In the coming weeks, I was ending by days increasingly at 88 Leinster Road where Marianne lived and less time in the Ratmine, which was five minute's walk. Not wanting to be a kept man, I continued to do my rounds to the hotels, and did a few jobs for Marianne and the daily Independent Woman, and its dreadful feminist propaganda, to which I had to contribute if I expected to draw pay.
One story was memorable as it led to an academic embarrassment five years later at Concordia University. It concerned the 100th anniversary of Ladies' Land League. The seditious Irish National Land League was founded by Irish separatist Michael Davitt in 1879 and backed by the Charles Stewart Parnell, who after his imprisonment would lead the Irish National Party. The aim was to bring about a reduction of rents and facilitate land seizures by tenant farmers. Davitt suggested that a Ladies' Land League be set up to carry on the work during their imprisonment. And so it was done.
But when the tenants were evicted from the property for non-payment of rent, the Ladies Land League officers used the war chest to build "land league huts" to house the homeless, which were immediately torn down by the police. This drained the resources of the Land League. When the men got out of prison, they found their funds gone. And so they swept the ladies away from the levers of what little power remained.
Well, I ended the story with a feminine flourish, saying, "they could not be defeated by their enemies, they could only be defeated by the ones they loved." Which pleased Marianne at the time, but she was somewhat pained when I was asked by a gaggle of adoring females at a party whether I really thought the Ladies Land League was as wonderful as I said it was. I told them I never said it was, and they had not been successful and had achieved nothing.
More happily, my Oliver Reed story had pleasing results for all concerned. Although I could no longer cover courts as a freelancer, I was free to submit what stories I could from my hotel beat and from night markings. Now mounted on my three-speed Raleigh, I would ride rain or shine from one hotel to another, going from Jurys to the Gresham visiting a half dozen along the way. It was mostly a quick in and out, checking out the hotel board to find out what was going on, plus a word with the house detective, who would usually keep me informed. We were on good terms because I would bring positive attention to the hotel by getting its name in the paper and making the place a more popular with individuals or groups that might hold meetings there.
One day, I ran into famed British actor Oliver Reed at the bar at the Gresham Hotel in O'Connell Street. I had long been a fan, though rather liking the characters he played than anything else. I cared nothing for actors themselves, seldom if ever remembering their names or anything about them. But I knew their faces on the hoardings and noted the costumes they were wearing to judge whether I would see the movie.
I found Reed talking to the barman. I asked if he had a few minutes for a quick interview, but he said he did not, but could meet him there the next day at the same time. We agreed.
Not thinking he would remember, as he rushed away towards the door, I considered the foray a dead loss, but turned up on time the next day just in case. And there he was! He had remembered! He had even remembered me! Reed immediately said he was hungry and asked me if I had time for lunch. So we went downstairs to the restaurant where I was treated to the Gresham Hotel's finest baked Atlantic salmon.
Then Reed asked me to go up to his room as he wanted to show me something. I had a dread that he was in real life the swishy fag he played in that bit part he had in The League of Gentlemen. Well, forward the Light Brigade, as I often say, in dodgy circs. But no, what he wanted to show me was something I had heard about, but had not yet seen in Ireland - two large Club Lemonade bottles filled with a transparent liquid that definitely wasn't Club Lemonade, a local soft drink.
Instead, it was genuine, authentic poteen (pronounced "pocheen"), the illicit Irish potato vodka. And we immediately set about emptying the bottles into ourselves over the next 12 hours. Talk went garrulously on, with me professional enough to get needed information for a story, but then forgetting all duty plunged into rambling talk which was becoming increasingly incoherent and argumentative. He was annoyed that I knew so little of the film business and who was who. There was even a moment of near violence when I showed my ignorance, confessing I knew nothing of his uncle, the famous Carol Reed, who directed Oliver and the Third Man. We were in a ridiculous state of extreme drunkenness by midnight. I did ask him if his uncle had the same trouble with his first name as I did, with everyone thinking he was a girl. He said he was too famous for that, as I recall, but don't me hold to it. I remember babbling on about it, reiterating my line that having such an androgynous name "confuses the snipers".
I told him I knew him and Michael Caine, and maybe a few others. I think we blundered our way to identify Robert Mitchum as a favourite whose name I had forgotten. He then went on a tirade against Michael Caine, saying that I would have never got an invitation from him to drink a bottle of poteen and what a stuck-up bastard he was.
I told him that it was his character Harry Palmer that I loved. First in the Ipcress File and again in Funeral in Berlin, as an ex-Army sergeant, now a low grade War Office spy, I was fan because he wore glasses as I did. If I imagined myself a cowboy hero in the movies, I would track the bad guys, cross the snowy plains of North Dakota, find the hideout, kick down the door, burst in, draw my six-guns - and my glasses would fog up! After that, even in my childish imagination, I had to consign myself to being a myopic sheriff or a telegraph clerk.
But with Michael Caine's character Harry Palmer, my sense of heroic masculinity was restored. Here was a guy who got all the girls beat up all the guys. He made me whole again.
I got the impression that Reed was an unhappy man with enormous tax problems in the UK, augmented by a serious drinking problem, with one feeding off the other. The reason he was in Ireland at all is because it was not England where he could not go unless he paid the tax bill or faced penal consequences.
So he would travel the world, moving from overseas shooting location or the US where he did not want to be. He was homesick.
So I cycled home to the Ratmine, falling over twice, once in front of the laughing and gently sneering working girls plying their trade at the Grand Canal Bridge near the Portobello Barracks, thanking heaven that there was no night marking to phone in on the morrow, which loomed in three or four hours. It was then that I would have to recall of the memorable evening I could hardly remember.
When the story appeared, after Marianne's skillful editing, unappreciated by me, even resented. That's because she removed the scandalous bits to make it fit reading in a family newspaper. I was disappointed at first. But it still made me a three-day wonder around the Indo's Oval pub with envious journos asking me, "What really happened?" I even had an Irish Press guy hail me as a star from the railing of the Ha'penny Bridge, which was quite a treat.
Then came another life-changing turn. I cannot remember what the function was, except that it was a hotel reception that drew a minister of something. It was not important enough to draw a Herald staff man so I went to see if I could get a story out of it. I cannot remember whether I did or not, but I do remember being asked by a photographer, to join a group picture of people attending the reception.
Then a man of slight stature in his 50s, respectably dressed for the occasion, approached me. Des O'Neil identified himself as being the employer of the photographer as well as the publisher of a monthly magazine called Social & Personal, mostly filled with pictures of the sort in which I had just been included. He said he had heard of me and thought I might be willing to consider a proposal. I was, of course.
O'Neil had recently bought a defunct magazine title called Development Ireland, and was about to launch it as a national business magazine. He wanted to hire me immediately and first do a mockup of the magazine and then come up articles and ideas for articles. His launch date was to be in six to eight weeks. Social & Personal was located in two offices not far from each other on Northside, and I was to the lodged in the secondary office with the lesser and salesmen. Des also did the ad sales aspects for the Garda Siochana magazine, but its editorial operations were closed to all outsiders as it was the official national police veterans' journal.
We rattled along that way for weeks, with him being pleased and displeased in turn with my efforts, which was par for the course in such operations, though very little progress was happening at his end.
Nonetheless, he took a shine to me, I think to have someone boost his ego. He seemed to have a higher regard for my business acumen than I did. He took me on business trips across the country, when I was told to wait outside while meetings were being conducted. One time we went to Cork and happened to pass through Blarney.
On discovering I had not kissed the Blarney Stone, he had me ascend the outside stairs of the rain-swept castle, lie supine and pull myself out over the wall, hanging in midair to kiss the stone suspended high up on the battlements. It was scary. But I was cheered having done it, now in official possession of the "gift of the gab".
We were to rent new premises for the Development Ireland operation and a host of other projects he had in mind, as eight weeks extended into three months, it was clear that the magazine was not to be reborn soon. And after coming up with satisfactory mock-ups and a couple of articles and extensive layouts, there was little to do other than these unrelated make-work projects like screening rental properties. It was on one of these jaunts, when I was about to reject one Southside candidate when I heard my name screeched across the street.
Usually, hearing my name Christy is enough to perk me up anywhere, being so rare. But in Ireland, while not common, it was not weird for a man to be called Christy. On my first day, there was the death of Christy Ring, a famous hurler, so I saw my name in front page headlines. Then there was Christy Brown, the story of a deformed boy who wrote a book called My Left Foot, later made into a movie.
But there was something American in the voice - quite apart from the fact that only low born young yobs yelled across streets in Dublin. Well, it turned out to be Jill Kirby, a pleasant-looking chunky girl in her early 20s, who I knew, though mostly through her sister, when I was an information officer at Loyola, during the Concordia University merger days five years before. I think Jill did some work around the Dean of Students office, where her sister worked full time, perhaps as the assistant dean of students.
We agreed to meet later. Jill needed work and while I could not provide any at the time, new changes in my life would provide her work later. Curiously, Jill made her life in Ireland and over 20 years became something of a local media celebrity commenting on business, I was surprised to learn. I remember Christopher Plummer - a fellow Montrealer - once said the Canadian accent was the best these days being substantially American but graced with assorted layers of English veneer. And except for Jill's introductory screech, I remember her having a well-modulated tone one expects from a Loyola girl.
When Pope John Paul II made the first ever papal visit to Ireland, official Ireland was bent on making it all it could be. Even unofficial Ireland, the regular commercial establishment, followed suit. Protestant newspaper columnists like playwright Hugh Leonard were excused duty for the duration by the Irish Independent. Copy was carefully screened so to not offend to His Holiness. The state broadcaster Raidio Teilifis Eireann (RTE) would have nothing but the pope's visit, live coverage, and when that was not available panegyric commentaries and panel discussions to fill the gaps.
I proposed that we sell T-shirts proclaiming "POPERY HERE!" - Ironically reversing the cry of the Protestant North's "No Popery Here!" Simon grimaced at the thought while Marianne chuckled, but in a faintly disapproving way. Ireland was the last bastion of Catholicism in the world, Portugal and Spain having toppled into secularism well within the previous 10 years, so there was an Alamo last stand feeling about the visit as if there was any visual backsliding any sense of public dissent, the whole church would suffer a mortal blow.
Of course, it meant that the big day, when the pope gave his main address to a mass gathering at the Phoenix Park, the largest park in Europe, the city shut down. All businesses closed. Only vehicles allowed on the road were official. The city buses took people to the park, then went to the outskirts again to pick up more gratis.
But once everyone got to the park, bus service stopped and the drivers joined the multitudes to see this tiny white-clad figure in the distance talking about transubstantiation, about which I learned the hard way. When I took the practice of eating the wafer and sipping the wine as merely symbolic, a Kerry priest raged at me. No, it was not symbolic, he said. Not in the least. The rite involved the actual transmogrification of the body and blood of Jesus.
There was no going back from this plea to believe the unbelievable until the end of the day when at last the buses would deign to take the faithful home.
As the day began, however, all Protestants could do was to stay in bed and read a book, spend hours in silence or visit a Protestant neighbour to complain about the papal fuss. As Mrs McCann did. She lived down the road. I had not met her and we had nothing to do with her. Marianne said she knew her for years but were on not much more than nodding terms.
Not wanting to hang around two women complaining about the papal visit, I, against everyone's advice, mounted my bike and sailed off into the car less streets. How wonderful it was! I passed a guard, there to prevent such infractions, but he pretended not to see me, a surprisingly common constabulary practice I have come to see in trade over the years. How wonderful was it to race through empty streets to the Phoenix Park, threading my way through the mass of banana buses. And then go to edges of the massive crowd, a quarter mile deep and half as wide - all looking to that tiny white-clad figure in the distance. The speaker system wasn't good and I did not know what he was saying, though I thought I heard the word "Eucharist," which after my savage scolding, I knew to be another word for "transubstantiation".
I was distracted by an impromptu soccer game being played by a group of lads, two togged out as altar boys, who were using a Coke can as a ball. Soon tiring of this, I sailed off on my bike down the quays in front of the Four Courts and up O'Connell Street to the Parnell Monument. All the shops were closed, save one - McDonalds. The police should have insisted that it be closed too. But blessed be the burger makers. Had they done that, how could they, together with scores of soldiers, queue up to get their Big Macs and Fries?
By the time I got home, the first of the buses were taking their weary passengers whence they came and then to a place of rest. Everyone had a big day, but the process seems more important than the result. There was an address in Drogheda to come, where the martyr Oliver Plunket's head was in lodged in what looks like an industrial mayonnaise jar. This was paraded for HH to bless on a litter or sedan chair, only large enough to accommodate a head, but discreetly covered. But it was soon over and I thought its effect was anti-climactic. I remember remarking a week or two later, with no serious disagreement, that if the pope was speaking northside the Boom Town Rats were singing Southside, the pop group and not the pope would draw the biggest crowds.
My dying days with Des O'Neil were marked by hours of waiting for orders that never came and listening to Veronica at the next desk. She was a very pretty dark-haired girl who had the most curious job I have ever encountered, though she bent to her task with both aplomb and the steadiness.
Des O'Neil decided to combine the accounts receivable and accounts payable departments into a single unit - Veronica. She worked through a list of debtors to phone, savagely haranguing and harassing each one. Done with one, she would briskly move on to another - unless interrupted by an incoming call from a creditor, at which point she would display an air of astonished injured virtue, which was at once cajoling and placating.
I was amazed how effortlessly Veronica switched personas and how well it was done. It was well-nigh schizophrenic, so convincing were her alternate performances.
"I must warn you that if we are not in receipt of payment by the end of the week, the matter will be in the hands of our solicitors!"
Then in the next breath: "There must be some mistake. I'm sure it's in the mail, Sir. I know Mr O'Neil signed all those cheques last Friday before he left for London!"
This would go on all day, every day. It was also clear that Des definitely had a cash flow problem, and that my life at Social & Personal was coming to an end.
While I still did features for Marianne they were few and far between, though enough considering the half decent wage I was making from Social & Personal.
There were two lodgers living in Marianne's two storey terraced house, Marion O'Donoghue, a pretty girl, but one with an eccentric artistic temperament, whose red hair did not excite my passions, though we did prove useful to each other in the end. She freelanced on the edges of the fashion industry and had done work for Marianne. Quite how Dr Juat Tan came to 88 Leinster Road I forget if I ever knew. He was a Chinese physician from Singapore, who completed postdoc medical courses in Dublin, as many Asian doctors do. Not necessarily Dublin, but any western city with wide name recognition so they can include the foreign medical school on their shingles, when they go home.
Just wanted to stay in Ireland, but he was made most unwelcome by the local medical community. He had enough work and money freelancing as I was, that is to say he was free to do "locums", that is, stand in for vacationing doctors, and were was enough of them to keep him busy. But like me he wanted steady work, and this is what his fellow doctors seemed bent on denying him.
There was even some trouble when he was hired by an optician as a gimmick to check the state of their eyes. But this drew a secondary trade of young ladies who wanted to avoid their family doctors to determine whether they were pregnant. Typically, Irish family doctors would give such women a hard time, which going to Dr Tan avoided. Hence the unaccountable female traffic at that optician's establishment.
While paying rent at the Ratmine, I was hardly living there. And when Social & Personal was no more, I was dependent on income earned from Marianne or donated by Marianne, which was not a good situation.
That's when Marion O'Donoghue had news of a shakeup at Northside News. She had called on the paper to sell them on having a weekly fashion column, but they could not talk to her because the whole place was in the midst of crisis.
There was a substantial weekly called Southside, which had been around for years. With the exception of a few neighbourhoods, southside was the affluent half of Dublin, with even numbered postal districts. Odd numbered districts were northside. Southside had the museums and the universities; northside, the prisons and the looney bin. The country was run from Districts 4 and 6. Which I noted was where I first alighted at my first boarding house in Sandymount in District 4 and where I now lived in Rathmines, District 6. This was not displeasing to Westmounter like myself. Marianne and I both made fun of our mock snobbishness, being playfully snooty with each other, she being a denizen of toney Malone Road in Belfast.
But Marianne could be unnerving at times. She painted her door a colour that was nearly orange, a red flag to local Catholics. This did not cause trouble as the neighbourhood was largely middle class. But there was a pub not far away, Healey's, where I once encountered General Peter Walls, the lately defeated Rhodesian Army commander, across the room in that pub, but had no reason to interview him, so did not. I was no longer linked to the Evening Herald and feeling pretty low myself.
Simon and I tended to patronise Healey's, the Harold Cross pub simply because it was so near Marianne's at 88 Leinster Road. Simon was often over for dinner. While it was just as nationalist as Slattery's and the other end of the road, it was bigger and involved us less, though once a barman refused to serve Simon simply because he did not like his British raj accent. I don't think he ever went in again.
Marianne's daughter Lucy, now 13, who befriended neighbourhood kids, was once briefly made persona non grata by local parents when we burnt a "Guy" in a backyard bonfire as one routinely does in England and in the North to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, November 5. The flames were no sooner up consuming an effigy of the man who organised the 1605 Catholic Gun Power Plot to blow up the government, when angry relatives arrived to snatch away their children from this sacrilege. Plot leader Guy Fawkes was a Catholic hero bent of killing Protestant King James and the House of Lords, and still had a lot of support in Ireland. Such incidents remind me of the apocryphal stewardess, who arriving in Belfast advised passengers to turn their watches back 300 years - a joke often told at the time.
Another feature of the neighbourhood was the nearby dog track. When dog night struck, it was impossible to get a parking space near one's front door.
What made all this relevant - and dangerous - was when one of the H-Block IRA hunger strikers, Bobby Sands, died in Northern Ireland's Maze Prison. It was a time when all Protestants in the south felt a chill from their Catholic neighbours. News agents would not have the newspaper you wanted to buy and showed they did not care a jot. Corner stores would treat their Protestant customers rudely. And I feared for Marianne's off-orange door, because these crisis periods were marked by violence and vandalism. And one expected the Harold's Cross pub boyos to be the source of the local hijinks.
And sure enough, we looked out the window one night and there was Marianne's Hillman Hunter smashed and scarred with all the malevolence the pub drunken cohorts could muster. Marianne refused to look that night, and would deal with it in the morning. But when we went out the next day, there was an identical car in Marianne's spot, but it was not her brown "Hillman Huntress", as she called it, but a blue Hillman Hunter. In the dark, the vandals had mistaken one for the other.
It was then we discovered it was the priest's car, as we clearly heard that Sunday across the rooftops of the terraced houses across the street from the Church on the other side, as Father Whoever railed apoplectically against the "men of violence".
Returning from her failed attempt to sell a fashion column at Northside News, Marion O'Donoghue came away with a tale of impending disaster at the paper. She advised I go and offer my services. And that begins another Irish tale.