Like Howard Hughes without the money…
If you’d like to get to know Robert better, and through his story get to know me a bit, maybe you’d like to read some miscellany that refers to nothing in particular. You may already know we live a very quiet life: he worked six nights a week (as I’m doing now) so we weren’t able to gig except on the rare occasion it occurred on a Friday. So our favourite thing to do on Robert’s night off was to cook some steaks – or I’d cook them – we’d watch Coronation Street (I know, I did say it was quiet!), I’d drink red wine and he might have a beer.
But Robert loves his tea. That’s his beverage of choice. Often he’ll choose it over any other offered drink so we know this is the case. It starts his day and he might do twenty cups during the day, sometimes with a bunch of Marietta biscuits. He also loves ice cream and buys himself a 99 when he goes out, bringing home the end of the cone with a tiny bit of ice cream for Paulie (the parrot). She holds this mini cone in her claw and eats it just like we would.
Just because we sat in at night didn’t mean we were stodgy: far from it. We talked a lot. We wouldn’t leave the TV on if we weren’t watching it: most times I’d be reading and Bob would play guitar or piano, or he’d be studying something got to do with music on the internet, and sometimes we’d play board games (which he always won, particularly Scrabble), and we’d laugh a lot. I love long afternoon baths with my book and a glass of wine and when I’d reappear after one of these, Bob’d say ‘oh, were you out shopping?’ So although we were together all the time we may not be aware of what the other was doing – we were ‘around’ and that was enough.
Bob’s a very funny person. His humour is oblique and subtle. I’ve already said he’s a self-deprecating individual who had no illusions about himself, but he had no illusions about others either. He likes me just the way I am and me him. I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t do exactly what he wants to do.
He formed attachments to clothes, for instance, like a loose sweatshirt thing he had for years and years. This finally developed a small worn-out bit in the front which got larger and larger. I asked him about throwing it out and he said no, it’s nice and soft and I like it. That was that. Eventually he said he’d let it have a last wash and then he’d use it for cleaning the car. However, it was conveniently replaced with another very soft and worn sweatshirt which is still here, waiting for him.
When we were leaving for San Diego 20 years ago we stayed with my sister Martha in Killiney for a few days before we left. Bob had a pair of handmade boots that were old but were comfortable and he loved them. Martha would look at them and sniff. One day she asked me ‘is he taking those to America?’. ‘Of course’ I replied, ‘they’re his boots.’ She was astonished (Martha irons towels, if that’s any indication of what we’re dealing with. She’s very dainty.) Anyway, she had what she thought was a brilliant idea. ‘I’ll hide them in the bottom of the laundry basket… he won’t miss them and then you won’t have to bring them to San Diego!’ She was delighted with herself. While I didn’t argue this plan of action, I knew very well that he would indeed look for them, find them and wonder what the hell they were doing in the laundry basket. Which of course he did. Martha was disgusted.
Just before his operation in October 2011 he had to wear an activity monitor. The day he was wearing it he did in fact (unusually) go out for a while, to get the lotto or something, and I was teasing him about the monitor: ‘did you give it a run for it’s money?’, I asked. ‘Yes, and now I’m going to give it a lie down for it’s money…’
Robert never moves fast when a gentle stroll will do ~ not a person to rush his fences, let’s say. He’s patient and thoughtful, careful and methodical in all things.
Watching a Charles Bronson movie one night… Bronson was throwing kitchen utensils at his assailant, pots, pans, that sort of thing… Bob says: ‘This is like the Texas Homecare Massacre…’
I admit I do tease Bob, it’s probably part of our dynamic but it’s always affectionate as anyone who has spent time with us can attest to. I also tickle him and he likes it as long as I’m gentle and don’t do it for too long – just pounce on him when he’s being all serious and ‘straight’. He and I are alike in quite a lot of ways but very different in others.
He did unusual things, though: never a glutton (like me), at Christmas he would eat a full dinner; stuffing, brussels sprouts, a huge amount of turkey… and then an hour later I’d find him picking at the carcass like a particularly elegant vulture, unapologetically divesting it of whatever he fancied. He’s right too ~ take it while it’s going.
Many years ago we were lolling around as usual, he in his dressing gown and sweats and me in possibly very similar gear, and we’d just watched a movie about an unfaithful partner. I said – in an offhand way – that if I ever found out he’d cheated on me I’d break his legs (decide for yourself if I meant it). He looked at me, aghast. ‘What? Are you joking? She’d want to live in my dressing gown…’
‘I’m like Howard Hughes without the money’ he said to me once, and it was true really. He was never happier than when he was at home playing the guitar or just being with me and Paulie. We’d play ‘get ball’ with Paulie and she’d be so happy: us rolling the ball over the top of her cage and she’d pop it back at us with her beak. Bob would sit on the floor with her and she walk around him, fluffed up with affection and love, and climb up onto his knee gazing at him, delighted with herself.
One day she said ‘Paulie’s a little sweetums’ which was a new word for her, sweetums. I told Bob she said it and asked where she’d gotten it, and he said in an offhand manner… ‘oh, I may have called her “sweetums” a few times…’ Of course he did. She was his little sweetie-pie and various other terms of affection too. They adore each-other.
Bob loves – loves – being with his children and grandchildren. Jason and Terese have always visited us in Aungier Street with their children and there’s nothing Bob likes more than being with – preferably – all of them. When we’d know they were coming I’d get the food in and we’d try to keep them here as long as we could. We loved babysitting (as I’ve already said) and Bob was so good at that. For Camilla, he’d draw pictures on Post-Its and we’d keep them for her for her next visit: with a little serious face she’d collect them all up and hand them to him ‘for next time’. Daragh and Mattia would enlist his help in assembling toys or we’d all just sit and watch TV (they like the big screen), or they’d watch TV and we’d watch them, laughing at the various carry-on.
The first time we babysat Mattia he cried when ‘Daddy’ left, but a few minutes after Jason had gone, Mattia looked at us with the most beautiful ‘I’m being brave’ smile and one tear hanging off a super-long eyelash. That was it. We were hooked.
Socialising for us really meant being with our families ~ Bob was always happiest in that environment. His late mother lived with Ritamary, Majbritt and Bronwyn in Consilla and Eamonn, Zita and Edward lived in Kildare and then Lucan; and my family were out in Dun Laoghaire or south to Cobh. Bob likes those kinds of gatherings. I had a bunch of friends I’d meet for lunch but for Bob there really wasn’t anything too tempting outside of the home environment. Get-togethers in Clonsilla, Lucan or Dun Laoghaire inevitably ended up with music. While my family are a little noisier than Roberts, his took to me okay. In fact, his Mum and I hit it off really well and I’m glad now I told her, many years ago, that I’d always look after Robert, she need never worry. I will, and she needn’t. But, that aside, I liked being with them from the very beginning.
I can’t do all this section tonight: Carolyn and Shep’s visit home with all their family and all the pics we’ve got of that, but I will add to it as time goes on. When I don’t have politicians to bother or medics to nag I have to do something…