Today in East Yorkshire, 89-year-old Jack Spence from Hull will be cremated. Jack is the father of Jacqueline Jarvis who lives in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary. Jacqueline is Jack’s only surviving child but because of her own ill-health combined with current Covid-19 restrictions, she will not be able to attend her father’s funeral and be a part of his final send-off. This geographical distance between father and daughter tomorrow will not lessen Jacqueline’s degree of hurt and sense of loss; merely exacerbate it. Jacqueline told me on the phone when we spoke last night that her father spent many years in the Merchant Navy, sharing his cabin with other seafaring men of numerous nationalities. Were he to select his own song, his daughter, Jacqueline tells me, it would be a song related to the water, or the sea, upon which many happy years were spent by him. In days of old when seafarers died at sea, they were sent to their final resting place ‘beneath still waters’. RIP, Jack, and please know that today, your daughter, Jacqueline, is with you in spirit and love.
On a much happier note, it gives me much pleasure to also dedicate my song today to two Facebook friends who are celebrating their birthday, today. Happy birthday, Aaron Walsh who lives in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, and happy birthday Maria Dowley. Thank you both for being my Facebook friend and enjoy your special day.
My song today is ‘Beneath Still Waters’. This song was written by Dallas Frazier in 1967 and first recorded in the same year by George Jones, who released it on his 1968 album ‘My Country’. In 1970 it was recorded and released as a single by Diana Trask. In March 1981, Emmylou Harris scored her fourth Number 1 hit on the country chart with her version of the song, which was the second single from her album ‘Blue Kentucky Girl’.
Between 1963 and 1965 I lived in Canada a few years, during which time I was able to visit several states in the USA. It was during this couple of years of my American experience that I came to love country and western singing. I instantly loved country songs because they related to the everyday experiences of men and women in relationships and the emotional problems that we all face in some measure from time to time, whereas much of British pop music in the early 1960s (before the Beatles and the Mersey sound came onto the scene) was essentially about cheering us up and guessing the price of that ‘doggie in the window’. I have remained in love with the country and western singers and their songs ever since.
My last year in Canada was spent working in a hotel in Toronto called the ‘Glenview Terrace Hotel’ as a desk clerk and receptionist. I worked on alternate shifts. On the night shift, there was a skeleton staff that comprised of myself and one other worker; a Bellhop in his late 50s called Ron. The Bellhop job involved showing guests to their room, carrying their cases, and dealing with any miscellaneous errands. Although Ron’s job provided him with a third less hourly rate than what I was being paid for my elevated position of responsibility, in any week we ever worked together, Ron always earned more than double than I did when his tips were taken into account.
Ron was a three-times married man, an alcoholic, and an addicted gambler on the horses. One of his wives had sadly died, and he was paying alimony payments to his other two ex-wives which necessitated him taking another two part-time jobs to avoid being sentenced to a prison term if he ever fell into default. The Americans and Canadians have always been stricter with husbands who default on their alimony payments (maintenance payments) than British courts are. Ron was therefore left to live on his wits to keep one step ahead of the bailiffs and two ex-wives chasing late alimony payments. Fortunately, he was unable to father children so, he at least avoided child maintenance support. Whenever he had to, Ron ran faster than a number of his chosen horses who had let him down badly over the years.
Ron also needed to make additional money above his alimony commitments to pay for his flat accommodation, weekly food, and general upkeep. He had been an alcoholic for about twenty years and an addictive gambler on the horses most of his adult life but had changed his drinking and gambling pattern in later years since he had started working at the hotel. The changes to his addictive drinking and gambling pattern were made to suit his situation, as well as enabling him to maintain his financial commitments, keep his employment, and continue his addiction to drinking alcohol and placing bets on horse racing. Being both an alcoholic and an addictive horse gambler necessitated Ron holding down three jobs, one full-time job at the hotel, and two part-time positions of employment in retail stores downtown on a weekend and three mornings. Over the years, Ron had changed his pattern of drinking to enable him to keep his jobs, but which still facilitated him going on ‘a bender’ and getting drunk for one week non-stop periodically. He also changed his betting pattern on the horses to one which enabled him to get an even bigger buzz out of placing a bet on the horses.
Regarding his alcoholism, Ron established a pattern of remaining 100% teetotal during his working week in exchange for getting blind drunk for one week whenever he went fishing up in the mountains. Ron never did not stop gambling on horse racing. Instead, he stopped having small bets daily on the horses, and saved up all of his money until he had amassed $1000, Then, once he had amassed a gambling stake of $1000, he would select a horse he fancied with shortened odds, and place the lot on it ‘to win’!
If Ron’s horse won, he would stock up with enough alcohol and spirits to keep him drinking heavily for a week. He would then arrange to have a week off work and book his rail tickets to take him to his favourite spot a few hundred miles away in some of the most beautiful land he knew where his kind of fishing could be done without ever seeing another person for the entire week.
During his weekly periodical fishing and drinking breaks in the mountain valley, Ron would be in his heaven. All-day would be spent by him under the clear blue skies, swigging his alcohol in between casting his line into the clear waters of the river. Ron would drink and fish all day long until darkness descended, and the fish stopped biting. Ron hardly ate whenever he was on ‘a bender’ and he would usually place all the fish back he had caught back into the water, with the exception of the smallest, which he’d cook over an open fire and eat for supper. When the red evening sky got too dark for him to fish any longer and the day cooled down, Ron would warm himself by the fire, and he would drink himself to sleep as he lay in the open air under the starry sky. When Ron returned home from his fishing excursion, he would have another three days off work ‘drying out’ before he returned to his employment, in a teetotal state.
Until he next won big on the horses and booked another fishing and drinking holiday up in the mountains, Ron would abstain from drinking and no gambling would take place. Again, he would work all the hours that God sent him as he started to save up his $1000 stake for the next big horse bet, as well as keeping his two ex-wives and his landlord, and his three employers happy.
Ron had calculated early on that ‘working’ any regular job would never be enough to provide him with his periodical lifestyle of ‘fasting before the feast’. He knew that he needed additional sources of income to make his overall strategy work. While saving up, Ron would engage in anything that might earn him a few bucks extra. It did not seem to worry him how irregular or illegal his additional income earners were, and he was never overconcerned about keeping such activities within the letter of the law.
The ‘Glenview Terrace Hotel’ where we worked, was the closest hotel to the airport. The next nearest hotel in Toronto was two miles downtown. The airport often got fog-bound throughout the year, and when this occurred, the ‘Glenview Terrace Hotel’ would be full to the brim with hundreds of airport passengers bound for the USA and other destinations, but who were stranded overnight. On such nights, Ron could make one month’s wages in tips as he worked eight hours non-stop showing overnight guests to their rooms, carrying their cases, and supplying them with ‘other services’.
The hotel we worked at was in ‘a dry area’ of Toronto where it was illegal to sell or serve alcohol. All the other hotels downtown was located outside the ‘dry area’ and they were therefore legally able to serve alcohol. If ever guests booked into our hotel late on an evening after the restaurant closed, the three things they wanted for the night and would ask Ron to supply ‘on the quiet’, were alcohol, specific types of food sending out for or good eating places recommended, or the pleasure of discreet female company.
Ron had worked at the hotel long enough to have established reliable contacts and many sources who would prove mutually lucrative. He would recommend certain eating establishments that stayed open late if the guests booked into the hotel after the restaurant had closed at 8:00 pm in an evening. The guest would give Ron a tip for the information provided, and after Ron had booked them a table at the eating establishment and they had eaten there, Ron would receive a second tip from the restaurant owner for having directed the extra business their way. Ron also bought bottles of whiskey and rye during his ‘saving up period’. These spirit and alcohol purchases were not for his own consumption, but to sell to needy hotel guests. Once the hotel guests learned that they had booked into a hotel in a ‘dry area’ and did not want to travel way downtown for a drink, they would ask Ron where they could buy liquor. Ron sold his whiskey stock at inflated prices and would invariably receive double what he had initially outlaid, plus the customary tip for having provided ‘an extra service’. As regarding the ‘women of the night’ Ron was able to procure, I can only assume that he had connections with several women who were prepared to oblige the occasional hotel guest with what they wanted ‘for a price’. Again, the ‘service supplier’ would give Ron a small cut of her money earned, and the hotel guest and receiver of the female service requested would also tip Ron for having arranged the business transaction behind closed doors. Ron would tell me jokingly that he always preferred his commission from his ‘ladies of the night’ in greenbacks (dollars) and never in kind! In many ways, I held a grudging admiration for how Ron was able to keep his complicated world turning in perpetual motion as he juggled all his commitments, his addictions, and his means of making money without dropping the balls.
On quiet evenings and nights at the hotel, Ron and I would talk and smoke amid non-stop cups of coffee. During one quiet night at the hotel, Ron told me about the ‘love of his life’. I cannot recall her name or whether she was his second or third wife he married, but I can vividly remember his account of their first meeting. He told me that he had been spending a week in his favourite isolated fishing spot when during his second or third day there, he came across a woman who was bathing in a nearby stream. The woman was also camped out in the area and neither she nor Ron expected to come across another human during their stay. Ron indicated that she was a beautiful woman who was five years younger than him. Ron stumbled across her as he walked down around a nearby stream towards his favourite fishing location one morning, and without knowing that she was there until he had suddenly come upon her, he had no opportunity to warn her of his presence or avert his eyes.
Ron told me that the female bather had long dark hair and was naked from her head to her toes as she luxuriated in the cool stream water as she leaned her womanly body over some boulders. Upon noticing she was no longer alone and had a male intruder observing her, instead of being startled, Ron indicated that she casually carried on bathing and made no movement to grab some clothes nearby to cover her lady parts. Ron told me that he didn’t know where to put himself and automatically turned around to preserve the bather’s modesty. Ron then indicated to me, ‘She was beautiful, Bill, but modest, she wasn’t!” The female bather reportedly suddenly stood up in her birthday suit, and in a nonchalant voice, she asked Ron to pass her a nearby towel to dry herself down.
I cannot recall why the woman was in that isolated spot when she and Ron first met, but the upshot of Ron’s story was that their chance meeting proved to be ‘love at first sight’. Conversation between the couple was instantly relaxed and soon revealed that they had each experienced broken relationships in the past. The more they were together the remainder of that week, the more they seemed to be perfectly matched. They got on like a house on fire and night after night they grew closer and closer. By the end of the week, Ron and the woman were an item in every sense, and within the month, they had moved into shared accommodation and were living as a couple. They were married within the year and all seemed to go well as Ron and his new bride settled down to everyday life together; with one exception.
Because Ron naturally wanted this marriage to go well, he made all efforts to curb his drinking at the start of their relationship. Within six months of their marriage, his initial reduction in alcohol consumption started to gradually increase. He started to gout alone for a drink until it had reached previous proportions. As his drinking increased, so did his wife’s plea for him to stop, each time he stayed out late and returned home drunk. After his wife complained that they never spent time together anymore in their home, Ron stopped going out for his evening drink and leaving his wife at home alone. But because he still needed a drink, he started drinking more at home instead. His wife continued begging him to stop, but try as he may, he just couldn’t! despite his love for her. I will never forget him telling me that he was the lucky one to have found her. He said, “She stayed with me when she should have left me, Bill. I can only presume that she must have loved me more than I loved her!”
Ron’s story had the saddest of conclusions. As time went on, Ron’s drinking was starting to distance the couple’s affections for each other, and because she missed the closeness they had experienced during the first year of their marriage, and not being able to get Ron to stop drinking, she started having the odd drink on an evening to become ‘closer to him’ once more. The upshot was that never having been a drinker, she also became an alcoholic within a few years. Before the couple had been married five years, his wife died.
After the loss of his one true love, Ron went off the rails and was an emotional drunken wreck for a long while. He blamed himself for his wife taking to the drink also to keep their marriage together and was wracked with guilt. His drinking worsened and he lost his job, followed by his accommodation when he could not meet his monthly rent. For six months he was destitute and living on the streets, eating out of garbage cans, and begging passers-by for a handout.
Then one day he decided to try an ‘AA Meeting in Toronto’ where he came across a very large-sized man who was also an alcoholic. This man was a clean-shaven well-groomed individual who was so moved by the account of Ron’s tragic love story that he helped him straighten himself out when Ron most needed it. He told Ron that he was in the fortunate position to be able to offer him a job, which would not provide him with a high standard of living; nevertheless, it would bring him back off the streets and keep the wolf from his door. As well as offering Ron a job, he was also able to offer Ron a single room in a hotel for a peppercorn rent, until he was able to secure alternative accommodation for himself.
The man who became Ron’s benefactor was the owner of the ‘Glenview Terrace Hotel’ where we both worked. I could count on both hands the number of times I had ever seen the hotel owner during my year of employment there, and on the few occasions when I did, it was to see him enter the hotel restaurant section during the early evening; never for a meal and always to drink copious cups of black coffee. I noticed that he never spoke to Ron should they pass each other, but merely acknowledge his employee’s presence with a nod of the head. Although I considered this to be very strange behaviour to witness from a man who had previously saved Ron from a life as a hobo on the streets, Ron indicated that it was through ‘embarrassment’ that the owner did not speak to him. Seemingly, the owner returned to his alcoholic way of life before Ron did, and started drinking more than ever he had done previously. Naturally, his attendance at the ‘AA’ meetings stopped before Ron’s did. Ron was under the impression that the hotel owner (never having seen Ron drunk since they had first met) presumed that Ron had remained teetotal ever since. Conversation between the employer and the employee thereafter remained brief and cordial. Also, it was not in Ron’s interest for his employer to know that he was a binge drinker, nor was it in the interest of either party to indicate to others in the hotel ‘where’ or ‘how’ they first met! It started to make sense to me why Ron had been able to get the ‘okay’ from the hotel owner to have a week’s leave to go fishing at the drop of a hat when he had proved a stickler when I had asked for time off a few times. Still, one can get way with some things if one’s employer is an absent alcoholic who you rarely need to interact with.
Being thirty years older than me, Ron will have died many years ago. I have often wondered if he and the love of his life ever met again in the afterlife. I hope so. It would be nice to think of them fishing together or even bathing together beneath still waters.
Love and peace Bill xxx