STOLEN WORDS (extract)

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extracts from my collection STOLEN WORDS

THE GREEN FORGOTTEN VALLEYS

Those green forgotten valleys,
No longer can be seen
Lying hidden behind the tall fir and larch
That have made these brown hills green
Relentlessly marching down the hills
Burying everything in their wake
The dead are long gone from this place
The pike no longer in the lake
The houses just hollow shells now
Where the past ghosts eerily through
The vacant windows and doors
With rotted frames and jambs that once were new.
Back then there was no silence, only the sound
Of human laughter, and bird-calls to each other
The dogs growling at a wayward sheep.
And children’s scrapes kissed better by their mother
Nature is having the last laugh now
Soon there will be no trace of us at all
As the trees come marching down the hillside
No one hears the lonesome curlew’s call.

LOS ANGELES

From dream factory
To nightmare landscape
Eternally self-renewing
And all but used up,
The hot LA nights
Spiked with a Santa Ana wind,
Capote, Faulkner, Mailer, Fitzgerald, et al
Haunting the many-faceted gin-mills,
Looking for characters
For the books they were soon to write,
Hockney hobbling to
The marijuana store
To smoke away his many ailments,
Drinking Chai tea with the other lunatics,
Down Venice way
The ancient muscle men on Muscle Beach
Doing press-ups
And pull-ups that demean them,
Hollywood writ large on the hills
And a jaded sign on Santa Monica pier
Saying ‘Route 66 ends here’.

MY CAR NOW TALKS TO ME
Hello
Goodbye
Raising the lights like a stage curtain
Playing little movies
Serenading me with melodies
The welcome – farewell experience
They call it
“An emotionally resonant experience”
And that digital note of appreciation
“Thank you for driving a hybrid”
As if it was something…well
Unconnected with this thing on four wheels.
And those door handles
Illuminating when they sense my presence
The needles on the instruments
Snapping to attention as I open the door
There’s a welcoming theme
Part Hollywood soundtrack
Part plane swoosh
And that puddle lamp!
A welcome mat of light.
My car is a robot I think
With a personality not just in its body
But also in its behaviour.
“How can I help you?”
It asks now
As I prepare for take-off.
I really feel like telling it
To shut the fuck up
But I don’t want to hurt its feelings.

RAINY NIGHTS IN SOHO

See all the down-and-out lickers and fuckers
Down the Embankment they tumble
Unable any longer to bear much reality
Too much self-knowledge and time spent trotting
Between the Tate and the National
Or one of their endless reading groups
Believing they had a story to tell
If only things had worked out,
If only the monkey had hit the right keys.
Hush! if you listen carefully
You can hear the dead click of their keyboards
In the raucousness of the Soho night;
The minicabs, the limos, the rickshaws all screaming
Take me…take me…I’m free
And the hen nighters, the stag nighters,
The whatever-the fuck nighters,
Lingering in pools of their own vomit, waiting for the paramedics to call;
Shirts open to the navel, skirts slit from here to eternity.
Late summer, later winter, who gives a shit?
The restaurants are all full though nobody is really eating
Just being there is what matters.
Smokers stop the traffic inspecting their mobiles
What would a Martian make of that?
No one sees anything anymore
Except the lampposts they walk into;
There are no witnesses to crime;
How anybody falls in love anymore is a puzzle
Eyes no longer meet in lingering amazement
Unless they are reflected
In all those infernal hand-held screens.

THE EMUS

Fuck you
Said the Emu
Though of course
I couldn’t be sure
It was an Emu at all,
Never having seen a live one before;
Well, not crossing the road
Ahead of me anyway;
Part of a group
That resembled a hen party;
(or should that be Emu party?)
A troop of tarty Emus with cropped hair,
Johnny Rotten aficionados’, perhaps?
Teetering across the never-ending road
In the Australian outback;
Chaperoned by a wedge-tailed eagle…
Chaperoned?
Who looked just as likely
To sink its teeth
Into their browning flesh
As guide them safely to the other side.
Perhaps it was the eagle
Who said ‘fuck you’?
In the fading light
I couldn’t be certain
Of anything.

KILLER

The cigarette smoke hangs like tear gas
In the mean little honky-tonk
But nobody really gives a shit because Jerry is in town.
He arrives without fanfare and seats himself down
Gimme my money and show me the piano
And don’t try and act the hound,
Tthis is rockabilly, baby
Forget about Elvis and Johnny
Jerry has just kicked the door down.
Jerry can conjure a thousand songs
And play each one seven different ways
He can make your high heel sneakers
Dance the legs off every other cat in the place
I ain’t no phoney, I ain’t no teddy bear
And I don’t talk baloney ,as I say to my bass player
I ain’t no goody-goody, but I was born to be on the stage
It was all I ever dreamed of, from the very earliest age.
Jerry plays it slow and mournful or hard and fast
He once told Chuck Berry he could kiss his ass
And across the arc of bad-boy rockers
Who have come and gone
Jerry is the only one still rocking on
Sure, there were some bad times that caused his
Rocket ship to sputter
Like the year he crashed a dozen Cadillac’s
And was heard to utter
You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain
Too much love drives a man insane
You broke my will, oh what a thrill
Goodness gracious great balls of fire

LETTERS TO MOTHER AND OTHER DEAD RELATIVES (extract)

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available to purchase on Amazon.co.uk

LETTERS TO MY MOTHER AND OTHER DEAD RELATIVES (no 5)

Dear Father

The night you died you had been dancing with my mother – a slow waltz I expect – when your heart gave up, and you died right there on the dance floor, in full view of all your friends and neighbors.
I, who had been drinking heavily some seventy miles away, learned of it when I was awakened in the early hours of the following morning by a member of the local Gardai. I can still recall it; fuzzy-headed from the effects of the alcohol, and wondering what kind of country it was that had the police waking up people in the middle of the night to tell them their father was dead.
Later, sobered up, and in the cold reality of daylight, I realized that however little we had said to each other in the past there was no chance of expanding on it now – or ever again.
Much later, I wrote this poem about it

The Night the Music Died
He lay in the box quite comfortably
His waxen face staring into infinity
Looking much better in death than he had ever in life.
And all I could do was peer at him through slatted fingers
From the back of the room.
The ever-present smell of tanning and leather aprons was absent now
More than forty seeping years of it
Scrubbed away one last time.

The Moped, which was a natural progression
From pedal-power when his legs gave out,
Lay discarded in the coalhouse.
No driver you see; and mother still had her shopping to do.
He dug turf, cut down young Sally trees,
And turned over his bit of stony ground
Endlessly.
In summer he clipped sheep slowly
With a machine bought by post from Clery’s,
Carefully stowing it away in its box when the shearing was done.

The chalk pipes he sucked on,
Their stems held together with blood pricked from his thumb,
And his three bottles of Sunday night Guinness,
Standing corked still under the counter,
Were redundant now.
Who would dance a half-set with her now?
My mother enquired of no one in particular.
The smoky saloon bar stunned that the music had felled him,
Knocked him to the floor in the middle of the tune.
He lay there with a smile on his face,
Knowing it was over.
And I never got to know what was on his mind.

Later, we put him in the ground
And sadness trickled down me like dust through my fingers.
While afterwards, everybody stood around
Saying what a great man he was.
Slapping the back of my overcoat
Sure he gave forty years to that tannery
And what did it give him? I wanted to shout to the throng.
A gold watch and a tin tray
And both had his name spelled wrong.

Your loving son
Tom

THE BORSTAL BOY by Tom O’Brien

Brendan Behan

THE BORSTAL BOY

When Brendan Behan was asked by Canadian customs what was the purpose of his visit he replied ‘to drink Canada Dry’. And later, when a newspaperman asked him what he thought of Montreal he said ‘sure, it will be grand when it’s finished’.
On another occasion when he was visiting Spain he was asked what he would like to see most, he replied ‘Franco’s funeral’. Naturally, this didn’t go down well and he was thrown in jail and then deported. But this was the wit of the man; he was the master of the quick one-liner as well as a born storyteller – shame then that most of it was wasted in the bars of Dublin, London and New York. Not merely squandered but given away for free to strangers and freeloaders who probably didn’t even appreciate that they were in the presence of genius. And Brendan’s genius was his own life; if he could have bottled that he would have been wealthy indeed.
…………………..
Brendan was born in 1923 to Stephen and Kathleen Behan and grew up in the slums around Russell Street. His father was a house painter, a trade which Brendan himself dabbled in occasionally.. He left school at 14 and owed much of his education to his family, who were well-read, and who had strong Republican sympathies. His Uncle Peader Kearney wrote the Irish national anthem, while another uncle P J O’Rourke managed the Queens Theatre in the city.
The family on both sides was traditionally anti-British; his father was in prison when he was born because of his involvement in the 1916 rising, while his mother had been married before to another republican who had died in 1918.
When others were ‘training to be altar boys’, Brendan and his boyhood friend Cathal Goulding spent their spare time up in the hills outside Dublin drilling and marching with The Fianna, the Republican youth movement.
This resulted in him being sent to Liverpool in 1939 with orders to blow up a British battleship berthed in Liverpool docks. Unfortunately – or fortunately – for him he was arrested in his hotel room before he could carry out the deed. He was just turned 16. He was sentenced to three years in Borstal, and was deported on his release. However, in 1942 he was sentenced to 14 years for the attempted murder of to policemen in Glasnevin Cemetery during the Easter commemorations. He himself said , ‘well, jaysus they were shooting at me, what was I supposed to do?’. He went on the run for a time taking the gun with him. The gun was IRA property and they weren’t too impressed with his behaviour so they sentenced him to death in his absence. He said later; ‘I wrote them a nice letter asking could they carry out the sentence in me absence too’.
He served his time in Mountjoy and Curragh Military Camp and was released in 1946 under a general amnesty. He was in prison again in Manchester in 1947 for a short time for supposedly helping an IRA prisoner escape.
It was during his time in prison that he started to write, and this eventually led him to write for Radio Eireann and The Irish Press. He was still relatively unknown when he married Beatrice ffrench-Salkeld, daughter of the Dublin artist, Cecil Salkeld, in 1955.
As regards his drinking he said; ‘I started early in life. For a long time I thought whiskey was tea, because my granny kept whiskey in her teapot. I became a great tea-drinker. Sometimes she sent me to the pub for a jug of Guinness and I would drink half of it on the way back and top it up with water. These days I only take a drink on two occasions, when I’m thirsty and when I’m not’.
Granny was his Granny English, who owned the tenement building that they all lived in. He described her as ‘a slum landlady. The house was falling down around us and we all lived together in the pigsty’.
His big breakthrough came in 1954 with the production of The Quare Fellow, which was based on his prison experiences. The events were set during the twenty-fours hours preceding an execution and it gave Brendan a platform to attack capital punishment, which he abhorred. As to who ‘the quare fellow’ was Brendan said his name was Bernard Canavan, and that he was waiting to be ‘topped’ by Pierrepoint for chopping up his brother into pieces and feeding him to the pigs. ‘Not a very brotherly thing to do’, he observed.
He was a fluent Gaelic speaker and his next play The Hostage was originally written in Irish (An Giall) but it was taken in hand by Joan Litttlewood’s Theatre Workshop and turned into a massive success both in The West End and on Broadway.
In his plays, Brendan used song, dance and direct addresses to the audience – occasionally appearing himself in the audience, or on stage, to criticize the actors or berate the director. Audiences loved him for this, nowhere better than in New York, where he was lionized. Brendan returned this affection, saying ‘New York is my Lourdes, where I go for spiritual refreshment…a place where you’re least likely to be bitten by a wild goat’.
Borstal Boy wasn’t published until 1958, nearly twenty years after the events portrayed in it, but the intervening years had seen him enacting the story in every pub and shebeen in Dublin. Listening to Brendan in full flow was an experience; a mixture of song, dance and sceal were routinely served up as he rolled from one watering hole to the next. The only one who wasn’t impressed was the poet Patrick Kavanagh, who told him he had ‘turned from a national phony to an international one’. Brendan countered by telling Kavanagh that the best thing he ever wrote was a cheque that didn’t bounce.
The notoriety and critical acclaim that came to Brendan in the mid 1950’s contributed to his downfall. This was fuelled by his prolonged drinking bouts and his self destructive behaviour. He also suffered from seizures caused by pressure on his brain, which caused him to go into a diabetic coma, for which the only remedy was an operation. Brendan had a morbid fear of hospitals and doctors and refused to consider the operation. His health gradually deteriorated, and when the end came on March 20th 1964 he was just 41 years old.
© Tom O’Brien

A ODEST PROPOSAL by Jonathan Swift

A Modest Proposal
For preventing the children of poor people in Ireland,
from being a burden on their parents or country,
and for making them beneficial to the publick.
by Dr. Jonathan Swift
1729
It is a melancholy object to those, who walk through this great town, or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabbin-doors crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags, and importuning every passenger for an alms. These mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in stroling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants who, as they grow up, either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country, to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes.

I think it is agreed by all parties, that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom, a very great additional grievance; and therefore whoever could find out a fair, cheap and easy method of making these children sound and useful members of the commonwealth, would deserve so well of the publick, as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.

But my intention is very far from being confined to provide only for the children of professed beggars: it is of a much greater extent, and shall take in the whole number of infants at a certain age, who are born of parents in effect as little able to support them, as those who demand our charity in the streets.

As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of our projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in their computation. It is true, a child just dropt from its dam, may be supported by her milk, for a solar year, with little other nourishment: at most not above the value of two shillings, which the mother may certainly get, or the value in scraps, by her lawful occupation of begging; and it is exactly at one year old that I propose to provide for them in such a manner, as, instead of being a charge upon their parents, or the parish, or wanting food and raiment for the rest of their lives, they shall, on the contrary, contribute to the feeding, and partly to the clothing of many thousands.

There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas! too frequent among us, sacrificing the poor innocent babes, I doubt, more to avoid the expence than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast.

The number of souls in this kingdom being usually reckoned one million and a half, of these I calculate there may be about two hundred thousand couple, whose wives are breeders; from which number I subtract thirty thousand couple, who are able to maintain their own children, (although I apprehend there cannot be so many under the present distresses of the kingdom) but this being granted, there will remain a hundred and seventy thousand breeders. I again subtract fifty thousand, for those women who miscarry, or whose children die by accident or disease within the year. There only remain a hundred and twenty thousand children of poor parents annually born. The question therefore is, How this number shall be reared and provided for? which, as I have already said, under the present situation of affairs, is utterly impossible by all the methods hitherto proposed. For we can neither employ them in handicraft or agriculture; they neither build houses, (I mean in the country) nor cultivate land: they can very seldom pick up a livelihood by stealing till they arrive at six years old; except where they are of towardly parts, although I confess they learn the rudiments much earlier; during which time they can however be properly looked upon only as probationers; as I have been informed by a principal gentleman in the county of Cavan, who protested to me, that he never knew above one or two instances under the age of six, even in a part of the kingdom so renowned for the quickest proficiency in that art.

I am assured by our merchants, that a boy or a girl, before twelve years old, is no saleable commodity, and even when they come to this age, they will not yield above three pounds, or three pounds and half a crown at most, on the exchange; which cannot turn to account either to the parents or kingdom, the charge of nutriments and rags having been at least four times that value.

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasee, or a ragoust.

I do therefore humbly offer it to publick consideration, that of the hundred and twenty thousand children, already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle, or swine, and my reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore, one male will be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in sale to the persons of quality and fortune, through the kingdom, always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump, and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends, and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt, will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.

I have reckoned upon a medium, that a child just born will weigh 12 pounds, and in a solar year, if tolerably nursed, encreaseth to 28 pounds.

I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.

Infant’s flesh will be in season throughout the year, but more plentiful in March, and a little before and after; for we are told by a grave author, an eminent French physician, that fish being a prolifick dyet, there are more children born in Roman Catholick countries about nine months after Lent, than at any other season; therefore, reckoning a year after Lent, the markets will be more glutted than usual, because the number of Popish infants, is at least three to one in this kingdom, and therefore it will have one other collateral advantage, by lessening the number of Papists among us.

I have already computed the charge of nursing a beggar’s child (in which list I reckon all cottagers, labourers, and four-fifths of the farmers) to be about two shillings per annum, rags included; and I believe no gentleman would repine to give ten shillings for the carcass of a good fat child, which, as I have said, will make four dishes of excellent nutritive meat, when he hath only some particular friend, or his own family to dine with him. Thus the squire will learn to be a good landlord, and grow popular among his tenants, the mother will have eight shillings neat profit, and be fit for work till she produces another child.

Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the times require) may flay the carcass; the skin of which, artificially dressed, will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen.

As to our City of Dublin, shambles may be appointed for this purpose, in the most convenient parts of it, and butchers we may be assured will not be wanting; although I rather recommend buying the children alive, and dressing them hot from the knife, as we do roasting pigs.

A very worthy person, a true lover of his country, and whose virtues I highly esteem, was lately pleased in discoursing on this matter, to offer a refinement upon my scheme. He said, that many gentlemen of this kingdom, having of late destroyed their deer, he conceived that the want of venison might be well supplied by the bodies of young lads and maidens, not exceeding fourteen years of age, nor under twelve; so great a number of both sexes in every county being now ready to starve for want of work and service: and these to be disposed of by their parents if alive, or otherwise by their nearest relations. But with due deference to so excellent a friend, and so deserving a patriot, I cannot be altogether in his sentiments; for as to the males, my American acquaintance assured me from frequent experience, that their flesh was generally tough and lean, like that of our schoolboys, by continual exercise, and their taste disagreeable, and to fatten them would not answer the charge. Then as to the females, it would, I think, with humble submission, be a loss to the publick, because they soon would become breeders themselves: and besides, it is not improbable that some scrupulous people might be apt to censure such a practice, (although indeed very unjustly) as a little bordering upon cruelty, which, I confess, hath always been with me the strongest objection against any project, how well soever intended.

But in order to justify my friend, he confessed, that this expedient was put into his head by the famous Psalmanaazor, a native of the island Formosa, who came from thence to London, above twenty years ago, and in conversation told my friend, that in his country, when any young person happened to be put to death, the executioner sold the carcass to persons of quality, as a prime dainty; and that, in his time, the body of a plump girl of fifteen, who was crucified for an attempt to poison the Emperor, was sold to his imperial majesty’s prime minister of state, and other great mandarins of the court in joints from the gibbet, at four hundred crowns. Neither indeed can I deny, that if the same use were made of several plump young girls in this town, who without one single groat to their fortunes, cannot stir abroad without a chair, and appear at a playhouse and assemblies in foreign fineries which they never will pay for, the kingdom would not be the worse.

Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that vast number of poor people, who are aged, diseased, or maimed; and I have been desired to employ my thoughts what course may be taken, to ease the nation of so grievous an incumbrance. But I am not in the least pain upon that matter, because it is very well known, that they are every day dying, and rotting, by cold and famine, and filth, and vermin, as fast as can be reasonably expected. And as to the young labourers, they are now in almost as hopeful a condition. They cannot get work, and consequently pine away from want of nourishment, to a degree, that if at any time they are accidentally hired to common labour, they have not strength to perform it, and thus the country and themselves are happily delivered from the evils to come.

I have too long digressed, and therefore shall return to my subject. I think the advantages by the proposal which I have made are obvious and many, as well as of the highest importance.

For first, as I have already observed, it would greatly lessen the number of Papists, with whom we are yearly overrun, being the principal breeders of the nation, as well as our most dangerous enemies, and who stay at home on purpose with a design to deliver the kingdom to the Pretender, hoping to take their advantage by the absence of so many good Protestants, who have chosen rather to leave their country, than stay at home and pay tithes against their conscience to an episcopal curate.

Secondly, The poorer tenants will have something valuable of their own, which by law may be made liable to a distress, and help to pay their landlord’s rent, their corn and cattle being already seized, and money a thing unknown.

Thirdly, Whereas the maintainance of a hundred thousand children, from two years old, and upwards, cannot be computed at less than ten shillings a piece per annum, the nation’s stock will be thereby encreased fifty thousand pounds per annum, besides the profit of a new dish, introduced to the tables of all gentlemen of fortune in the kingdom, who have any refinement in taste. And the money will circulate among our selves, the goods being entirely of our own growth and manufacture.

Fourthly, The constant breeders, besides the gain of eight shillings sterling per annum by the sale of their children, will be rid of the charge of maintaining them after the first year.

Fifthly, This food would likewise bring great custom to taverns, where the vintners will certainly be so prudent as to procure the best receipts for dressing it to perfection; and consequently have their houses frequented by all the fine gentlemen, who justly value themselves upon their knowledge in good eating; and a skilful cook, who understands how to oblige his guests, will contrive to make it as expensive as they please.

Sixthly, This would be a great inducement to marriage, which all wise nations have either encouraged by rewards, or enforced by laws and penalties. It would encrease the care and tenderness of mothers towards their children, when they were sure of a settlement for life to the poor babes, provided in some sort by the publick, to their annual profit instead of expence. We should soon see an honest emulation among the married women, which of them could bring the fattest child to the market. Men would become as fond of their wives, during the time of their pregnancy, as they are now of their mares in foal, their cows in calf, or sows when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to beat or kick them (as is too frequent a practice) for fear of a miscarriage.

Many other advantages might be enumerated. For instance, the addition of some thousand carcasses in our exportation of barrel’d beef: the propagation of swine’s flesh, and improvement in the art of making good bacon, so much wanted among us by the great destruction of pigs, too frequent at our tables; which are no way comparable in taste or magnificence to a well grown, fat yearling child, which roasted whole will make a considerable figure at a Lord Mayor’s feast, or any other publick entertainment. But this, and many others, I omit, being studious of brevity.

Supposing that one thousand families in this city, would be constant customers for infants flesh, besides others who might have it at merry meetings, particularly at weddings and christenings, I compute that Dublin would take off annually about twenty thousand carcasses; and the rest of the kingdom (where probably they will be sold somewhat cheaper) the remaining eighty thousand.

I can think of no one objection, that will possibly be raised against this proposal, unless it should be urged, that the number of people will be thereby much lessened in the kingdom. This I freely own, and was indeed one principal design in offering it to the world. I desire the reader will observe, that I calculate my remedy for this one individual Kingdom of Ireland, and for no other that ever was, is, or, I think, ever can be upon Earth. Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: Of taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound: Of using neither clothes, nor houshold furniture, except what is of our own growth and manufacture: Of utterly rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign luxury: Of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our women: Of introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance: Of learning to love our country, wherein we differ even from Laplanders, and the inhabitants of Topinamboo: Of quitting our animosities and factions, nor acting any longer like the Jews, who were murdering one another at the very moment their city was taken: Of being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing: Of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants. Lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our shopkeepers, who, if a resolution could now be taken to buy only our native goods, would immediately unite to cheat and exact upon us in the price, the measure, and the goodness, nor could ever yet be brought to make one fair proposal of just dealing, though often and earnestly invited to it.

Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, till he hath at least some glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.

But, as to myself, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length utterly despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal, which, as it is wholly new, so it hath something solid and real, of no expence and little trouble, full in our own power, and whereby we can incur no danger in disobliging England. For this kind of commodity will not bear exportation, and flesh being of too tender a consistence, to admit a long continuance in salt, although perhaps I could name a country, which would be glad to eat up our whole nation without it.

After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion, as to reject any offer, proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual. But before something of that kind shall be advanced in contradiction to my scheme, and offering a better, I desire the author or authors will be pleased maturely to consider two points. First, As things now stand, how they will be able to find food and raiment for a hundred thousand useless mouths and backs. And secondly, There being a round million of creatures in humane figure throughout this kingdom, whose whole subsistence put into a common stock, would leave them in debt two million of pounds sterling, adding those who are beggars by profession, to the bulk of farmers, cottagers and labourers, with their wives and children, who are beggars in effect; I desire those politicians who dislike my overture, and may perhaps be so bold to attempt an answer, that they will first ask the parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year old, in the manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunes, as they have since gone through, by the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade, the want of common sustenance, with neither house nor clothes to cover them from the inclemencies of the weather, and the most inevitable prospect of intailing the like, or greater miseries, upon their breed for ever.

I profess in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavouring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the publick good of my country, by advancing our trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, and giving some pleasure to the rich. I have no children, by which I can propose to get a single penny; the youngest being nine years old, and my wife past child-bearing.

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PLANET OF THE APPS

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PLANET OF THE APPS by Tom O’Brien

Your smartphone speaks to you;
‘Hey, why not download our cool new App?’
Then up pops a dialogue box
With text that looks like an escapee from MySpace
Welcome to Appworld.
Steve Jobs is to blame really;
He was the first to realise
That since smartphones
Were actually small computers
They could also run App programs
And so the Apple App store was born
Now there are fucking Apps everywhere
For every fucking thing
A world awash with the
Smartphone and Tablet App
A couple of million at the last count
And most of them are fucking crap.
If there is an App graveyard
Somewhere out there in the digital sky
The majority of those Apps will be deader than the dodo
Long before you and I.

MY CAR NOW TALKS TO ME

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MY CAR NOW TALKS TO ME by Tom O’Brien
Hello
Goodbye
Raising the lights like a stage curtain
Playing little movies
Serenading me with melodies
The welcome – farewell experience
They call it
“An emotionally resonant experience”
And that digital note of appreciation
“Thank you for driving a hybrid”
As if it was something…well
Unconnected with this thing on four wheels.
And those door handles
Illuminating when they sense my presence
The needles on the instruments
Snapping to attention as I open the door
There’s a welcoming theme
Part Hollywood soundtrack
Part plane swoosh
And that puddle lamp!
A welcome mat of light.
My car is a robot I think
With a personality not just in its body
But also in its behaviour.
“How can I help you?”
It asks now
As I prepare for take-off.
I really feel like telling it
To shut the fuck up
But I don’t want to hurt its feelings.

OH FOR THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES

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OH, FOR THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, by Tom O’Brien

Falling in love with a poet
May be the closest you will come to living forever
Be the wild card in his pack
In a world where lonely queens never say never
Go live in the desert rather than a fancy hotel
Eat with rusty cutlery, drink cider instead of Muscatel
Visit no man’s land, but once only
Then come back and you will never feel lonely
Remember that underground city that once glowed
Red in the dark
Go limber up in hilly Montmartre
Then go barefoot in Gaudi Park
Dance with demons and devils on some remote island
Then go toss some cabers in the godless Scottish Highlands
All this you must do, while your poet’s mouth opens and closes
As you dance along some cobbled street singing
Oh, for the days of wine and roses.

DOWN BOTTLE ALLEY – a play

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DOWN BOTTLE ALLEY
By
Tom O’Brien

Character list

OLDER BRIAN
YOUNGER BRIAN

Act one

OLDER BRIAN comes on stage. He is smartly dressed, holding a book under his arm

OLDER: It’s 6.20am. In seconds I will be sick, violently and seemingly without end. Today I have a free day, no doctor. Early morning sickness is all part and parcel of being an alcoholic; we accept it. This isn’t attractive to a potential mate, and is also why most of us are alone. After all, who wants to wake up with a bloke whom you think at any minute is about to die?

Enter YOUNGER BRIAN, taking a while to become aware of his surroundings. One of his first acts is to crawl to a bucket and be violently sick for several minutes, then put an oxygen mask to his face and inhales. After a while he takes a long sip from the cider bottle, then lurches to the bathroom (off)

OLDER: Some people do press-ups in the morning, I do sick. Every morning without fail. You could set your clock by me. It’s been like that for as long
as I can remember. So long now that sometimes I think it’s the norm for
everybody. Then my brain-cells kick in – what’s left of them – and I realize it’s just me. Brian going through the routines that will – hopefully
– see him through another alcohol-fueled day.

My affair with alcohol has rendered me, for the most part, incontinent, impotent and without any real place in this society. I have no reference as to how life would be without drink. I don’t honestly remember a time when I wasn’t drunk. I am drunk now. I quite probably won’t finish this story.

BRIAN returns from the bathroom, drying his hair with a towel. He begins his daily ritual, checking his money, his cigarettes, decanting cider from a flagon into coke/pepsi bottles, storing them carefully in his hold-all. All the time he is doing this he is sipping from the bottle. After a while he is satisfied, looks around him, then picks up the hold-all. As he goes through his routine OLDER is watching, nodding his head in agreement. Also, throughout this BRIAN is singing a Supertramp number

OLDER: When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily,
Joyfully, playfully watching me.
But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible,
Logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

BRIAN moves centre stage and sits on the bench, drinking from his ‘coke’ can.
This is Bottle Alley.

BRIAN: Good morning Hastings!

OLDER: Just look at you.

BRIAN: What’s wrong with me? Not sartorial enough for you?

OLDER: That’s a new one on me. An intellectual alcoholic. People like
you give tramps a bad name. No wonder people cross the road
when they see you.

BRIAN: People like me…?

OLDER: You and me, then. We’re the dregs of society

BRIAN: Some of the best people are alcoholics. Doctors, lawyers, politicians…

OLDER: You don’t agree they are the dregs? Give it time, they will be. When the drink becomes master they will be. Just like us. The country is full of bottle alleys. The early bird catches the alcoholic. That’s how this damn puppeteer works. Remember how you started off, Brian? You were still in short trousers.

BRIAN: (to imaginary shopkeeper) Bottle of cider please. It’s for me da.
Please mister. He’ll kill me if I don’t bring it back..
Yeah , I know what you want. What you always want.
(grabs bottle and runs)
Blood pervert!
(off) Hey Billy. See you in the big wood in five minutes.

OLDER: It was only a matter of time before the old man found out about your escapades in the woods. Out there with that band of vagabonds. Not only a drunk, but a thief too. Bringing shame on the family. Well, I have just the thing for you

BRIAN: He threw me into the bath of cold water. Then pissed on top of me.
And laughed as he did it.

OLDER: Pathetic wasn’t the word for you. You were afraid of your father. You, a big strapping lad and you were afraid of him. You were afraid of your own shadow! And what was your answer? You ran down to the woods and hid yourself away. Drank yourself stupid. And who did you have for company? Your shadow!
(OLDER croons and smooches)
OLDER: Me and my shadow… Me and my shadow…
BRIAN: You don’t know anything…He wouldn’t have me, drunk or sober. I was that ‘silly slop’, or that ‘bloke over there’. He couldn’t even look at me. You remember how I always had to sit in the chair behind the door, so that when it was open he couldn’t see me?
OLDER: I was there, wasn’t I? I remember there was that time they all went off on holiday for a week and left us behind. You and me. We couldn’t even stay at the house. We had to find somewhere else to stay.
BRIAN: The big wood. I slept in my sleeping bag. Under the stars.
OLDER: That’s right. That’s where you met what-you –ma-call her? Fay. You lost your virginity to Fay. Another alcoholic. Like yourself. Well, I suppose it takes one to know one.
BRIAN: Fay was beautiful.
OLDER: Fay was a cow. A fucking slag. Can’t you see that? She was the kind that would suck you in and blow you out in bubbles. You were sixteen. She was only using you.
BRIAN: That’s not true. (pause) Anyway, she paid for it. Her feller – Nelson – saw to that. She spent several weeks in intensive care when he found out she was with me – and he the next few years in nick.
OLDER: You were lucky he didn’t get hold of you or he’d have stuck the shiv in you as well. Tell me, was she worth it?
BRIAN: You know everything, you tell me.
OLDER: To be honest, I can’t remember. I suppose she must have been okay. Well, when it’s your first time I guess anything is okay. I mean, what’s there to compare it with? Anyway, there’s a lot of water passed under the bridge since that night, Brian, me boy. There’s been a lot more Fay’s since then.
BRIAN: Not lately there haven’t.
OLDER: And you wonder why! Have you seen the state of yourself lately? Well, I guess not – there’s no mirrors on Bottle Alley. (pause, as he stops to take a drink) You don’t mind if I fuel up, do you? (this to the audience). Eventually you went to sea. Well, you couldn’t go home any more, could you? You were about as welcome as the plague there. What is about you Brian – everywhere you go you piss people off? Even your shipmates got sick of you eventually.
BRIAN: I was getting too pissed to go back to sea, if you must know. I was a danger to myself and everyone else. I was a raging alcoholic by now, rattling for a drink every day. I couldn’t be relied on anymore; couldn’t hold down a steady job; people couldn’t trust me. Oh, I could hide it for a while, but eventually it would get the better of me. That’s why I had to keep moving; from job to job, from place to place; from halfway house to halfway house. He’s a hard taskmaster, this damn puppeteer….(To the audience) Eventually I ended up at Charing Cross Station, in good old London town. (laughs) I thought I had landed in paradise. Well, I just come from a poxy halfway house on the Isle of Sheppey. More like a lunatic asylum. Every night I had to watch this old guy in the next bed, masturbating naked, calling out Mammy, Mammy. And the staff…well, if you had a few bob coming in you didn’t have it goin’ out…
(BRIAN dons a sailor’s cap and moves towards the audience, older and shabbier)
BRIAN: Excuse me, sir, can you spare a few pence to get me to Tilbury? My ship is there, waiting for me. Only I got mugged and I can’t afford the fare. (pause, no response) Aah…wanker. (another laugh) From a halfway house to the arches round the back of the station. All mod cons. You had to rise early though. ’Cos the street cleaners hosed you down if you didn’t. Not much in the way of central heating either, apart from the body next to you.
OLDER: And after a few months of livin’ it up there you washed up in Hastings. All because some woman said it was a good place to be.
BRIAN: That was Lydia. She was on the game. Not that she needed to be. She was a looker alright…
BOTH: (singing) Oh Lydia…oh Lydia…
But that’s another story….
OLDER: And that, more or less, was how I ended up in Hastings. Of course it was very pleasant after the vagrancy of London. It had a seaside, a pier, even a castle. I knew all about 1066, how heroically Harold had fought at the battle of Hastings, all that historical stuff. Only it wasn’t at Hastings, was it? It was at Battle. Why wasn’t it called the battle of Battle? Can anyone tell me that? But I digress. Was it a good move? Well, I’m still here after what? Twenty-five years. Still standing as they say. And it was here I met Pat…my first wife. Which didn’t last long.
BRIAN: She didn’t understand. An alcoholic is for life, not just for Christmas.
OLDER: You ought to be ashamed of yourself, the way you treated her.
BRIAN: Jesus, leave me be! Don’t you think I know how bad it was? But that’s how drink makes you. You lose everything; your dignity, your self respect, your principles. When I first met Pat I suppose I didn’t look too bad. I had just moved to Hastings full of good intentions, and I was managing to hold down a job, but by the time we got married my alcoholism was getting the better of me again. We decided to sell what few things we had and move to Eastbourne. We lasted there for six months. I drank everything with alcohol in it, and we lived in abject poverty. Alcoholism and I had brought Pat down to my level.
OLDER: Why are you telling me…I know all this?
BRIAN: I just want to show…want people to understand what it’s like. How it affects others close to you. How you become abused, and how because of the way you live, you become an abuser yourself. Alcohol doesn’t take prisoners; it will kill you and inflict misery and hardship on all those around you. (pause) I remember how Pat cried as I took her last pound. She wanted it to buy her tampons. But I said, use tissue paper like all the other women on Bottle Alley.
OLDER: But she wasn’t on Bottle Alley, was she? She didn’t belong there.
BRIAN: I didn’t care. I just wanted that drink. (pause) Eventually she left me; she couldn’t stand it any more and she walked away. And the sad thing is that given the same situation today I don’t know that I wouldn’t do the same thing again.
OLDER: You drove everyone who ever loved you away.
BRIAN: That wasn’t me, that was the drink.
OLDER: You are what you drink. You are responsible for your own actions. No one forced you to drink, did they?
BRIAN: You don’t understand…
OLDER: You drove Pat away. She was a lovely girl before she had the misfortune to meet you. You abused her
BRIAN: I never hit her.
OLDER: Abuse doesn’t have to be physical. It must have been torture for her watching you carry on the way you did. You spent more time down Bottle Alley than you did with her. You didn’t love her enough. If you did you wouldn’t still be like this. Love conquers everything – so they say.
BRIAN: Shut up! Get out of my fucking head! I was okay until you started getting a conscience.
(BRIAN moves to one side and sits in the audience)
OLDER: (Addresses the audience) Which brings us to Bottle Alley. Bottle Alley, Hastings, I mean. But there’s one in every town, I guess. This one is built along the sea front – very pretty. Now I don’t suppose it was purpose built for winos and alkies, but it might as well be. Out of the way, shelter from the elements…what more could a body want? (Looks at BRIAN) Look at them. The creatures from hell. My God, if they could see themselves…If I could see myself. I haven’t been a regular in Bottle Alley for more than ten years now, but when I do pay the occasional visit it’s like I’ve never been away. The faces might be different but the people are the same. (pause) I wonder what the average lifespan is down Bottle Alley? They should do a survey on that, never mind places like Namibia or Zimbabwe.

A funeral scene. One of the Bottle Alley regulars.
BRIAN: Dazzler was one of the best.
OLDER: Always good for a laugh. (laughs) He would be laughing himself if he could see us all now. Look at us. Thirty plus alkies together. And every one of them sober. Well…nearly. That takes some doing.
BRIAN: Do you know why they call him the Dazzler?
OLDER: Because of his dazzling smile.
BRIAN: The only two teeth he had left were his eye teeth. And they were black stumps. He had this trick. You know the lights down the far end of The Alley? Well, when they were about to change to red, and cars were slowing down, he would walk in front of them. He usually managed to collapse across the bonnet. It was always late at night. He claimed their lights dazzled him. Always a good little earner, that one.
OLDER: It kept plenty of us in booze for most of his life. You know, I never remember him getting hurt. Well, if he did, he was never sober enough to feel the pain. (laughs) The first time we met he tapped me for a fiver. ‘Brian’ he said, ‘lend me a bluey till Thursday’. I told him where to go, but he wouldn’t leave off. Dazzler, I said, ‘suppose I lend you a bluey and you get pissed and disappear till Thursday, what am I supposed to do?’ He just said, ‘I don’t know, shoot me.’ Anyway, I lent him the fiver, with the proviso that if I didn’t get it back on Thursday I’d kill him. He assured me he’d do the job himself if I didn’t. How could you not love a bloke like that?
BRIAN: Where was he from?
OLDER: Dunno
BRIAN: What age was he?
OLDER: You never ask a lady or an alcoholic their age. The Dazzler was a mystery, but then lots of us are. Our pasts belong to a different world. If we have families, loved ones, we wouldn’t want them to see us like this. There was a rumour goin’ round once that he used to be a stunt man. We put it to him one night after he’s had his usual brush with an Audi, or something similar. No old bangers for Dazzler; ‘if they can’t afford a decent motor they can’t afford me’, was his philosophy.. Anyway, somebody said to him, ‘Is it true you used to do the stunts for The Professionals? I heard you were a true artist at it’. Dazzler only laughed. ‘Piss artist you mean! When did you ever see an alcoholic stuntman?’ Mind you, He never actually denied it.
BRIAN: ‘Brian’, he said to me once, ‘a man is what he is, not what he once was. I could’a been the King of Prussia once, but until I get off this fucking merry-go-round, what you see is what I am’. I don’t think he even liked the drink, but he couldn’t do without it. And it wasn’t even the drink that got him in the end, but hypothermia. He froze to death in that doss-house he kipped in. His landlord was too busy pissing it up against pub walls to bother about things like heating. (laughs) A bit like us I guess
OLDER: No, not a bit like us. People like him are vultures. They home in on the drinker. They know an alcoholic needs a drink – and he needs somewhere to drink it. . So they buy up a decrepit house, then inform the council they have rooms to let, that it’s habitable, but in need of a bit of work. A grant is issued, most of which is pocketed, but as far as the council is concerned there is property available for people like you and me. It gets us off the street, which is all the council is concerned with. And all the time the landlord is lining his pockets. I expect he thought the drinking was heating enough (pause) I’d shoot the bastard if I had a gun (he looks around) What a send off. Look at it, not a friendly face in sight. I mean, not a member of his family to be seen. How insignificant does that make his life? There’s not even a tiny ripple in the water at his passing.
BRIAN: We’ll miss him. We’re his true friends.
OLDER: We’re not his fucking friends. We’re just a bunch of alcoholics sheltering in here from the cold. It passes the time, and it’s warmer than that fuckin’ wind tunnel that’s Bottle Alley. Look around – how many did he fight with – roll around the alley over a half bottle of red biddy. We’re here because we’re still standing, and because we’re glad it’s not us. And we’re all of us looking around looking to see if we can spot the next most likely candidate. And hoping to Christ it’s not ourselves. I used to keep a diary – the diary of the dearly departed I called it. I burnt it when I got to number twenty. I wouldn’t like to say what number Dazzler is, but it’s nearer thirty than twenty. I would like to call him my friend – but we both know that the only friend an alki has is this…. (he holds up his drink) If either of us came between the other and his drink we both know who the winner would be
(They throw a bunch a plastic flowers on the grave and walk away)
(BRIAN moves forward, pissed as a fart. He sings)

BRIAN: When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily,
Joyfully, playfully watching me.
But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible,
Logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

(OLDER moves forward as BRIAN collapses)

OLDER: Jesus Brian, look at the state of you!

BRIAN: (Crawls about, looking for something to drink) Oh God. What day is it?

OLDER: Don’t you know?

BRIAN: Is it Wednesday?

OLDER: It’s Thursday

BRIAN: Thursday. I thought yesterday was Tuesday. What happened to Wednesday? Oh God, a whole day and night and I can’t remember a thing. Maybe I mugged someone.

OLDER: Looks like the other way round to me.
.
(BRIAN struggles to his feet, and groans in agony as pain shoots through his ribs .He pulls his shirt aside to reveal a large bruise on his side. He searches his pockets but finds nothing)

BRIAN: The bastards. They didn’t even leave me the price of a can.

OLDER: You didn’t really expect them to, did you? Have you no self respect left?
Don’t you care about anything?

BRIAN: Drink. That’s all I care about. (laughs) I saw a new doctor yesterday. No,
it can’t have been yesterday, can it? Must’ve been the day before, or the
one before that. And do you know what she said? ‘Brian, if you continue
to drink, you will have no quality of life’. I told her that if I didn’t I would
have even less quality. She had no idea. Most people don’t. Right now I
would do almost anything for a drink… Jesus, I’m busting…
(he pees in a corner)

OLDER: That’s the problem with this stuff. Forever pissing.

BRIAN: And shitting. Remember that old building at the back of Marks and Sparks?. Where we used to sit…many moons ago. It was quiet. We’d sit there contemplatin…

OLDER: Contemplating what?

BRIAN: Turds. This great sea of turds. They were everywhere. It looked like an abandoned turd factory. There was big ones, flat ones, curved ones, runny ones…

OLDER: Jesus, Brian!

BRIAN: That’s what I said too… Jesus, Brian you look like Gulliver among the Lilliputians. And of course I got the urge to go then myself. Like when you hear water running and you have to go for a piss. (laughs)
And then I got to looking at what they wiped themselves with. Old socks, underpants, cigarette packs, even bits of wood and slate.

OLDER: You’re pathetic.

BRIAN: I know

OLDER: You don’t like yourself much, do you?

BRIAN: No.

OLDER: Do you hate yourself?

BRIAN: I suppose I do.

OLDER: Do you hate your father?

BRIAN: I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT MY FATHER. All I want is oblivion. To get rid of the horrors inside my head – and that fucken jockey on my back.

OLDER: You should hate him. What sort of father would piss on his own child? And then laugh. Do you remember? When he threw you into the bath of cold water – then pissed all over you?
BRIAN: Stop it!

OLDER: It wasn’t you that needed treatment, it was him. You were just an innocent child, he was a fucking head case. And even before that. When you were about five, and you went to him and tried to cuddle him for a bit of affection, and he slapped your face and pushed you away. Do you remember that?

BRIAN: LEAVE ME BE! You’re just making it up.

OLDER: You know it’s true. And the rest of your family, your mother, all of them…they all lived with him. They let him do that. Let him treat you like a leper.

BRIAN: I was a leper.

OLDER: Why do you think that?

BRIAN: I don’t know. Jesus, I don’t know. I was…always the odd one out..

OLDER: The cuckoo in the nest, that’s what you were. (pause) She never answered your question, did she?

BRIAN: Who?

OLDER: Mother. All those years ago.

BRIAN: I don’t remember the question.

OLDER: No, but you know the answer, don’t you? Maybe she just never really cared for you.

BRIAN: My mother cared.

OLDER: But not enough, Brian.

BRIAN: You can’t say that.

OLDER: Maybe you weren’t your fathers’ son at all. Maybe that’s why he treated you like shit.

BRIAN: You’re confusing me! It was a long time ago. Anyway, people change.

OLDER: Do they? You needed help, psychiatric help maybe.

BRIAN: You can’t be cured if you don’t know you’re ill. I expect they thought it was normal, that I’d grow out of it.

OLDER: Well, you didn’t, did you?

BRIAN: No…I didn’t. (He moves to one side)

OLDER: (To the audience) By now I was a total alcoholic. Drunk from morning till night. Breakfast was a cup of brandy or Southern Comfort. I only realized how bad it was when I suddenly fainted. One minute I was talking to this bird, the next I woke up in hospital. I hadn’t eaten anything for about two weeks; it was just solid drinking. I had gotten to the stage where I couldn’t eat. Your stomach shrivels up. Gastritis, I think they call it. I used to drink through boredom. Bloody boredom. Or misery. I thought I could take it or leave it. But I couldn’t. That’s when this doctor told me I was going to die. They pumped my backside full of vitamins while I was in the hospital, then packed me off to detox when I was strong enough.

BRIAN: (Staggers into the audience, singing)
I’ve been everywhere man.
Crossed the country bare man
I’ve breathed some foul air man
Of detox had my share man.
I’ve been everywhere.
I’ve been to
Rampton, Southampton, Dulwich
Norwich, Harwich, Eastbourne
Acrington…

OLDER: Acrington!

BRIAN: I’ve been everywhere. Including a detox unit.
OLDER: How many times?

BRIAN: I’ve lost count.

OLDER: Do you remember the nurses? Everywhere we went it
was the same breed. Name? (imitates nurse)

BRIAN: Harding

OLDER: Date of birth?

BRIAN: Aaah…..

OLDER: Never mind. Are you tidy at home?

BRIAN: I try to be neat

OLDER: I mean, are you meticulous?

BRIAN: What does that mean?

OLDER: It doesn’t matter. Do you wet the bed?

BRIAN: I have done occasionally. But if you drank as much as I do I expect you would too.

OLDER: Are you aware that walking around town drunk and disorderly can be offensive to others?

BRIAN: Yes, I am.

OLDER: Is there a purpose to it?

BRIAN: To what? Me walking around town drunk, or this interview?

OLDER: You realize that while you are here you won’t be allowed to drink.

BRIAN: I know it’s a dry house.

OLDER: Detoxification unit, please.

BRIAN: Dry house, detox unit, whatever you like to call it. I’ve agreed to come here, haven’t 1? I just want to get on with it.

OLDER: Do you have aggressive tendencies, Mr Harding?

BRIAN: Not normally.

OLDER: You tried to strangle the taxi driver bringing you here.

BRIAN: That was last time.

OLDER: And the time before that, you urinated on the other occupants of the ambulance bringing you here.

BRIAN: Yeah. All I wanted was a pee and they wouldn’t stop. And they threw me off bloody ambulance over it. I wound up back in hospital with torn ligaments.

OLDER: You see our problem Mr Harding? We are not really convinced you want to go through with the treatment.

BRIAN: I do, believe me I do.

OLDER: You were violently drunk on both occasions. You are drunk now.

BRIAN: I was frightened. I am frightened now. Of what I am becoming. I don’t remember any of those…episodes. And it terrifies me that I may do something really serious.

OLDER: I should think that attempted strangulation is serious enough.

BRIAN: I know. And I am truly sorry. When I was lying overnight in the police cell I knew that if I kept this up I would die. I realized then that I didn’t want to. I spoke to the custody sergeant the following morning, and he agreed to drop the charges if I promised to make my own way here. I needed the drink to get me through the front door. That’s why I am drunk.

OLDER: Thank you Mr Harding. That will be all for now. A nurse will be along to give you your medication shortly.

BRIAN: Jesus, I need a drink. (he drinks)

OLDER: (Looks around the room) Look at them. The people in these places are worse than you.

BRIAN: They’re on Largactil, or something similar. The medical cosh they call it. Well, they’re in pain, and they have no alcohol to deaden it. I’ll be like that myself tomorrow. And for the next twenty eight days, if I can last the course. (He wanders around) Mind you, it’s a palace compared to Queen Charlottes.

OLDER: That damp, dilapidated pile of shit. Where the security was so lax it was non- existent. Anybody could – and did – walk in off the streets. And bring in their drink too – if the staff didn’t actually see the bottles. Some place to detox!

BRIAN: All those visitors. What did they think it was, the bloody zoo? Well, maybe it was at that. I like a bit of privacy when I’m detoxing. All those bloody day-trippers, gawping. What we were doing, each in our own way, was trying to be like them. We wanted to be able to cope outside without drugs or alcohol. The detox unit was our learning room, our changing room. What we were doing was personal. How would they like it if we invaded their private spaces?

OLDER: You invaded some private space there yourself. What was her name, now?

BRIAN: How should I know?

OLDER: I have to hand it to you. Despite your…many afflictions you managed to pull those dozy birds by the dozen.

BRIAN: There was nothing wrong with the pump-action then. That only came later.

OLDER: It not a great chat up line though, is it? I’ll see you by the asylum gates at seven o’clock. (laughs) How many institutions have we been in?

BRIAN: We?

OLDER: Yes, you and me.

BRIAN: I think you’ve got a split personality.

OLDER: And you’re talking to yourself again. Come on, how many.

BRIAN: I don’t know.

OLDER: Twenty one at the last count. And all were detox units of one shape or form. The prisons…well you were detoxed there whether you like it or not. And the others….well I was probably dragged screaming and kicking into some of them, but I went anyway.

BRIAN: And the result?

OLDER: (he takes a drink) You see before you a man who doesn’t drink any more.

BRIAN: No…but you don’t drink any less

OLDER: What is the point of them, I ask myself. The detox units. Nearly everyone down Bottle Alley has been in one at one stage or another…

BRIAN: I just want to be normal, you know? Just fucking normal. But it’s never going to happen now, is it? I’ve made my bed and I must lie on it, as mother used to say. Love makes the world go round they tell me. Well, where is it? Love where are you? I haven’t seen much of you in my lifetime. Maybe if I’d had some when I young and innocent…Do you hear me, father? All those unspeakable things you did to me…..Father, you BASTARD………………..

(BRIAN suddenly collapses)

OLDER: (To the audience) Some people might think that was an epileptic fit, but it wasn’t. It was withdrawal symptoms, brought on by my blood alcohol level dropping below a certain point. You see I have now reached the stage where I have to keep my body topped up with alcohol, otherwise I am liable to have a fit. How do I feel now? Well, as I speak, I am safe in the knowledge that there are at least two litres of chemical cider back in my room. I am hungry, my stomach is swollen, and I have severe heartburn. But in spite of that, I will drink as much of the cider as I can until I can no longer stand the pain. Then I shall go to bed. And when I wake up I shall be in just as much pain, but the cycle will start again. And I don’t know why.

(He grabs a copy of Brian’s book)

OLDER: I have led a wretched life, neither providing, producing, creating or
contributing anything. Well, maybe not quite. (holds up his book) This is
my legacy – maybe my only legacy. As I stand before you bloodied,
shaking and almost without resources, I am still not bowed.

ALCOHOLISM, for more than forty years you’ve clawed at my very soul, but I’m still here. After all this time I’ve finally recognized you. You have been exposed; my friends and neighbours also know you. And they have seen at first hand what you have done to me. I have told everybody about you (waves book) and as I stand before them, sometimes incoherent, I am all the evidence they need. You have been outed. My hope is that nobody will ever invite you in again. That you will end up standing on the borders of society, searching for your prey.

(BRIAN stands and joins OLDER)

BOTH: That nobody will come to you. That it is you who will be alone. That you will be openly exposed for what you are. My contribution in our battle to have you destroyed is the writing of this book. I know that I am an alcoholic – and always will be with or without drink. But I also know this: that the first task in any battle is to know your enemy. And I now know my enemy.

IT’S YOU – YOU DAMN PUPPETEER.

End

CONFESSIONS….cont’d

BkuvIihIMAAhY6u

CONFESSIONS OF AN ALTAR BOY
by
Tom O’Brien
scene one
TERRY is sitting on a chair,playing a guitar, singing. He is wearing a white surplice over his clothes.

I only met you just a couple of days ago
I only met you and I want your loving so
Jeannie come lately…

He breaks off and rubs the fingers of his left hand, which are clearly paining him. He puts the guitar aside,then tugs at the surplice.

TERRY: Why the get-up?
Well,to be honest, I can’t remember which
came first, the Altar Boy or the guitar.
All I know is that learning to play that…
yoke was hard work I only learned three.
chords. The three-chord
trick we called it C, F and G7.
No, I tell a lie – there was a fourth –
for special occasions. E minor, I think.
Not that it mattered a lot – I was crap
anyway. I was always going to be crap
where the guitar was concerned.
Mind you, I wasn’t much better as an
Altar Boy…
lights dim

scene two
After school. A mock-up of the altar rails inside the church. The Master is putting Terry and LIAM through their paces as Altar Boys. Liam is kneeling, receiving the host; Terry holds the ‘silver’ salver under his chin, the Master acting as the priest.
MASTER: Under his chin, Byrne!
Not under his ear
TERRY: Yes, Master.
MASTER: We don’t want the body of Christ
trampled underfoot, do we?
TERRY: No, Master.
MASTER: (putting his ‘chalice’ aside)
Now. Let me hear you again
Kyrie elieson..
LIAM: Kyrie elieson
MASTER: Kyrie elieson
TERRY: Kyrie elieson
MASTER: No, you amadan! Christie elieson
TERRY: Christie elieson.
MASTER: (shaking his head) Now, the blessing…
(he blesses himself)
In nominie patrie..
TERRY: Et…et…
MASTER: Et what? His tongue! ET FI-LE-E…
(he signals to Liam)
LIAM: Et spiritu sanctu, amen
MASTER: Why, oh why did I ever consent to you
being an Altar Boy. You have no
interest, have you? Are you deliberately
obtuse, O’Byrne?
TERRY: No, Master
MASTER: Just naturally stupid,then. Kelly, here,
is word perfect. Why can’t you?
TERRY: I…I forgot.
MASTER: You forgot! Well, you had better unforget
by Sunday. And don’t think that just because
I won’t be there, that I won’t know. I SHALL
KNOW, O’Byrne. And God help you on
Monday, if you haven’t shaped up. Now, get
this place tidied up before you leave… (he exits)

Terry waits until he is sure the Master has gone, then takes out a cigarette butt and lights up.

TERRY: (parodying) Kelly, here, is word-perfect
‘Course he bloody-well is…
Miss goody two-shoes always is.
Why couldn’t you have said Christie Elysion?
Just for once, eh?
LIAM: Then I’d be as stupid as you, wouldn’t I?
TERRY: Obtuse, you mean.
LIAM: I thought that meant…
(he makes the shape of a large belly)
TERRY: That’s obese you…amadan

Terry hands him the butt. They both puff contentedly.

TERRY: Who’s saying Mass Sunday?
LIAM: Fr. Walsh, I think.
TERRY: Won’t be a lot left for us, then..
(he makes drinking motions)
Not after he’s finished
LIAM: Would you say he’s alcoholic?
TERRY: I’ll say!
LIAM: Not as bad as my ould fella, though.
Always singing stupid songs.
And trying to be funny.
(pause)
And hitting people when the notion takes him.
TERRY: Maybe it’s his job.
LIAM: Digging a few graves? Sometimes he doesn’t
have any for weeks.
TERRY: I wouldn’t like burying people
LIAM: He doesn’t bury them. All he does is dig
the grave, then fills it in when…you know.
And he’s drunk for a week afterwards

As they speak, they should be tidying up. Terrys takes a magazine from his school bag.

TERRY: Did I show you that one?
LIAM: She’s…she’s….
TERRY: Big, isn’t she?
LIAM: She’s no clothes on!
TERRY: I wonder if Birdie looks like that?
Do you think all girls look like that?
LIAM: My mother doesn’t.
TERRY: She’s not a girl. I’m going to show
it to her. Ask her.
LIAM: Who? Me mother?
TERRY: Birdie!
LIAM: Oh yeah! When?
TERRY: When I…I’m meeting her tomorrow night.
LIAM: Birdie and you! She wouldn’t
be seen dead with you. You haven’t got a
big enough bike. (pause) Where?
Where are you meeting her?
TERRY: In the Temperance Hall.
LIAM: (laughs) You and a dozen others.
Music practice!
TERRY: I’m meeting her afterwards.
LIAM: Does she know? Have you asked her?
TERRY: You’ll see You’ll see who’s laughing…
lights dim

Lights come up on Terry again,playing his guitar

TERRY: (sings)
You ain’t nothin,but a hound-dog
Rockin’ all the time
You ain’t nothin’ but a hound-dog
And you aint no friend of mine…
We had this idea of forming our own group.
Birdie, myself and…Liam.
Oh, we needed more, but three was a start.
I’d been going to the Hall for a few years
by then, and the fingers…(he holds them up)
…were hardened. My playing was still
crap, but I could warble a bit.
Liam was a late-comer – I think he thought
he might be missing something – so he purchased
a cheap rig-out from somewhere – one drum and a
cymbal…

Lights now reveal Liam,sitting behind his drum kit

….and started to make like he was Ringo.
Mind you, as it turned out, he wasn’t bad
Quite good, in fact.
(pause)
Birdie was the real star, though…
(he ticks off)
The fiddle, the mandolin, the keyboard…
And she could sing like…
Well, judge for yourelves…

BIRDIE is now revealed behind a keyboard. They strike up and play
ISLAND OF DREAMS (THE SPRINGIELDS), with Birdie on
vocals

BIRDIE: We need a name.
What shall we call ourselves?
TERRY: (fingering the surplices both he and Liam are wearing)
How about The Holy Joes?
LIAM: More like holy shows.

Spotlight back on Terry agin.

TERRY: ‘Course this was long after we were
altar boys. By then I’d been…inoculated – is
that the word? – into the humdrum world of
work.. The local tannery to be precise.
As had Liam. Birdie was in a different league –
acedemically at any rate – and was being groomed
for a life of imparting knowledge at the local
convent. She was going to be a teacher.
At least, that’s what her father had in mind for her.
Mine had slightly different views on education;
rather like those of the bishop who’d once announced
‘education is okay for the few, but when
you educate the masses it can be dangerous’.
Mushrooms, that’s what they wanted us to be –
Keep us in the dark and feed us full of shite
(pause)
It was our love of music that brought – and kept
us – together. Well,our kind of music. Not the
jiggin-and reelin and accordian bashing
as practised at the Temperance Hall, but something
a bit more up to date.
(pause)
The Holy Joes had a nice…ecclesiastical ring to it.
We thought.
Fr Walsh begged to differ.
LIAM: (as Fr Walsh)
Making game of the church, boys?
Or is it making game of me?
It won’t do
And both of you altar boys, to boot…
TERRY: We hadn’t been altar boys for a long time
And my tenure hadn’t exactly been…uneventful
LIAM: Am I to understand you’re planning to wear those…
abominations for the concert?
TERRY: (fingering his surplice)
They’re our uniforms
LIAM: Over my dead body!
(he turns his fury on Birdie)
And you Margaret Power,what do you
plan to wear? (silence)
Does your father know the carry-on at
these…rehearsals?
Does Sr. Assumpta?
TERRY: Of course they didn’t
We worked on the principle that
what they didn’t know wouldn’t bother them.
(pause)
We’d been given the use of a separate room
at the hall in which to knock our trio into
shape, and we’d planned to reveal ourselves
to an unsuspecting public at the upcoming
concert in the hall. Fr Walshe’s surprise
visit had probably put the kybosh on that.
(pause)
I’ve often thought that the parish priest was
my nemises; Moriarty to my Holmes; Laurel

CONFESSIONS OF AN ALTAR BOY

d9704-tales_of_halloween_2_252822529

I CONFESS

NAR: I’ve been a thief most of my life.
I can say that now with the passage of time.
And not like the ‘good thief’ either.
Oh no.
I stole with impunity.
From friends, acquaintance, from strangers.
I stole from everybody and anybody
I even stole from my own brother.
And that’s unforgivable.
(pause)
He’s dead now.
(pause)
Years later, after we had been reconciled,
he told me something I hadn’t been aware of.
Mother had paid it all back to him.
Yes.
A few pounds a week, until it was all…
I don’t recall how much it was…
About four hundred, I think.
(pause)
That’s mothers for you.
(pause)
It’s my wife too.
She has a conscience like that.
If I had stolen money from her brother or sister
she would probably pay it back too
Maybe I married my mother.
(pause)
I suppose it all started with my pilfering from
the collection boxes when I was an altar boy.
During the Mass, we serving boys were delegated
to pass the collection boxes among the congregation,
and it was my job afterwards to put the money collected
in a bag, and leave in the sacristy for the priest to pick up after Mass.
It was very easy for me to palm a few of the coins as I did so,
and slip them into my pocket under my surplice.
Funnily enough, I never confessed these sins in confession.
I would invent sins, but I never confessed the real ones.
I wonder why?
Later, I got a job as a temporary postman

I arrived in London in the swinging sixties.
I stayed in Mrs McGintys house.
Oh, a lovely doss-house just off the Kilburn High Road
The may have called it the swinging sixties,
but the only swinging I ever done was a
fourteen-pound hammer for McAlpines or Wimpeys
Wimpey, do you know what that stands for?
W.I.M.P.E.Y
We import more Paddys every year
And they did too!
(pause)
Mind you I started off higher than that.
Navvying, that’s scraping the bottom of the drum.
No, I began with painting.
Well, it’s a trade, isn’t it.
And it couldn’t be that difficult, could it?
I mean, I’d whitewashed a few henhouses and
cow-houses at home…
And reddened a few hay-barns
And did a good job too, if I may say so
(pause)
I mean, Highbury Stadium wasn’t much different, was it?
Not much more than a glorified haybarn –
with a bit of raked seating added on.- was it?
I told the guy in the Nags Head, who was hiring,
that I had toshed half of the stadiums in Munster.
Well, what’s a little white lie?
(pause)
I realized I wasn’t cut out for the more intricate brush-
work involved when the foreman said that a dog wagging
his tail would do a better job.
That was my second day there.
There wasn’t a third.
Naturally.

(to be contd)