'Memories' Portadown  P2

By Harry Foy

Hello Santa

 In 1982 I was asked to be the "Voice of Santa" for British Telecom Northern Ireland.  I recorded stories with a Christmas flavour and children were invited to ring in and listen to Santa.  It was huge success and soon the lines became jammed.  Additional lines were added as children ringing from all the province snowed Santa under.  Eventually it leaked out that I was Santa and local people who didn't get through on the phone would ring me at home and asked me to personally speak to their children.  They would give me details of their children and a time would be arranged for me to surprise the child. They would answer the phone and shout would go up "Mummy, it's Santa Claus" Sometimes parents found themselves buying extra presents as Santa never said "No" to any child.

I remember speaking to a grand nephew and after he told me what he wanted, I told him I wouldn't be calling, as the chimney had never been cleaned.  The phone was dropped and I could hear him yelling "Da! Get out the ladder, we have to clean the chimney" I must say I enjoyed talking live to the children especially when they got excited as they asked me for their presents.  They were amazed I knew so much about them and their mums and dads.  When I recorded the stories I started off by telling about Santa's toy factory, the reindeers, especially Rudolf, and all the fun in Santaland.  Some stories were little tearjerkers like "The little Dog Lost in the Snow", but they all had a happy ending.

Today the children who rang me are all grown up.  Some are probably thinking of getting married.  I hope when they come to having a family and they tell their children about Christmas, they will recall the day they rang Santa


Some years ago the Hoover Vacuum Co, announced that as a sales gimmick, they would give two free tickets to Orlando with every Hoover cleaner purchased.  My friend and I purchased four hovers at a cost of four hundred and forty pounds, which we later resold for two hundred and forty pounds.  We then rented a villa with six bedrooms and a swimming pool in Kissimmee.  Now armed with the necessary documents we joined thousands of others trying to get tickets.  I bombarded the firm with faxes and phone calls and then one day eight tickets arrived.  We had eight flight tickets for the cost of two hundred pounds.

I was a widower and my friend had a family aged eight to six teen years.  We had the holiday of a lifetime.  I was a child again as I entered Disneyland.  I stood on a bridge in Busch Gardens and got soaked time and time again.  That night my bedroom floor was covered with wet dollars. The large eight-seater van we had hired took us on visits to all the theme parks.  At twelve each night, we went to a local floodlit par three golf club to play golf, calling at Dunkin Do-nuts on the way home.  We rested every other day enjoying the sun and the pool, but early mornings were spent making huge piles of sandwiches to save time at the parks.  We could eat and queue for the rides at the same time.  We went to visit the shopping malls on International Drive As they dared me to join them on the white-knuckle rides their happy shouts were matched by my own frightening cries.  On one ride, I lost my glasses but was lucky to hold on to my false teeth.  Our final night was spent at a downtown firework display and visiting the attractions of Church Street Station.  I don’t have a Hoover cleaner but I'm indebted to them for the opportunity to have acted as a child again..

How Did You Do It! Hoot?

Today I see children going to pictures carrying a plastic bag containing sweets, popcorn and juice.  It was different when I first started going to the pictures.  We had our own juice, but this was the nickname for two old pennies, the price of admission.  Then we sat on wooden seats to watch Movietone News, a few shorts and then the big picture.

It was a time of audience participation. When the bad guy, the one with the moustache, crept up on the good guy, there were shouts of "behind you, behind you."  We booed when the Indians attacked the wagon train but cheered wildly when the cavalry came over the hill.  There were no bedroom scenes.  When a couple started kissing you saw a train thundering through a tunnel or large waves, crashing on a seashore.

Then there were the singsongs.  Words of a popular song would appear on the screen and accompanied by an organ, the audience started singing.  You kept time with the bouncing white ball, which moved from word to word.  Then there was the interval when the lights came on while the operator rewinds the film.  If the operation took too long the audience would start tramping the wooden floor.  Cowboy films were very popular.  First we had the cowboys of the silent era like Buck Jones, Tex Ritter and Ken Maynard.  Ken controlled his horse with whistles.  He would put his head out of an upstairs window and whistle.  His horse would appear and he would jump down into the saddle.  It was obvious he didn't suffer from piles.  Then with the arrival of the talkies we had the singing cowboys, Gene Autry and Roy Rodgers.  Every time they sang cowboys with guitars, violins and accordions would appear to accompany the singer.  They must have had very big saddlebags.

My favourite cowboy of the silent movies was a cowboy called Hoot Gibson.  In one scene the runaway coach, with the girl tied up and the gold on the seat, would be pursued by Hoot as it disappeared over the cliff into the water.  Our hero went over after it.  Next, we see Hoot coming out of the water carrying the girl and the gold and his large white Stetson still on his head.  I still ask the question " How did you do it Hoot?"

I Forgot I was Married

Today after dinner speakers have to be amusing as well as interesting.  I remember a  speaker who was long winded as well as boring so a group at one table tied a hankie toa stick and raised it.

An after dinner story told of two men who had lived beside each other for years had never spoken.  One day one man called next door, “I am your neighbour” The second man said, “Oh are you” Of course you are I’ve seen you over the hedge a couple of times, what can I do for you?  The first man replied, “ Would you look after my cat for a week while I’m on holiday?"  The cat means everything to me and if anything happened to it I would die, you see my mother is ninety years old and she would forget to feed it”. “That’s all right said the man I’ll look after your cat”. “When are you back?” the man said “The three o’clock train into Waterloo this day week.”

A week later the first man arrived home from his holiday and his neighbour came hurrying down the platform to burst out “The cats dead” The first man replied "How could you be so cruel just bluntly spurting out the cat’s dead”. The neighbour asked “What did you want me to say, “Well said" the other man you could have been more gentle, you could have said it was playing on the roof with its ball and it slipped” By the way how is mother?”  The other man slowly and nervously said "she was playing on the roof with her ball and she slipped"

After being a widower for three years I remarried in December.  On the first week of February there was the school’s past pupils union dinner.  As I had done for years I drove a group of friends to the dinner.  In the bar the craic was good and at one thirty in the morning one of my friends asked "is there time for another drink?" "Certainly” said I, "I’m in no hurry home!” Just then I remembered I was married. “Quick” I said “everyone in the car”.  They were quickly dropped off in Portadown and then I raced to Dollingstown where I had left my newly married wife with a friend at six thirty.  It was now two fifteen and as I put my foot down there was the sound of a siren and the flashing lights of a police car.  I lowered the window and told the policeman the whole story.  He laughed at the idea of someone forgetting they were married.  He told me to drive on but to take it easy.   


Many people will agree that their lives would have been the poorer had it not been for the love of their Granny.   Mine lived in a street of small whitewashed houses and I looked forward to visiting her.  She wore dark clothes and high-laced boots.  Over her skirt she had a black apron with two large pockets.  In one she kept the soft brown tissue paper in which bread was wrapped.  It was used to keep children’s noses clean.  The other brown stained pocket held her snuffbox.  I was often sent to the corner shop to get an ounce of snuff in a small paper poke.  She said it was to keep colds away. Personally I believe Grannies got high on it.

At the age of five my granny would bring me home from school and then she made me porridge.  It was made in a large tin mug over a turf fire and served with buttermilk.  Even to day I still take porridge but now it is made in a microwave oven and served with honey and sweet milk.  After I had supped she would take me by the hand to a nearby pub.  We went in by the back door and sat in a high panelled snug that had sawdust on the floor.  I had a glass of lemonade and she had two bottles of Guinness, “It’s for the bronchitis, son” she would tell me.  When we returned home I would sit in front of a big turf fire and listen to her singing and playing he melodian.  The bellows of the melodion were covered with patches as it was old and when a spring broke in one of the keys an open safety pin was placed at the back to make the key come out again.  Here favourites were "The Old Rugged Cross" and "Will the Angels play their Harps for me."  It was at her knee I learned all the hymns we sang in the Church.

Grannies acted as a second mother, sweet and kind but not afraid to scold when required, accompanied sometimes with a clip round the ear.  Today's Grannies are marvellous.  They go night clubbing, enter glamour competitions and some even wear mini-skirts.  A wee boy got lost his Granny in Woolworths.  The shop manager asked him "Why didn't you hold onto your Granny's skirt?" The boy sobbed, "I couldn't reach it."  Still, I wouldn't swap anything for the fond memories I have of my old grey haired granny.  As one gets older the memories of granny still remain long after granddads are forgotten.  Now when I walk into a pub and see a man with a bottle of Guinness, I know it's for his bronchitis.

It's a Cracker

When I was young I loved going to concerts and talent contests.  I enjoyed the singers, dancers and instrumentalists as they paraded their talent, but I admired most the comics.  These were very brave men.  If they were not good, they died a death.  One of the early comics I listened to was Harry Bailey, who played with the famous character Jimmy O'Dea.  Harry started all his routines with the same opening crack "There was this man with one eye called O'Reilly, we never did find out the name of the other eye" In the early days of music halls nothing was sacred.  Jokes spanned every facet of life, from the cradle to the grave.  I loved the jokes about the mother in laws.  One comedian said that when the mother in law came to his house the Alsatian hid under the sofa.  Another comic told of a man whose mother in law was the plague of his life.  When she died the undertaker said "Do you wasn’t her embalmed, cremated or buried?"  The man gleefully replied "Lets give her all three, let's make sure."

One of my favourites was Dave Allen.  I loved the story he told of the Englishman who came to Ireland to try out his fast car.  One day he was doing seventy along a rural road when out of the field came Murphy and O'Reilly on a tractor.  The motorist swung hard on the wheel, shot through the open gate, across the field and into the hedge on the other side.  Murphy turned to O'Reilly and said "Begorragh Mick, we just got out of that field in time"

Frank Carson became famous with the saying "It's the way I tell them".  A keen golfer, Frank runs charity outings.  It's rumoured that he has stencilled on his bag "It's the way I hit them" Once after watching Liam Higgens, Ireland's big hitter, Frank said to Liam, " Mister, you hit a ball further than I go on my holidays"

Singers can sing the same song time and time again but a comic needs a fresh supply of jokes.  I am not keen on today's alternative stand-up comics as they depend too much on the innuendo.  Give me the old died in the wool, "did you hear this one?"  You are sure of a belly laugh.

Mind the Nettles

During the war my Uncle Jimmy affectionately know as “The Dozer” started a cycle club.  Teenagers on getting their first pay would buy a bicycle.  Joe Thorton, the local cycle agent kept a selection of bikes, Raleigh, Enfield and Dawes and you paid him two shillings and sixpence per week.

Each bicycle had front and rear lights, a pump and a rear carrier bag.  Ladies cycles were fitted with a special rear mudguard, which had a series of cords to prevent their clothes becoming entangled in the spokes.  In those days ladies did not wear trousers and jeans were not invented.  The outings of the club were on Sundays and we met in Francis Street.  My Uncle Ned who was a local historian, would read up on the area we were to visit so that when we stopped on the journey to have a picnic he could tell us all about it.  If someone got a puncture they would call at the nearest house for a basin of water to locate the puncture. If there was no houses a nearby stream would do.  We cycled two a breast and you had to cycle with a different partner on each trip.  These outings give us an opportunity to visit places to which there were no buses so they were educational as well as entertaining.  I can still see my Uncle dressed in his plus fours and tartan socks and on his head a bonnet with a touree on the top.  He would blow his referee’s whistle and we were off.  There were two nature stops on each trip, one for boys and one for girls.  As the boys climbed over the gate into a field, Jimmy would shout. “Mind the cowpats” When we stopped for the girls the cry was “Mind the nettles”.  I can still remember sitting on the hilltop in Benburb on a summer afternoon eating jam sandwiches and drinking cold milk while my Uncle Ned told us all about “The Battle of the Yellow Ford” Many people today still talk not only of the dozer’s cycle club but also his contribution to Gaelic Football, Hurling and Irish dancing. “Cometh the Occasion, Cometh the Man”.