Belfast, 1987

Belfast, 1987

The spell was a paid placement, though the Brussels money didn’t come until later. I was twenty-two at the time.

16th February, Monday

I took the one o’clock train. Liam seemed less at ease than me but as the day wore on I felt a bit bewildered. I stayed in Jimmy’s house in Twinbrook. He and his wife told me about the hunger strikes early the next morning. Emotional. They described it as the only time everybody stood together.

17th February, Tuesday

Jimmy’s house settled me. It sorted me out. Liam introduced me to Damien and Billy. I stayed in Damien’s place with the two boys. I watched them argue.

19th February, Thursday

We went to Newry to see P. Then I had to get some money so we crossed over the border to Dundalk. On the way back Liam decided to take a side road to avoid a heavy British army presence on the main one. We ran into a Brit checkpoint. They held us for two hours. We went up to the Felons’ Club in Andersonstown later and I stayed with Billy, off the Lisburn Road. I may be there the whole time.

23rd February, Monday

P. was up from Newry, talking about criminals and headbangers in the Provos. We drank with Jimmy in the Hunting Lodge and then we went to an EEC food meeting. I found Billy’s flat on foot.

24th February, Tuesday

The rain made me notice the hole in my shoe. We met up with G. and later we went up to Unity Flats. The nuns made my tea. The Brits were out in force in West. They stopped us twice in Twinbrook.

I finally got my last essay out of the way. I’ve put it in a large brown envelope. The Brits were crawling over West tonight. Liam and I were stopped twice in Twinbrook. He got us out of it by speaking in an English accent. We had just brought G. home. He’s Jewish. He was sacked from Queen’s for trouble-making.

He encouraged a strike among the cleaners.

I’m living with a Protestant called Billy on Wellesley Avenue, off the Lisburn Road. Damien is sound too. The two boys are always talking about their ‘relationship’. I feel comfortable here. Billy works at night in a place for the homeless so I only see him early in the mornings. Damien lives over on Cliftonpark Avenue. It’s supposed to be dangerous over there; front-line.

This is South Belfast. Queen’s is nearby and all students look the same. A joint RUC-British army patrol stopped us near the border last Thursday after Liam had driven over to Dundalk from Newry so I could get money. He decided to take a slip road on the way back but we ran into them. They searched us and went through the car. The police gave a bit of verbal abuse too [“wankers”, “shitheads” etc]. One of the soldiers found a Sinn Féin election leaflet in my bag and read through my diaries and notes. I got very nervous then [but he must not have been very literate]. They held us for well over an hour by the roadside. Darkness fell but eventually they let us go. Liam’s car had been seen in Bessbrook and somewhere else, according to them. Maybe they were just bored. I’m on the computer anyhow.

This city is amazing. P. objects to the criminal elements which he says exist within the Provos but still his bottom-line support is there. So is G’s, even though he wishes they had an overall socialist theory developed. So many people accept the armed struggle. It’s a different ball game here. The outside objections mean very little.

25th February, Wednesday

Liam called up and brought me down to the Front Page. I met his girlfriend. Damien was there too. We were surrounded by yuppies and social workers. Who’d be a social worker? Damien, Billy and I could not get into a disco on Sandy Row.

28th February, Saturday

Down to the Maze with some of the lads. I had to stay in the car park but later managed to get as far as the visitors’ café. They were visiting B. who was caught with D. A. when they were on their way to kill a policeman on the Ormeau Road. He got twelve years [there was fifty per cent remission of sentences at the time]. Now he’s education officer on his block. All the IRA prisoners are being politicised in there. They are big into Lenin at the moment.

I went out on my own, up the road to the Botanic Inn. If I’d wanted what I had to endure, I could have stayed at home.

1st March, Sunday

Billy brought me out to Finaghy to see an old man called Walter. It was raining. I find myself consciously looking around for external clues to a person’s make-up.

2nd March, Monday

I took the bus to Armagh and I met Tommy C. I had not realised who his brothers were. He showed me a logbook kept by Roddy in the months before his death.

I saw several entries where the Brits told him they were going to kill him.

Remember the sun on the way down. When I got back I drank in the Eglantine.

4th March, Wednesday

The Poly [University of Ulster, Jordanstown] is like a subway. The interview with R. L. freaked me out but we finished with a financial plan. He did help me. I need a letter to show a bank. A sob story and then I met Ray [one of Liam’s friends] and we had a few beers, snooker, burgers and chat. He is an extremely decent guy.

5th March, Thursday

Of course Billy insisted on walking in through Sandy Row. He has changed the flat around. I like Billy. They are all protective. Liam and I went down south to Navan, for a conference.

6th March, Friday

We collected my old pal D. in the night time. I met a girl called Bríd, a Montessori teacher, who turned and said, Tu es sympa, tu es mignon. Adorable. Really? D. got on well with the Travellers, especially the lame and wizened Bernie O’Reilly.

11th March, Wednesday

I’m waiting for the train to get moving. I have been out of Belfast since last Thursday night. Two days were spent at a Traveller conference in Navan and the rest have been spent in Maynooth, sorting out my money problems. I have no excuse for not making it back some time yesterday though. I just wanted to get seriously drunk and unwind after the financial hassle of a number of days. We’re moving now. For a while I did not know if I was coming or going. I’m tired. The rocking of the train puts me off writing. My socks are sticking to my feet. Haughey is the new Taoiseach. Garret Fitzgerald has resigned.

I got f*cking lost again in Belfast. I’m freaked out. An old man I asked for directions brought me to a taxi place near the Markets.

13th March, Friday

By the time we left for Derry four bombs had gone off. There was a council committee meeting in the Guildhall. Guys in suits handed out tea. A white terrier kept barking at the police in the Creggan. Explosions and hoaxes continued in Belfast all day. The IRA also killed a guy in Rostrevor, apparently by mistake. The Rag Ball is on in Queen’s. Flour on the streets. The streets are white.

14th March, Saturday

Billy brought me down to the Quayside bar and I met his brothers. There was music upstairs but it turned out we were financially unprepared. Still, we made it to Lavery’s. I met a girl called Louise, from the Short Strand. She fell in love with my accent.

18th March, Wednesday

Twinbrook [G’s] for lunch and photographs for the booklet I’m writing for the NICTP. Then we went to the Glen Road. The caravan was hot and crowded. I get on well with the girls. It started to f*cking snow. Sister Margaret in Unity Flats had photos too. “You don’t support the shootings, do you?” One of their windows had taken a bullet from the Shankill.

19th March, Thursday

“I need shoes, Manny. I got shoes.” [A quote from Runaway Train.] G. had the man in the shoe shop on Castle Street laughing all the time we were in there. We were more or less on a session. The Crown, the Morning Star, the Crown. Behind the words he has a lot to say. A little bespectacled English Jew reminded me of what socialism is all about. He also understands the importance of the ‘asshole factor’ in political movements. Eastern Europe isn’t really socialist. Well, that’s nothing really new. I had accepted too many Stalinist excuses. Sometimes I had even made them up for myself.

In 1969 G. was on a train somewhere in Czechoslovakia, smoking a Cuban cigar, when a goon appeared to tell him to put it out, as the railways minister was in the next compartment and didn’t like it. After attempting to engage the minister in a fraternal socialist debate about the cigar, G. got thrown off the train at the next station.

20th March, Friday

I’m bollocksed this morning after staying up until brightness with Damien. We were down the avenue at four or five in the morning. I was singing rebel songs. He was throwing snowballs. We had to go to the garage to get cigarettes. He told me about a woman in Berlin. The new shoes are a relief, a liberation. When the snow came the condition of the old pair became intolerable.

21st March, Saturday

I go down to Lavery’s and meet Louise again. There’s a party. Up in the flat there’s Patsy, a social worker (she said). Older than me. I just happened to notice you in the pub as well, before the flat. Black hair and a sailor top.

23rd March, Monday

I did not sweat in the caravan this time. There was a meeting about the Glen Road in St. Paul’s GAA club. There was venom but not as much as I expected. I’m used to this. We were drinking in the Glenowen when a newsflash said that a prison officer and two peelers had been killed in Derry. I look up to Jimmy.

25th March, Wednesday

Liam had to go to Dublin for a funeral. I talked to girls on the Glen Road site but I did not distribute many leaflets. Someone’s black eye put me off. I was a bit freaked out but for once my face stayed white. I’m getting cool again. Remember the sun on the Falls. Young women in this city are very nice to me. They are willing to smile and talk. The last one was in Simpson’s supermarket this evening. I’m surprised.

26th March, Thursday

Our booklet was printed. I was tired but I went to the Felons’ Club. Later in Lavery’s I met Patsy again. She remembered everything. Her sister knew everything.

27th March, Friday

The Conference at the Poly. I could get to like being a bureaucrat. I was on the door. The early morning was f*cking bizarre with the ambulance at the flat. Noreen [a lame guest up from the South for the conference] cut her hand.

28th March, Saturday

There is a bunch of middle-class teenage girls beside me on the train. They are something else. The West Brit accents. They must be a hockey team. I had a couple of drinks in the Quayside before I left.

30th March, Monday

The IRA killed a soldier and wounded three others in a bomb attack at Divis Flats. They dropped the devices down.

31st March, Tuesday

People don’t like sitting together on trains or buses. I got into this compartment first and I was watching them pass by in the corridor and outside but now an old guy has come in. It’s raining outside. The walk to Connolly station freshened me up a bit. Liam gave me a few days off after the conference. But I have to come back to the Free State on Thursday. This is a good time to write, before the train gets moving. The train is moving.

I just got back and there is a group of people in the flat and I wish they weren’t. The one thing was that I discovered the proximity of Botanic Station to Wellesley Avenue. Once I had something to eat on the train my mood greatly improved, even though it wasn’t too bad to begin with.

1st April, Wednesday

We had a meeting in the Andytown leisure centre about Travellers being barred. It went well enough but when we asked for Travellers to come with us did you ever feel like you were banging your head against a brick wall? At least we got the barring order lifted.

2nd April, Thursday

Glen Road meeting, twelve o’clock. All the men were down getting their dole. Liam could not go to Scotland because there were dawn RUC raids on Travellers in Belfast and Newry. Greg [a junkie mate of Billy’s] was still zonked in the flat when I got back in the afternoon. He’ll burn the place down.

3rd April, Friday

A Catholic has been killed in Ardoyne. Shot through the door. He was an IRA Volunteer. A UDR soldier is dead too.

I was trying to clarify for myself the summary reason why the British government remains in Ireland. I think it is a case of the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. It relates closely to the idea of an acceptable level of violence. Diane Perrons once wrote in an issue of Antipode about the break-up of Britain as a whole. That’s an intriguing idea.

6th April, Monday

The first train. It’s a new morning. Belfast city centre was sealed off. Soldiers and police were crawling all over New Lodge and the Antrim Road. It’s the funeral of Marley in Ardoyne. 

7th April, Tuesday

Marley’s funeral has been put off again. The TV showed British rule.

larrymarley

Larry-Marley-funeral-by-Sean-Allen

I was down in Armagh. Father Murray gave me a traditional earful. Murder etc. Tommy is dead on. A tough nut. His people are welcoming. Armagh is weird, a strange place. Tense and edgy. A night of trouble in Belfast and Derry.

The Pogues and the Dubliners entered the British top ten at no. 8. The Irish Rover. Ronnie Drew never sang as fast before.

8th April, Wednesday

Liam and I attended Larry Marley’s funeral. We walked up and down the length of the Falls. The military and the police had a massive presence. The population responded in suitable numbers. A cup of tea in Conway Mill warmed me up. Liam did not want to be photographed because he lives in East Belfast.

He kept his hood up.

Lavery’s was jammed and when I met Billy at ten to eleven he wanted to go to the Crescent [Glasgow Rangers Supporters Club] on Sandy Row. It was even more crowded. It was dark and a band was playing early on, before a disco. I sat there, motionless, quite content, but not saying anything. I did not care about the girls. 

9th April, Thursday

Liam and I attended Larry Marley’s funeral yesterday. It was cold and spitting and the cortege took hours to come from Ardoyne to Milltown cemetery. The army and the police swamped the Falls. There were at least a hundred Land Rovers, not counting the soldiers and their vehicles. The people turned out, several thousand of them, to pay their respects and show the security forces what they felt, faced by handguns, rifles, sub-machine guns, plastic bullet guns etc. I counted at least fifteen lorries and buses burnt out between Divis and Andersonstown. One, carrying cement, left a wet paste on the ground on the Lower Falls. The fires in the night had bent and broken up the surface of the road. 

The key, or one of them, to international justice is national self-determination. It’s a cultural thing as much as anything. I have more sympathy and understanding when it comes to the Poles now. Or Czechoslovakia. Martin McGuinness told the RUC on Monday night last, We will defeat you in the end. The time will come to explain what is to be done with the Protestants. It is their country too but there must be justice and there can be no peace without it.

Billy had asked, “What’s going to happen to the Protestant people in a United Ireland?” Not a matter of if, but when. “I don’t know. I wish I could say.”

10th April, Friday

Derry. The council committee meeting contained sheer idiots. We had pints with Martin S. He whips timber from the forestry on the Letterkenny side to sell in the city. The pub fire was very hot.

11th April, Saturday

It is Saturday afternoon and I have no money today, which is unfortunate. I won’t starve with bread and soup in the kitchen. I’m just after cleaning up and washing myself. We were at a party last night and I was really stoned, after keeping the car windows closed, but I left the place because violent dickheads were getting out of hand. I would like to go down to Lavery’s tonight. I don’t even care for the pub but I want to see Patsy again. I met her for the first time on 21st March. On Thursday night, upstairs in Lavery’s, I saw her and told Ray and Liam about her. They were with me. I met them in there. Then she came over and the boys were impressed with that. She came back to this flat. It looked quite good. She thought about staying but she took a taxi home with the girl from Turf Lodge who was with her. She’s from the Falls. I wish I had money so I could meet her tonight and bring her back here on her own. Just the two of us, with a carry-out and some cigarettes. She knows I fancy her because I told her. The boys say it is obvious she is interested. I’m looking at the orange bulb in this room and Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London has just come on. All that remains now is for us to get the physical opportunity. I have only met her three times. We are made for each other.

Just a fiver. That would be enough. I haven’t much time left here. Siouxsie covered The Passenger and I came to like her version. The brass seemed a bit much at first. The thing is to be so close to real success again while not having enough time or money to clinch her. For some reason she gives me shit about the Travellers and then she apologises. I think maybe it’s just a conversation piece. There are circumstances I cannot change and if these mean I won’t be sleeping with her ever, well…

She’s dark and when she smiles I really want her. God I do. She’s older than me, she looks older, but when I called her a woman she said she was a girl. It was exclusive eye-conversation. She seemed a bit uncertain because she was not alone. She was with people she knew. But they were not really interfering. It was heavy ordinance, said Liam. Everybody noticed us. It’s not a bad state to be in after speaking to each other only three times. There is plenty of time. I could do with a night’s passion again.

12th April, Sunday

I had to break down [open] M’s kitchen door for her, so I spent the afternoon there. Billy was asleep in the dark when I got back. Soup and toast. Two reserve constables were shot dead in Portrush last night. The weather was warm today.

13th April, Monday

Liam and I went to Andersonstown News where we met Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, cultural officer of Sinn Féin. 

15th April, Wednesday

Armagh, the trades council AGM. The committee will get off the ground. Liam was happy. I had done my last bit.

I said goodbye to Jimmy. It was half past eleven.

16th April, Thursday

John Gavin’s stories in his trailer got more and more gruesome. They call his place Fort Apache and Woodburn Barracks. Hannah [his wife] is an admirable woman.

We had a farewell party. Patsy left. She had lost interest, if she had any to begin with. I did not mind after a couple more joints and cans. I have theories but I don’t understand. Damien said it’s a different culture.

17th April, Friday

For my last day, Billy brought me over to The Raven [a loyalist club in East Belfast]. I was playing pool against a guy who was in jail for killing three Catholics. I was stoned. Billy gets a fool’s pardon there, for associating with Taigs. There were half a dozen of us, including Skipper [who was going down on drugs charges], and Greg, who is out of hospital. I got the three o’clock train in the sun.

The chap at the pool table had been released on appeal after a supergrass trial. I’d had a quiet word with Billy in the pool room. “We are going to lose this game.”

20th April, Easter Monday

I’m relaxing at home for this week. They could hardly wait for me to be back and safe.

29th April, Wednesday

My class had teamed up for a study visit with our counterparts from the Poly.

I missed the morning train to Belfast. It’s typical. I slept from Dublin to Dundalk on the three o’clock instead. I was bollocksed after running to Connolly. I felt like puking. I went to see Billy first, with cans. Liam called to the People’s College and everybody went to The Rotterdam. He was not impressed with my class.

30th April, Thursday

It rained as we walked across Albert Bridge. We went over to the Short Strand. I walked down to Lavery’s in the rain for a late pint.

1st May, Friday

The Protestants felt ill at ease in Connolly House. I felt the same in UDA headquarters, which was like a chamber of horrors. But then, when John McMichael was giving some of us a lift through the city, I was just chatting to him in the front seat, about Paisley. One for the books.

“Isn’t he like the Grand Old Duke of York?”

“Yeah, he’ll talk about fighting but he won’t do anything to organise it.” 

9th May, Saturday

The conflict has been deliberately cut off from people’s consciousness down here while they at the same time have wished it away like a horror story.

Postscript

22nd December, Tuesday

John McMichael was assassinated in Lisburn. It’s ironic that he was the first person I’ve ‘known’ to be later killed.

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Assault on Precinct Gombeen

Assault on Precinct Gombeen

February 1984

At the time the strapped Irish government had abolished free student medical cards and our (union) president was cooling with a few more in Dublin’s Mountjoy prison for defying a protest injunction. One of the other martyrs was the eventual talk radio star Joe Duffy, whose photo (above) shows him being dragged out of a hall in Trinity. A professor who liked to see his names in the papers had, in a not-so-progressive outburst, labelled such protesters “subsidised brats” for invading a lecture given by the Taoiseach (prime minister).

As part of the national campaign, three cohabitants were surprisingly keen to fulfil a promise to help occupy the health administration in the Kildare town of Naas. Nevertheless just thirty-one students got on that bus that morning, so my address alone contributed four. That was more than an eighth. The thought crossed more than one mind that if this went badly one could always hitch the fifteen miles back, as many had often passed that way.

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We entered shortly after noon, climbed to the third level and tied ourselves with thin ropes to the legs of desks in the large office space that was all women. We refused to leave when asked by the manager, a man in a grey suit. Soon we had our names taken by the police, who set up a siege around the building, leaving anybody out and nobody in.

The women typed away at their desks once no further disruption was evident. The students then untied the ropes for comfort. At five, the women all left and the management turned off the heating. The numbers inside had by then dropped to seventeen, as anyone who wanted a J1 summer visa to America had split, just in case.

The nearest pub was called the Wolfe Tone and a few brats hanging around on the streets below slipped in there after dark. It had a fire. When the pub heard what was going on, it was all for the revolution. It gave out free sandwiches to anyone who wanted to go across and throw them up on the roof. The windows of the top floor led onto a gravel roof with a large atrium in the middle. Half the republican sandwiches and several of the brown bags of burgers and chips that were bought nearby overshot the gravel and flew into the hole.

Kipping in our coats should have been second nature to us, otherwise, but it was a very cold night inside. Miserable. Cigarettes were in short supply but at least we found a couple of large, industrial rolls of brown paper in the cabinets and then noisily wrapped ourselves in it on the floor.

In the college canteen in the arts block the following lunchtime, the next year’s president made her name by standing on a black table and telling the crowd that seventeen comrades were holding out and needed their support. That news filled a few buses and a couple of hundred turned up in the afternoon. The ropes were let down into the crowd so sleeping bags could be attached. For the law, pushing and shoving at the fringes, this was just taking the piss.

The crowd below couldn’t understand why the heads above suddenly disappeared from the roof’s edge but, up top, cops with batons drawn were pouring through the windows on the far side of the atrium.

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We ran for the nearest office windows (see photo). Back inside, I ducked aside, behind a filing cabinet, but anyone holding a sleeping bag was chased down and battered. The women at the desks were horrified. They stood up and protested and then refused to leave, despite keen Garda encouragement to do so.

Understandably the ladies wanted to know who would mop the walls if the cops were let mop up. The man in the grey suit then got involved and, after everybody calmed down, it was the police who left, eventually. The seventeen remaining then emerged with the staff, to loud cheers. It all seemed heroic and exciting, especially as I had avoided a baton.

Dead Scrolls #1

Dead Scrolls #1

1984

At twenty, we think we’re invincible. Though still a few months short of it, Quirke was about to test the notion. Having borrowed a bicycle, he left the arts block on a dark, wet February evening. He skipped the footbridge to the old campus and emerged onto the main road before heading down through the small college town. Turning right at the bend outside the church, he passed the mill and crossed the little river before he took a left at the bottom of the main street. Halfway up that street he turned right before the traffic lights and then passed between a bus stop and the brown-brick public convenience that stood on an island in the middle of the town square.

Just as he reached the forking point of the road that pointed uphill to the railway bridge and the canal, an incoming car veered to the right of the island, to pass between the brown bricks and the pub called The Bucket of Blood. He looked up just as the car hit the bike, which had no light. The impact slid him over the wet bonnet and windscreen and off the roof. He spun in the air but somehow landed square on his feet, upon which the flight momentum ruined his perfect ten. He fell over and cut his finger. The woman driving stopped and got out, horrified, as he got to his feet.

“It’s OK. I’m OK,” he said.
“I didn’t see you. Oh God. Are you alright? I couldn’t see you.”
“Me neither. I had my head down. But I’m OK. I’m OK.”

The same could not be said for the bicycle. The front wheel was well buckled. Are you sure you’re alright? I couldn’t see you. A light would have helped, he admitted. But look, it’s alright, I’m OK. The woman calmed down after repeated assurances and then she insisted on driving him to wherever he lived.

Back at the house, his escape struck him more as he turned the key. Escaping that was even more satisfactory than coming home after closing time and turning on a kitchen tape recorder, turning on a cooker ring, toasting a slice of bread with a fork, buttering it and folding it over a slice of cheddar, all to the sound of What Difference Does It Make. He was simply blessed.

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He took a deep breath and went into the shabby front room with his news, only to be told first by little Pat that one of the other inhabitants was about to be released from hospital after an episode with a collapsed lung. Pat’s family had a pub, a hearse and a van for selling gas. Good for him. I just got knocked down.

Dead Scrolls cover

A Comedy of Manners

A Comedy of Manners

Of a number of false dawns, the acceptance of a play script by a Tony-Award-winning Irish theatre company really stands out. Despite the December 2000 email (see above), we didn’t meet until 11 April 2001, in central Dublin, when their man described it as a one-act, middle-class version of the English sitcom The Royle Family.

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The first warning signal, though, came on 18 May, from an unlikely source.

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He did not but more importantly he was not wrong. Heard no more and by early March 2002, I’d simply had enough.

You may rest assured of the lasting impression made by the lack of courtesy shown me by you and your company. I’d ask for my script back only I couldn’t see the point, given that an e-mail costs less than the price of a stamp and I haven’t received even that minimum after almost a year. Such casual, arrogant rudeness may seem to cost little or nothing when dealing with someone who is unknown and without the influence that can command prudent good manners. That would be a short-sighted view. At present my only satisfaction is the Schadenfreude resulting from reading about Druid’s troubles in the press. Whatever fortunes rise and fall in the future, the fact that I was misled and shabbily treated will remain uppermost in my mind.

In response their man apologised and acknowledged the absence of any update had been out of order. Unfortunately for him, the company’s financial problems saw him lose his job soon afterwards, which was worse than me being messed around.

Anyway, the script got renamed The Coolidge Effect, after the old joke about President Coolidge and the First Lady visiting a poultry farm and spotting a cock jumping on a hen.

The Coolidge Effect

© John Flynn 2001

Characters

TIM, a middle-aged middle manager

SHEILA, his wife

TOM, a retailer

SANDRA, his wife

Scenario

This is an episode in an undeclared war within and between rival two suburban couples who have nothing better to do.

TIM has the remote control, a newspaper and the sofa. Enter SHEILA with pen and paper. She sits on an armchair and reads from her list in progress.

SHEILA
We need to do some shopping. Let me see. Eggs… bread… teabags… cereal… yoghurt… paté… chutney… ethical coffee…

TIM
Assorted smelly cheeses…

SHEILA
Kiwi fruit… avocados…

TIM
What happened to the frequency band of low fat and high fibre?

SHEILA ignores him.

I’m thinking of buying a new drill, by the way. I want to put up a few shelves in the attic.

SHEILA
Why there? But what am I saying? You can never have enough shelves.

TIM
Can I have some fat bacon?

SHEILA
No. We’ve discussed that before. We can’t have you eating what you like, not at your age.

TIM
I’m also thinking of changing my car, by the way.

SHEILA
Already?

TIM
I have it two years. Almost.

SHEILA
Is there something wrong with it?

TIM
No. I should be able to get good value on the trade-in. I just feel like a change.

SHEILA
How long have you felt this way?

TIM
I meant to tell you, I just forgot.

SHEILA
You just forgot, just like that.

TIM
I’m sorry, darling.

SHEILA
Something important like that. You didn’t think to tell me.

TIM
Forgive me. Find it in your heart. I haven’t done anything yet.

SHEILA
I was only thinking I’d like to spend some money on the house.

TIM
But we added the extension only last year. What do you have in mind? The kids are gone, practically. Though I still feel their, eh, impact.

TIM rubs his thumb and forefinger. SHEILA stands up and points, like a visionary.

SHEILA
I want to knock out the wall between this room and the downstairs bedroom. Think of how good it would look, when we have people over for dinner. That reminds me, Tom and Sandra said they’re going to call over tonight.

TIM
Oh no. What do they want?

SHEILA
I don’t know. Perhaps they’re going to suggest going on holiday with us.

SHEILA removes some holiday brochures from the armchair and puts them aside but within reach.

She sits again.

TIM
Oh great. How would we promote Tom? Let me see. Genuine Irish character. Guaranteed to bore the arse off you.

SHEILA
He’ll be talking shop, as usual.

TIM
His shop.

SHEILA
It’s hers too, Tim. But tell people what they want to hear, that’s my motto. In fairness they’re not the worst.

TIM
No, they’ve never let us down. But I prefer to stand up and be counted. Except now. Don’t tell him I watched the match on TV the other night.

SHEILA
Why don’t you want to tell him you watched the match?

TIM
No need.

SHEILA
You were sprawled there all evening.

TIM
I just don’t want to talk about it. It’ll just mean listening to more of Tom’s philosophy. He has some funny ideas about the game. Despite all the games he travels to see.

SHEILA
Sandra was on about curtains as well. I wonder what she’s thinking of getting.

TIM
Since we are but man and wife clinging to a speck of dust that’s careering through the universe… who gives a squint?

SHEILA
Anyway, that wall, knocking it down, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Promise me you’ll think about it.

TIM
I’ll think of the expense.

SHEILA
We’re doing well enough, aren’t we?

TIM
We’re doing all right, I suppose, but Richard and Jane are costing us a fortune in college. We’re haemorrhaging cash here, darling.

SHEILA
Now we have the extension we hardly need the old downstairs bedroom, do we?

TIM
Maybe not, but I’d like to put any more of your proposed alterations on hold for a while. I’d like to change my car. Whatever extra loan I’d get I’d want for that.

SHEILA
Next year, then? Is that what you’re saying?

TIM
Whatever. Maybe. We’ll see.

SHEILA
Knocking out a wall is not a huge job.

TIM
But it’s messy. We’ll need a builder, and a decorator.

SHEILA
That’s only for the tricky bits. We could do some of the work ourselves.

TIM
If we paid them, then maybe the kids would help out.

Pause as SANDRA gives him a look. She picks up the brochures.

TIM
I’m joking. Christ, I’m joking. Are they the holiday brochures?

SHEILA
Any preference this year?

TIM
You pick a place. I’m easy. Where are they for?

SHEILA
Spain, Portugal, the Canaries. The usual.

TIM
We know pretty much what we’re going to get, so. Just pick a place where we won’t get ripped off, or kept awake all night by chavs screeching, smashing flowerpots, shagging in the pool and tramping around in high heels at six in the morning.

Brief pause

So, what do we get? Two weeks in summer, one in winter, and some weekend away during the year. That’s our total. And everything has to be paid for.

SHEILA
We could go back to the same place as last year. That’s one option.

TIM
I don’t know. It was nice. But there wasn’t that much to see there.

SHEILA
The beach was lovely.

TIM
The beach was nice. But I didn’t like the hassle to buy a timeshare.

SHEILA
You could get that anywhere. They left us alone after a couple of days. Remember the restaurant across the road from the complex? That was good.

TIM
It was good value all right. Big helpings. All the chips you could eat. Look, you decide, dear. I’m easy. Just tell me how much.

SHEILA
I’ll see if I can come up with a shortlist from what’s available. Oh no, that’s my shopping list.

SHEILA has got momentarily confused.

TOM
By the way, I must get a saw blade. Add that to the list.

SHEILA
Shouldn’t I make a separate list for the things you want to buy?

TIM
Make mine on the other side of the grocery list.

SHEILA crosses out hardware items and writes them instead on the back.

SHEILA
Do you think we need more toilet paper?

TIM
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from life, it’s that you can never have too much toilet paper.

TIM lies back with a sigh.

SHEILA
What are you thinking about?

TIM
The past.

SHEILA
What about it?

TIM
It will never come again.

SHEILA
What will never come again?

TIM
What were you like, in college, say?

SHEILA
College? Let me see. I suppose I was a bit of non-entity. No missing lectures, no heavy drinking, no sex. Not in the Biblical sense anyway. I don’t think it affected me at all, really, looking back. It was only after I started working and before I met you that I loosened up a bit, experienced real hangovers, did it for the first time. Got it out of the way, so to speak.

She studies a list again.

Why do you ask? I must have told you before.

TIM
Several times.

SHEILA
Why ask, so?

TIM
I only got drunk when it was student night in the local barn. I wasn’t the type to lodge in a pub simply because it was drizzling on a Monday afternoon. I had a girlfriend most of that time and it was all lovely and stable. I was never depressed.

TIM sits up again.

Never elated, either, mind you.

SANDRA
Depressed? Why would anybody be depressed in college? Unless they were actually hungry. Or they expected too much out of life.

TIM
I flew through. A part of me sneered at the wasters. Sometimes, now, I envy them.

SANDRA
You envy our kids, I’ll bet.

TIM
Perhaps I wasted my time.

SHEILA
The news is on. Do you want to turn the sound up?

TIM
No. I’m not in the mood for other people’s disasters.

SHEILA
Neither am I.

TIM
Do you want to go late night shopping during the week, or tomorrow, in the daytime?

SHEILA
Tomorrow, if that’s OK with you? I’ve a stack of tokens and vouchers collected and some of them will be out of date if we don’t go then.

TIM
Add chocolate biscuits to the shopping list. Please.

SHEILA picks up the wrong list.

TIM
You’ve got the wrong one there. That’s your holiday list.

Doorbell rings.

SHEILA
That must be them.

TIM
Here we go.

TIM rises somewhat stiffly and exits to answer it welcomingly, offstage (“Come in, come in”) while SHEILA tidies cushions, newspaper and brochures.

TIM returns with TOM and SANDRA.

General meaningless utterances ensue before everybody is seated.

TIM
What’ll it be? The usual?

TOM and SANDRA hesitate politely, mumbling uncertainties.

TIM tells them what they are going to have, from experience: a whiskey and water and a gin and tonic. Then he looks at SHEILA who says she’ll have a vodka and Coke.

Phone rings. SHEILA drops her brochures and exits to answer it.

TIM dispenses drinks and pours a whiskey for himself. TOM wears tinted specs. Then TIM cocks an ear.

TIM
By the tone of her voice, it has to be one of the kids. They don’t ring to say hello. How much is it this time, I wonder? I’d better not say too much, though. She’d rear up on me at the thought that her babies might miss a meal.

SANDRA
They’re your babies too, Tim.

TOM
If they do that, then it’s their choice. It’s not like you don’t give them enough, I suppose.

TOM takes out a cigar and gestures for permission to light up.

Re-enter SHEILA.

SANDRA
Tom!

To TIM and SHEILA

He’s not allowed to smoke those things in our house.

TIM
It’s OK, Tom. Think of it as a treat, to celebrate the fact you’re over here.

SANDRA
I’m sure Sheila would appreciate it if you didn’t light that up.

SHEILA makes no comment.

TOM puts away the cigar.

SHEILA

To TIM

It’s Richard. Your son. Do you want to say hello to him?

TIM rises in order to exit.

SHEILA
He’s looking for money.

TIM looks beseechingly to heaven and exits.

SHEILA sits again.

SHEILA
It’s Richard.

SANDRA
How is he?

SHEILA
He’s fine, I think. He’s preparing for his finals.

TOM
I hope he’s keeping the head down, so.

SHEILA
We can but hope.

TIM returns.

TIM
I had barely begun speaking to him and he was gone. Said he explained to you about the money. What was the cock-and-bull excuse this time? Don’t tell me he said it was for books.

SHEILA
He said it was for Jane. Apparently her grant came in before his did and she lent him money and now she needs some to go on some field trip and was afraid to ask, so he said he would.

TIM
A field trip? At this time of year? I suppose it means that in some way he’s looking out for her.

SHEILA
I wouldn’t be so sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was her idea and she put him up to it.

SANDRA
Nothing on this earth matches the talent for conspiracy possessed by teenage girls. We see it all the time in the shop, don’t we Tom?

TIM
How much did he ask for, anyway?

SHEILA
Two hundred.

TIM
Ninety for his bar bill, ninety for hers, twenty for food? Who knows? Jesus, what next? They have part-time jobs and grants and standing orders and still-

SHEILA
College is expensive, even for hermits.

SANDRA
Burning all that midnight oil, like we did ourselves. Though I never went on, myself.

TIM
Burning my wallet at both ends, more likely. Did he say anything about them coming home? When are the exams over?

SHEILA
It was all a bit vague. It’ll be after his finals, whenever they finish. That’s all I know.

TIM
They must sense the fridge is empty. I must get a saw blade. Add that to the list, will you?

SHEILA
You told me that already.

TIM
There may or may not be a field trip but I just have visions of my daughter spending my money buying pints for some long-haired bozo who only gets out of bed to go to the pub or the toilet but who – she thinks – is deep.

SHEILA
If you want to put it that way, I can see your son wasting it on some gorgeous little bitch whose only justification is, I’m beautiful, blow it all on me.

TIM
More likely they’ll be holding each other up at the counter. They’re young.

SANDRA
They’re there to work and they have to work to get there.

TOM
Look at how well our Robert has done by applying himself.

TIM
When was he last home?

TOM
As long as they’re doing the work, we have to keep forking out, investing in their futures.

TIM
No sign of him lately, eh? But we must drive on.

TOM
How’s your car going, Tim?

TIM
Oh, it’s OK. I’m thinking of changing it, actually.

TOM
I change mine every year now. It’s the only way. Has to be done.

TIM
It’s every two years with me now. Almost.

TOM
Don’t you get bored with driving the same car that long? I know I used to.

TIM
I get bored with a lot of things, Tom.

SANDRA
Any holiday booked yet?

SHEILA
No. This year we’re seriously thinking of Italy, or maybe Greece.

TOM
Ever been to America, Sheila?

SANDRA
There’s nothing in Italy.

TOM
Not that we saw anyway.

TIM
Really? When were you there?

SANDRA
That year we went to the south of France, to the Riviera. Bloody French. Can’t even speak English like normal people. Anyhow, while we were there we went over the border on the train, to Ventimiglia. There was nothing there.

TOM
And when Robert was in Zürich, with the bank, while we were over there to visit him, we went down to-

SANDRA
Lugano, was it?

TOM
I think that’s actually in Switzerland, pet. You remember the other place we were. Como.

SANDRA
Oh yeah. I think it had a lake. Robert’s girlfriend was Italian. She was a nice girl. Her English was fluent. She was well educated.

TOM
I imagine we’ll go back to the States. To see Robert and then go down to Florida. Next year, probably. We’ve a lot on our plate at the moment.

SHEILA
Where exactly is Robert now? Any sign of him coming home for a visit?

SANDRA
Phoenix. It’s in Arizona. It’s hot. He’s busy.

TOM
He’s making a fortune out there. The bank just paid for a trip to Disneyland for his whole development team.

TIM
Wow.

SANDRA
Florida is great. All the shopping malls.

TOM
The freeways. It’s a big country, America.

SHEILA
But how is he? Apart from the fact that he’s making lots of money. Has he a girlfriend? Maybe he’ll arrive home with an American wife one of these days.

TIM
Or a husband?

TIM shrugs.

SANDRA
Oh I don’t know if I’d like him to get serious with an American girl.

SHEILA
Why ever not? What happened to the Italian one? You showed me photos of her once, I remember.

SANDRA
It just didn’t work out, I suppose. Robert’s job and everything. It’s a pity, in a way. At least the Italians are Catholics.

TIM
Tell me, Tom, has he been to Vegas yet? Plenty of paint and powder there for young lads like him. But he wouldn’t ever waste his greenbacks like that, would he?

SANDRA
He’s always been good with money.

SHEILA
How’s the shop doing? It must be flying, I suppose.

SANDRA
We’re getting by.

TOM
We have two main problems, always.

SANDRA
Shoplifting is one.

TIM
What’s the other?

TOM
Trying to keep staff.

SANDRA
Between the girls getting pregnant-

TOM
And the boys giving lip. There was a reason for unions maybe, once upon a time. Nineteenth century.

TIM
Don’t tell that to Sheila.

SANDRA
I didn’t know you were a union person. But then again, you are a public servant.

SHEILA
I’m not, I wasn’t, not really, but when it’s there and you have to join, well…

TOM
Boys or girls, it doesn’t matter, they’d rob you blind, even more than the customers.

TIM
Fingers in the till?

TOM
More like their elbows. How are things at work with you, Tim?

TIM
At the factory, Tom, we find that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

SANDRA
I’d say he’s only winding you up, dear.

SHEILA
Of course he is.

TIM
That’s all it is, Tom. That’s all it is. A wind-up from start to finish.

TOM
But I respect your opinion.

TIM
Everybody should have a chance to earn a living wage. Everybody should mind their own business. They’d be my policies. But I’m not a politician.

SHEILA
He wouldn’t have the patience.

TOM
Sandra didn’t know you were such an extremist, Tim.

TIM
How come it’s only the madmen who ever speak up? That’s what I ask myself. That’s what I want to know.

TOM
Now what you’re saying sounds reasonable in theory but-

SANDRA
If you ask me, it’s all in the breeding.

TIM squirms in his seat with growing frustration.

SHEILA
So, any scandal? What’s the talk of the town? If there’s one thing sure in this life, in this town, someone else will always make a blunder.

SANDRA
Eh, nothing much.

SHEILA
Well?

Pause

SANDRA
We do have some… big news, actually. That’s why we came over.

SHEILA
Well? Tell us.

SANDRA
Tom, you say it.

TOM
We’re moving house.

Pause

SANDRA
We thought it only fair to tell you before the “For Sale” sign goes up next door. You have the right to know.

TOM
It’s only fair.

SANDRA
We’re a bit tired of the lane.

TIM
The lane.

SHEILA
The lane? How many years have you been here?

TIM
How long have you two been running the residents’ association with an iron fist?

SANDRA
There’s a good community spirit established here now.

TIM
I know. There isn’t a lawn uncut on the estate.

SHEILA
Where are you going?

SANDRA
To the new development, over the bridge.

TOM
Ampleforth Close.

TIM
Ampleforth Close?

SHEILA
So, you’re moving house. Well, all I can say is congratulations. When can we see the place?

TOM
They won’t be ready for a few months yet, at least.

SANDRA
There’s just so much to do. All that new furniture to get, of course. I’m going shopping for new curtains on Saturday. They’re to help spruce up our interior spaces. Would you like to come with me?

SHEILA
Oh… I’d love to. What time?

SANDRA
I’ll call for you around twelve. We can have lunch in town. My treat.

SHEILA
Lovely. I need to buy a new bag anyway so we can have a look for that too.

SANDRA
That’s settled, so. Great.

TIM
More money, eh Tom?

TOM
She hasn’t even mentioned the garden yet.

SANDRA
I’m thinking of putting in an extra effort there. I’m talking to a designer.

SHEILA
Have you? That’s interesting.

TOM
She even wants concrete lions on the gate pillars. But we’ll get a few dossers on the dole to do all the donkey-work, for cash in hand.

SANDRA
I told you I’m not too sure about that. What if they get caught by a welfare inspector?

TOM
Don’t worry about that. We can say the landscaper-

SANDRA
The designer-

TOM
-hired them, if push comes to shove. I’m sure he’s hired enough of them in the past. Who do you think does all the digging on these projects anyway?

TIM rises and tops up the glasses. He is most generous to himself.

SANDRA
Oh I don’t know, really.

TOM
I find these people do fine, if it’s just for a few days, if you keep a close eye on them. As long as it’s daylight. But if you give them cash in hand, and a few cans of lager, and all the chips they can eat, they can be useful.

SANDRA
The poor you shall always have with you. It’s a sad fact.

TIM
Murphy’s Law.

SANDRA
It’s people like us who keep the finger in the dyke, who keep the show on the road.

TOM
Otherwise there’d be anarchy.

SHEILA
At least it’s tranquil around here. We should count our blessings, I think.

TIM
Well, good luck to you both, with your purchase. It’s nice, I suppose, though the name of the estate is kind of… stupid, to be frank. Will you stay for a few sandwiches? Sheila will make them, won’t you dear? If you’d had more notice you could do a few chips for our guests.

SHEILA
Do ye want chips?

TIM
Right, now, I must take in the bins before I forget.

TOM
That reminds me. So must I. No grub for me, thanks.

SHEILA rises and sits again.

Exit TIM and TOM to take in the bins.

SANDRA
So tell me more about what you are going to do with this house.

SHEILA
It’s nothing compared with your news. Concrete lions, eh? Wow. But I have to persuade Tim first, to do the little bit I have in mind over here.

SANDRA
I’m sure he’ll do what he’s told. Eventually.

SHEILA
He’s not bad with his hands, to give him his due. A bit more suggestion and gentle persuasion and he’ll take it up like it was his own idea. The thrill of the drill. Maybe it’s a sex substitute. Do you know something I can’t remember the last time that wasn’t after the pub on a Saturday night.

SANDRA
The last time? I don’t know. We rarely go to pubs.

SHEILA
Don’t you have any more… interest?

SANDRA
In Tom? In that way? When he turns over and farts in my face at the drop of a hat? Don’t tell me you still have faith in that kind of thing?

SHEILA
But don’t you ever see some fella and think I wouldn’t mind a bit of that?

SANDRA
It’s never going to happen, I tell myself that, so why think too much about it? My child has grown up, Sheila. Although there are moments, still, when… ah, nothing.

SHEILA
But what about Tom’s feelings?

SANDRA
I don’t know and I don’t really care. I don’t want to know.

SHEILA
A young man at work made a pass at me at the Christmas party. I told him I was old enough to be his mother. I know, he said. I asked him what he wanted. He asked me what did I think he wanted. He was quite brazen about it. I didn’t do anything – I kissed him – but afterwards I thought to myself… I don’t think I’ve gone to seed. I’m not ashamed to lie on the beach. Some people have no shame, I suppose.

SANDRA
You’re shaping up to be a bit of a Shirley Valentine, Sheila.

SHEILA
Well, it’s always left to me to organise holidays. I love the sun, and Tim likes to unwind, so I’ll just pick somewhere he can relax and I can stretch out. We’ll drink wine on our balcony in the evenings and maybe even make love in the dark. Our sex life is about as thoughtful and reflective as… a trip to the bathroom.

SANDRA
It’s comfortable, I suppose. You’re comfortable together.

SHEILA
To lie in the sun again. Away from all this damp. It’s like a dream. Some day I’ll have the house the way I want it.

Pause

SANDRA
We didn’t mean to put this place down, by the way.

SHEILA
Of course you didn’t.

SANDRA
It’s just that we always had our eye on moving over there.

SHEILA
We won’t be able to miss your new house, with the lions.

SANDRA
Let me show you a model of one. I just got it from the designer. Come on.

SHEILA
Can you bring it over to show Tim? He’ll be amazed.

Exit SANDRA and SHEILA.

Enter TOM and TIM.

TIM
If I were really honest with her I’d tell her I’ve never been hugely into sun holidays. Or skiing for that matter. Well, that’s a bit different – I usually end up pulling something at that.

TOM
What? A bird? You dirty dog!

TIM
No. My wire.

TOM
What?

TIM
A muscle, a ligament, something painful, whatever. It’s not that I’ve never liked the sun – I do – it’s nice – but maybe I’d prefer to see more of the world.

TOM
You should see America.

TIM
I did, I saw New York, when I was a student. I like to look at buildings – not that I know much about architecture or anything. To be fair, she’ll take a look too, and take photos, but it’s a habit we never really developed. I guess in the early days I had a suspicion that if I pushed her too far she’d snap.

TOM
Let me guess.

TIM
What do you want to look at them for? They’re only old. She’s happiest lying in the sun. I think I’m most relaxed when I’m sawing and hammering.

TOM
I know what you mean.

TIM
She’s still in good shape.

TOM
The house?

TIM
The wife. I should compliment her more on that. For the effort. Does she ever wonder if I’ve been unfaithful to her? The most I’ve ever done is think about it. These days it’s all I ever think about.

TOM
Really?

TIM
I’m bored, I suppose. I doubt if she thinks about all that too often anymore anyway. Sometimes, after the pub. There’s a girl at work – I’ve had a few drinks with her.

TOM
And?

TIM
She seems not to think I’m past it, somehow.

TOM
My advice is to avoid messing with the girls at work. You have more to lose.

TIM
I know, I know.

TOM
But don’t throw in the towel, just yet. Money talks, Tim, remember that.

TIM
Do you mean hookers?

TOM
Tim, please.

TIM
You dirty dog. How often do you ring?

TOM
Tim, please.

TIM
Has Sandra any idea?

TOM
Sandra asked me – nicely – not to touch her anymore, so that suits me fine.

TIM
But does she know?

TOM
No. She’d only be a dog in the manger, if she saw me enjoying myself, that is. Tim, what I’m saying is that you need a hobby. A package. What I mean is some excuse to be away from home, on your own, so to speak, occasionally. A change of scene does wonders for my patience.

Enter SANDRA and SHEILA.

SANDRA carries a large model lion.

TIM
What on earth…

TOM
Well, what do you think?

TIM
What am I supposed to think?

TOM
By the way, can I borrow your drill, Tim?

TIM
What for?

TOM
I want to hang some things on the wall.

TIM
Like what? That thing?

TOM
A few pictures.

SANDRA
They’re for the people who’ll be looking at the house. Viewing will be strictly by appointment.

TOM
I bought a few pictures, just to hang up.

TIM
To add a bit of class, eh?

SHEILA
Get the drill for him, Tim, please.

SANDRA
No, there’s no hurry.

TIM
No, it’s fine. I’m going to get it now. That thing’s eyes are following me.

TIM rises to get the drill.

TOM
Have you any spare drill bits too? If you have, that would be great.

Exit TIM for the drill.

SANDRA, SHEILA and TOM start examining the model lion on the coffee table.

Re-enter TIM with the old drill, which he inspects and plugs in. He sits back down with it. He squeezes the trigger occasionally, punctuating the conversation with its revving.

TIM
This one no longer packs a sufficient punch.

Squeezes trigger for a rev

I did something brave at work today. It followed on from a little incident at breakfast, in the canteen, yesterday. The general manager was behind the financial controller in the queue, watching him getting his tray filled. When the big man asked for beans, the boss tapped him on the shoulder. What are you doing, getting beans? You’re management. We don’t eat beans. Only poor people eat beans.

TIM points the drill like a gun at the lion and squeezes the trigger again.

SHEILA
What did he do?

SANDRA
I suppose he couldn’t give them back. Scraping them off the plate would be too messy.

TIM
He stood his ground and ordered his beans.

SANDRA
And?

TIM
He went and sat down with his tray.

SHEILA
What’s all that got to do with you?

TIM
The rest of us in management just had to order beans at breakfast this morning.

SHEILA
I see. There’s safety in numbers.

SANDRA
Nobody can be singled out after that, if you all did it.

TIM
I don’t know if that has anything much to do with the point I was trying to make.

SHEILA
What do you mean? You all did it, so you’re all OK.

TIM
Never mind. Forget it.

SHEILA
Look, I know it was stupid, to say that thing about the beans in the first place.

SANDRA
I would have just ignored it.

Pause as TOM asks for and takes the drill and then gives it a few revs.

TOM
This baby has seen some service, hasn’t she, Tim? But I don’t see any space for more shelves.

TIM
I know, we’re cramped, aren’t we? I’ll have to do my thing in the attic.

TOM
You should invest in a new one. A drill with real power.

TIM
That’s what I was thinking.

TOM
I’m about to buy a mighty one for our new place, if you want to borrow it for a while, later on.

TIM
I was thinking you would. But this one will have to do for now, won’t it? Will you be happy enough with it for now?

SANDRA
Yes, thanks very much, Tim.

TIM takes the drill back.

TIM
They’re going up very fast over there.

SHEILA
They look like they’re going to be nice houses.

TIM
Bird houses. Don’t tell me you’re tired of the lane now, as well?

SHEILA
No, no, what do you mean?

TOM
Listen, Tim, we didn’t mean to, you know…

SANDRA
Even though you said Ampleforth Close was stupid.

TOM
We hoped you’d be happy for us, if anything.

TIM
It would be going too far to say I’m happy, here. Ampleforth Close? Mother of Jesus, what kind of name is that for an Irish address?

SANDRA
I think it sounds classy.

TIM
You would.

SANDRA
If you’re so interested in old hat, why don’t you sign up for an Irish language class, or something?

TIM
What else have I got left, apart from herself here and two fuckers bleeding me dry and pissing it away? Marriage, mortgage, shopping, death.

TIM stands up with the drill.

TOM
Sit down, Tim.

SHEILA
Where are you going?

TIM
I’m leaving you. However briefly, darling. I’m hitting the pub. I’m not doing any more DIY, I’m not knocking down any more walls and I’m not going to fry in the sun anymore.

TOM
Hey, relax there, Tim.

TIM
Our home is warm and comfortable and structurally sound. So leave the bloody thing alone. That’s going to be my new motto. She can come to the pub with me if she likes. I know you two won’t go, whatever happens.

SANDRA
Going to the pub doesn’t solve anyone’s problems.

TIM
Whatever, I leave you both to your dreams of a property ladder going up to heaven. Ampleforth Close. Jesus. You’re welcome to it.

SANDRA
Well, if that’s they way you feel…

TOM
Er, Tim, can I still have your drill?

TIM
Sure, Tom, I won’t need it any more. I still have my meat and two veg. They don’t belong on any shopping list. But first let me prove to you that it still works.

TIM drills through the lion’s head, before totally destroying it by stamping on it repeatedly before their amazed eyes.

This is what we do to vulgar trespassers around here. Now, I’m going out. Before I forget where to get a late drink in this town. That’s going to be my new hobby. Garden cleaner.

Exit TIM. Embarrassed, shocked silence.

SHEILA
I don’t know what’s got into him.

TOM
Is he under a lot of pressure?

SANDRA
You just sat there and let him do that!

SHEILA is still looking at the lion in bits.

SHEILA
I’m really sorry about… that. Can it be… fixed?

SANDRA gets up to go.

SANDRA
Come on, Tom.

SHEILA
Let me talk to him, when he calms down. He’s never been any way violent before, you both know that. He’s a good provider.

SANDRA
I’ll see you on Saturday, if Tim’s recovered his composure and apologised and replaced the lion by then. Come on, Tom.

SHEILA
He’s under a lot of pressure at work, Tom.

TOM
We know, we know. Are you OK? Don’t worry about it. Do you want us to stay?

SHEILA
No, thanks.

TOM
Do you want me… to go after him?

SANDRA
Are you going to the pub too?

TOM
Who, me?

SHEILA
No, no, forget it. I think I’ll go to bed, in fact. He’ll come back and cool off on the sofa, or somewhere. It was an eventful day.

SHEILA has another look at the smashed lion. She puts a hand to her mouth. She may even be laughing.

TOM then lights up a cigar and has a smoke before they leave.

SANDRA
Tom!

TOM
Shut up. I had a hard day too. A cigar is just a cigar.

He takes a drag.

Sometimes.

CURTAIN

 

 

The U2 Riot, Dublin, 29 June 1985

The U2 Riot, Dublin, 29 June 1985

Photo: Facebook/Classic Dublin Gigs/Noel M

Doherty and Quirke went into Dublin for a street carnival i.e. a day on the beer. U2 played in the country’s biggest stadium Croke Park for the first time that evening, to add to the hype. Having a drink that night in the Berni Inn – long since Judge Roy Bean’s, across from Trinity – Quirke met a chap from home who’d taken a few punches after the concert, when one or more gougers snatched his U2 hat and he tried to get it back.

After midnight, Doherty and Quirke headed up towards St. Stephen’s Green, expecting a mere open air disco, as also advertised. There were thousands and thousands walking in the city but by then the fighting had started. There was a riot underway on Grafton Street. Police with riot shields were baton-charging this way and that. A wave of panic and confusion spread through the crowd every time they moved. Those not at the front could only see the crowd coming back on top of them and this only added to the fear. A saving grace was that the police did not lash out indiscriminately in response to those who were firing bottles. There were so many people that few knew what was going on. Gangs of young men were emerging from the side streets to attack before retreating again. It was chaos, confusing and frightening. Doherty saw a cop get a bottle stuck in his face. The sheer number of people in the way prevented the police getting at those who were pelting them.

The boys nonetheless kept moving towards the Green to see what was happening up there. They kept well to the side and passed by the waves. At the top of Grafton Street the whole area around that corner of the Green was covered in broken glass. There was nothing on but there the situation was relatively quiet. Evidently they had just passed through the shifting battleground.

They stood there looking around for a few minutes. The broken glass sparkled under the neon lights and the crunching of people walking on it mingled with the wail of sirens. They decided to make their way back down Grafton Street but by then much of the throng had dispersed and those remaining were getting down to full-on battle. The missiles were flying thickly and the cops were trying to advance towards the river. The boys dashed by shop windows with their hands protecting their heads and they ducked in doorways to avoid the batons and the bottles. “Quick, in here!” shouted Doherty as Quirke almost ran past a good niche during one charge.

In this way they made it as far as O’Connell Street where they began to wonder how to get home. Taking it from the top, they took a side of the wide boulevard each and walked back towards the bridge to see if anyone they knew was still in town. Doherty met two girls who said they could get them a lift but first they all had a toke as they sat beside the car on Bachelors Walk.

Across the river the fighting had come down Westmoreland Street and reached the far end of the bridge but, as isolated silhouettes ran in different directions, it could be seen to be petering out. Back in Doherty’s house the boys finished the hash and just fell asleep in the front room until it was bright.

Armed Robbery in the Eighties

Armed Robbery in the Eighties

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.