Leo and the weather
BBC Northern Ireland news showed pictures of a storm-battered Co Down coastline. Killough appeared among the images, the church on the harbour visible beyond a lake of water that concealed a football pitch. Had Leo been there, he would have looked up at the leaden sky and said, “Clearing up for a bad day”.
His cheery greeting each week came after one o’clock on a Sunday; the last service of the morning, starting at 12.15, would have finished in the picturesque seaside village. The Protestant population of the village numbered forty souls, of whom around twenty came to the very traditional Church of Ireland morning service Sunday by Sunday.
Leo was there each week. Huge hands, a vice-like grip and skin like sandpaper, the power of his handshake in inverse proportion to the softness of his voice.
Sometimes being there felt like some William Trevor story. There were tales often stranger than fiction, characters of depth and richness who had come through the tragedies of human experience battered but unbowed.
Leo was a widower living in a bungalow with a large garden and outbuildings. Engines were his passion; his workshop was filled with miscellaneous engines and parts of engines and parts of parts. The workshop was not heated, so to allow work to continue, Leo had transferred numerous pieces of engine inside the house. The worktops in the kitchen would be strewn with pistons and rods and pipes and electrical components. He would sweep things to one side to make strong tea which was drunk out of well-seasoned mugs.
An old dog provided faithful companionship; in the living room, Leo had the armchair while the dog had the sofa. “You’re welcome to sit there, but it might be a bit hairy”.
He would drink tea with a quiet contentment. Leo never expressed anger, resentment or malice towards another soul in the whole world. Whatever news came along, Leo’s response would not exceed a faint shrug of his big shoulders or slight raise of the eyebrow.
Perhaps the engines were his escape. Perhaps through the hours he spent contemplating oily components and frayed wires, he was able to shut out news of the hatred and futile slaughter that filled the society in which he lived.
Leo had been blessed with two fine sons, who ensured that his larder was well-stocked and that his meals were good, but they had the sensitivity to realize that what there father most wanted in the world was quietness and space.
Mention of Leo’s late wife always brought smiles and fond remembrance. A story of how long-suffering she had been with her husband’s mechanical endeavours used to circulate in the village. It said that one night, while he was out in his workshop, she had been lying in bed reading when a cracking noise came from the ceiling above her. In a great cloud of dust and plaster, an engine block fell through from the attic, landing on the bed beside her. It was always hard to know whether the story was true. Why would Leo have manhandled an engine block into the attic when there would have been space on the kitchen table?
Walking out through his conservatory one day, after a mug of his very viscous tea, the sight of decay in the front door prompted a question about his security. “Don’t worry”, he said, “I have this”. From just beside the door way he picked up an eighteen inch bayonet. “They don’t like it up ’em”, he laughed.
Leo would no more have used that bayonet than he would have allowed someone to have cleared his workshop.
“It’s cleared up for a bad day”, he would have said this evening.
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