Photo: model of getaway vehicle

For most of Ireland, the Eighties were a time of grime and crime. In May 1986, for example, burglars in the middle-class Dublin suburb of Clontarf beat an unfortunate man to death with one of his own golf clubs. Emigration climbed steadily until it passed the 100,000 mark in 1989, the year I cleared off too, for a while, to London, where I described my CV to a fellow alumnus – college, dole, unreal jobs (“as opposed to having a real job”).

Take the outline of a Christmas story: a forest in the morning; lochs of cold water; mud; an uncle on the back of a lorry; loading it with Christmas trees; two shady locals nervous about money. A cousin got jammed, stuck in the trees. Come on, move back there. Behind his father, the boy could not move. A minute or so passed. Come on. In the same mild, distracted tone, over his shoulder. Looking up, I was silently watching the boy struggling, twisting, packed up to his waist in rising Christmas trees, on the back of a lorry in the cold, dark, grey mess that was the forest. The lorry driver was from Cork. He then said something. There’s one born every minute.

Another case of going nowhere: the evening Foley crashed into a ditch near Durrow viaduct to avoid an old guy in a blue car coming against us. We tried to get the little truck back on the road. The old chap had an Italian accent. He sounded just like Chico Marx. A red minibus then got in the way. The road was narrow. The minibus driver was silent, trying to edge through, and Foley said to him, “Hey, don’t blame me if you tear the side out of your bus!” The corner of the truck was sticking out. “Will you hang on for a few minutes, will you?” When the Snozzler et al came along in a blue Mini, we all pushed it out of the ditch. Then the Snozzler turned to me. “You were great on television, lad,” he said, in his utterly adenoidal voice. He was the old man L. C. had hit over the head with an oil drum, for his wages, a few years earlier. Nearly killed him. Fractured his skull.

Dole Poem

November, 1984

This is Class Hall E. The time is 10.20 AM. It is a bright, mild morning outside while in here the professor talks about historical geography. Or geographical history. Does it matter? I have money worries again. They are nothing new here. This life may be hedonistic and paid for by someone else but I have to say I don’t care, don’t I? I have to make some excuse for living like this. There’s more to it than that, I know. I don’t fail exams. I must be malnourished or something to be thinking like this. I can’t see too clearly. I have no real problems to occupy my mind. I’m left to my own devices. This is a search for meaning, capital letters.

It is now near four o’clock. I’m in sociology. I’m looking out the window and it’s sunny out there. I’m depressed because of the winter too. We are heading into it and I don’t like the thought of Christmas. He’s talking about poverty and he’s making me think of money. The dole office was robbed here last week.

The dole office manager was carrying a briefcase of cash down the street for the day’s payments when two men in balaclavas pulled up beside him on a Honda 50. The pillion passenger levelled a shotgun at the manager, took the case and wished him a Merry Christmas. They took off again and vanished at top speed. It was the perfect job on the day but the two Napoleons of crime were caught after they neglected to sign at the dole office, the following week.


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