Friday, January 24, 2014

The Lonely Engineer - Part 2

See Part 1 Here

Before the feast began, Denis would sit in the front room and talk to us older children. I still, to this day, remain enchanted with the vast range of general knowledge he had, his intimacy with landscapes and buildings everywhere, his unending political knowledge, his encyclopaedic musical abilities, his unerring certainty (he was a diviner) of where precious metals lay, where long dead forests were located, even the depth of the water table under our house and the placement of the skeletons of long dead farm animals - for our house was built over farmland, the original suburbia of the fifties.

Lying in bed, I would often imagine all that lay beneath our house, layers of history, maybe even human skeletons. Denis would often wield pencil and paper and draw things, spell out long words for me, tell me what they meant, what language was the source, and how it compared to other languages.

I said to my father once: "He's a genius, right?" I'd never met a genius, I'd read about them but here was one in the actual flesh in our home, so to speak. "But of course," Daddy responded in a matter of fact way.

We would try to avert our eyes when Denis ate, as Mummy had told us not to be rude and stare. It was very difficult and not from a judgement point of view, but from an absolute fascination with the gargantuan quantities of food he would down: a dozen eggs, ditto bacon, ditto sausages, three or four chops, a bowl of Mum's home cut chips and then half an apple tart with cream followed by an enormous wedge of Mum's delicious fruit cake.

One time, one of my brothers who was about 4 at the time, circled Denis as he sat in our sturdiest chair and with his eyes just about popping out of his head said in amazement: "Oh my-my-my Daddy, what a tummy!"

You see, Denis was about 32 stone in weight - nearly 400 lbs. Daddy told me once his car, a Ford Prefect, had to have special bracing to hold his weight. Lorry suspension, Daddy called it.

He lived by himself in a flat on a main-floor somewhere and his landlady cooked for him. No family, Daddy had said when I asked one time, only a dead sister. He could no longer travel abroad because of his size.

I imagine our family was the only family he would ever feel a part of. I remember clearly the look on his face when my little brother made his awestruck comment on his size. A flash of bleakness, something unbearable. I had to look away.

Denis lost both his legs to diabetes eventually.

Before he died, and he wasn't too old, Daddy would always visit him once a week in the care home where he resided. And bring him Mummy's baking and the really tough crosswords out of the English papers.

Daddy told me once in later years as we travelled around the U.S. together that he still missed "the magnificence of Denis' mind."

Me too.

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Anonymous Rummuser said...

A poignant story that reminds of some geniuses in my life too. I had a mentor somewhat like Denis was to your father too and your story has brought back some vivid memories.

Sat Jan 25, 10:41:00 AM GMT-3:30  
Anonymous nick said...

Strange that someone so smart and knowledgeable was unable to tame his enormous appetite, even though presumably he was well aware of the serious health consequences.

Reminds me of the book I'm currently reading, Lionel Shriver's Big Brother.

Sat Jan 25, 01:42:00 PM GMT-3:30  
Anonymous R J Adams said...

Okay! What can I say? Other than, you have the art and flair of a true Seanchai. Wonderful!

Sat Jan 25, 06:07:00 PM GMT-3:30  
Blogger Wisewebwoman said...


Isn't it odd that certain phrases or passages will bring back a flood of memories. I am so glad I remembered him in such detail, even to the clothes he wore.


Sat Jan 25, 09:15:00 PM GMT-3:30  
Blogger Wisewebwoman said...


He was an addict. All the intelligence in the world wouldn't have changed that. And his life was in the days when there was no help or insight into food addiction.

I loved Shriver's "We need to talk about Kevin".

How is this one?


Sat Jan 25, 09:17:00 PM GMT-3:30  
Blogger Wisewebwoman said...

The absolutely best soubriquet anyone can call me is "Seanchai", RJA, thank you so much for that!

You speak the Gaelic (Gaeilge in Ireland) very well indeed, a chara.



Sat Jan 25, 09:18:00 PM GMT-3:30  
Anonymous Linda P. said...

Our human gifts are not always equally apportioned, are they? The genetic lottery can as easily combine a genius intellect with a generous streak and a predilection toward addictive behaviors as it can with a different combination. It just seems such a tragedy when such a person suffers as he did.

Sun Jan 26, 11:17:00 AM GMT-3:30  
Anonymous Linda P. said...

After reflection, I worried that my previous comment might read as if I didn't think it such a tragedy when those with lesser intellects or those less altruistic suffered. Far from it!

Sun Jan 26, 11:20:00 AM GMT-3:30  
Blogger Stubblejumpin Gal said...

Lovely, lovely remembrance.

Thank you so much for sharing as you do.

Sun Jan 26, 01:37:00 PM GMT-3:30  
Blogger Irene said...

I wonder if you are remembering him correctly and if he was indeed the genius that you thought he was? Now, in hindsight, would you not say that your opinion may have changed a bit?

Sun Jan 26, 06:28:00 PM GMT-3:30  
Blogger Secret Agent Woman said...

Very sad. (I read both parts together.)

Sun Jan 26, 07:08:00 PM GMT-3:30  
Anonymous nick said...

I'm only half-way through Big Brother but it's excellent so far. There's a wonderful clash between the female protagonist's husband, an obsessive health and tidiness freak, and her 30 stone brother who gorges on junk food and makes huge messes everywhere.

Mon Jan 27, 08:06:00 AM GMT-3:30  
Anonymous Grannymar said...

I suppose without chick or child to care for, food became Denis' passion.

A well told tale. Thanks missus!

Mon Jan 27, 05:00:00 PM GMT-3:30  
Blogger The Poet Laura-eate said...

I've known some lovely people with fatal flaws like that, normally drinking. Would love to know the cause. Did Denis starve to death in a previous life for example?

Thu Jan 30, 04:02:00 PM GMT-3:30  

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