Thursday 9 April 2009

Friday's Short Story: Uncle Ernest by Alan Sillitoe

This short story comes from Alan Sillitoe's 'The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner'.
Uncle Ernest is a lonely man who makes a living as a freelance upholsterer. His wife has long deserted him and his only family have moved away.
Ernest Brown had seen most of his friends die amongst the wire of the First World War and the advent of the Second World War brings back reminders that he should not have survived the first war.
Every day he visits the local cafe for his dinner. It is part of his routine - a routine that is disrupted by the arrival of two young girls of 12 and below. The youngest is seated at Ernest's table while the eldest goes to the counter to purchase two teas.
When she returns an arguement ensues as the youngest girl demands cake. The eldest responds by saying that if she bought a cake then they would not have their bus fare home. Ernest finds himself drawn into the arguement and goes off to buy them some cake - and gives them sixpence for their bus fares home.
After this encounter the girls turn up from time to time and Ernest treats them to dinner and buys them presents. To Ernest they are the daughters that he never had and they bring life and light into his empty life.
But this relationship does not go unnoticed and it is not long before he is spoken to and warned off. This destroys Ernest who turns to drink to drown his sorrow and blot out the anger that consumes him.
Uncle Ernest is a sad and tragic story and that is the way that I read it at the age of fifteen. These two girls just filled a void in an old man's life - but here I am many years older and I can see the hole that Ernest was digging for himself. As a result I see the story with a darker hue and an understanding for the intervention by the authorities - mistaken though it is.


David Cranmer said...

I've heard of this before but have never read it. It seems like I remember this being filmed. Either way it sounds interesting.

I.J. Parnham said...

I loved the film especially with its odd structure, although I'm guessing from that review that the Tom Courtenay story was only one strand in the original book. Curiously I've never read any Sillitoe. And as I lived a lot of my life in Nottingham that's probably something I should address!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Loved The Loneliness. Have to try this one. Thanks, Ray.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

I'll have to read this one too. Thanks for bring it to our attention.