Five years ago, this month, an old mentor of mine went to that great big brewery in the sky.
I met Jim in 1987 when I started my first job. I was a lanky, greasy haired youth just beginning to find my way in the world, and Jim was a 50 something, roll up smoking, Guinness drinking, Cullybackey man with a thick Scottish brogue. In those early days I was more than a bit intimidated by him. He wasn't my boss but I did have to consult him on various subjects, and I can remember that feeling of almost dread whenever I would step into his office.
Jim was regarded as something of a fountain of knowledge in the industry; there's no doubt about it - he knew his stuff. The problem, however, was that he came across as though he knew everything. Because of this, Jim had as many enemies as he had friends, but this never really seemed to bother him.
After my first few months of working, I gradually started to lose that feeling of intimidation around him. There was a shitload of stuff I needed to know, and I found out that, on most occasions, Jim was the right man to go to. He'd never give you a straight answer though - there was always a parable to endure before he got to the fucking point.
One thing we both had in common was the bevy, and it wasn't long before I was joining Jim (and a couple of other stalwarts) in the local boozer after work. For me, this was like being accepted into the inner circle, as the pub we drank in was the real deal - no mod cons, no poncing around. It was there that I'd hear colourful tales from the past. I'd have a pint of Bass, Jim would go through his strange Guinness ritual (pint bottle off the shelf, halfin' tumbler with ice) and the snug would be filled with smoke from rollie tobacco and Embassy Regal cigarettes.
Over the next few years we became pretty decent mates. I learned quite a bit about his turbulent past: the booze, the women, the booze - the standard sort of fayre for an Irishman who had been around the block a few times. His advice on the fairer sex was pretty simple, "All whores have a heart of gold."
Then, in the early 90's, Jim received a bit of bad news - the big C. He was told that his chances were fairly good but that the operation would be a biggie. I went to visit him after the op and found him in decent spirits, considering he'd just been cut up like a side of beef. When he was let out to recover, I'd bring his rolling tobacco and papers round to his house - not exactly doctor's orders - and the ol' bastard would complain if I turned up late. No doubt about it: as the years rolled on he became a cantankerous old cunt.
Miraculously, the old boy made a full recovery and continued to work on a part-time basis for the next few years. We were still in the same outfit but my responsibilities had changed, so we couldn't meet up as often for the tea time bevy. Shortly after that, things got a bit too much for Jim, and he gave up the job and moved into a smaller gaff. I didn't visit half as often as I should have, but I still enjoyed bringing a drink round to his house of an odd weekend, and listen to him grumble about the state of the world and those who lived there.
Towards the end, he basically turned into a recluse. I had moved to a different part of the town and lost touch with him. Finally, I got a phone call from a mate to say that Jim had been taken into hospital and had died there a few days later. I was told that he'd just lost the will to carry on.
In truth, there wasn't a big turn out at his funeral - just the way he would've wanted it. I met up with a few ex colleagues who I hadn't seen in a while, and we reminisced about Jim's eccentricities: the Guinness ritual, the way he'd count out his personal possessions (tobacco pouch, rolling machine, keys, etc.) before he left work or the pub, his insistence on having tea, bread and butter with every meal.
Nobody was up for a bevy that day after we left the cemetery, so I never did get the chance to lift a glass to his memory. Now, five years on, I find myself thinking about him, and how he actually taught me a thing or two - some good, some not so good. He could be a right fucking pain in the ass at times, but he was one of the old brigade. Never a gentleman, but always a decent bloke. The type of character that's becoming harder to find in today's world.
With a glass in one hand, and a cigarette in the other,
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