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.
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

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.
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

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
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.
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
Does Sr. Assumpta?
TERRY: Of course they didn’t
We worked on the principle that
what they didn’t know wouldn’t bother them.
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.
I’ve often thought that the parish priest was
my nemises; Moriarty to my Holmes; Laurel




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.
He’s dead now.
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.
A few pounds a week, until it was all…
I don’t recall how much it was…
About four hundred, I think.
That’s mothers for you.
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.
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?
We import more Paddys every year
And they did too!
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
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?
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.

(to be contd)



available to buy on Amazon

extract from play:

Tom O’Brien
Character list
All the parts with the exception of Older Brian and Younger Brian can be played by 2 actors. Big Tone, Father, Man and Nelson can be played by one actor. Pat, Sal, Lydia, Fay and Mother can be played By one actress
There are 3 acting areas on the stage:
Stage-left. This is Brian’s space, his bed/ living space. It is bare except for a single bed, a bucket, an oxygen cylinder and mask, a bedside table and a chair. The table has some cans/bottles of cider on it.
Centre-stage. This area has a bench and a square of green/grass. This is where much of Brian’s life is lived. It represents Bottle Alley, the gathering place of the alcoholic.
There’s such a place wherever there are alcoholics.
Stage- right. This is where OLDER Brian, the narrator, holds court. This is the Brian that Brian would like to be. The only thing in this area is a card table with some of Brian’s books on it, and a card saying BOOK SIGNING TODAY. Resting against the table legs is a placard with the legend below printed on it
I know every thing about drink – except how to stop.
Act one
Enter the cast singing ‘The Logical Song’, by Supertramp
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. There are times when all the worlds asleep, The questions run too deep For such a simple man. Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned I know it sounds absurd But please tell me who I am.
OLDER BRIAN comes on stage. He is smartly dressed, holding a book under his arm. This is how Brian wants to be seen.
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?
BRIAN, in bed, awakes slowly, taking a while to become aware of his surroundings. One of his first acts is to crawl from the bed to the bucket and be violently sick for several minutes, then put the oxygen mask to his face and inhale. After a while he staggers to his feet, 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
BRIAN: Good morning Hastings!
Brian moves centre stage and sits on the bench, drinking from his ‘coke’ can. This is Bottle Alley. He lies on his bench as BIG TONE comes along, singing.
TONE: I’m a rambler, I’m a gambler, I’m a long way from home
And if you don’t like you can leave me alone
I’ll eat when I’m hungry and I’ll drink when I’m dry
And if the moonshine don’t kill me I’ll live till I die.
BRIAN: Leave it out, will ya? I’m trying to sleep
TONE: I like a good warble in the morning
BRIAN: I like a good shit in the morning. I don’t expect all the neighbours
to have to listen to the racket though!
TONE: Ah, shure I was reared to it
BRIAN: Shittin’ or singin’?
TONE: The first sound you’d hear of a morning around the Horse
and Jockey would be me ould fella’s rendition of ‘I’ll Take
You Home Again Kathleen’ as he scraped the face offa himself
in the bathroom . (sings a bar)
BRIAN: Did you say jockey? I wouldn’t like to be the saddle on any
horse you were riding!
TONE: Horse and Jockey you pratt. It’s a small town in Tipperary,
where I was reared.
It’s a long way to Tipperary, It’s a long way to go…
He staggers and almost falls on top of Brian
TONE: I haven’t been back there for nearly thirty years.
BRIAN: Well, fuck off back there now and leave me in peace!
TONE: I couldn’t go skippering there. Jaysus, how
would I live it down. If me mother saw me she’d
die with shame.
BRIAN: Get a fucking job then.
TONE: Ha ha…
OLDER Brian looks over at them
OLDER: Hey, you pair of cunts. Did you ever see yourselves as others see you?
BRIAN: Take no notice of him. He’s like that every day. I only have to catch sight
of him in the mirror and he’s off on one.
TONE: What’s wrong with us? 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 they road when they see you.
TONE: People like me…?
OLDER: I don’t mean you personally. I mean all of us. You, me, the whole alcoholic community- we’re the dregs of society
TONE: 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.
BRIAN: Ignore him, he’ll go away after a while
OLDER: 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 suddenly stands and becomes smarter, more respectable as a MAN enters
BRIAN: Bottle of cider please.
MAN: Bit young for scrumpy, ain’t ya? What age are ya? Eleven, twelve?
BRIAN: It’s for me da.
MAN: Is it now? And why should I believe you?
BRIAN: Please, mister. He’ll kill me if I don’t bring it back.
MAN: I could go to jail. You goin’ to make it worth my while?
BRIAN: What d’you want.
MAN: What d’you think I want? What I usually want.
(he places a bottle of cider in Brian’s arms)
Two and six to you.
(Brian’s two hand are engaged holding the cider to his chest)
I’ll help myself, shall I?
He puts a hand in Brian’s trouser pocket and begins playing with Brian’s genitals
MAN: That’s it. Help myself.
Brian tolerates it for a few moments, then suddenly lashes out with his feet, catching
the man in the shins.
BRIAN: Bloody pervert.
He runs out of the shop, grabbing a packet of cigarettes of the counter as he does so.
He sees his friend, Billy (off), in the distance.
BRIAN: Hey Billy! (he holds up the drink and cigs)
See you in the Big Wood in five minutes.
Later, in The Big Wood. Brian is smoking, clearly drunk. Of Billy there is no sign. His father comes upon him and grabs him by the scruff. He drags him off home, and into the bathroom.
FATHER: What have I told you…?
BRIAN: I wasn’t doin’ nothing…
FATHER: Out there with that band of…of vagabonds. If I was a religious man ‘tis down on my knees I’d be right now, beggin – no beseechin’ – the Blessed Virgin for guidance. To think that I raised a gurrier like you…(pause). You thought you’d get away with it, I suppose. Not only a drunk but a thief too. Stealing cigarettes from our neighbour. Bringing shame on the family. Well I have just the thing for boyos like you.
He indicates the bath. Brian looks at it in horror.
BRIAN: But it’s cold, dad.
FATHER: Like I said, just the job for boyos like you. GET IN.
He heaves Brian into the bath, then urinates over his back. He exits, grinning.
Lights change to signify passing of time
BRIAN: Did you hear what I said, mum?
(Enter Brian’s MOTHER)
MOTHER: Don’t talk about your father like that.
BRIAN: I’m not lyin’, mum, I’m not.
MOTHER: I don’t know where you get these notions from.
BRIAN: I tell you, he did. Four or five years ago. I was only a child. He beat me, then he threw me into a cold bath. I had my clothes on an all. Then he pissed all over me.
MOTHER: Well, you’re not a child now. You’re sixteen. Time you got a bit of sense. It’s your imagination, that’s what. And that awful drink you take. Cider rots your brain, I suppose you know that? Why can’t you be normal like everyone else your age. Take up sport…go and chase girls. (pause) You know you can’t stay here, Brian love. Not if you keep drinking like that. Your father won’t have it.
BRIAN: He won’t have me, drunk or sober. He won’t even speak to me. I’m ‘that silly slop’, or that ‘bloke over there’. He can’t even look at me. You know how I always have to sit in the chair behind the door, so that when it’s open he can’t see me? Why does he do that?
MOTHER: I don’t know, love?
BRIAN: How do you think that makes me feel?
MOTHER: He’s not a bad man.
BRIAN: He hates me. You all went on holiday without me earlier. Why?
MOTHER: I know we shouldn’t have left you, love.
BRIAN: And I had to get out of the house for a week. Why couldn’t you trust me? I spent most of the week in…well it doesn’t matter where. What’s wrong with me, mum?
MOTHER: Nothing, love. (pause) It’s just that…your dad, well, he had a hard upbringing.
BRIAN: And that makes it right? How he treats me? If I was a dog he would treat me better. I wanted him to be proud of me. Instead he…he… (he doesn’t finish) I sometimes think he’s not my dad at all.
MOTHER: How dare you say something like that. I won’t have you speak like that.
BRIAN: Tell me it’s not true, then.
MOTHER: Get out. Get out! With your filthy notions!
(OLDER BRIAN picks up the story)
OLDER: Look at you. Pathetic isn’t the word. You were afraid of him. You, a big strapping lad and you were afraid of him. You were afraid of your own shadow! And what did you do? 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)
Me and my shadow… Me and my shadow…
BRIAN: You don’t know anything…
OLDER: I was there, wasn’t I? That’s where you met what-you –ma-call her. Fay. That’s it. 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 fifteen. She was only using you.
BRIAN: That’s not true. (pause) Anyway, she paid for it.
OLDER: Yeah, she did pay for it.
(Enter FAY)
FAY: You’re a nice looking fella. What’s your name?
BRIAN: Brian
FAY: Big too. Are you still at school?
BRIAN: I’m working! Apprentice painter. I know your name. It’s Fay.
FAY: How do you know my name, Brian?
BRIAN: I’ve seen you around. Lot’s of times.
FAY: You been following me? (laughs) Do you fancy me or what? (pause) You must know Nelson then?
BRIAN: Yeah, I know Nelson.
FAY: Have you seen him around today?
FAY: Probably in one of the boozers. Drunk as a skunk. The bloody creep.
BRIAN: He’s your boyfriend?
FAY: I wouldn’t say boyfriend. We…mess around sometimes.
BRIAN: He’s dangerous.
FAY: He’s a bit of a head case alright. Are you afraid of him?
BRIAN: I’m not afraid of anyone.
FAY: Oooh, that’s tough talk. What would you do if he came along and saw the two of us?
BRIAN: We’re not doing anything.
FAY: But if we were. Say we were…making love.
FAY: I’m serious. Have you got a place? A room?
BRIAN: I live at home.
FAY: What age are you?
BRIAN: I’m…seventeen.
FAY: You sure? Where do you suggest then?
BRIAN: You serious?
FAY: Why wouldn’t I be? You got any drink?
(Brian shows her several bottles of cider he has in his bag. Fay shows him a bottle of gin she has in her shoulder bag. The both laugh like conspirators)
BRIAN: How would you fancy sleeping under the stars? It’s going to be a nice warm summer’s night.
FAY: What a romantic you are, Brian.
BRIAN: I have a quilted sleeping bag that I keep in the big woods.
FAY: You’re well-prepared, I must say. Why in the woods?
BRIAN: I like sleeping under the stars.
FAY: Especially if you’re too pissed to go home, eh? Is it big enough?
BRIAN: I don’t know. How big should it be?
FAY: (laughing) The sleeping bag, you berk!
BRIAN: It’s a double.
FAY: I’ve always been the outdoor type. I suppose we had better go and inspect your…lair then.
(They link arms and head off for the woods. Brian pulls his sleeping bag from the undergrowth and the both get in and snuggle up. They make love and fall asleep.
NELSON: (Off) Fay! Where’s my money, you bitch? I know you’re here somewhere
FAY: Christ! It’s Nelson. He’ll kill me if he finds me…
BRIAN: What did you do?
FAY: He’s a tea leaf. He’s at it all the time. I nicked some of the money he nicked from somebody else. He was doin’ my head in. I just had to get away…
There’s pandemonium for a few moments as they grab their belongings and make their escape. Shortly afterwards, NELSON, bursts into the clearing, brandishing a knife.
NELSON: By Christ. When I do find you… (exits again)


biography-page-001 (3)

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..





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


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

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


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 ©


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.






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,…….