Big thank you from

Big Joe's sad demise

by The Rambler 17/11/2000

I mentioned 'Big Joe' last week. 'Lazy bones' I called him.

The broad streak of laziness which he evinced was amusing and even more so was his voracious appetite but in the long run it was no joke.

Farm workers accustomed to threshing operations used to compare him to the drum of a threshing machine, which had an unsatiable 'appetite' for sheaves of grain, and gave an occasional 'grunt' if too large a morsel was fed in.

Wags averred that Big Joe was just the same with farls of home baked soda bread replacing sheaves.

That he just swallowed them whole, only giving an occasional 'burp' over the fourth or fifth.

Be that as it may, Joe's slide into misery when he became homeless was really tragic.


In a few short years a big rawboned specimen of humanity. healthy, clean living, kindly- even jolly, went down-hill.

By late middle age he was in the headlines of the local paper having been picked up from a roadside lair as a kind of 'hobo', so heavily infested with lice that he had to receive surgery to cleanse his person.

His near-death brush with exposure did not cure him. A decade later in winter the welfare authori ties were alerted when he was reported sleeping rough in the walls of an old house and patently at risk,

The assistance people were contacted and went on stand-by to provide a new rig of clothes from skin out, if Joe could be persuaded to go into care.

For a spell Joe led a youthful female welfare lady quite a dance, a kind of hide-and-seek, for he lived in perpetual fear of being - jailed for not stamping a card in his earlier life (a nonsensical phobia).

At last, the triumphant young lady _ arrived at the local assistance office with Joe on board!

There, a case hardened official who received her, quietly enquired, "Have you company? Anything walking?"

Blushingly the young lady confessed that she had indeed an infested vehicle.


A local chemist was contacted and as soon as Big Joe had been deposited at a nearby old people's home, an agitated welfare assistant hurried along to have her car fumigated.

The lady in question is now no longer young, but she still remembers the lesson she learnt over Big Joe in her early life.

I know, because she rehearsed it for me recently.

Joe ended his life 'in care' and latterly would have been seen wheeling an old pram around the town collecting rags, with his pipe going and the prudent aroma of 'Clarke's Perfect Plug' enveloping him.

Last time I met him that aroma took me back to my teenage years. I overtook him one dark October evening striding out and whistling like a bird, for he was quite musical and had a pleasant singing voice. (it was soon after Wee Joe' had left him on his own.

When we came to his house he said, "Are ye coming in while, boy?" Realising that he was lonely, I laid down my bike and followed him indoors.

He had his small paraffin lamp turned very low and the coal fire slacked. As soon as he turned up the light, the whole earthen floor moved. and Joe began a war dance with his number eleven boots.

The place was 'alive' with large dirty-brown cockroaches!

In a flash the survivors disappeared into crevices in the mud walls and around the hearth.

Calmly, Joe picked up a sweeping brush and a small shovel and cremated the sweepings. Needless to say I turned down Joe's invitations to sit down and give him "a while of my crack".

I left him lighting up his pipe - a lonely figure.

As I left I glanced round nostalgically at the remaining relics of Lizzie's reign in the old house. I never was back

Ulster Star