SHANE & VICTORIA – A LOVE STORY

BE THERE!
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FALLING FROM GRACE; Shane McGowan and the Pogues were one of the most honest and original bands ever. It all began in the streets and pubs of London’s Kings Cross, where punks, anarchists, artists – both piss and real – and musicians lived together as a community. The Pogues were a bunch of misfits that blazed a trail to huge success without seemingly yrying, and it all eventually blew up in their faces. This is the story of Shane MacGowan’s rise and fall…rise and fall…rise..

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THREE POEMS

002

HOODS

Do the clothes I wear
Make you feel scared?
Hoods and baseball caps
Are for chaps
With no good on their minds
Aren’t they?
Well, so they say…

But I remember when
Drainpipe trousers sent
Shivers through the establishment
And winklepickers were for kickers
As mods and rockers
Put the mockers
On each other
And the flick knives came out
As brother fought brother

When bovver boots were prized by skinheads
(just as leather jackets were by Teds)
And flares worn wider than a mile
Put an expensive cut to the latest style
And then there was Flower power
and minis and midis and maxis
And Maharajas and Yogis and baldys with bells
And Mohicans sometimes appearing in taxis

So, when you look around
There’s little change on the old merry-go-round
‘Cos nothing’s new but it stays the same
It’s boys and girls playing a different game
That’s all!

© Tom O’Brien

FAMOUS FOR BEING FAT

I’m famous for being fat.
(Well, I used to weigh thirty five stone)
I realized that I was different
When a taxi driver
Suggested I hire a crane
To get myself home.

Fame comes packaged in every shape and size
I can’t walk down the street now
Without being recognized
People stopping to stare,
There goes that…that
Look…there!

But fame has its downside, let me tell you
And not least the ‘reality’ the TV men want to sell you
Up at the crack, feeding the camera till noon
Then a trip to the trick-cyclist
(And meet others who howl at the moon)
It’s all in the mind apparently, this eating lark
Then off for more fun with the TV men
Nibbling grass in the park.

Alas, now I’m smaller, the adulation has gone
Not half the man he was… All skin and bone
Nineteen stone men are ten a penny, it seems
When it comes to newsworthiness on our TV screens.
But if you weighed half a ton, said the last one,
We could make you bigger than Andy Fordham!

© Tom O’Brien

MR PIANO MAN

Perhaps I walked across the water,
(or was it on it?) as they say.
My wet suit bereft of the labels
So designer-desirable today.

My voice remains conspicuous by its absence;
My nationality a puzzle too.
Do I look like someone
Who is familiar to you?

Maybe I am just a con man
Who got tired of walking.
Please, can I have a piano?
So my fingers can do the talking.

Tom O’Brien ©

WHAT’S THE STORY?

SOME COWBOY – A story from my latest collection WHAT’S THE STORY?. (now available on amazon)

 

SOME COWBOY by Tom O’Brien

Johnjo’s greatest treasure was a bone-handled imitation Colt forty-five that his uncle sent him from Manchester for his twelfth birthday, together with a real leather holster and a tin star. He made himself a mask and some silver bullets and drove the neighbourhood crazy with his shouts of ‘hi-ho silver’ and ‘Kemo Sabe’. ( he never found out what this last expression meant but it sounded good) He was devastated the day Mick O’ Shea took the gun off him and broke the trigger trying to show how fast he was on the draw.  He made several subsequent attempts to break a number of Mick’s bones with a hurley, but a catalogue of painful minor injuries of his own forced him to abandon the idea.

Without cowboy comics he would probably have been illiterate. He devoured them, slowly piecing the words in the balloons together and eventually making sense of them. Comics were his limit though; when it came to reading and writing in the classroom he wasn’t really interested.  He camouflaged this to a degree by cajoling, bribing and sometimes by threatening. As a result, the teachers were never quite sure whether he was stupid or just plain lazy. There was however a quality he possessed which went unnoticed in the classroom; he possessed a native cunning which is sometimes better than intelligence. He found out early in life what a valuable commodity money was, and after school he would be found doing odd jobs for anybody willing to pay him for his efforts. He never spent his money foolishly either; in fact he never spent it at all except to pay someone a few pennies to do his homework for him.

He couldn’t wait to leave school. When he was fourteen, without a certificate to his name, he took a job with a local farmer for a couple of pounds a week.  He fed cattle, cleaned drains, trimmed hedges, and gave his mother half his wages every week. His sad-eyed mother who was still waiting for the return of his father from Liverpool ten years after he caught the boat-train to his own particular hell. He saved diligently for three years – then his mother caught pneumonia and died.  He used most of his savings to give her a decent funeral.

A week later he was in London. Its streets weren’t paved with gold as he had thought, but with solid concrete. This proved no obstacle to a lad with broad shoulders, and who could wield a pick and shovel like Cuchullian wielded his hurley. Digging holes and pulling cable made a man of him he said – mind  you it had killed many a man too he later admitted.

He didn’t drink and he didn’t smoke, his only extravagance being cowboy gear. Soon he was a familiar sight on London’s building sites, with his ten-gallon hats, his fancy leather boots, and his real- cotton shirts imported from America. By now he had two ambitions in life; one was to own his own tipper truck, the other to visit Nashville and see The Grand Ole Opry.

He loved country music and in time his collection of country albums occupied most of his leisure hours. Patsy Cline, Flatt and Scruggs, Waylon Jennings, he had them all, their dulcet tones lovingly preserved in their dust-free, scratch-free jackets as if they were works of art.  He became a country groupie and hung about pubs like The Nashville Rooms and The Red Cow in West Kensington, making the acquaintance of the likes of George Hamilton the Fourth and Tex Withers.  Tex was a particular favourite of his, particularly as he arrived at some of the venues riding a white horse right up to the stage!

Johnjo was fascinated by his tales of being a native American Indian, who had been abandoned in a Texas reservation by his mother, and who  subsequently somehow made his way to Clapton .  He even bought himself a guitar and learned a few chords. Sometimes, when Tex was on stage, he was invited up to sing a song or two, for he had no mean voice himself.

All this time he nurtured his desire to go to Nashville. He planned to spend at least three months there, and be a cowboy to his heart’s content. Maybe he might even get to sing a few songs along the way! He was in no hurry; if it took ten years to realise his dream then so be it.

In five years he had acquired his own tipper lorry.  It was then that he began his reign of terror on the streets of London. He became known as the fly-tip king. London was full of derelict sites waiting for someone like Jonjo to come along and fill them up.  Jonjo was only too happy to oblige. He didn’t believe in paying good money to dump on official sites when he could do it elsewhere for nothing. He filled London full of rubbish wherever and whenever he could. Time was money, he was fond of saying and reconnoitring in his spare time ensured him a constant – and convenient – network of locations for his activities. A certain amount of subterfuge was often required because his ‘nose’ for suitable sites was soon common knowledge with other would-be fly-tippers.

It was this obsession with secrecy that almost caused his downfall. One morning, in his hurry to get away from his chosen location, he hadn’t made sure that the tipper body had been fully lowered by the hydraulic rams, only discovering his omission when he smacked into a low railway bridge – the impact sending him clean through the windscreen and depositing him on a grassy bank ten yards away.  He used up most of his ten lives that day – walking away with hardly a scratch, and causing more damage to the bridge than his beloved truck.  Thankfully it was a quiet country lane outside Barnet, and he managed to drive the lorry away before anyone was the wiser.

He wasn’t so lucky in love though. She was a green-eyed colleen from Limerick – by way of Kilburn – and she caught his eye on the darkened perimeter of  the Galtymore club in Cricklewood one night. Something about her drew him straight away, and from the very first glance he was a goner. Afterwards, when he tried to analyse what it was all he could say was ‘it was the look of her, the way she looked’.

Her name was Marie and she worked at a Cricklewood factory, soldering bits of wire on printed circuits for car radios. It was his first real entanglement with the opposite sex, and he wasn’t too sure what the rules of engagement were. Back home in Ballysteen, at the local hops, to get a girl to dance you first had to pass the interview. She sized you up from head to toe then looked inquiringly at her friend. If the head nodded the answer was yes, if it shook then you might as well forget it, wild horses wouldn’t get her on the floor with you.

Old habits die hard, he discovered. Marie’s answer to his tentative inquiry as to whether she was dancing was a rather disdainful ‘I’m waiting for my friend’. Not sure how to react he replied ‘I’ll wait with you’, which made her laugh. When her friend returned he must have got the nod, for she danced with him most of the night. Then she disappeared.

He didn’t see her again for a couple of weeks. A couple of frantic weeks. Then one night she was at The Galtymore again. This time he made sure he didn’t lose her by keeping her and her friend well supplied with drinks in between their sessions on the dance floor. He even got them a taxi home, and though his only reward was a peck on the cheek, he went to bed ecstatic.

Marie kept her legs together for as long as she reasonably could; and by the time he prized them open it was already too late. By that time he had already showered her with presents, wined her and dined her, and bought her a five hundred pounds engagement ring. They talked about getting married, and he dragged her around Wembley in the long evenings inspecting run-down houses. She persuaded him to open a joint bank account and he paid most of his money into it. Then she cleaned him out.

It took about three months. He only found out when a cheque he had paid for fitting a new gearbox to his tipper truck bounced. By that time she had hopped it.

He never did get to Nashville. Somehow it didn’t seem that important any longer. And he never succumbed to a woman’s wiles again. He became even more determined, worked harder and fly-tipped on a scale never seen in the Capital before. A lot of people wanted to catch him at it but they never did. ‘They’ll have to get up early in the morning to catch me’ he boasted. In a few more years he had several more trucks on the road, and Mick O’Shea, his old school foe was driving one of them. He still referred to Jonjo as ‘The Lone Ranger’.

In the years that followed he acquired a fleet of trucks. He gave up fly-tipping and became legit. Mick was now his right hand man and ran the operation with an iron fist. Jonjo allowed himself only one pleasure – and that was two weeks holiday every year in his old home in Ballysteen. There, he visited his mother’s grave, cleaned it and put fresh flowers on it, and cursed his father over the occasional whiskey which he now allowed himself. In between times he reconstructed the derelict homestead and spent most of his days in solitude there.

One night, maudlin with drink, he recounted to Mick O’Shea the fiasco with Marie. Several weeks later Mick had a story of his own to tell; ‘A fella I know from Limerick knew that woman of yours, and he reckons she’s not too bright. Certainly not bright enough to clean you out on your own. I found out she was crazy about an English bastard   called Tim Reed before she met you, but he had dumped her. The story goes that he was heard boasting in certain pubs around Shepherds Bush about how she had come crawling back to him , and how he had gotten her to clean out a ‘stupid Paddy’ for him. The story also goes than when he got his hands on the money he threw her out again’.

The news didn’t seem to upset Jonjo too much, but unknown to anybody he went and hired a private detective. It cost a lot of money but he reckoned it was money well spent. Reed, he learned, was still frequenting his old haunts, and never seemed stuck for female company. They were attracted to him like flies to shit. One night as he staggered home – alone for a change – Jonjo emerged from the shadows of a church graveyard and laid into him with a hurley. He was sure he heard his skull crack from one of the blows – but he didn’t care. And he never bothered to find out if Reed had survived the beating. ‘Good riddance to bad rubbish’, was all he said to himself..

Shortly after this he tired of all the trucking. He presented Mick O’Shea with two of his finest vehicles, and sold the rest of the business for nearly a million quid. He returned to Ireland, bought a run-down roadhouse a few miles outside Ballysteen, and spent a fortune converting it into a country-and-western nite-spot. He named it the Nashville Rooster and filled the countryside with the sound of bluegrass and Cajun music. Soon he was pulling in the crowds, and money was rolling in faster than it had ever done.

One night Marie turned up. She had a young boy with flaming red hair in tow. The twelve year interval hadn’t treated her too kindly.

If Jonjo was surprised he didn’t show it.

‘You should have stuck with me, girl’, he waved a hand expansively. ‘All this could have been yours. You backed a loser in that Tim Reed’. He watched her eyes widen in surprise. ‘Oh yes, I know all about that piss artist. He’d pass blood before he’d pass a pub’. He shook his head at her. ‘And you gave my money to that wanker’.

She didn’t say anything but he could see the pain in her eyes. He marvelled at her nerve in coming here.

‘Give me a drink, Jonjo’, she spoke finally. ‘For old times sake. I can’t say I am sorry for what I did to you because it would only be empty words. I never meant for it to turn out the way it did, though. You must believe that…’ Her voice trailed off.

The boy had wandered off to watch a game of pool. Jonjo studied him for a moment before picking up a glass and jabbing it at an optic. ‘That’s what you used to like’, he said, placing the drink before her. He waited until she had wrinkled her nose the way he remembered then lick her top lip before taking a sip, before he spoke again.

‘What do you want?  he asked harshly.

She sipped some more, watching him all the time with those forlorn eyes of hers, the look that had bamboozled them all those years ago still shining defiantly across the bar counter at him.

‘I thought you might like to see our son’, she said softly.

Jonjo clenched his fists hard and pushed his left knee against the wooden counter to brace himself. Being told he had a son was the last thing he had expected.

‘I don’t believe you’, he spoke eventually.

‘For God’s sake’, she hissed, ‘you’re not stupid. Look at him; same hair, same jaw-line, same eyes…of course he’s yours.  If you never again do anything for me, do something for him. Give him a start in life’.

‘You never said anything…at the time’.

‘I didn’t know, did I? Not until …afterwards’.

‘Not until you done a runner’, he was almost shouting now. ‘Well, you mean nothing to me…he means nothing to me. Take him away and leave me alone’.

She didn’t speak to him again. She slowly drained her glass, wiping her lips – caressing almost – with her middle finger and sucking the residue in that endearing way he remembered. Then she flicked her hair back with a casual sweep of the same hand and called the boy to her.

‘Say goodbye to the man, Johnny’.

‘Goodbye Sir’. The boy extended his hand, ‘nice to meet you’.

Jonjo watched them retreat. There were tears in his eyes. Why should he believe her? Why should he believe a word she said?  It was a gimmick…a trick to con him out of his money. Just like the last time.

End.

 

 

A MODEST PROPOSAL

 

A Modest Proposal
My proposal is that all billionaires in the UK should be nationalised. There are, apparently, 150 billionaires in the country, and assuming each one has a modest 2 billion at their disposal that would add 300 billion to the treasury coffers. Some of this could be used to guarantee a minimum of £10 per hour to every adult in the country, including those who can’t or won’t work. I am sure everybody could live reasonably well on a minimum of £20k a year! It should also eliminate food banks and homelessness.
To raise further revenue, this could later be extended to all the ‘nearly billionaires’, of which there are probably another couple of hundred, and that should raise another 200 billion.
Then we get to the ‘half billionaires’ and the ‘quarter billionaires’ etc, all the way down to the millionaires. If we nationalise all of those how much revenue could we raise for the exchequer? The mind boggles at the amount!
And look at all the good causes it could be used for; eliminating pot holes, neutralizing climate change, electrifying all cars and buses, etc, ect, ect,…….

Remember – NATIONALISE ALL BILLIONAIRES!

IMMINENT CATASTROPHE by Clive James

 

IMMINENT CATASTROPHE by Clive James

imminent catastrophe goes on

Not showing many signs of happening.

The ice at the North Pole that should be gone

By now, is awkwardly still lingering,

And though sometimes the weather is extreme

It seems no more so than when we were young

Who soon will hear no more of this grim theme

Reiterated in the special tongue

Of manufactured fright. Sea Level Rise

Will be here soon and could do such-and-such,

Say tenured pundits with unblinking eyes.

Continuing to not go up by much,

The sea supports the sceptics, but they, too,

Lapse into oratory when they predict

The sure collapse of the alarmist view

Like a house of cards, for they could not have picked

A metaphor less suited to their wish.

A house of cards subsides with just a sigh

And all the cards are still there. Feverish

Talk of apocalypse might, by and by,

Die down, but the deep anguish will persist.

His death, and not the Earth’s, is the true fear

That motivates the doomsday fantasist:

There can be no world if he is not here.

COLLEEN BAWN…a tale of murder and intrigue.

COLLEEN by Tom O’Brien  (extract)

Chapter one

They’re hanging me tomorrow at Gallows Green. Over the bridge at Ballsbridge and out to Singland where the unfriendly Clare trees await me, their nooses swinging in the breeze at every step I take. Oh that it were The Burren, where there are neither trees to hang a man, water to drown him, nor soil to bury him.  But what is the use of such fanciful thinking; he that lives by the sword must surely die by it.  Sir, it is my neglect of my religion that brings me to this place, for had I taken good advice I would not now be meeting this unhappy end.

            ‘Twas said of my master’s execution that the carriage horses bearing him there refused to cross Ballsbridge  –  this despite much cajoling and beating  –  and that he climbed from the carriage and walked the remainder of the way.  A clear indication of his innocence, I heard it said many a time afterwards in Scartaglen.

            ‘Twas also reported that his parting words were, ‘may the gates of Paradise be ever shut against me if I had hand, act, or part in the crime for which I am now about to suffer.  If Sullivan be found, my innocence will appear’.

            Well sir, I am found, and I declare before Almighty God that I am guilty of the murder, but it was Mr Scanlon who put me up to it.

……..

The man seated by the fire put down his pen and rubbed his eyes.  Soon he would need to light the candles, an extravagance he indulged in as little as possible these days.  Light was visible a long way in the dark; who knew what was lurking out there waiting to pounce in these troubled times.  He had seen human scarecrows lying by the wayside, the green-grass spittle dribbling from near-lifeless lips, others wandering witless, gnawing at tree barks and shrubs in their desperate search for sustenance.  A lighted window would be like a beacon to such scavengers.

Not that he didn’t feel sympathy. There but for the grace of God and all that…if a God could still be believed in that would allow such suffering.  What was it O’Connell had said only last year? It is impossible to calculate the numbers of people who will perish in Ireland within the next twelve months of famine and pestilence, unless we vote for the repeal of the corn laws. How can we on the one hand complain of starvation and on the other vote against provisions being as cheap as they might otherwise be?  Well. It was easy enough to calculate now; all one had to do was walk a stretch of road and count the poor wretches.

Of course there were many who traded on this human misery  –  indeed cashed in on it.  The gombeen men and hucksters who made outrageous profits from the trade of foodstuffs, the landlords who evicted their tenants to ‘improve’ their land. Now the dead were being buried in nothing but a shroud; he had seen coffins with sliding bottoms to facilitate their continual use. Still, they were the lucky ones; many just lay where they fell.  Oh, ‘twas an ill wind alright…

He re-read what he had written. Could one ever be sure of accuracy after such a long time?  After all, the tale he was recording had happened in 1819, almost thirty years ago now. And all he had to rely on was his memory, which, with the onset of middle age, was about as reliable as the weather.

Still, did it matter a jot if it wasn’t the truth in its entirety? It was substantially correct, the way he remembered it, and if he embellished a phrase or two here and there, put the extra word in the occasional mouth, well what was it but poetic licence?  All writers claimed such privilege.

No story was ever the complete story; the truth, like beauty, was in the mind of its beholder; the whole truth and nothing but the truth was seldom that. Besides, it altered nothing of the basic story; the shocking and brutal murder of Ellie Hanley, whose bound and mutilated body the Shannon finally yielded up, and the subsequent hanging of her husband and his manservant for the terrible deed.

‘Ah Ellie, beautiful Ellie. Now they have taken to calling you The Colleen Bawn. Your story has spread across the water, in articles and books. You are more famous dead than you ever were  –  or ever could be  –  alive.  Yet what were you?  Just a slip of a girl, not even sixteen. But able to turn the heads of all the young bucks in the county of Limerick.  Indeed the city too, I venture, had your fair countenance graced its streets.

Young and innocent Ellie, lured from your home by a rake and a scoundrel, then spirited away never to be seen again ‘till your broken body was washed ashore on the bleak sands of Moneypoint. Oh what a Godsend you were for the papers. Oh what a joy to the storytellers.  Such innocence, such beauty, such tragedy.  And yet a beauty like yours can never truly be innocent. We both know that, don’t we?  You saw from an early age what a weapon beauty could be.  How it could be used to manipulate. How you could use it to twist men around your little finger.  And you did.  Your father, your uncle, John Scanlon,Stephen Sullivan,Edward Fitzgerald, Gerald Griffin and God knows who else.  Maybe even O’Connell himself. There is one more I must add to the list; this poor scribbler now endeavouring to take his mind back to the event that was to cast a blight on the lives of all those associated with it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter  2

 

The courthouse emptied rapidly. Wave upon wave of excited bodies surging streetwards, the air humming with a combination of pounding feet and excited chatter at the spectacle just witnessed. There would only be one topic of conversation in the taverns and ale-houses of Limerick  tonight.  O’Connell had triumphed again.

God, how the rabble loved him. But then, what was he but a rabble-rouser himself? Aye, and with the knack of exploiting the untapped power of the bawling, unlettered multitudes. When he growled they roared, when he said jump they asked how high.

He shook himself free of the onrushing crowd that had propelled him to the street outside the assize, struggling to anchor himself lest he be carried along Bridge Street, towards the numerous taverns  and eating houses that beckoned, into that  malevolent stew that was the heart of the city.  He had no desire to re-live O’Connell’s triumph, exaggerated and embellished as it would undoubtably be behind veils of alcohol and smoke.  Across the street, the Cathedral offered sanctuary. He contemplated a few moments solitude within before keeping his appointment with Ellen. Better not though.  Within seconds he had turned down an alley, away from the jostle and excitement, heading towards the quayside and the comparative peace and quiet of the Shannon.

What a circus it had been back there.  O’Connell the ringmaster, orchestrating the proceedings in his own inimitable way. He had everybody jumping through hoops  –  and most of them didn’t even realise it.  O’Shaughnessy was as guilty as sin; everybody knew he had seized that ship and set up as a pirate. He had even been caught red-handed. Yet he had walked free because O’Connell had argued that any offence committed had taken place on the high seas, over which no assize court had jurisdiction. The judge himself had been taken in  –  that same old fool whom O’Connell had recently described as ‘resembling a goose trying to get under a garden gate’  –  and had ruled there was no case to answer. No wonder the perpetrator had thumped O’Connell heartily on the back as he left court a free man, saying ‘may the Lord spare you, Counsellor, to me’

‘Have you got a moment, Mr O’Dea?’.

He turned from his contemplation of the river to face the man who addressed him. Fairly tall, he was in his mid-twenties, his ruddy complexion suggesting an outdoor way of life.  As if to emphasise this, he carried with him a blackthorn stick.

It was Stephen Sullivan, Mauria’s brother.

‘How are you Stephen?’  It must be all of a year since they last met.

‘I saw you at the trial.  Powerful stuff, wasn’t it?  The Big Fella was in top form, I thought’.

He could barely keep the sneer from his voice. ‘If any man can make a fool of the law, then O’Connell’s your man’.

‘Ah sure, wasn’t he trained for it. And be the best brains in England and all. All the better that he can turn it to the advantage of  dacent Irish people against the like of them that have taken everything we own’.

‘O’Shaughnessy decent?  He’s nothing but a robber and a highwayman. And now he’s free again to roam the roads and waylay any misfortunate traveller unlucky enough to come within his sights. When his next victim is found lying penniless and half-dead in some lonesome ditch, let O’Connell share some of the blame.  He is, after all, the reason that scoundrel is walking free this day.  Oh, crime pays alright; handsomely in the case of Daniel O’Connell’.

‘I never thought, Mr O’Dea, to hear any Irishman speak against him. Especially you.  Isn’t it enough that Englishmen tremble every time he opens his mouth?’.

‘I am not against him, not when he turns his venom on the Saxon foe. But the man’s a buffoon too often for my liking; too much bluster and not enough substance in my opinion. He blows with the wind.  And what blows with the wind eventually disappears. And as for liking him, I can’t say  I do.  Not his manners and not his morals’.

Sullivan seemed about to say something, then changed his mind. He contented himself instead with scraping some caked mud off the heel of his boot with the blackthorn stick.

‘My master wishes to speak to you’.

‘Your master?’.

‘Mr Scanlon,sir’.

Ah yes. Mr John Scanlon.  Squire-about-town. Late of the Royal Marines, wasn’t he?  Boozer, braggart  and not at all shy when it came to the ladies. Still, you couldn’t hold that against a man.

‘What does he want?’.

‘I cannot say. Except that you may find it to your advantage’.

‘Cannot or will not, eh?’. He laughed.  ‘Come on man, you two are thicker than curdled milk, tell me what he’s after.  Something devious if I know Mr Scanlon’.

Sullivan shook his head.  ‘I dare not, sir.  He can tell you himself tonight. You will find him in Dooley’s after eight’.

He thought for a moment. He wouldn’t get off stage much before nine thirty; fifteen minutes to clean the muck off his face, another fifteen to placate Ellen.

‘I couldn’t possibly make it before ten. If your master wishes to wait until then we can discuss his business with me.  If not…’ , he shrugged, ‘…then it will have to be some other time’.

He took out his fob and checked it. The time for his rendezvous with Ellen was almost upon him…

‘Now, if you will excuse me…’

He had taken but a few steps when Sullivan spoke again.

‘Shall I tell Mauria you will be down Glin way soon?’.

‘No’, he replied, squeezing his lips together, ‘tell her nothing’.

…………..

Young girls liked to act older than their years, especially when in the company of older men.  This was something he had come to believe with the passing years. He  didn’t dwell on it particularly.  Nor did he place too much significance on the discovery, merely that it was true. And it was truer still of the acting profession, where, for various reasons, there were more opportunities ( and reasons ) for this generally harmless deception.

It was certainly true of Ellen, he thought now, as she waved him to her table. It was smack in the middle of the dining room, where the lunch-time traffic was at its busiest. Trust her to pick the most conspicuous spot in the hotel.

Her long hair, burnished -copper in colour, framed a face that had been carefully made-up to highlight her most alluring assets, her eyes. Dark pools in a blue lagoon, was how he had once described them. She certainly looked older than her eighteen years now, at least half a dozen years older.

‘Tell me all the news Jeremiah’, she gushed as he pushed his way to the table. ‘Leave nothing out, mind. You know how I like to hear the latest gossip.  What’s been happening while I’ve been away?’.

‘Of gossip I know little, and care less’.  He sat down opposite her, excited, not for the first time, by the gentle rise and fall of her breasts beneath the white material that held them.

‘Why Jeremiah! You old fraud. Who was it told me of Mr O’Connell’s little pecadillos?’. She smiled sweetly at this. ‘Or of that judge who likes to wear ladies garments in his chambers at night?’.

‘What gossip have I related to you about Mr O’Connell? I cannot remember’.

‘Why, his fondess for young women of course’.

‘Oh that’.  He laughed.  ‘That is not gossip.  It is common knowledge.  Anyone one the circuit will confirm it.  O’Connell is a large man with large appetites; his sexual appetite is by no means the least of them’.

‘There!  If that is not gossip I do not know what is’.  She raised her hand to her mouth to hide her titters.  ‘And slanderous too.  Be careful he does not have you up before a judge for it’.

He could see from the flush on her face that she was enjoying this banter.  ‘And who will tell him?  You?  Besides, any man with a family  of seven can hardly de described as anything but industrious in that department’.

‘What a licentuous mind you have Jeremiah’. She placed her hand over his on the table, suggesting that the state of his mind didn’t bother her unduly.

‘How was your trip to Cork?’, he inquired.

‘Very tiring.  And quite expensive too.  Mr Bianconi has put his prices up to tuppence a mile. I hope you will remonstrate with him the next time you see him’.

An unlikely happening, he reflected.  Charles Bianconi moved in different circles these days. Amazing what a little success could do.  Five years ago, was it?, he was eking out a living hawking his prints around the patterns and fairs of Munster; now the Bianconi stagecoaches were carrying passengers and mail the length and breadth of the province.  And to think he could have been part of it!  But he never believed it could be successful; the Royal Mail coaches were too established, had too much of a monopoly.  Instead, he had bought Bianconi’s remaining stock of prints and prospered briefly…

‘I shall certainly convey your displeasure, my dear…the next time I see Charles’. Perhaps he had overstated his association with the fellow to Ellen, which had never been more than a passing one. ‘What I really meant was how are your family in Cork?’.

‘As well as can be expected’.  Ellen’s jolly manner suddenly evaporated.  ‘My aunt wishes me to leave the stage.  She says it is no profession for a young lady. In her eyes, the only suitable one is that of marriage, preferably to some lump of a farmer with a gaggle of children tugging at my apron strings’.

‘And your uncle?’.

‘Him!’. A disparaging wave of her hand.  ‘I do not wish to speak about him.  He is unfit for human consumption’.

What it was about her uncle that displeased her so she had never said, but he suspected it might have a sexual basis.  She hadn’t said so in as many words, but she must have inferred it in some manner for the notion to have taken root in his mind.  He visualised the uncle as an old letcher, perhaps spying on her as she undressed for bed in her tiny room in the farmhouse.  Maybe even sneaking in there when the rest of the household was fast asleep and attempting a furtive coupling. How would Ellen react to that?  Would she scream?  He didn’t think so.  She was too composed, too calculating for that.  What then?  His guess was she would try to use the situation to her advantage.  A little harmless blackmail, perhaps.  He wouldn’t put it past her.  A tremor of exhilaration swept over him as he visualised her lying there, her flesh white in the candlelight, her bosom heaving as she gazed gazelle-like at the dark form above her.

‘I think you should consider not going there any more’, he remarked after the waitress had laid their table with a pot of tea and a plate of ham sandwiches.

‘Where should I go then?  They are my family, my only flesh and blood’. What had happened to her parents was never made clear; all he knew was that she had spent most of her childhood at her uncle’s farm.  She had, in fact, grown up there.

‘Maybe you should give serious consideration to your aunt’s suggestion’.

‘Get married?  But I should have to leave the stage.  Settle down and give up the only pleasure I have ever known? Never!’.

He helped himself to a sandwich.  ‘There are ways Ellen dear.  You could marry someone in the profession.  Someone who would be your mentor, who would cherish you. An older man’.

Something in his voice caused the hand reaching out for a triangle of bread to freeze in mid-air.

‘Someone like you, I suppose?’.

‘Why not?’.

‘Surely not, Jeremiah’.  She must have seen the hurt look on his face for she hurriedly placed her hand over his.  ‘Oh, I didn’t mean it like that.  But we are friends, are we not?  The very best of friends?’.

He nodded.

‘My aunt says best friends should never marry.  Not each other, anyway’.

‘Not even when they are lovers?’.

A small smile crossed her face.  ‘It is true we have made love.  But that is not a reason’.  The triangle of bread finally made it to her mouth, where she chewed it carefully for some moments.  ‘Are you in love with me?’.

‘I want to take care of you’.

‘I can take care of myself.  Besides, you hardly know me’.  She held up a hand to forestall his objections.  ‘You don’t, not really .  We have known each others for a few months, courtesy of this travelling show.  Fate has thrown us together for a brief spell, it could just as easily cast us apart tomorrow.  In a week we head for Tralee, two weeks later I head for London while you head back here.  We might never meet again’.

‘Marry me and all that will change’.

‘I cannot marry you Jeremiah.  I will be your friend, your lover, whatever you want, but I cannot marry you’.

……

At first he couldn’t see Scanlon through the haze and cursed. He had rushed himself for nothing.  A turf fire burned unevenly in the large open hearth at the rear of the room, occasional downdraughts causing clouds of smoke to billow outwards and envelope the largely unconcerned sprinkling of drinkers. In the dim light they looked for a moment like apparitions, their ghostly features indistinct behind the smoke-veil.

‘Over here man. In the corner’.

He remembered Scanlon as a big man, tall that is, but he was unprepared for the giant that rose to meet him.  He couldn’t have been much under six foot.  He himself was five eight – a fine cut of a man even if he said so himself – but he felt like a pygmy in this man’s presence.  His complexion, too, was fair; much fairer than it had any right to be given the dark and runty appearance of most of his contemporaries.  A Saxon then.  He must be.  His ancestors anyway.

‘You’ll have a drop?  Scanlon signalled to the serving-man and an extra glass was brought to the table.  He poured a generous measure from the earthenware jar by his side, then raised his own glass.

‘Slainte’.

The whiskey tasted surprisingly smooth, much better than the watered-down potheen he usually made do with.  But then, if the gentry couldn’t get hold of the good stuff who could?  He made suitable complimentary noises, then noticed the man scrunched up in the corner by the fire.  It was Stephen Sullivan and he was snoring contentedly.

Scanlon tapped the jar. ‘Too much of this. He’ll sleep it off and be as right as rain in a couple of hours.  A good man to have on your side, is Stephen.  Better than most, anyway’.  He poured some more whiskey in his own glass and took a deep draught of it.  ‘And how is your charming companion, Miss…Miss…?’.

‘You mean Miss Lavelle?’.                                                                                                             ‘Yes, that’s the name.  A stage name of course?’.

‘Of course’.                                                                                                                    ‘I caught her in a show in Dublin some time ago. I thought she was delightful’.

‘I shall pass on your compliments. I’m sure she will be pleased. Was it that you wished to see me about?’.

Scanlon looked at him through the haze and he could see that his eyes were bloodshot.  ‘Good grief, no.  Something much more in your line. You are a consumate actor I have been told.  A man of many parts, they say’.

He couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pleasure.  ‘Well, I do my best’.

‘You can play a part then?  Any part?’.

‘You name it, sir, I can play it’.

‘A priest then. Can you do a priest?’.

He chuckled.  ‘Child’s play Mr Scanlon.  Child’s play.  Give me something more demanding’.

His companion poured some more whiskey. ‘Oh, I don’t doubt you can act the part on stage.  Any reasonably sane fool could.  But could you do it in real life?  Could you put on the vestments and fool a person into believing you were the genuine article?’.

Something in Scanlon’s voice chilled him.  On the surface, it seemed am innocent enough question, but when its echoes died away, a sense of uneasiness, menace even, seemed to linger in its wake.

‘This is what you wished to see me about?  You want me to impersonate a priest?’.

‘Yes’.

‘I have never impersonated anybody before’.

‘Acting, impersonating, it’s all the bloody same’.  The bloodshot eyes stared insolently across the table at him.  ‘I never yet met an actor who didn’t have something to hide. Or an actress for that matter.  Your whole profession is one of shiftiness and impersonation’.

He stood up. ‘I didn’t come here to be insulted…’.

His companion placed a restraining hand on his arm.  ‘Sit down man and have another drink’.  He held up the jar.  ‘You won’t find any better, I guarantee’.  He poured again.  ‘Don’t take it so personal.  I am sure there are fine upstanding fellows like yourself throughout the profession but it doesn’t always come across that way. Does it?’.

He shook his head.  It was true.  ‘No.  We have our fair share of charlatans, I admit’.

‘So, we agree on something. Now, what about this job?’.

‘You’re asking me to break the law?’.

‘Only a little’. A smile from his companion this time that somehow conveyed only marginal warmth.  ‘And nobody will know except you and me’.  He patted the sleeping form beside him.  ‘And Stephen of course, but he won’t tell’. While he had been speaking he had been searching his jacket pocket. He now produced a purse.  ‘Ten gold sovereigns for less than an hours work.  You’ll not top that, eh?’. He counted five shining coins onto the table.  ‘Five now to seal the bargain’.

He couldn’t resist picking one of the coins up. It was the first time he had held one for years.

‘What is it you require me to do?’.

‘In two days time I am getting wed to the most beautiful girl in all of Limerick.  I want you to perform the ceremony’.