My uncle, a university teacher of English and wit, once wrote a rhyme about my father:
My name is Nunky Neville
I am a crafty devil
I work all day
At night I play
I'm strictly on the level.
Funny enough, you know, it hit the mark, in a way - it says something about the un-politically correct and macho boozing/lunching old boy network that reigned in the 70's in Dublin. My father was one of those boys with long sideburns and wide collars, making deals all over town. He was one of the few who ran his business through all the beleaguered days of the 80's - the high taxes - the narrow margins - the huge telephone bills. And, he was one of those who dedicated all his energy to his business - even it left him with no patience for the family. He'd bring home his anger and stretched nerves to us at the end of the day. The hardest part of that was the unpredictability of his tempers. He could turn from a nervous jokiness to a soaring rage on a dime, (as AM would say).
So it was that when my schoolfriend Chris gave me a plush toy in the shape of a red devil, with suckers on his feet so you could attach him to a car window, and a sign that said ROADHOG around its neck, it seemed natural to call him, insolently, Neville the Devil.
Neville the Devil used to accompany me on my drives in my mother's navy VW Golf, up and down to Kilternan to see Smokey (the horse) or go out with my friends in Blackrock. I drove a lot in those days. (Nowadays we don't even have a car, much less with an obnoxious plush toy stuck on the window).
Sooner or later though, in the early nineties, Neville (the devil, not the father) was unhooked from his perch and migrated his way from my room to a drawer under the spare room bed, where he now spends his retirement with several stuffed and ancient animals of various origin.
I visited my parents at the weekend, to see how my father was after his tests on Monday. Health scares humble him. He is a white-haired shrunken version of himself, sweeter and more tolerant. He likes to have a laugh at himself. He's taken up computer classes and like a bold schoolboy never wants to do his "practice". He can't see the screen with one pair of glasses - he can't see the keyboard with the other.He is touchingly befuddled with technology - at odds with the world. He no longer shouts. His back is stooped and stiff.
Spike rediscovered the toy drawer in the bed on Sunday.
Monster, he says, holding up Neville. That's a devil, I explain.
He's not scary, says Spike, reassuringly, looking at me. It's only a toy.
Out of the mouths of babes.