What a character! I first met him in the Magdala, South End Green, my local pub years ago, where Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hung in England, shot and killed her lover. I lived on South End Green, South Hampstead at 2 Warwick Mansions above the famous Prompt Corner Cafe where elders, like my friend the artist Maurice Sumray, would play chess on the clock. I was never a pub drinker but occasionally, in the summer, enjoyed a chilled lager in my local.
I knew Declan was a character actor but he never talked 'shop' with me as I was not in the acting profession. I met friendly hilarious rotund Northern Irish Declan on occasion for dinner. He would have me in tears with his repertoire of Jewish and Irish jokes and spoke of his dear friend Peter O'Toole, the famous screen actor as they often worked together.
My artist fiancé Anglo-French Philippe Amos moved into my third floor flat on West End Green, 8 Alexandra Mansions, London NW6 and began to paint 'Grecian' inspired icons on my tongue and groove pine clad walls in the lounge and on the Edwardian wardrobe doors in my royal purple and turquoise exotic Moroccan bedroom.
When summer came Declan offered to put up the third pine T and G wall as it looked odd having both walls with the trendy 1970s fashionable pine stained wood and not the third wall. He suggested that I pay for the planks at trade price and, being an experienced carpenter, he would put them up for free, stain and varnish them to be ready for my return with Philippe from the Greek isles. I trusted my friend giving him £20 and my house keys. Declan had measured up the wall space and calculated the amount of planks, after measuring the width of each plank. Off we went island hopping around the blue and white enticing Cyclades with shimmering waters in the eternal sunlight far away from grey dull England.
Back we came two months later to find the T and G up but miscalculated height wise. Declan had measured the width but, being Irish, had not measured the height correctly! He had tagged on the mIssing pieces of pine so there was a visible line extending the whole length of the wall. He may have been good as a character actor who even appeared as Jabba the Hutt in 'Star Wars', performing roly-poly characters with the Royal Shakespeare Company but as a carpenter he was useless even though he had built stage and film sets. He had even left his tool bag behind but not my spare keys. I never saw Declan again, nor did I get my keys back!
Months rolled by without any word. I suppose he felt too ashamed to call. Eventually my sash windows needed repairing and I knew that would be a huge expense. After all, I was an impoverished TEFL language teacher teaching English to adult young foreigners at St Giles School of Languages at Oxford Circus taking home £27 a week after tax in 1973. When the tradesman came to give a quote, I suggested a trade - Declan's expensive tools for replacing the sash windows. Done and dusted as they say in the antiques trade, a trade I would later embrace a few years later in 1977 when I moved to Paris, skipping a generation as my grand parents had owned two antique shops in Swansea, South Wales where my mother had been born.
Loveable Declan is no longer in this world but I shall always cherish our friendship.
Written on the Turkish Airlines flight to Antalya via Istanbul on 4/3/17.
(4 minutes 15 seconds)
Wikipedia - Declan Mulholland
The Guardian - obituary 27/7/99
Wikipedia - Ruth Ellis
Wikipedia - Peter O'Toole
Wikipedia - Maurice Sumray
The Independent - obituary Maurice Sumray 22/7/04