Archive for the ‘Bar Banter’ Category

Violet Regan and the Case of the Missing Toilet Roll

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

My Mum was dying of liver cancer in October, 2001, and I was staying with her at Stone Common, her fabulous open-plan house in the  Thornton end of Thornton-Cleveleys, a small seaside town on the Irish Sea, about 50 miles north of Welsh Wales.  And my Mum had a damned good sense of humour.

We were heading towards a time when Mum, Vi Regan by name, would move into a hospice for what turned out to be the last three weeks of her life, but she wasn’t there yet, and while she was still at home she was determined to make the best out of every last second she was here on God’s Green Earth.

“Make me a cup of tea, Gary, please?”

“Okay, Mum, I’ll be right there.”

“Oh, and bring me two Ritz crackers with a little bit of cheese spread, too, please, Gary.”

“Okay, Mum. Will do.”

“And Gary . . .”

“What, Mum?”

“HURRY UP!  I’m dying you know . . .”

Such was typical of the banter that passed between us during those final weeks, and one of her finest moments came when my cousin, Robert Higgins, drove over 300 miles from London to see her before she returned to spirit.

Robert wasn’t my blood cousin. He and his sister, Judith, were the children of Audrey, Mum’s childhood friend, and my Godmother, and we were brought up spending summer holidays at one another’s houses, or at the house of Ken Armstrong, my blood cousin. Audrey was always there to help during Vi’s final days, and I was so happy to see Robert when he went out of his way to go see her.

“Auntie Vi, I have a confession to make,” said Robert, as we all sat around the living room drinking tea and nibbling on Custard Creams and Jaffa Cakes.

“What’s that, Robert?” she asked.

“Well,” he sort of stuttered, “I was at your house when I was about 10 years old, and I knocked a roll of toilet paper into the toilet by accident.  I didn’t know what to do, so rather than telling you about it, I sneaked it out of the house and threw it away.”

Vi looked Robert dead in the eye. A stern look came across her face.

“I always wondered what had happened to that toilet roll,” she growled.

Such was the way in which Vi Regan made people at ease when they came to pay their last respects. She put a smile on everyone’s face. And the fabulous smile that Vi wore lives on in my heart, and in the heart of the hundreds of other lives she touched in her lifetime.

Thanks, Mum. I love you dearly.

Posted in Bar Banter, Blast from the Past |

Happy Mother’s Day to my Two Mums

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

I was lucky enough to know my Maternal Great Grandmother, Grandma Woods, pictured here with Nan Armstrong, my Maternal Grandmother, aGrandma Woods and Nan Armstrong, circa 1960 woman who helped raise me, and more or less kept-house while my mother and father worked full-time so they could get out of the not-quite-poverty-but-pretty-poor lives they’d led as youngsters.

Grandma Woods, who often asked “How do them little men get into that box?” when we watched television,. died when I was about 12 (1963), and Nan and my Mother, Vi, were the two women who raised me.  They were my two Mums.

Here they are, circa 1980, with Nan decked out as Queen of the May during a May-Day celebration at The Bay Horse Pub in Thornton, Lancahire.

vi and nan may queen circa 1980 - Copy

In December, 1973, just months after I’d moved to New York City, I went back to the UK to spend Christmas with my family, and on Christmas Day that year, as Bernard, my Dad, Nan, Vi, and myself sat around the dinner table eating a traditional Christmas meal of turkey with all the trimmings, including Nan’s specialty, Brussel-Sprouts cooked for at least 45 minutes (sorry Nan!), Vi asked me a question:

“Gary, if I gave you the sovereign that I wear around my neck, would you actually wear it?”

“Oh, yes, Mum, I’d love to have that, and I promise I’ll wear it.”sovereign

“If you take that sovereign,” said Nan, “you must never take it off.  That sovereign belonged to your Great-Great-Grandmother, you know?”

Now I didn’t know my Great-Great-Grandmother, but rumor has it that she ran a brothel in Salford, Manchester, so there’s a chance that the sovereign in question was part of her ill-gotten gains.

Nonetheless, I was very touched by Mum’s offer, and happy to be getting this family heirloom to wear, and to remind me where I came from after I came back to the States not long after New Year, 1974. (I was 22 years old at this point.)

The following day my Mum took me to one side and handed me the sovereign very quietly.  She looked over her shoulder to make sure nobody was within ear-shot, and she ordered me, in hushed tones, “Don’t ever tell anyone that this belonged to your Great-Great-Grandmother, Gary.”

“Er, okay Mum.  Why not?”

“Because I lost that one last year when I fell off a gangplank after a party on board some rich man’s yacht,” she said.  “That one had queen-victoria-jubilee-head-gold-sovereignQueenVictoria on it, but this has Queen Elizabeth II on the back–your Great-Great Grandmother didn’t live long enough to have seen one of these, and I’ve been trying to get it out of the house before Nan notices.”






So, although I never did get that family heirloom which rests peacefully at the bottom of the Deep Blue Sea these days, Vi and Nan, my two Mums, gave me a great story to spin.  Thanks Mum.  Thanks Nan.  I love you both dearly.

vi in churchyard - Copy

Vi Regan, 1924 – 2001

Posted in Bar Banter, Blast from the Past |

Redemption at Last

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

redemption cane 003 - Copy

The Good Folk at Redemption Rye whiskey sent me a fabulous skull-topped cane, complete with test-tubes to store whiskey inside the shaft, to help me along while dealing with my broken ankle.  Thank God they sent whiskey, too!  Thanks Guys!

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Posted in Bar Banter |