By Irish Jack
Photo by Rory Cobb
This memoir is dedicated to the memory of Ronan O ' Casey.
It all started with water. I know that sounds suspiciously biblical but there was more to it than that. After some 43 years of sometimes marital bliss having marrying Maura the girl of my wallet ; I can safely testify that a man can survive on cold water for a while at least but a woman, never. They just have to have hot running water. They run the home these women and they know.
The taps were working, the water was running but it was not hot. A further inspection revealed that the pilot flame in the bathroom water heater did not ignite when the hot tap was turned. I went to my computer to Google the problem and there was an e mail from a man I'd never heard of before. "Hi Jack...Pete Townshend's P.A. Nicola Joss gave me your e mail. I am directing a docu for BBC 4 called Quadrophenia - Can You See The Real Me? and wondered if you might have a moment to chat over the weekend? Bests, Matt O' Casey."
Well, this seemed a lot more interesting than the lack of hot running water. He would ring me on Saturday afternoon which fitted in perfectly with my regular window table in my favourite cafe. I spend time in here watching the stream of people traffic as I nurse my muse. Muse is misbehaving as I get older, the stories don't come as quick. Ah yes, there they are now, the muse providers, the young folk passing by outside. Dressed in intense Ruby coloured stove-pipe jeans, iPads, Olly Murs haircuts and 3-button shortie overcoats. The recently retired dressed in cloth caps, winter zip-ups and looped-through scarves (they're all wearing them that way now...every banker on a lunch break, every rock star, every solicitor and every retiree is wearing a looped-through scarve). And the elderly pass by the window too, muffled up against the winter chill. Slowly moving along, some shuffling with sticks and with physical effort. I watch this palladium of people and faces with measured degrees of interest. A story behind every face. And my tools for the nursing of my muse : the Guardian, a notepad and my mobile phone. So he will ring on Saturday afternoon and discuss when I will have these tools at my elbow. And of course to give succour to the elusive muse; a cup of black Americana coffee. Three sugars, tiny milk.
Saturday afternoon they were all passing by the cafe window again: the intense Ruby-coloured stove-piped wearers, the recently retired and the elderly shuffling along. A procession of life as we know it. Matt O ' Casey rang right on cue. My mobile did a dance on the table and I saw the English number light up. A soft spoken and mannerly geezer addressed me.
"Jack, thanks for replying to my e mail."
"No problem, Matt. How can I help?"
"Well, I've been in discussions with Pete Townshend and he feels you may be able to contribute some input into my documentary on Quadrophenia? It's for BBC4..."
- Suddenly the problems of a complete lack of hot running water paled into levels of complete insignificance. And on we talked and on and on...
And at somewhere in the conversation I must have said something like.."Matt, with a surname like O ' Casey you just have to have an Irish background. Don't tell me you're related to the revered Irish writer Sean O ' Casey?"
"I know of the man Jack but unfortunately we're no relation. But you may have heard of my father the actor Ronan O ' Casey?"
"Ronan O ' Casey? Can't say I have. Sorry."
Then Matt the soft spoken mannerly English geezer told me all about his father Ronan O ' Casey AND his mother the actress Louie Ramsay...........
Ronan O ' Casey, Canadian actor born in Montreal, found early success as a stylish actor in The Mudlark (1950) , Talk Of A Million (1951) and Norman Wisdom's Trouble In Store (1953). He was Jeff Rogers the Canadian son-in-law of Peggy Mount in the UK sitcom The Larkins from 1958 - 1964. He also hosted UK tv's charades gameshow Don't Say A Word in 1963. But one of his more bizarre and everlasting roles was playing the lover of Vanessa Redgrave and ultimately the mysterious 'body' accidentally photographed in Maryon Park in Charlton by David Hemmings in Michelangelo Antonioni's classic Blow-Up in 1966. A distinguished actor, producer and writer Ronan O' Casey born to poet father Michael Casey and actor mother Margaret Sheehy from Dublin, known as 'Case' to his friends died on April 12 2012 in south Los Angeles aged 89.
Louie Ramsay well known English actress who appeared in many films and stage productions made her West End stage debut as a member of the chorus line in the musical South Pacific. She played a minor role in Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright in 1949. In 1993 she married the well known English actor George Baker having been first married to Canadian actor Ronan O ' Casey. Together she and O' Casey had a son, documentary film maker Matt O' Casey. Not only was Louie Ramsay married to George Baker in real life, she also played his screen wife Dora to Baker's Inspector Wexford from the Ruth Rendell mysteries. She died at her home in Market Lavington in Wiltshire aged 81 in March 2011. Her husband, George Baker, died soon after in October 2011, aged 80.
Of course I didn't obviously recall every morsel of information you have just read above. Nearly all of that was gleaned from Google. But Matt outlined the important bits and since I myself attended drama school in London as a teenager I was somewhat intrigued. I think my uncle and aunt decided to send me to Corona Academy to get rid of my Cork accent. All that money when all I need have done was listen to my hero Kit Lambert. One of my heroes. But nonetheless Matt O ' Casey intrigued me as I removed the lock from my front wheel, turned the key to release to the steering lock, pressed the ignition button and that Ferrari-red 49cc Piaggio Vespa popped into life like a favourite hair dryer. Pop-Pop-Pop, the 2-stroke symphony of vehicular sex. Nothing on earth can sound like that. Well..I hear you bleat, how about Townshend smashing up a Stradivarius? I got halfways home with a song in my heart, happy as an idiot, and when I got red at a set of traffic lights I stopped for a moment and considered my future. "BBC4. Sounds brilliant." -Then- "BBC4? Hang on. Is it radio or tv ???" In the rush of blood to my old head I'd actually forgotten to ask Mr. O ' Casey that very question. Typical.
Eight minutes later I arrived home. Stephen Harrington local registered plumber was standing in the kitchen covered in grease and dust. He had the skeleton of the water heater laid out in post mortem fashion on the kitchen table. All that remained on the bathroom wall were the fixtures. The entrails of the geyser lay on the table and all Stephen was short was a ski-mask to go with his surgical gloves.
"Right. I've had a look at it......(a fact which I thought was plainly evident) "...and as far as I can make out your problem seems to be 'the ring surround that houses the flame switch is worn and needs replacing."
I looked at him as if he was speaking gibberish. I stopped for a moment to take in what he'd said: 'I wonder if the documentary is BBC4 Radio or BBC4 TV? What did he just say? 'The ring surround that houses the flame switch is worn and needs replacing.' I couldn't get my head round it. None of it was logical. Now, if he had said to me...'You're going to need a trans-drive pre-speed core adjustor for a 100-watt Marshall amp...' That would be simple. It bears glaring clarity.
"So, how do I get one of these ring surrounds, Stephen?"
He peeled off the surgical gloves like a top flight pathologist and looked at the body of the geyser laid out on the kitchen table. "Well, it's not as simple as that. It's a small enough part but it comes with the housing unit.." -And then the bombshell- "Looking at the make of your geyser Chaffoteaux & Maury Britony 2T, you might have to import it."
"Good Jesus! But that could take weeks?"
"I could try Heat Merchants," he said, "they've got three branches in Cork but I seem to remember having the same problem about a year ago with someone else. Your water heater is over twenty years old, you know."
In half an hour he had the contraption back on the bathroom wall as if it had never been removed, and all that remained on the kitchen table was Maura's large bowl of fruit and her bunch of lilys looking down on the fruit. I let him out the door and returned to the kitchen.
"He forgot his gloves," Maura noticed. "No," I replied, sounding pissed off, "he forgot his fucking surgical gloves!"
I went upstairs to my work desk determined not to be beaten by the complexities of ring surrounds that houses flame switches and made the call : "Matt? Hi, it's Jack. We spoke earlier about the Quadrophenia documentary? Lovely to speak to you as well too, thanks. Sorry but one thing I forgot to ask you about the doc' is it for BBC4 Radio or TV? And can my contribution be done in a single day? I'm afraid I couldn't be hanging around London for more than a couple of days." He filled me in and I replied, "Yes, Wednesday 19th October sounds just fine. Yes, thanks. My printer's up the spout so I'll go to my local internet café and get a print out of my air ticket." I sat back and rubbed my hands in satisfaction. 'Ah yes,' I thought, 'Pete Townshend, Quadrophenia, Irish Jack and BBC4 television. What could be better? Well, some might say perhaps hot running water.
In the next few days armed with the strategic part number and description I tried to obtain the said 'ring surround housing unit'. Heat Merchants and their business rivals had everything but exactly what I wanted. They even had a trans-drive pre-speed core adjustor for a 100-watt Marshall amp.....well, not really, but you know that sinking feeling. Stephen Harrington local registered plumber was right : the bloody thing would have to be imported and God knows how long more Maura would be without hot running water? I had one last heating supplier on my list, a company called Tubs & Tiles, and out to them I rode on my trusty Ferrari-red Vespa daring to hope they might have exactly what I wanted. I did not want to head off to London even for a single day's filming without securing the required part.
His name was Tony and he was a friendly Mancunian. He understood what I wanted but pointed out to me that my beloved Chaffoteaux & Maury Britony 2T - was ancient! And no, he unfortunately didn't stock it. In fact the only way to get it would be to import it, he said. And where would I be importing it from? I enquired. Well, we have a dealer supplier in Southampton. We have a dealer supplier in, let's see, -he looked at his screen- Purley Way, Croydon....I went into a little dream...ah yes, Croydon, we played at the Purley Orchid Ballroom in Croydon on Wednesday August 24th 1966.Then he said, "We have a dealer supplier in Isleworth..." "ISLEWORTH !", I think the whole store heard me. "Jesus, I know Isleworth. I'll be close to Isleworth in a couple of days time. Could I collect the part from them?" I could. Do they have exactly the strategic part that I want? He phoned Isleworth. They had. Could I order the part and pay cash at their Isleworth store? I could. Jesus, I couldn't believe my extraordinary luck. What had I done to deserve such luck? I drove home in raptures of delight and satisfaction. Now all I would have to do was outline the plan to Maura, change Irish money into £277.91 pounds sterling add £55.58 vat which brings it to the grand total of £333.49 in all.
So, here I am at something like 9.45am Wednesday 19th October and I'm walking down Uxbridge Road on Shepherd's Bush Green past number 154 where I spent three years tied to a desk from 1960 to '63. I've been back here many times of course but this is my first time walking up and down Uxbridge Road looking for a shop that actually sells such a simple thing as gift wrapping paper, something that in the old days was a simple request here on Uxbridge Road. There's two or three green grocers, two or three shops that fix mobiles and computers, a carphone warehouse, two or three estate agents, a couple of dry cleaners. A newsagent where I bought the Guardian but they don't sell gift wrapping paper. It's impossible. I bought a box of chocolates for Pete to pass on to Nicola Joss but naturally such gifts have to be wrapped. I haven't got time to walk down the 15-minutes to Shepherd's Bush Road to Hammersmith Broadway where there'll be a dozen stores absolutely begging me to buy their selection of gift wrapping paper. Eventually I find a shop who will oblige me with a sheet of plain brown paper and that'll have to do. Matt O ' Casey wants me at Cooke's Pie & Mash Shop at 48 Goldhawk Road (which is just across the green) in ten minutes. I used to come in here to Cooke's a bit when I lived here back in my old mod days but I have to admit my discerning palate did not endear me too much to pie & mash. Pie & mash yes, but dry. And certainly never ever jellied eels. Yuck!
So, I arrive and meet Matt O ' Casey for the first time. And yes, he sounds exactly like he did on the phone, a quiet-spoken mannerly English geezer. He introduces me to the crew and his assistants, all of whose names I typically immediately forget. The door opens and in walks my old friend Barney otherwise known as Richard Barnes. Haven't seen him in a few years but we get on so well it always seems like we're simply carrying on our surreal conversation from where we last left off. So everything's ready and I hear Matt announce to his crew..."We'll pick him up as he walks towards the café." It transpires that Pete Townshend's imminent arrival is more important than that of either mine or Barney's. I announce this in mock annoyance to Matt and his crew and it breaks a lot of ice. Townshend can crush your bloody bones when he decides to inflict one of his Baba hugs on you. My sides ached but my mind sang. "How long has it been? Oh, right, 2007, the Marquee Festival in Cork." So we three grumpy old men from another century sit down and wax lyrical. Matt wanted us at a tight table. Townshend's legs bumped into mine under it and our elbows clashed on top of it but it was just marvellous. Naturally and as we would have both expected we had to struggle to get in a word against Barney's elongated descriptions of the 'times'. It's weird doing these kind of filmed interviews with a camera tracking every bit of conversation cos you know that only a tiny part of what you've talked about for over half an hour is going to end up on screen, so you have to make every word count.
Eventually it was time to retire and enjoy the culinary delights of what exactly Cooke's is famous for...pie & mash. Mike Boughton the genial owner came over shook hands and welcomed us to his tiny café. Angela from Sligo joked to me about Cork and asked Pete if he had any Irish roots. His eyes lit up as he announced proudly.."Yes, I do. From Cork." She looked at him surprised. I looked at Angela and nodded at Pete across the table, "He's my uncle." Townshend roared with laughter. Then the pie & mash arrived and I was just about to dig a hungry fork into the tasty crust when from behind me Angela suddenly appeared and poured green gravy over it. Pete and Barney relished their's but unfortunately I couldn't finish mine. I'd forgotten to mention that I preferred it without the gravy. Never mind.
"Pete, I need a lift to Isleworth. You're not going back Richmond way?"
"No, I'm not. Sorry. I've got to head up to Battersea to the old Ramport Studios to do some more filming. Why's that?"
"Well, believe it or not, I've got to get myself out to Isleworth to pick up a part for a geyser."
"Oh, who's he?" Pete seemed interested in this pilgrimage.
"Who's who?" I replied.
"Who's the geezer you're picking the part up for?"
I looked at him, "It's not for a geezer. It's a part for my water heater back home."
Barney nearly fell off his seat. "It's his Irishness,he starts a story in the middle, gets to the end and finishes up with the beginning." (I'd heard this one before from Barney !) Pete was looking straight at me and laughing at the obvious misunderstanding.
Matt O ' Casey wanted me to be at the Goldhawk Club (now the Shepherd's Bush Club) in Goldhawk Road at 6pm for more filming. I had about three hours to spare so Barney and I decided to head to Isleworth for the part. We got a tube from Shepherd's Bush to Hammersmith, got off at Richmond and caught a h37 bus to Isleworth. From there we walked the half mile to Parts Centre, Unit B, 416-418 London Road and entered the mausoleum. I produced my passport at the counter to prove identidy (I could actually have been Ghengis Khan, they wouldn'tve cared once I had the readies in my mit) and paid the £333.49 in fresh crispy sterling. The ring surround housing unit was actually a lot lighter than I'd imagined. I put it preciously into my second bag, thanked the mildly amused counter assistant for his marvellous cooperation -"Blimey, come all the way over for it, did yer?" - Barney humorously mentioned that I was an Irish actor just before we left the store.
Then we headed back to Richmond where Barney introduced me to the most lovely, real fire heated, little bar, the Waterman's Arms in Water Lane. I looked around at the decor and noticed that the wallpaper design was actually made to look like a wall of books for customers to read - except that the books weren't real, they were wallpaper design. I mentioned this to Barney and he had a mischievious look on his face, almost 'Go on, I dare you.' I'd already spoken to the manager behind the bar who was Irish and a friendly geezer so I leaned across the counter ordered two pints of Guinness and said, "Y'know, I was admiring your bar. It's so homely. The next time I come back d'you think I might get a look at one of your books?" He couldn't repress a smile and looked sideways at Barney. I was so filled with mounting waves of relief having at last managed to acquire the precious housing unit, I texted Maura excitedly...'MISSION ACCOMPLISHED !"
Barney and I partook of some welcome pints of Guinness by the fire and I managed the impossible by arriving in a cab outside the revered Shepherd's Bush Club (Goldhawk Club) right on time. Matt and I and members of his crew had a nice couple of pints after I had introduced him to my friends who live-in and caretake the Shepherd's Bush Club, Mary & Danny Doherty from Donegal. Matt and his crew worked out some moves and the camera followed me through the Goldhawk dance floor. I pointed out to where all the old sofas were where lots of snogging and necking and tongues went on. I rapped on the same old door where the dressing room used to be. I opened it and told Pete Townshend I had something important to tell him. WE had something important to tell him. After all I did have a delegation behind me. He admitted us to the tiny cramped dressing room and I said, "Your song 'I Can't Explain' that's what we're trying to say. We're trying to say that we can't explain what it is that we want to explain. You're saying it for us. You're writing for us. You're our voice." He understood. Pete Townshend had become the appointed song laureate for mods in Shepherd's Bush, Hammersmith, Acton, Ealing, Mile End and every where else.
Back at the bar Matt's production assistant Nicola King handed me a st brown envelope stuffed with a sizable amount of sterling notes inside. Receiving it in the old Goldhawk seemed apt. It could have been money from a score of pills. I hugged my new found friendly film director and walked out of the Goldhawk Club with a tear or two in my eyes. I hung tight to my travel bag and ached the endless tube stops from Hammersmith to Heathrow. .....Northfields...Boston Manor...Osterley, where the train seems to stand still for an eternity with nobody gets on or off.
At 12 midnight and much to my surprise I had accomplished the impossible. I actually arrived home from Cork airport sober and all in one piece. And now, with the ring surround that houses the flame switch secured downstairs in my travel bag, I pulled back the eiderdown which I had emerged from nineteen hours earlier that same day, Wednesday October 19th. In one respect it had been a surreal kind of day meeting up with Pete and Barney, filming with Matt O ' Casey and his friendly crew, and now as I climbed into bed I cannot but help notice the bed sheet is the exact same configuration where I had lain and risen at 5 am that morning. Was it me for a moment? The stars are falling. I know you'll all be very relieved to know that within 48-hours Stephen Harrington local registered plumber had inserted the trans-drive pre-speed core adjustor to our 100-watt Marshall amp and Mrs. Lyons (SWMBO = She Who Must Be Obeyed) had what every woman really wants ...Hot Running Water !
Irish Jack © April 2013