Friday, 27 December 2013

Mick and the Mouse

I want to tell you a story that unfolded in the pub over the last few nights. One of my regular customers, Mick, known far and wide as Mick the Buddhist, has been having a bit of bother.

Before I start, I better say this...the Irish are great for giving nicknames, and Mick the Buddhist is just that...a Buddhist. Before he was a Buddhist he was a handyman, I guess he still is...of sorts. We all thought the Buddhism thing was a midlife crisis, and it didn't take long for the chanting, vegetarianism and avoidance of alcohol to be dropped, but Mick's natural good nature made the nickname stick.

Anyway, on with the story.

About a week ago, Mick landed into the bar and said he had a mouse in his house. As you are probably aware, Buddhists don't harm anything. This left Mick in a quandary. As a good Buddhist, he should welcome the mouse into his life but as Mick said himself..."The fecker is eating me out of house and home!"

The next day, I was down the hardware shop and came across a Live-Capture Trap. It was only a few euro so I bought it. On the way home I stopped at Mick's cottage. I knew he was home because his bike was lying against the outside wall. When Mick answered the door, he was covered in wood chippings. On Mick's kitchen table stood a towering maze of timber. It turned out he was making a bookshelf. My eye might be off but I could swear the yoke leaned left...and the same time. It was making me queasy just looking at the thing. When I produced the trap, Mick was delighted.

Christmas Eve arrived and Mick turned up for a pint.

"How did yea get on with the trap?" I asked.

"Grand, I nabbed the little guy a couple of days ago."

"And? What did you do with him?" I inquired, as I filled his drink.

"That's the problem...I've still got him," he said looking a bit ashamed.

"Ah Jesus! I thought you were going to put him outside?"

"I was reading up on mice...on the Internet, you know. Apparently, they can find their way back even if you drop them a mile from the house," he said, proud of his knowledge. "Anyway, he's a house-mouse, not a wild mouse," Mick mused.

"Ah...for God sake, Mick, it's a mouse, and Kerry is hardly wild," I teased, dropping his pint on a beer mat.

"I suppose you're right," he said, taking a swig and wiping beer-foam from his whiskers.

"I bet you've been feeding him," I said.

Mick looked like a kid caught with his hand in a cookie-jar. "I couldn't let him starve," he mumbled.

"You’re such a softie," I laughed. By closing time, 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, waving a cheery hello to all he passed. He'd decided to release his little friend in a wooded area close to town. Mick picked a nice spot and opened up the trap. The little mouse scampered out, vanishing into the undergrowth.

Half-past-eight that night, I got a call from a distressed Mick the Buddhist. The day had started out lovely but as night fell a storm had rolled in.

"Hello?" I said into the phone, wondering why Mick would be calling so late on Christmas night.

"Squid, I know it's crazy, but I need a favour. Can you drive me somewhere?" Mick said.

"No bother, where do you need to go," I asked, thinking he'd say, to the doctor or hospital.

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

I picked him up five minutes later and we raced through empty streets and out into the country. After a mile or so we reached the woods.

"What's all this about?" I asked, as I put on the handbrake and glared out into the driving rain.

"I let the mouse go today...out there. Jesus lad, look at the weather, how can I leave him out in this?"

I nearly threw Mick out of the car...but the look on his face stopped me. He was pure miserable. I just didn't have the heart. "Come on so, yea lunatic," I said, clicking on my torch and throwing myself into the maelstrom.

Two hours we search the woods...two bloody hours. No sign of the mouse...of course...because the mouse wasn't half as daft as the two of us.

"That's it! I'm going home!" I declared a dozen times before Mick would admit the futility of what we were at. In the end he got into the car and let me drive him home. He looked like a man who lost a tenner and found a penny. When we got to his house I said, "Don't worry, that little fella is curled up as snug as you like, probably laughing his arse off at the two of us."

"I hope so," said a maudlin Mick, as he gently closed the car door and mooched up toward his front door.


Today, Mick burst into the pub a changed man. He was beaming from ear to ear.

"What's got you grinning?" I asked.

"You won't believe it! It's a Christmas miracle!" he said, throwing his arms to the heavens.

"I didn't know Buddhists believed in Christmas, or Miracles," I said, loud enough to draw a chuckle from the lads along the bar.

"Shut up and let me tell the story, you messer," he said, sitting at the bar. "I was fair upset last night...when we couldn't find yerman. I was so bad, I even tried a bit of meditation. Now, I don't know if it was the meditation…or the hot whisky's…but I was soon snoring on the rug in front of the fire. Jesus, it was the middle of the night when I woke up. I was stiff as a plank, hell, I was half crippled. I was trying to crawl up the stairs when I heard rustling coming from the kitchen. I thought I'd imagined it, so I held my breath and listened. Then it came again. Rustle, rustle, crackle, crunch. Quite as you like, I got myself up and snuck into the kitchen."

Mick paused for dramatic affect.

"Well?" I demanded...he had me hooked.

"Low and behold, when I turned on the light...wasn't the mouse sitting, as bold as you like, in the middle of the table. He'd chewed through the corner of the cornflakes box and was stuffing himself. He must have been starved after his adventure. He didn't even run when I turned on the light. Can you believe it, he found his way back! A Christmas miracle!" Mick said, and the crowd was awestruck. We'll they were...until one wise-ass piped up.

"It must have been a homing mouse!"

Everyone started laughing and Mick went very red. The others didn't hear Mick say this...but I did.

"Still a miracle," he whispered.

"Here," I said, putting a pint in front of Mick. "A Christmas drink to toast your good fortune." Mick took a sup of his pint and I didn't have the heart to tell him, that when you have one mouse in your house, you most likely have dozens.

Perhaps It’s the child in me, but I think the story of the homing mouse miracle of Christmas is much better than a mouse too stuffed with cornflakes to run away.

Happy Christmas, one and all.

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 whose 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 can’t 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 were dismembered and lives were lost here 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’s spire rises high above the town, the morning sun making the golden cross at its tip twinkle. The only sign of life 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 early it was still the night before. As the smell of freshly baked bread fills the square, a stooped figure emerges from the gloom. A walking stick taps across the cobbles to the café next to the boulangerie. M. Benoit Delarge is well into his eighties, sleep doesn’t come easy for him. Even though no customers would rise for hours yet, he sets out his cast-iron seating in the square. As the sun appears, M. Gras joins him from the bakery and the two old men sit enjoying a café au lait with fresh pan au chocolate, still hot from the oven.

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

Today, the young man that M. Delarge employs, suffered a terrible barrage of insults from Mlle Rossier after accidentally spilling her coffee. Young Luic came stormed 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’ve 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 four to help the old man open up.


Luic accompanied the shuffling old man along the cobbled streets and into the still dark square. As delicious cloud of 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 the 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 had to admit, like this, the woman was beautiful. 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'll find the young and not so young rubbing shoulders nightly, you may even find a dog or two snoozing under an owners stool. Any of you that have read my stories will know that I'm a bit of a dog lover. I've never yet encountered a dog that caused me an ounce of bother but plenty of two legged customers have ended up on the pavement, backside first.

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

Every Thursday, Granny Fitz and Bobby would walk the four miles into town. Regular as clockwork, she’d collect her pension, and do whatever shopping she needed. At each stop, Bobby would wait patiently at the door until she came back out. When a full round of the town was done, they'd stop by the church for a chat with Mr Fitzgerald, who's 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'd always find him six inches behind Granny Fitz's heel, 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. One rainy day, I insisted she bring him in. Bobby slinked inside the bar, not believing he was being allowed. That first day, Bobby lay at Granny Fitz's feet, expecting to be hunted out at any moment. But 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 brood would come and collect the shopping, while Mary and Bobby walked the four miles back. For some reason, she never liked travelling in cars.

A few weeks ago, Granny didn't turn up for lunch. I didn't think much on it but when it happened again a week later, I called her daughter. Granny Fitz had taken a serous turn. She was in hospital but things were not looking good. For a woman who'd never seen dawn in bed, her end came quickly. Not a house or business in the town greeted the news with a dry eye.

In Kerry, when a person dies, the funeral always goes to the graveyard via the departed’s house. Like I said earlier, Granny lived four miles from town and despite the graveyard being next door to the church, Granny Fitz's remains were slowly driven the long way out, to stop before her front gate. A final farewell.

If you ask me to explain what happened next, I can’t. As the hearse stood outside the gate, Bobby launched himself over the hedge, barking like crazy. He was in an awful state. It wasn't an angry bark, it was a pleading, heart-broken cry. Bobby clawed at the glass separating him from Granny Fitz, howling like he was being ripped limb from limb. The hearse pulled away and 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've ever seen a dog run. When the hearse finally stopped at the grave-yard, Bobby's chest was a blur as he wolfed air into his lungs. He wouldn't budge from the back of the hearse, remaining by his loves side till the very 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'll never be told that they don't feel pain. 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 Mary's coffin to the freshly opened grave, Bobby remained, as he ever had, six inches behind Granny Fitz.

When the coffin was lowered, Bobby inched forward on his belly until his muzzle and front paws hung over the edge of the grave. The priest began the service but Bobby couldn't 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, "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'll 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. The undertaker retreated quickly. A few tension-filled seconds passed, everyone in the crowd held their breath. Then, the mollified priest finished his prayers and the congregation shook hands with the family. People drifted away, many to McFinnigan’s, where we raised a glass to a wonderful woman who'd be long missed.

That night, after I'd cleaned and locked the bar I walked for home. Passing the grave yard, something made me turn. It didn't feel right to go to bed without having a final word with one of my favourite customers. I walked through the moonlit headstones until I came to the freshly closed grave - but I wasn't alone. Bobby lay across Granny Fitz, his eyes huge and sorrowful. I hunkered down and rubbed his neck. He managed one lacklustre wag of his tail but his chin never lifted.

"I miss her too boy," I said. What else could be said. I turned sadly and walked away, leaving a dog and his mistress alone in the moonlight.