DOWN BOTTLE ALLEY by Tom O’Brien

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available to buy on Amazon

extract from play:

1
DOWN BOTTLE ALLEY
By
Tom O’Brien
Character list
OLDER BRIAN
YOUNGER BRIAN
TONE
SHOPKEEPER
FATHER
NELSON
DOCTOR
NURSE
FAY
LYDIA
PAT
SALLY
MOTHER
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.
2
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.
3
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.
(sings)
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…
4
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?
5
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)
6
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.
7
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.
8
FAY: Have you seen him around today?
BRIAN: No.
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.
BRIAN: Wha!
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.
9
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)

SHANE & VICTORIA – A LOVE STORY

BE THERE!
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..

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THREE POEMS

002

HOODS

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

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

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

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

© Tom O’Brien

FAMOUS FOR BEING FAT

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

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

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

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

© Tom O’Brien

MR PIANO MAN

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

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

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

Tom O’Brien ©

WHAT’S THE STORY?

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

 

SOME COWBOY by Tom O’Brien

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If Jonjo was surprised he didn’t show it.

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

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

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

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

‘What do you want?  he asked harshly.

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

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

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

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

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

‘You never said anything…at the time’.

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

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

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

‘Say goodbye to the man, Johnny’.

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

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

End.

 

 

A MODEST PROPOSAL

 

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

Remember – NATIONALISE ALL BILLIONAIRES!

IMMINENT CATASTROPHE by Clive James

 

IMMINENT CATASTROPHE by Clive James

imminent catastrophe goes on

Not showing many signs of happening.

The ice at the North Pole that should be gone

By now, is awkwardly still lingering,

And though sometimes the weather is extreme

It seems no more so than when we were young

Who soon will hear no more of this grim theme

Reiterated in the special tongue

Of manufactured fright. Sea Level Rise

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

Say tenured pundits with unblinking eyes.

Continuing to not go up by much,

The sea supports the sceptics, but they, too,

Lapse into oratory when they predict

The sure collapse of the alarmist view

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

A metaphor less suited to their wish.

A house of cards subsides with just a sigh

And all the cards are still there. Feverish

Talk of apocalypse might, by and by,

Die down, but the deep anguish will persist.

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

That motivates the doomsday fantasist:

There can be no world if he is not here.

COLLEEN BAWN…a tale of murder and intrigue.

COLLEEN by Tom O’Brien  (extract)

Chapter one

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

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

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

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

……..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter  2

 

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

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

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

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

‘Have you got a moment, Mr O’Dea?’.

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

It was Stephen Sullivan, Mauria’s brother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘My master wishes to speak to you’.

‘Your master?’.

‘Mr Scanlon,sir’.

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

‘What does he want?’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Now, if you will excuse me…’

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

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

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

…………..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘And your uncle?’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Someone like you, I suppose?’.

‘Why not?’.

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

He nodded.

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

‘Not even when they are lovers?’.

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

‘I want to take care of you’.

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

‘Marry me and all that will change’.

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

……

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

‘Over here man. In the corner’.

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

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

‘Slainte’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘You name it, sir, I can play it’.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Yes’.

‘I have never impersonated anybody before’.

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

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

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

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

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

‘You’re asking me to break the law?’.

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

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

‘What is it you require me to do?’.

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

THE DISPOSSESSED

THE DISPOSSESSED by Tom O’Brien

Being away for so long had made me homesick.  When you’re young, four years seems a lifetime. The notion of swapping the concrete wilderness that was Kilburn for the more natural one of Currabaha for a few weeks seemed like a good idea.

Oh, I was brash and I was flash; my easily-acquired ‘Big Smoke’ veneer not so shiny anymore, but I was still lonesome. London was a great place for people like me – fellas with little inclination of getting out of bed in the morning – yet deep down there was always this nagging feeling that I didn’t belong.  Where did I belong? That was the burning question even then, all those years ago. I didn’t know then, and I’m not sure I know now…

The first shock I had was seeing my father’s physical condition. He seemed to have aged ten years. And he had developed ulcers on his legs which made walking painful. His bicycle had been replaced by a moped – an NSU QUICKLY.

This contraption carried both him and my mother wherever they wanted to go with the greatest of ease. It was progress of a sort I guess.

The biggest shock, though, was seeing the electricity cables connected  to the house. For years we had lived in a twilight world of paraffin lamps and candles. Now the place was ablaze with electricity.  There was even an electric cooker and a TV.  There was piped water too. No more dragging buckets  up from the well a hundred yards away. The only modern convenience missing was a bathroom – and father was working on that.  To be truthful, I had forgotten how primitive our existence used to be.  London had seen to that.

“Speak to your father”, my mother urged.  “He won’t make the first move”.

As we hadn’t spoke for almost a year before I left, I wasn’t sure how he would react.  I needn’t have worried: he seemed as eager to talk as I was. The period of silence between us wasn’t referred to at all. Both of them showed a keen interest in my life in London so I invented a fictitious existence for myself.  I don’t think the truth would have gone down well, so I told them what they wanted to hear.  I felt a real shit telling them lie after lie, but what was the alternative?  Tales of my gambling and thieving would hardly have endeared me to them.

Little things that I had forgotten, like people blessing themselves as they passed a church or drivers stopping to offer you a lift, reminded me forcefully that this world and London hardly spoke the same language. The culture gap was so great, the way of life so different, that my few years absence made me feel a stranger myself.

I was forced to play out the charade of the big spender when I visited the Dirty Bucket and other watering-holes in the neighbourhood. And suffer all the back-slapping and hand-shaking as I bought drinks for half the county.  A prestigious  job had to be invented too – so I told everyone I was I was working for the William Hill  organisation.  Which I was in a way.  Someone got the mistaken impression that William Hill was  a building  contractor, and several fellows asked if I could fix them up with a “start”. I said I’d see what I could do.

One day I borrowed my cousin’s motorbike and rode up the side of the Comeraghs. And when I could ride no more I abandoned the bike and climbed. Finally, I stood in the shadows of Crotty’s Eye, a needle-like projection that eavesdropped on the valleys below.  Idly, I wondered what Crotty, the highwayman, thought when he looked down on those plains.  I imagined him, patiently sitting in the eye of the needle, watching potential victims grow large before his eyes as they made their way slowly along the mountain trail. And I visualised him,later, dangling from the gallows in Waterford City, where he was hanged for his crimes.

“Hey Crotty”, I shouted in the wind,  “I bet you never thought the Clancy Brothers would make you famous” .

I’ll tell me ma when I go home the boys won’t leave the girls alone…

A highwayman, now that was the life.

Being there reminded me of Deirdre. It didn’t seem that long ago since we had swore our undying love for each other on this very same spot. Now I had learned from my mother that she was to be married to some fella from Cork in a couple of weeks.  “Forever”, she had whispered in my ear. “I will love you forever, Terry”.  It occurred to me now  that “forever” isn’t such a long time after all.

Making my way back down I passed Lackendaragh’s Cave. It wasn’t really a cave; merely a couple of stone walls bridged over with galivanised iron and bits of timber. then covered rocks and sods of earth.  The rear end was sealed with more stones, the front partly covered with fertiliser bags. I peeped inside but he wasn’t home.  The place looked like it hadn’t been lived in for some time, so perhaps he had moved on. That didn’t seem likely though; he had lived half way up these mountains for as long as anyone could remember, coming down to the village on the odd occasion to collect his few meagre rations. I had always thought of him as Moses, with his long white beard and flowing hair.  Perhaps he was dead.

The days passed in a pleasant alcoholic haze and I was well into my second week before I got as far as Tramore. Which surprised me, because I always felt some special  ‘magic’ about the place. Now as I strolled along the prom all I felt was indifference. Oh, it was still a beautiful spot, and it was difficult not to be moved when you saw those big Atlantic breakers rolling into the bay, but when I looked back at the amusement arcades and fairground booths that dotted the sea-front, I realised it could just as easily be Brighton or Clacton.  Or any of a hundred other seaside resorts.  And I felt sad.

I hadn’t been long in the town when I noticed a girl hanging around the arcades giving me the eye.  We got chatting and I learned she was from Belfast. She told me she was  working as a maid in one of the hotels and it was  her day off.  Later, we sat on the pier, our legs dangling, and ate greasy chips washed down  with  warm Fanta. She told me her name was Marian, and said she had watched me ride in on the motorbike.  When she asked if I owned it I said yes.

“I love the feeling you get on a big bike”, she said.  “Don’t you?”

Then she asked if I would take her for a spin.  I was only too happy to oblige and we soon left the town behind us in a ribbon of blue smoke.

The bike was a charging chariot and I was starring in Ben Hur as we negotiated the coast road. We flew low over Annestown and Boatstrand, slowing down only to negotiate treacherous hairpins. When the adrenalin finally gave out we found ourselves on the cliffs overlooking Bonmahon.

The signs of decay were everywhere.  If ever a town basked in the shadow of former glory, this was it.  Less than a hundred years ago, this was a thriving mining community, vibrant and volatile.  The lanky main street once boasted rows of terraced housing – maybe not exactly luxurious living – but at least it radiated life. All that was left now was a ghost town. The sand dunes had crept relentlessly towards the remains of the Main Street, the only barrier to further encroachment the facades of the houses. They has been chopped off at shoulder height and were only recognisable because the bricked-up windows and doors were of a different colour.

We had parked quite close to a railed-off section of cliff.  Here, too, the signs of decay were visible.  DANGER!  KEEP OUT!  DISUSED COPPER MINES.  Even the warning signs were faded.  The copper, the houses, most of the people, long gone. Nothing left but some bloody great holes in the ground.

The summer day ebbed as we sat on the grass and talked.  About everything – and nothing.  Marian had spent some time in London, working in hotels along the Bayswater Road

“Most of the guests were sex-maniacs”, she said. “Everything time we went into a bedroom to do our work we needed armour.  Many of them were Middle Eastern, Arabs I suppose, and they thought their money could buy them anything”.

She laughed at one particular memory…”one guest was still in bed when I went into his room.  He had a book on his lap, a guide book he said, and asked me to point out a certain landmark to him. I am short-sighted and had to bend down to have a look. Well, he pulled away  the bedclothes and you can imagine what I was left looking at!  That was enough for me…I came home to civilised people after that”.

She would have returned to Belfast, she said, but most of her friends and relatives were fleeing the place. “There’s more of us in Shannon now than Belfast”.  Then she asked me if I was a sympathiser.

I said I hadn’t thought about it much but I supposed I was. Well, if ever there was a collection box to be filled I always threw a few bob in.  I had seen the pictures on the telly; hordes of them tumbling over the border, faces on them like they had seen Old Nick himself. And sure maybe they had.

Later, as the sun sank into the sea, we rode back into Tramore and terrified ourselves on the big dipper.  Then we jousted in the bumpers; the head-to-head collisions sending her screaming with delight. When we had our fill of drink we went dancing in the Silver Slipper, and later still I asked her to come back to London with me.  She said she would.  To celebrate we consumated our  passions on the still-warm sand  with the Atlantic breakers lapping gently against our toes. Afterwards, I fell asleep.  When I woke up she was gone.  And so was my wallet.  Ah well, that’s red-headed women for you.

The following night I went dancing in the Rainbow, with money borrowed from my mother.  What I thought of as a palace now turns out to be nothing more than a glorified shed.

I watched from the shadows as a man scattered handfuls of crystals on the uneven floor.  Occasionally, when the ballroom doubled as the cinema, the same man used to strike terror into us youngsters, curbing our exuberance with whacks on the head from his torch. Now, he was just an old man.

Later, as the hall began to fill, I felt like an interloper as I watched the age-old rituals unfold.  The men lined up one side of the hall, the girls along the other. The space between was a sort of no-mans land, across which the two sides sized each other up.  When the music commenced it was a buffalo stampede across no-mans land to grab the girl of your choice.  Sometimes there was a sharp change of direction to grab a second or third choice when the initial selection was commandeered by somebody else.

I didn’t dance all night.  I merely stood there and watched, and realised that I didn’t have the stomach for it anymore.  Friends and acquaintances, I watched them waltzing and fox-trotting by me, happy in their world, and I knew I wasn’t part of it anymore.

Absence hadn’t made my heart grow fonder; it had only distanced me from them and their way of life. For the first time in my life I truly understood the expression I had often heard in London, “you can never go back”.  Its true – You can never go back.

A few days later I “acquired” some more funds and returned to London. I’ve never been back.                                                                                     

                  

                                                                   end