It is not unusual for a family to have a 'black sheep'. For the Barrett's it was without doubt my glorious Uncle Eric. Oh he never robbed banks or committed acts of violence, he just skirted the law a little bit, maybe played in the dark side on occasion, he was what most would call a lovable rogue. His base of operations was a county pub The Horse And Harrow. It was from here that he launched his master plans.
Oh don't get me wrong, he was not aiming for world domination, he merely was eking out an existence. A visit to Uncle Eric's was always an adventure. One day I dropped by and he said Simon I have something to show you, hop in the car. The journey was short and very off the beaten track. My good uncle showed me his new project. Pheasant farming was not something that I knew a lot about, and discretion told me not to inquire. “these are real pheasants” he explained, “they taste like wild ones”. There is little doubt in my mind that Uncle Eric and some of the local poachers had been hard at work to collect this wonderful selection.
On another occasion, a Sunday in the early 70's my father discovered that a neon strip light in the bar was not working. Back in those days there were no Home Depot's or WalMarts, in fact the only places open on a Sunday were pubs and churches. My father asked me if I would take a spin over to Uncle Eric and see if he had a 4 foot fluorescent we could borrow. Uncle Eric listened to my request, grabbed his set of keys and took me to the rear part of his property. He did not have one or two sheds, but rather something akin to a small industrial park. “it's in here” he pronounced, and with that a nameless and featureless shed was unlocked.
Inside were hundreds of florescent strip lights, complete with fixtures and fittings. Youth got the better of me and I asked where he had got them from. Not missing a beat he explained that they had been salvaged from an office tower undergoing renovations. Even by Uncle Eric standards this story seemed a little unlikely. The units must have been taken down with great care, cleaned meticulously and the original installer had had the foresight to keep all of the original packaging material. Also in what can only be viewed as amazing this installer had used the same tape as the manufacturing company to reseal the boxes! Of course I put the entire episode down to pure coincidence.
Uncle Eric was small in stature, in fact in the family some called him Jockey Barrett, although I doubt that the reference had much do do with horsemanship.
One thing that I am sure about is that he was not much of a womanizer. A story brought out at drunken Barrett family get together's involved Uncle Eric's wedding day to Florence, or Aunty Flo as we called her. Dressed in his Sunday best, Uncle Eric survived the actual wedding ceremony, but the reception got the better of him. Two days later he was found still wearing his suit and sleeping peacefully on the top of a hay stack. Now thats what I call a hangover!
My suspicion is that it was the glass of champaign after the toast that caused it.
Uncle Eric finally gave up The Horse And Harrow at West Hagbourne. Age and failing health caught up with him. What shocked me most was the rapid decline following his retirement. I know that this is unscientific, but it was as if he had lost the will to live. All he needed was just one more con, one more opportunity to stick it to the man and I know that he would be with us today. Sure he would be in his 90's, but he would still be terrorizing the local police and unwitting travelers!
No one could doubt his great business acumen. I think I was around ten or eleven years old, my father was talking to Uncle Eric about the pub business. Mini skirts were all the rage, Uncle Eric had found the perfect way to capitalize on the trend. It was only at the weekend that he could justify having a barmaid, but to maximize profits he put the most expensive beers on the bottom shelf!
I will say this, of all of my uncles and aunts, cousins, and other family members Uncle Eric was always my favorite. It is with reverence and true love that I offer these quick glimpses into the world of Uncle Eric.
I heft my glass to a great man!