An Unexpected Visitor

Frederick Rodgers remembers Helen's Bay in Lily and Me

Frederick (Ben) Rodgers' book Lily and Me recounts a childhood in Belfast. In the extract below he recounts a strange arrival in Helen's Bay.

This memoir is available at

At Helen's Bay we never remained bored for very long. Upon returning from our space rescue mission another event was unfolding and about to provide new entertainment.

In the past weeks, May had complained about the uncomfortable mattress on her bed. Now on that Saturday morning the tranquillity of the bay was broken by a great fanfare. Cookie had arrived and it was clear he'd spent a considerable time in a pub before catching the train.

We heard a lot of noise coming from the lane and we knew it was him even before he appeared. He loved to sing and was in fine form on that particular day. Turning into the entranceway to the cottages he was reeling from side to side.

There was a young fellow with him named Billy, obviously brought along to help. Between them they were attempting to carry a mattress, apparently with limited success.

Anyone who's handled a mattress will know they are a difficult item to move even when sober. For our two singing fools it was an almost impossible task. They were weaving in different directions at the same time. When the mattress wasn't on the road it was tangled in the hedgerows. They managed one pace forward followed by two backward. Every time the mattress hit the ground Cookie fell on top laughing and singing.

Helen's BayMay sent us to help, we tried pulling him to his feet but he kept falling back down. We were splitting our sides laughing at his hilarious antics. May was embarrassed and not finding it one bit funny. She desperately tried to get Cookie the mattress and the rest of us inside the cottage.

Some of our neighbours, hearing the commotion had come out to see what was going on. One or two found it amusing, but the majority frowned with disapproval. We finally bundled Cookie and the mattress into the living room, quickly closing the front door behind us.

May sighed with relief as the mattress hit the living room floor. Cookie landed on top and promptly fell asleep. Not even May could help herself at this point, and we all broke out in fits of laughter.

At supper we tried to figure out how on earth they had got it on the train in the first place. Tommy wondered where his dad had bought it. May said, probably from some fool in the pub who'd lost his wages on the horses. God help his poor wife going to bed that night and finding her mattress gone. We all roared with laughter again.

We tried to imagine them squeezing the mattress into a tiny railway compartment. Indeed, we wondered how they got it passed the ticket collector at the platform gate. We were destined never to discover the answer, when Cookie awoke he didn't even remember buying it. Perhaps it was just as well to leave it a mystery.