Uncle Dan and Uncle Charlie were my uncles by marriage, each of them having married one of my mother’s sisters. Uncle Dan was Irish, and on marrying him, Auntie Kate, who was my mother’s eldest sister, had converted to Catholicism, which she took more seriously than he seemed to do. I remember him as a tall, well-built man, with a loud voice and a red face, part of which was disfigured by a kind of carbuncle. He always dressed in black, down to his very boots, which were big, black, and shiny, as if to proclaim his proletarian status, he being the only man in the family who wore boots instead of shoes. For similar reasons, no doubt, he wore a flat workman’s cap.
Uncle Charlie, who had married my mother’s sister Jessie, was of medium height, and always wore a three-piece brown suit, with brown shoes and a collar and tie, and of course a trilby. His face was pink rather than red, and it had none of Uncle Dan’s corrugations. Uncle Dan worked as a stoker at Lotts Road Power Station in Fulham, and he was an active member of his Union. I never saw him when I stayed with Auntie Kate, for he would be on the night shift, and I remember her making up his bottle of cold tea, as well as laying out his dress clothes when he had a Union meeting. Uncle Charlie was in the butchery line of business, and he and Auntie Jessie lived in Chiswick above the butcher’s shop of which he was manager. I never knew the details, but I gathered that Uncle Charlie had once got into serious trouble for levying an unauthorized tax on the contents of the till. This did not surprise me, as he was a betting man and may well have been losing money on the gee-gees.
It was only at Christmas and the New Year that I saw both uncles at the same time, when with their two wives they visited my parents at our Tooting home. The three men would talk politics, which my father otherwise hardly ever did, though he was a supporter of the Labour Party, or at least always voted for it. (His mother, being a property owner, always voted Conservative.) Much to the disgust of my mother and her sisters, Uncle Dan had a lavatorial sense of humour, which their protests could not always silence. Decades later, when the name of Uncle Dan happened to come up between us, my mother remarked with some feeling: ‘He was not a nice man.’