When I was a small kid in the 1970s there was a little shop up the street in our little suburb of Drimnagh in South Dublin, Ireland. We called it ‘the kiosk’ and it sat in the roundabout in front of our church. The kiosk sold everything from cigarettes to ice-pops, popcorn and toffees, chocolates and shampoo, the list goes on and on. You never actually got to go into the kiosk, they served customers through a small window at the front of this funny little building, it didn’t look much bigger than our kitchen (and our kitchen was not big believe me) but I yearned to see inside, I imagined there was a secret trap door in the floor which would lead you down a metal spiral staircase to a large basement, alas I never got to appease my curiosity.
The kiosk was run by Mr. Carter, he was a blind man who always wore a white housecoat, he had odd colour eyes, one of them looked like my large milky gullier marble, he seem to know absolutely everybody who came to the little window to buy something, Mr. Carter was incredible! It was agreed that he was as blind as a bat; but each and every time I ambled up to the kiosk shop window and asked for a orange ice pop, a Time bar or a packet of Indian Popcorn, he would immediately ask me how my mother was or my brother Derek, it never ceased to amaze me ‘Me Ma is fine Mr Carter, so is Derek’ I would utter in a bewildered tone.
Mr Carter was ably assisted at times by an elderly lady called Nancy, we called her Nancy Carter but she wasn’t actually related to Mr. Carter as far as we knew, Nancy was a little more prickly than Mr. Carter, her patience was not open ended and she often scolded us for taking too long to decide on an orange ice-pop or a golly bar. She smoked like a chimney and constantly drank a from a small red lemonade bottle and on certain days, when you approached the little serving window, you got that stale stench of worn whiskey from her breath, but all the kids liked Nancy, she was Ok and sometimes she would give you a nice smile and a wink.
In our local area Mr Carter was an institution, he was like a wise old sage living in a little hut up the street, he was always on hand with some nuggets of wisdom about the weather, mass times, funeral arrangements, when to take cough sweets for that husky throat and who was recently sent to or released from jail. Mr Carter knew everything about which girls were going out with which boys, what the English soccer scores were on a Saturday, which shampoo and conditioner you usually bought and what flavour block if ice cream you were sent to buy from the kiosk. His penchant for recognising your voice, matching it with your name, linking you with your siblings and family members and then offering up various nuggets of priceless information based on all of this data was absolutely stunning. This man was a walking memory bank with the ability to recall data in the blink of an eye (albeit a blind one), he had a mind which processed data like a dual core processor, long before dual core processors ever existed.
Sometimes my older brothers would send me up to the kiosk for various items with varied results, they asked to purchase a long stand, Mr Carter, on hearing my request would smile a wry smile and ask me to stand to the side of the window while he continued to server other customers, after a long while he would call me back to the window ‘Young Carroll, tell your brothers there are no long stands in stock today’, it was only after four of five times of falling victim to this ruse that I realised the joke was on me and both my brothers and Mr Carter were in on the trick!
There followed, over the course of a couple of years, several instances of me being caught out this way by Mr Carter and my brothers, they sent me for some really dodgy items ; a bucket of steam, a packet of button holes, a tin of black and white shoe polish, a rubber hammer and then a glass hammer and various other completely preposterous nonsensical items. Mr Carter played a blinder (excuse the pun) throughout these skits, he really belonged on the stage, his face never cracked a smile as he told me that he had just sold the last Sky Hook a few minutes earlier to one of my pals but if I hurried I could catch up with my pal and borrow the Sky Hook if I really needed it.
Every evening at about ten minutes to nine Mr Carter would start his daily ritual of locking up the Kiosk, this entailed him affixing a large steel bar across the steel shutters at the front of the little shop, he would emerge from the side door of the Kiosk with the metal bar and proceed to feel his way around the outside wall until he reached the front windows. There was usually a small group of lads hanging around at the back of the kiosk and they always showed Mr Carter the utmost respect, ‘Good evening lads’ he would say as he locked up, ‘Good evening Mr Carter’ came the chorus back from the group of lads, no one ever called him Bill, it just wouldn’t be kosher, his name was Mr Carter! When the shop was fully locked Mr Carter would emerge sans the white housecoat and shout to the boys hanging around at the back of the shop ‘Goodnight lads, Goodnight Doyler, Goodnight Paggo’. Most times neither Doyler or Paggo were there but everyone played along, yes indeed Mr Carter was a paragon of respect, he simply commanded it!