Pat Ryan Bennett and family had much to be thankful to Guinness’ for – from their father’s employment to the very house in which they lived
My dad worked for ‘Uncle Arthur’, and a very good uncle he was too. Not only did he keep my dad employed for over 30 years, he also supplied the best bed-warmers before the days of the continental quilt.
These bed-warmers were in the form of heavy black overcoats which he supplied to all outdoor employees. My dad never wore his, so they hung on the back of bedroom doors in the summer and adorned the beds on cold winter nights.
The only problem with them was the weight. It was hard to surface from beneath the goodwill of Uncle Arthur on a cold winter’s morning!
Uncle Arthur was indeed a good benefactor. Not satisfied with supplying the bed-warmers for our house, he also supplied the house. Our house was one of 200 on a long road, all built by Uncle Arthur for his employees.
Nobody had to tell us that we were a notch above the Corporation estate that bordered it. Didn’t we have a better playground, including a slide, and our own park? The Corporation estate only had a playground – minus a slide and no park!
Uncle Arthur liked his houses to be well kept. Every seven years he sent a team of painters and they painted all 200 houses green. Green – like the grass and the trees that grew in the gardens. And every other year he sent Mr. Henry to check the inside, just to make sure all the walls were still standing.
Every child on the road dreaded the name of ‘Mr. Henry’. I don’t know whether ‘Henry’ was his first name or his surname, but the women on the road always referred to him as ‘Mr. Henry’. It was the talk on the road for weeks – “Mr. Henry’s coming on the 3rd/4th …” or whenever.
We weren’t supposed to know when he was coming, but women have great intuition for the mysterious: my mother could always tell when the CIE mystery train was going to Athlone where her favourite son lived!
The impending visit of Mr. Henry meant a flurry of activity for every household. Every window was cleaned, paintwork washed and our hallway was miraculously cleared of football boots, scalelectrix tracks, bikes, schoolbags, etc.
Floors were washed and polished. We always fought over who would shine the hall floor. This involved sliding up and down the hall on an old woollen jumper, and was great fun.
Some households repapered and painted especially for Mr. Henry. In our house, we settled for washing the paintwork. I don’t know if we couldn’t afford to redecorate or if my mother couldn’t face the thought of it.
The women would talk for hours about the coming of Mr. Henry. Our neighbour insisted he would inspect the inside of the cupboards and so spent hours re-organising them. My mother insisted he wouldn’t.
I suspect this was wishful thinking on her part but it always paid off.
There were two large cupboards in our sitting room – one being the hotpress. I had an awful fear of Mr. Henry opening the hotpress and being met with an avalanche of towels, vests, knickers and an assortment of odd socks.
On the morning of his visit we were all fed, washed, dressed and out on the street by 8.30am, as Mr. Henry was likely to arrive any time after that.
One year, on the fateful morning, my young brother took up guard on the doorstep with his toy soldiers. When a tall, distinguished looking stranger walked up the path he jumped to his feet: “Are you Mr. Henry, ‘cause my ma says nobody’s allowed in except Mr. Henry!”
Well, that was Mr. Henry. I never knew him to fail anyone and we always celebrated with cream cakes after his visit, which was a rare treat I always assumed Mr. Henry was Uncle Arthur’s brother; with the wisdom of years now I have my doubts!
Uncle Arthur no longer owns the houses. He sold them to the residents long ago, and I must admit, despite the fact they no longer have Mr. Henry’s watchful eye, they are all still standing andlook in fairly good state of repair, though if you opened a cupboard or two a few skeletons might fall out!
My dad no longer works for Uncle Arthur. I don’t know if the benevolent uncle is still supplying black overcoats to keep his employees warm on the outside, but he is still making big black creamy pints to keep them warm on the inside!