Friday, 27 December 2013

Mick and the Mouse

I want to tell you all a story that has been unfolding in the pub over Christmas. One of my regular customers is Mick, known far and wide as Mick the Buddhist. Let me tell you that the Irish are great for giving nicknames but not know for their imagination. Skinny Tom is normally skinny, Fat Paddy will undoubtedly be a bit chubby.  Mick is a handyman who can turn his hand to anything, often with mixed results, but always with the best intentions. Mick never married and lives alone in a little cottage on the edge of town. A few years back Mick decided to try out Buddhism. The chanting, vegetarianism and avoidance of alcohol did not last long but some of the other ideals have stuck as well as the nick name.

Anyway on with the story. A few weeks before Christmas, Mick landed into the bar and mentioned he was having a problem with mice. As you are aware, Buddhists don't harm another living creature, which left Mick in a quandary. As a good Buddhist he should welcome the mouse into his home, on the down side Mick was being eaten out of house and home by the furry little fella.

A couple of days later I came across a "live capture trap" in the hardware shop. It was only a few euro so I bought it and dropped it out to Mick's house. I knew he was home because his bike was resting against the wall and smoke was curling from the chimney. Mick answered the door covered in wood chippings. He was making a set of book shelves for someone which sloped both left and right: if that is possible. I gave Mick the trap and he was delighted.

It was nearly a full week before Mick turned up for a drink, he was not his usual cheerful self.

"How did you get on with the trap," I asked him.
"It worked just grand," Mick said "I nabbed the little guy a couple of days ago."
"What did you do with him," I enquired as I filled his pint.
"That's the problem, I still have him."
"I though you were going to let him free outside," I asked
"I was reading on the Internet, do you know that if you let them go within a mile and a half of the house they can find their way back. He is such a little thing I am not sure if he is able for the wild," Mick mused.
"Ah for God sake Mick it's a mouse and Kerry is hardly the wild," I teased him dropping his pint on a beer mat.
"I suppose you're right Squid," he agreed.
"I bet you've been feeding him," I said.

Mick looked like a kid caught with his hand in a sweetie jar "Just a little," he mumbled.
"Your such a softie Mick," I laughed.

Pubs in Ireland are founded on the notion that if a story is funny, it is fair game to tell anyone. That night the story of Mick the Buddhist and his new friend spread far and wide. By closing Mick had heard at least a hundred Micky Mouse jokes. On Christmas morning Mick set out on his bike, with the little mouse dangling from the handlebars, looking for a suitable place to release him. After a few hours he decided on a wooded area close to town. Mick opened up the trap, the little mouse scampered out vanishing into the undergrowth.

It was half past eight that night when I got a call from a distressed Mick the Buddhist. While Christmas day had begun calm and clear a substantial storm front had settled over the country.

"Squid I know it is Christmas but do you think you can give me a lift, its an emergency," Mick said.

"No bother Mick where do you need to go," thinking he would say the doctor or hospital.

"Not far, Barry's Glen and bring a torch," Mick said before hanging up on me.

I picked him up five minutes later and raced over empty roads the mile or so to the woods.

"What are we looking for Mick," I asked.

"I let the mouse go but when the weather got bad. I could not rest thinking of him out in it." he said.

It was at this point I nearly threw him out of the car but the look on Mick's face was so genuinely upset I kept driving. We searched the woods for near an hour in the lashing rain. Of course; no sign of the mouse. In the end even Mick realised the futility of what we were trying to do. I left a very despondent Mick back to his house that stormy Christmas night.

Let me tell you he was a changed man when he arrived tonight for a few pints. |He was beaming from ear to ear.

"Mick, how's things," I called as he arrived in the counter.

"You would not believe it Squid, I had a Christmas miracle," Mick enthused.

"I did not know Buddhists believed in either Christmas or Miracles," I said loudly enough so all at the bar got a chuckle.

"Shut up and let me tell the story you messer," he said not rising to the bait. The few men sitting around pricked up their ears as Mick's adventures were nearly always funny.

"I was fair upset last night when we could not find that little mouse. I was so bad I even tried a bit of meditation. I don't know if it was the meditation or the hot whisky's but I fell asleep on the rug in front of the fire. It was still dark when I woke up, as stiff as a plank. I was about to take myself off to bed for a second sleep when I heard a sound from the kitchen. I waited a bit then I heard it again, it was a crunching. When I turned on the light the little mouse was sitting as bold as you like in the middle of the table. He had chewed the away the corner of the cornflake box and was sitting up on his hind legs munching. He did not even run when I turned on the light. I could not believe he found his way back." Mick told the hushed crowd at the bar.

"It must have been a homing mouse," offered one of the customers which got everyone laughing.

I did not have the heart to tell him that where you get one mouse you get loads, I think the story of the homing mouse miracle of Christmas is much better than one too stuffed with cornflakes to run away.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

A quick Joke

A trainee began working in the city morgue. His very first job was to move three new arrivals. The trainee was a bit taken aback as all three corpses had smiles on their faces.

"Is it normal that they would be smiling like that?" the trainee asked the pathologist.

"Not really," replied the doctor.

"You see this first one," the pathologist said indicating a white haired man in tattered clothes "he is a Scott's man who scrimped all his life never parting with a penny unless he had to. Yesterday he won 100 million on the lotto and dropped dead of a heart attack.

"What about the next man?" asked the trainee pointing at a well groomed gent in a night shirt. He had to be 90 years old if he was a day; with huge grin on his face.

"That is Rene, a wicked womaniser. He married a 21 year old dancer and died in bed on the honeymoon night," replied the pathologist covering up the old man.

The last body was in a terrible state, while a lot younger that the other two, he was covered in burns from head to toe. The smoke was still drifting up from is clothes, like the others he was smiling happily.

"What is the story with the last man?" asked the puzzled trainee.

"Oh that is Paddy the Irish Golf Pro, he was hit by lightening," said the pathologist.

"That's tragic," said the trainee "why is he smiling?"

"He thought someone was taking his photo."

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Apprentice

In the far south of France, nestles Carcassonne, a magical fortified town who's existence can be traced as far back as the Roman Empire. In 100BC, a garrison encampment was formed on high ground overlooking a natural fording point on the river. This land has been constantly occupied ever since. Despite current appearances, this occupancy has been anything but peaceful.

Morning light floods the cobbled streets painting ancient buildings in hues of rust and gold. The place has a feeling that only comes with age. You cant help but know that these walls, these streets, have witnessed deeds of bravery and savagery in equal amounts. The very stones are steeped in human emotion, perhaps that's why this town has a magical feeling.

Uneven streets twist narrowly among buildings. Everything is quiet only flocks of finches break the silence of the early morning. It is hard to imagine that  blood once flowed on these streets, bodies dismembered and lives lost in needless combat. All paths through this historic town lead to a central concourse. The square is a wonderful work of engineering that no modern man would ever dream of undertaking. The cobbles cover a full acre, undulating gently. One end is flanked by a fast moving stream, emptying eventually into the main river. The square is speckled with mature trees and hemmed in on all sides by majestic buildings. The cathedral spire rises high above the town, the morning sun making the golden cross at its tip twinkle. The only sign of life in the whole town, comes from two little shops standing side by side in this fairy-tale setting.

When you're a baker, life starts early and Monsieur Arnaud Gras rose so earl,y it was still the night before, when he arrived to light his ovens. As the smell of freshly baked bread fills the square, a stooped figure emerges from the gloom. A walking stick tapped across the cobbles to the café next to the boulangerie. M. Benoit Delarge was well into his eighties, sleep did not come easy to him. Even though no customers would rise for hours yet, he set out cast iron seating in the square. As the sun rose, M. Gras joined him from the bakery and the two old men sat enjoying a café au lait with fresh pan au chocolate still hot from the oven.

Another resident of Carcassonne famous for particular habits was Mademoiselle Annabell Rossier. Mlle. Rossier is a spinster who lives in the largest house on the square. She is renowned for her bad temper and sour demeanour. Dressed nearly entirely in black, she snarled at every man, woman and child that crossed her path.  Mlle. Rossier was despised by every shop owner in town. She was particularly nasty to people forced to serve her in shops and restaurants. The only place she was ever greeted with a smile and a warm welcome, was at the Café of M. Delarge. No one could figure out why he was always so cheerful towards the inhospitable crone.

Today, the young man that M. Delarge employed suffered a terrible barrage of insults from Mlle. Rossier, when he accidentally spilled her coffee. Young Luic came storming into the shop, slamming the cup and saucer into the dishwasher.

"She is such a battle axe, why do you put up with her?" he demanded of M. Delarge.

The old man chuckled,"She is not all bad you know, she has a wonderful side.."

"There is nothing but hate in that woman," fumed Luic.

"I think you're wrong Luic, you have to look past the front and see the woman beneath," said the old man wisely.

"I think you have been seeing things," huffed Luic, filling a fresh coffee for Mlle. Rossier.

"I tell you what, come open the shop with me in the morning, and you can see for yourself," said M. Delarge. After some persuading, Luic agreed to rise at 4am to help the old man open up.

Luic accompanied the shuffling old man along the cobbled streets into the still dark square. As delicious steam billowed from the bakery, they unlocked the café, turned on the lights and started the coffee machine. Luic placed the metal tables and chairs outside the shop while M. Delarge prepared the first coffees of the day. Half an hour later, M. Gras appeared with a basket of fresh pastries. 
"Good morning Benoit, I see we've company this morning," said M. Gras, sitting at the table. The old café owner laid out three large coffees for the gathered men. M. Gras took a tape player from under his arm, which he put on the table, but didn't turn it on. As the sun rose, the old men chatted about mutual friends, and Luic sipped his coffee, watching the finches flutter from tree to tree. As the sun began to chase shadows into the deepest corners of the square, the door to Mlle. Rossier's house opened. She glided down the stone steps, dressed in a gossamer nightgown. The two old men smiled at each other, and winked at Luic. M. Gras turned on the tape player, delicate notes drifted into the air. Mademoiselle Rossier was clearly sleep-walking, but she had the most beatific smile on her face. As the music reached her ears, she began to twirl and dance. For a full ten minutes, she performed a joyful ballet around the square. To Luic, Mlle. Rossier was so different, she was beautiful and happy. When the music finished, Mlle. Rossier faced the three men, giving them a deep curtsy. Monsieur Gras and Delarge stood, bowing back to the sleeping woman.  Mademoiselle Rossier disappeared back into her house, closing the door on two smiling old men, and one shocked younger one. M. Delarge turned to Luic, "Now, you see there are many sides to people."

"Perhaps you're right," said Luic

"This is our little secret, not even Mademoiselle Rossier knows about our morning dance lessons," said Monsieur Gras, taking his tape recorder back to the bakery. Monsieur Delarge smiled as he gathered up the cups, "You were a bit unlucky, actually," he said.

"Why's that?" asked Luic.

"Most of the time she wears nothing to bed, it must have been chilly last night," laughed the old man, shuffling away on his stick.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The First Turkey

This is a story told to me by my mother, about her mother, from a time before she was born. Granny Begley was only mammy Begley back in those days but I can never bring myself to call her anything other than Granny Begley, it would be too weird in my head.

This takes place in the late 1930's, Granny Begley was married a few years at that stage but already had three small boys out of a family that would eventually encompass a full nine brothers and sisters. Granddad Begley had just began working for Captain Raskin as a farm hand. Working as a farm worker was not a well paid job and with a growing family, existence for the Begleys was hand to mouth. The few coins in Granny Begley's purse never went far but Christmas week highlighted just how little they had.

The Begley family had three forms of transport, Granddad Begley had a bike, weighing as much as a small car and made from the indestructible metal that comets are made of. The second was shanks mare, or walking to you and me. The final mode of perambulation was Neddy and his little cart.

Neddy was the family donkey, who once secured between the tines of the cart, could move heaven and earth, if he felt in the mood. On the day of the dreaded Christmas shop, Granny Begley hitched up Neddy, with the three kids loaded aboard, she struck out for the town. She had a week's wages in her purse which didn't amount to a hill of beans. Christmas dinner would be sparse. Granny Begley hoped she could stretch to a broiler hen for roasting on the most holy of days.

As they clip-clopped the five miles to town Granny Begley drifted off into a world of her own and failed to hear the flat bed truck rumbling up behind the cart. It over took them on a bend, wobbling dangerously on its hard rubber wheels. The back of the truck was stacked high with wooden crates, each stuffed with a huge gobbling turkey. The driver shook a fist out the window as he raced away at the break neck speed of 30 miles an hour.

Neddy bucked and skidded between the tines of the cart. Granny was too much of a lady to say anything bad about the driver of the truck, but she went very red. She got Neddy steadied and it was a minute or two before they were ready to continue on their way. Three bends later that they came across a smashed timber crate in the middle of the road.

"Woah," called Granny hauling back on Neddy's reins.

"Would you look at that lads," said Granny to my tiny uncles hunkered down in the back of the cart. "I wonder where the turkey got ta?"

As if in answer to her question the turkey gave a loud gobble from the field next to the road. He was wandering around clearly dazed from his confinement, as well as having just survived one of Ireland's first car accidents.

"Come on boys, don't let him get away," called Granny Begley bounding over the dyke, into the sodden field followed by three very excited little boys. So began the great Christmas rodeo. They chased in circles but the outcome was never in doubt. A turkey never lived that could outrun a hungry Irish man. Once the gobbling tearaway was apprehended, Granny Begley wrapped it in her shawl so he couldnt fly again. The Begley clan raced back to Neddy who was nibbling at the grass growing in the middle of the road. Granny dropped the turkey in the back of the cart instructing the three boys to hold on to it. They had their work cut out as the turkey out-weighed the oldest boy by a couple of pounds. Granny turned the cart for home spurring Neddy into a gangly trot.

This is the story of how the Begley family came to have a huge glistening turkey steaming on the dinner table that Christmas day for the very first time. Everyone dove in to their dinner except Granny Begley who could only look at her plate, downcast and worried.

"Why are you not eating Mammy," asked Granddad Begley.

"I can't touch it, tis a sin," Granny mumbled to her husband.

"Whisht woman, eat your dinner," he said with a laugh.

Granny picked but got no satisfaction from it, neither did sleep come that evening. Nothing would do her but to be waiting at the gate the next morning when the priest came to open the church.

"Morning Mrs Begley," said the priest when he arrived.

"Father, I think I've done something terrible. I need to make a confession,"said Granny Begley
"Just give me two minutes Mrs Begley, I will be right with you," said the priest walking through the church turning on the lights. Ten minutes later Granny Begley found herself in a confessional shaking in her boots. The shutter slid back, "Bless me father for I have sinned it has been three weeks since my last confession" said Granny Begley.

"Tell me your sins, my child," said the priest from behind the grill.

"I have taken what is not mine father and defiled the most holy of days with my treachery," Granny said.

"What do you mean Mrs Be - my child," said the priest.

"I found a turkey on the road father, I killed it and feed it to my family when it was not mine in the first place," said Granny knowing this was a damnation offence. She was taken aback by the laughing from the far side of the grill.

"Mary, it's God's will that you found that turkey before a hungry fox. He works in ways that none can understand and if he intended you to find the bird, that is what he made happen. Leave here with a clear conscience, enjoy what God has delivered to you."

Despite this reassurance, from this day to the end of her time, Granny Begley could never eat turkey.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Granny Fitz

Running a bar in a small town along the west coast of Ireland qualifies you for many roles, financial adviser, councillor, medic, peacekeeper not to mention the provider of drinks and hangovers for a whole community. You will find the young and not so young rubbing shoulders nightly  you may even find a dog or two snoozing under an owners stool while they mingle. Any of you that have read my stories will know that I am a bit of a dog lover. I have never yet encountered a dog that caused me an ounce of bother in my bar but plenty two legged customers have ended up on the pavement, backside first.

Two of my most regular customers are Granny Fitz and Bobby. Mary Fitzgerald lives four miles outside town with twelve grown children. They are all married but never quiet cut the apron strings, every last one of them are living within ten minutes of where they were born. I have no idea how many grandchildren Mary has but it seems half the towns calls her Granny Fitz. With so many people calling her that it was only natural it spread to the rest of us. Bobby is the latest in a long line of dogs that shared Granny Fitz's life, they were all border collies.

Every Thursday Granny Fitz and Bobby would walk the four miles into town. Regular as clockwork she would collect her pension, visit the Co-Op and order what she needed, call to the butchers and various other shops along the way picking up items here and there. At each stop Bobby would wait patiently at the door until she finished talking and came walking back out. When a full round of the town was done they would stop by the church for a chat with Mr Fitzgerald who has been resident in the cemetery for over ten years. Bobby never felt the tug of a lead on his neck, he never needed it. You would always find him six inches behind Granny Fitz's heal watching every move she made with utter adoration. When lunchtime rolled around Granny Fitz would call in to me for a bowl of soup and a toasted ham sandwich. At first she left Bobby outside like everywhere else she visited but I insisted she bring him in. Bobby slinked in at first, not believing he was allowed. That first day Bobby lay at Granny Fitz's  feet expecting to be hunted out into the street at any moment. Since that day he walks in with a huge doggie smile on his face. I always get lick and a head nuzzle from him before he settles down at Granny's feet while she eats. After lunch one of Granny's huge extended family would come and collect her shopping, dropping it back to her house while she and Bobby made their own way home using shanks mare.

A few weeks back Granny never turned up for lunch on Thursday which did not bother me much, she may have been away visiting relatives but when the following Thursday came and went without a visit from my most regular customer I made a call to one of her daughters. It turns out that Granny Fitz had taken a serous turn and was in hospital. For a woman who never saw 7am in bed her end came quickly. Not a house or business was not saddened by her passing.The funeral was one of the largest I can ever remember.

Now in this part of the world when a person dies the funeral will make its way from the church via the house of the departed to the cemetery. Like I said Granny lived four miles from town, despite the graveyard being next door to the church Granny Fitz's remains were slowly driven the length of the town allowing everyone to honour the passing of remarkable woman after which the mile long precession of cars made its way to Fitzgerald's, the house that half the town could trace their ancestry to. The hearse slowed as it approached the Fitzgerald homestead.

If you ask me to explain what happened next I cant. Bobby launched himself over the hedge, racing at the barely moving hearse. He barked incessantly ,it was not an angry bark but a pleading, heart broken cry in the only voice a dog possesses. Bobby jumped and clawed at the glass separating him from Granny Fitz, howling like he was being ripped limb from limb. The hearse gathered speed but even in third gear Bobby kept throwing himself against the glass. It was a heart breaking sight, the whole four miles Bobby ran faster than I have ever seen a dog run. When the hearse stopped at the grave yard Bobby's chest was a blur of movement as he wolfed air into his lungs, resolutely staying his course by remaining at the side of Granny Fitz, by her side to the end.

As the coffin was lifted to the shoulders of her six oldest sons, Bobby lay prone at the head of the mourners, keening. I looked into the eyes of that dog and I will  never be told that they don't feel. If a dog could cry, Bobby was shedding floods. He was a dog no more, but a mourner, pure and simple. As the six sturdy men carried the coffin to the freshly opened grave Bobby remained, as he ever had, six inches behind Granny Fitz while she made her last trip through the graveyard.

When the coffin was lowered Bobby niched forward on his belly until his mussel and front paws hung over the edge of the grave. The priest began the service but Bobby could not contain his grief. Surrounded by a dozen Fitzgerald children and nearly seventy grandchildren, everyone knew the chief mourner had four legs. Bobby whimpered loudly, whining with sorrow. In the end it got too much for the priest. He turned to the undertaker and said quietly "Can you do something with the dog Sean." The burley undertaker had taken two steps towards Bobby before a deep voice rumbled from the assembled crowd "Sean Ryan, touch that dog and you will regret it for many a year."

The sound of Michael Fitzgerald's voice was enough to stop any man in his tracks. The whole Fitzgerald family closed ranks around the little black and white dog while respecting  his sorrow. The undertaker retreated quickly. The priest finished the prayers and the congregation shook hands with the family. People drifted away, many to McFinnigans, were we raised a glass to a wonderful woman who would be long missed.

That night after cleaning up I locked the bar and walked towards home,my journey taking me past the grave yard. Something made me want to have a final word with one of my best customers. I walked through the moonlit headstones coming to the freshly closed grave but I was not alone. Bobby lay across Granny Fitz with huge sorrowful eyes. I hunkered down in front of him, rubbing his neck. "I miss her too boy" I said, before leaving the dog and his mistress alone in the moonlight.