The Wisdom of Uncle Sammy

Three pieces of advice my Uncle Samuel gave me the day I turned thirteen.

He prefaced the wisdom with these words: ‘You’re a man now, kid and there’s some things you ought to know. Your father’s too much of a ladies’ blouse to tell you how it is, so it falls upon the shoulders of your good ol’ Uncle Sammy.’

I recall gulping hard. I also remember, as clearly as if it had happened only a moment ago, the sound his whiskey glass made as he sat it down on my grandmother’s cheap wooden dressing table. It was an adult sound. That’s how I remember it.

‘Never, and I mean never, son,’ he said, his alcohol breath both sweet and repulsive to my thirteen-year-old self, ‘trust a lady.’

Samuel had just emerged from the end of a very messy divorce, half a house and two cars lighter. Looking back, it’s probably why he was hitting the bottle so heavily, and also very likely the reason he only lasted a year or so after our little chat.

Aunty Smidge (no, I have no idea what her real name was, even now, thirty years later) had cheated on Samuel with her boss. He worked at the same place, so it was his boss too. The boss guy was a millionaire. Why Smidge needed half a house and two cars if she was hooking up with a millionaire, no one knew.

‘Never eat calamari.’
That was his second gem.

At the time I didn’t know what calamari was. Years later, when I related this story to my mother she told me that Samuel had once exhibited an unusually strong allergic reaction to fried calamari, in a restaurant, which had nearly killed him. His head had swelled up and the veins in his head and throat almost haemorrhaged. Apparently he couldn’t speak for a week.

But it was the third nugget of wisdom that no one can figure out, although I have often wondered if it sheds some light on why his battered and bloody corpse was found in that alleyway.

‘Never,’ said Samuel. ‘Never,’ he repeated, then once more, making this the most emphatic of the trifecta, ‘never –’

He leaned forward, gulped down the last of his stinky whiskey, inches from my face, shut his eyes tighter than tight, and said it.

Words I’ll never forget.

‘Never let an angry monkey touch your little soldier.’

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David Baillie is a freelance writer and artist. Born almost thirty years ago in Scotland, he now lives and works in the East End of London.

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