In which the adventures of McGuffin and his grisly cohorts reach a dramatic conclusion.
My memories of the reception are blurred by time. I do recall Grimshaw throwing up into the punch bowl which our generous hosts had provided, and Cosgrove stealing a huge potted plant which he walked out with through the foyer determined to present it to McIlvogue’s poor wife as a token of his undying love. I do recall waking in a house in Glasnevin, the home of Kraut Komrade, UncleRalf. Aine, his long suffering wife served me a triple by-pass breakfast which did the trick however – Amazing Grease – and informed me that the Blefuscu team had hi-jacked a car and taken off back to the Athens of the North. Some of them were actually supposed to work that day. Poor fools. The hired car was outside the door however, and was presumably being paid for, albeit unwittingly, by RTÉ, and there was no sign of the obnoxious TT.
On waking, Ralf insisted that we go down town and get our heads together over a few pints. I was always weak. By mid-afternoon we were in the dreaded McDaid’s off Stephen’s Green and suffering no pain. We had even formulated a vague plan. Ralf would go off and check up what damage we had done to the Third Policeman and I would take the hired wheels and drive back to Belfast. Baldric might have thought it ‘a cunning plan’ but somehow I knew it was unlikely to be such smooth sailing. For once I was right. Ralf had just left and I was sipping my last bevvie when Tom McGurk entered, spied by large self and slid into the booth. We had not met for over a year and obviously reminiscences and back stabbing were de rigueur. He bought a round. That was a shock. McGurk was notorious as County Tyrone’s meanest man. But, it seemed, now that he was down in Dublin he had landed a newspaper job and was flush.
“What are ye doing tonight,” he asked. “I saw ye making a tit out of that pratt Gaybo last night.” “I better head up the road, Beryl will be waiting.” A daunting thought, as McGurk shrewdly discerned. He’d met the wife. “Here,” McGurk reached into his pocket, “I’ve a few tickets for a free drinks reception tonight. I can’t go, but you might as well use them. It’s in Howth. Sure it’s on your way.”
He left, weaving his way out into a crowded and dreary Dublin dusk, I got on the phone.
It’s no fun drinking alone, besides, I hadn’t had a real chance to pay my respects to Auntie Rita and the nameless but feared. By 8 o’clock I found myself in Cabinteeley. Rita and Mickey were there. They were broke and readily agreed to accompany me to a free drinks reception. We Northerners do not look gift horses in the mouth. Soon we were threading our way around Dublin and heading for Howth.
As we pulled into the car park of the luxurious hotel, perched on Howth head with its garden of tropical palms and plants running down to Dublin Bay, I pulled the invites out of my pocket and handed them to Rita. She took one look and subjected me to her withering gaze – not a pleasant experience – I mean this is a hard woman. “McGuffin, you do realize that this is a reception for Demis Roussos, don’t you?” I lied. “Of course, but it’s free gargle.” In fact I had stuffed the freebie tickets into my pocket without even looking at them once McGurk had told me where the soiree was to be held.
“Who the fuck’s Demi Roussos?” asked Mickey.
Mickey had recently escaped from one of Her Majesty’s Hotels in our wee Ulcer and consequently his musical listening pleasure for the past five years had been restricted to ‘The Men Behind The Wire’ and the entire repertoire of Eamonn Largey and the Flying Column. “You’ll not like him, Mickey,” said Rita, somewhat snidely I felt. “He’s a big fat eejit like McGuffin here.”
“C’mon,” I retorted, my throat dying to be slaked, “we’ll not even see him. It’s only 9:30, his show at the Olympia or wherever won’t be over for hours.” I parked the wheels and we merry three sauntered up the broad steps and through the august portals of the Howth Majestic. “I don’t like the look of this,” muttered Auntie Rita, “the décor’s the colour of a cancerous lung! And all these flunkies in monkey suits. Just get us a table and some vino collapso quick McGuffin or I’ll turn nasty.” Even Mickey shuddered at that.
“No bother,” I bluffed quickly and hastened forward – all right, I was pushed – towards the maître domo, reaching for the invites. Christ! Rita had left them in the car. The head functionnaire took one look at me and bared his teeth. They were as white as Johnny Winter. “Why Mr. Roussos,” he breathed ingratiatingly, “we’ve been expecting you, what an honour. Come this way, we’ve reserved the best table for you and your party.” He looked at my ‘party’. “These are just two journalists,” I improvised, “the troupe will be along shortly.” He beamed and ushered us into the banquet hall, bumping into two tables on the way. “My apologies, Mr. Roussos, I seem to have displaced my contact lenses.” ‘Thank fuck for that’, I thought.
He seated us underneath the sparkling chandeliers, snapped his fingers imperiously and, miraculously, a bottle of Moet and Chandon’s Premiere arrived. We got stuck in. This was going to have to be a quickie, I figured. While we basked in the opulent splendour and more and more bottles of champagne arrived, members of the staff sidled up to the table and soon I was signing Demis autographs as if to the manor born. Other guests soon filled up the room and not even Mickey demanding ‘a pint of plain’ in a loud voice could spoil the evening. Auntie Rita was most impressed and I felt that for once I had redeemed myself. Even Mickey was enjoying himself.
“Here, here’s a good one! What smells of piss and does the hokey cokey? The Queen Mother!” He laughed uproariously. I glanced at my watch. Jesus! It was almost midnight. Mickey had already turned into a pumpkin but the fat Greek and his bodyguards were due any minute. I nodded imploringly to Rita. Sound woman that she is, she grabbed Mickey before he could tell his joke about the nun and the sheep and dragged him out to the foyer. “Don’t forget to tip the staff Demis,” she trilled over her shoulder. Bitch! “Must go to the restrooms,” I slurred – five bottles of the old Moet will do that for you – and made my way out, through a politely applauding crowed of Dublin 4 wankers, several of whom even wanted to kiss my hand – and that was only the men.
From the foyer it was a short trot to the car where Rita, only somewhat worse for wear, was standing. I opened the door and proceeded to get in. Suddenly, “Where’s Mickey?” I asked, fear gripping my scrotum. “You shouldn’t have let him out of your sight”. Rita got into the front passenger seat. “Don’t worry, here he comes now, start the engine.” I glanced out the window. Mickey was indeed running towards us across the tarmac, clutching a rake of wine bottles in his arms. “Get in, you Malacca, we’re out of here,” I shouted. He opened the back door and thrust the bottles onto the seat. “McG, I started out with nothing and I still have most of it left. We are the men who stole Trevelyan’s corn.”
“Gotta get more,” he gasped, and stumbled back up the steps. “For God sake, get him, Rita.” She ran after him and back into the Majestic while I nervously tried to keep the engine running. Four minutes later, although it seems an eternity, they both emerged, each laden down with what appeared to be the entire stock of the wine cellar – which, it later transpired, had been conveniently situated underneath the main staircase and left open by some employee who was doubtless fondly going over their Demi Roussos autographed underwear – I tell ye, the things some of these groupies ask you to sign, I feel sorry for that poor Tom Jones. “Andalay, vamanos” I roared as I started to gun the car. “Wait,” bawled Rita, “Mickey’s not in yet.” “Where the fuck is the head-the-ball?” I screamed and then looked in my rear view mirror.
Now I know that objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are, but this was no time for metaphysical speculation about the space time continuum. Leaping out of the car I made a run across the grass where a bedraggled Mickey was engaged in a titantic struggle with an eight foot tall palm tree. “What the fuck are you playing at you brain damaged omadaun?” I bellowed.
“Give us a hand, Mac I have to get this for the Ma. She loves tropical plants”. This was not opportune to remind Mickey that his dear mother lived in a Portakabin near the municipal rubbish dump in Newtownards in the Black North when last heard of and was unlikely to have the necessary facilities for palm cultivation. Between us we dragged the protesting palm to the back of the car and popped the trunk, stuck the roots in, leaving six foot of palm fronds exposed and got the fuck out of Dodge. As I swerved down the driveway, we sideswiped a limo that was coming the other way. There were curtains across the rear windows but I swear to this day that I heard some clown singing ‘Forever and Forever and For fucking Ever’ as we careened off into the mystic.
We were so gargled and exhausted – Mickey had insisted that we plant the poor palm in Rita’s back yard in Cabinteeley lest it die before he could ship it up North to the Ma – that the mattresses actually felt all right. I arose early the next morning and tiptoed out, pausing only to trip over a few champagne bottles, slumped into the car and headed North. Ten miles outside the Pale, on the main road I stopped at a petrol station. I fumbled for some gas money. Only a torn fiver left. Still, it should get me out of the grey mists and back under the blue skies of our beloved statelet.
A grizzled attendant shuffled up and peered in through the window. I flinched. I hadn’t changed my clothes in two days and was suffering from what the grandda used to call ‘the whips and jangles’.
“Come here Mary,” the honest toiler of the soil closet shouted. His wife shuffled out and joined him at the my window. “It is, I tell ye, its him”. Not more Demis fans surely
“He’s thon boyo who called Gay Byrne a wanker on the Late Late last night. Give us your autograph. The wife and me’s being say that for years.”
All together now:
“Gay Byrne is still a wanker!”
(c) John McGuffin
‘Last Orders, Please!’