
Arthur was a fan of music. He sat alone for hours listening to reel-to-reel tapes of 'Big Band' artists. He loved the music of Syd Lawrence, Joe Loss, Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole. Arthur sat in a deep meditative state as he immersed himself in the Music. If someone came into the room and disturbed his state of Nirvana he would shout at them. My father loved music too, but not like wee Arthur – he was a connoisseur. While my father listened and sang along to sentimental Country-Music drivel Arthur would be swinging in his front room to big-band jive music.
It was from his front room that wee Arthur operated. When he wasn’t listening to his music, he would be spying on the neighbours through his venetian blinds. Arthur had derogatory names for almost everyone in his street. He would peer through the window and comment on everyone who passed by while giving a running commentary;
“Here comes oul’ no-neck. Look at him! LOOK AT HIM! Bloody good-for-nothing!" he would declare at the man passing.
"Look at her! She hasn't had a bath in weeks! Dirty Cow!" he would say about another.
Arthur would let out chuckles at his own remarks. This activity was a huge source of entertainment for him.
Arthur was a man who took the quiet life and eventually a golden handshake when he retired. He was a family man who worked ‘all his days’. Like many other Ulstermen, he kept things internal, locking away a secret side to him. This was the Protestant way. Keep it all in and give very little away about the person you really are. In Belfast it was the women who did the talking and crying while the men hid behind a mask of silence.