Memories of an Old Friend

Saturday last, 12th January 2019, I was sitting on the couch in my new house (my first night there) with my girlfriend, drinking Captain Morgan’s and Coke. We’d just watched a scary movie “A Cabin in the Woods” and were shitting ourselves. The new house backs right on to a forest and is on a pretty extensive, barren Castle estate grounds. We decided to unwind with some music so I stuck on a 90’s playlist on YouTube. The first song on was “U Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer, followed soon after by “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice. Both songs always instantly remind me of my old friend Ali. He was an awesome dancer when he was younger and had most of the moves from both videos down to a tee. I remember he used to go to niteclubs in town and even entered some dance competitions with his brother David who was pretty cool at breakdancing too back in the 80’s.

So I ended up talking about Ali to my girlfriend for ages, telling her all about his eccentricities, dance moves, our football adventures, his weird brother nicknames, his family tragedies, his kids, the last time I seen him, his one visit to Leitrim, etc.. I said to her that I must get in touch with him soon then said jokingly that I really hoped he was still alive and that I worried about him sometimes. I didn’t think he’d been looking after himself great over the years. Imagine my shock then when our mutual friend Colm rang me only 2 days later to tell me Ali had died on December 5th. He was found by his daughter and her mother in his flat in Ranelagh where he’d apparently been dead for about 5 days.

When you get older, I mean quite older usually, you start to hear about some old friends passing away, people about the same age as yourself. There’s nothing like it for reminding you of your own mortality. It was some shock when I heard that one of my first proper, long term friends in life, Alan had died. I remember he was a little younger than me so probably 42 or 43. It’s a bit young to be dying or to be hearing about friends the same age dying?

Alan or “Ali” as we called him, lived on an adjacent road to me in Crumlin Dublin and we met somehow in the late 80’s around age 10 or 11. It was probably through football as that’s all we ever done around were we lived. Myself and Ali used to go “training” for Liverpool in local parks as most of my photos of us below show. We used to buy Liverpool kits, goalie gloves and jerseys and take turns to fire shots at each other from all angles, pretending to be better than we were. Football was eventually replaced by more adult activities such as drinking, hanging around in old, abandoned houses (Ali, Colm and I had a little gang that got up to no good around old houses and we called ourselves The Red Skulls!) and our infamous house “sessions”. Ali moved out of his family home on Stanaway Road, Crumlin to a flat above an upholstery shop on Clonard road just a few km away. Myself, Ali and Colm regularly got together in the flat to drink cheap cans, eat take away and listen to music. Ali loved a good music quiz and we used to stick on some songs and try guess the song name and artist for a point each. Ali usually won but only because he used his own tapes!?

One memorable session in the flat was New Year’s Eve 1999. When everyone else was out partying in fancy pubs and niteclubs like it was 1999, we were in Ali’s grubby little flat with our cans. At one stage after midnight Ali’s older brother (also sadly deceased now) who lived there with him came in stark naked, done a little dance and left as quick. We looked at each other wondering if it really just happened? Ali eventually moved to another flat in Ranelagh where he stayed until his death. I visited him there once before I moved to Leitrim and lost touch a little. He used to tell me that he regularly bumped into Liam O’Maonlai of the Hothouse Flowers too for a chat. He lived around there too. I couldn’t help but notice the huge pile of cigarette butts in the ashtray and the pile of empty beer cans on the sideboard when I was there and it worried me. There was a games console and TV too but he didn’t seem to be doing much with himself. He was telling me he was trying to study for his Leaving or Junior Cert but I don’t think it worked out for him.

Ali was always a little rough around the edges. Not very “intellectually intelligent” as he used to say in his own words but he was a real character and had an interesting way with words. He always seemed a bit dirty/shabby, had poor teeth, little or no education and both his parents died youngish leaving him living with his siblings until he moved into his own place in the 90’s. I remember meeting his mother once and staying with him in her place above a hairdressers caller “Hair Affair” in Athy with our other friend Darren. The 3 of us shared a double bed. The less said about that the better. He didn’t have many breaks in life in general and I never knew him to have a proper job or long term girlfriend although he had two children by different partners and I believe he regularly seen his daughter up until his death which I was chuffed to hear. He spoke regularly to me about his daughter and son and I’m sure he loved them. If you achieve nothing else in life, creating living human beings is pretty damn awesome.

I remember whenever we went anywhere “outdoors” with him such as a restaurant in town etc.. he would get very nervous and self-conscious. He could never order off a menu, either because he couldn’t read great or because of his awkwardness and we usually had to help him. He’d normally just end up blurting out “Chips”! My mother never approved of us being friends but I ignored her. I liked his company and we got on very well. Kids know best and have none of the judgement or snobbishness adults do.

Football brought me and Ali together but a mutual love for music kept us together. He knew a lot about music. All genres and ages. I think he got his taste in music from his older brothers and sisters. Ali got me into some awesome music, none other than The Doors, the band love of my life and I’m chuffed he came to a few of the gigs my Doors cover band played. I remember trying to teach him guitar once after I learned myself but life was too short to try teach Ali anything! I went to see the Doors movie in Tallaght with him and it was The Doors all the way after that. He also got me into Pink Floyd and Thin Lizzy and I believe his favourite Lizzy song “Sarah” was played at his funeral. I recorded a version of it below in his honour. Myself, Ali and Phil Lynott all lived within a few minutes of each other in Crumlin! It’s one of my favourite too. Fittingly, his funeral service was in Mount Jerome cemetery where we used to knacker drink! It was a pity to miss the funeral.

Also, here’s a song me, Ali and Colm wrote one night in Ali’s apartment for the crack! Lyrics by all 3 of us put to music and recorded by me.

Another memorable “outdoor” occasion was when Ali, myself and few guys from the band got together in my house in Crumlin for a BBQ and music session. We had a PA system that we’d just bought for the band setup in the back garden and we done a few of our repertoire. Ali knew all the words to most of the songs. In fact he was famous for being able to quote song lyrics from a ton of songs. One lyric that sticks in my head that he “recited” often were from “Billericay Dickie” by Ian Dury:

Had a love affair with Nina
In the back of my Cortina
A seasoned up hyena could not have been more obscener
She took me to the cleaners
And other misdemeanours
But I got right up between her
Rum and her Ribena

Ian Dury

The whole estate probably got an earful of that gig. We all got stoned immaculate and decided to get the 83 bus into town to go see the LA Doors at Midnight at the Olympia. We were doing fine until the bus stopped at a stop in Rathmines where there were a few Asians waiting. Ali started singing “Turning Japanese” by the Vapors and we all lost the plot. Ali was refused entry and another of our group got thrown out for smoking a joint! Imagine!? At a Doors gig?

Rest in peace Ali. We had some good times together and I’m shocked and sad you’re gone. I’m angry and dissapointed with myself for not getting back in touch with you like I said I would in summer 2017 and for not being in contact much for most of the last 15 years. If your sad death teaches me or anyone else anything it’s that we should stay in touch with people who were or are in our lives. I think the last time we spoke was about 6 years ago and the last time we met in real life was probably the session in Colm’s in Balbriggan when you puked your ring up! I’m glad you visited me that one time in Leitrim when we buried the dead rat in my back garden, made a little cross and said a few prayers for him..

I hope the music is good wherever you are now buddy..

4 Replies to “Memories of an Old Friend”

  1. Staying in touch with friends from our childhood is very important and once you meet again after years apart you realise why. Its like you’re at the back of the school again having a smoke out the back and the slagging and geering just continues as if someone took their finger off the pause button of life

    Sorry you missed the funeral and a great piece of prose for Ali.

    RIP Ali

  2. Leon thats so lovely and you guys obviously had a great friendship and understood each other really well. The fact that you were talking and reminiscing about him on Sat night really makes me think he was sending you a sign to say goodbye even though you didn’t get to see him in person!

    RIP Ali

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