Not bad for a boy from the Oliver Bond flats – or, as William calls it, ‘the jungle’

Róisín Ingle: Despite her dementia, Agnes still recognises William sometimes

Agnes still recognises William sometimes, even though she was diagnosed with dementia in 2016

Agnes still recognises William sometimes, even though she was diagnosed with dementia in 2016


William Jenkins is a man in my mother’s weekly writing group. He’s Bill to his friends and William to the police, Revenue, The Irish Times and when attending garden parties in the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland. He’s been to those parties where waifish cucumber slices are arranged inside crustless sandwiches. Not bad for a boy from the Oliver Bond flats, or “the jungle”, as William calls it.

I met my mother for lunch one day in January, the month that seemed like it would never end. My mother said that William, Bill to her, had come in to the Friday writing group bursting with news about a great night he’d had at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. “You’d have to hear him tell it,” my mother said.

Later, I rang William for a chat. I wasn’t sure if it was a good time but he said it was. He was sitting in a nursing home beside his wife of 60 years, Agnes, who still recognises him sometimes, even though she was diagnosed with dementia in 2016.

By rights, William should never have bought a ticket to the concert. He’s a Chopin enthusiast but on impulse he booked this Beethoven concerto.

William used to work in fashion. He’s in his 80s now and still stylish. He wore a Bertoni suit and a Charvet tie to the concert hall. It was a cold night so under all that he wore long thermal underwear which meant he didn’t have to wear an overcoat.

He got a taxi from Ballyfermot. When he arrived, most people were already seated, so he had to interrupt everyone along the row: “Sorry,” he said, “sorry about that, excuse me, sorry” until he reached his seat. Number 13. Lucky for William Jenkins.

William fortified himself with a double Jameson and told them about the best day in his life, the day he met Agnes

There was a bag and a coat on his seat, but the two beautifully dressed women in their 60s who owned the things moved them, and William sat down and soon the concert began.

No harm to anyone, but he didn’t enjoy it. Too technical for him. As far as William is concerned, the best music you could ever hear is the piano soundtrack from A Picture of Dorian Gray, the 1945 film. I told him I would listen to it as soon as I got off the phone. “Do you have it?” asked William, impressed by my music collection. I didn’t tell him I was just going to look it up on You Tube. I’m listening to it now on the Bluetooth earphones I got as a Christmas present. Prelude, no 24 by Chopin. William is right: it is magnificent. “It’s full of emotion but it’s not happy,” as the actress in the movie puts it.

Agnes’s double life

At the interval, the two women beside him asked if William was going to leave his seat to get a drink. He told them he wasn’t, and all three of them agreed that leaving your seat at the interval was too much fuss, not to mention the panic of getting back to your seat in time. Then one of the women stood up and told William to sit in between them, and the three of them chatted all through the interval, only stopping when the piano player came back onstage.

When it was over, it seemed as though the whole concert hall stood to give an ovation, including the two women. William stayed in his seat. He’s not a believer in joining ovations just for the sake of it.

Afterwards, the women said they were going across the road to The Conrad Hotel for a coffee and would William join them? He said he would. The very tall, handsome waiter in the hotel bar seemed to know the women, fetching their special pot of coffee and a particular brand of biscuits. William fortified himself with a double Jameson and told them about the best day in his life, the day he met Agnes. Aggie to him and to her friends. Agnes had a bit of a double life as a dancer. He found that out only three years after they met.

The first he heard of it was when he met her one evening down by the Four Courts. She was wearing an A-line skirt and flat shoes. She had a trophy under her arm. “We won the dance competition,” she said and that was how William found out his girlfriend was an accomplished ballerina.

They never met on Mondays or Thursdays, and that’s because she was in ballet training on those evenings with her dance partner, a man from Australia, the son of an industrialist.

When the industrialist died, the Australian – who it turned out was in love with Agnes – asked her to move to Sydney with him where they would set up a dance school. When William heard this he was terrified. “What are you going to do?” he asked Agnes. “What do you mean what am I going to do? What would I be doing in Australia?” she said.

He told the two women about all of this and at around midnight they asked William where he lived. Then they gave him a lift home to Ballyfermot, and he gave them a kiss on each cheek. No, he didn’t get their phone numbers. It wasn’t like that, said William. It was a pleasant incident, a thoroughly enjoyable interlude.

And after all, while she might not know it’s nearly Valentine’s Day, Aggie still recognises Bill sometimes.