Celtic Illumination, Part 57, Roger Miller and the most unlucky number
As I said before I met lots of nice new people at Newry Technical College, however my best friend there was Phelim Fegan and he didn’t even go to the college. Phelim was the mechanic for his father’s haulage firm in Warrenpoint. If any of the trucks broke down, anywhere in Ireland, then Phelim would have to go and fix it. If I was at school then Phelim would pull up outside the main school building to collect me. Now I don’t mean that he would find a safe and convenient parking spot, stop, indicate and manoeuvre his vehicle into the parking space.
If you remember I said the life in Warrenpoint was very similar to the Dukes of Hazzard. Phelim would screech into the school car park, perform a handbrake turn and press the car horn. Sometimes it might be louder than the music pumping from the inside of the vehicle, sometimes not. I would excuse myself from whichever class I was attending, unless I was already standing at the front of the school smoking, and climb into the car and zoom away for another day of fun and freedom. It was a fantastic wee car although sadly had to be changed when Phelim’s mother discovered, when she executed an emergency stop that Phelim hid condoms in the roof and she did not appreciate being showered with the infernal things.
Phelim by now had moved from an old Ford Anglia to a Ford Escort. This car had two whiplash aerials so therefore was very fast indeed, I’m not very technical myself but this is what I’ve been told. If it had a go faster strip we may have had warp speed. And the music wasn’t the sort of thump, thump, thump, of angry wannabe ghetto type people that you get these days. No we were refined, we would be head banging to Roger Miller singing ‘Trailers for sale or rent’. Sometimes we would listen to classical music like Johnny Cash or Hank Williams.
These days were so enjoyable. Phelim was a speed freak and of course this was way before the cash collecting speed cameras. Initially we would concentrate on getting to the broken lorry, fixing it and then we would have a relaxed journey home. I enjoyed touring Ireland and visiting all the different towns and villages as I had done before, but at least now my travels were pervert free.
I remember one evening we went off to Dublin to find a lorry which had been stopped by the Gardaí. All the lights on the trailer had failed and the Gardaí refused it permission to move on until the problem was fixed. Phelim and myself left Warrenpoint at about warp factor three. Phelim leapt about the truck and trailer like a monkey on a climbing frame. Eventually he decided that the lights were broken, which shows just how good a mechanic he really was. The driver was protesting that he had to be somewhere at a certain time whether this referred to the load or the drivers personal life I’m not sure but Phelim was told that it had to be fixed and it had to be fixed now!
Five minutes later the lorry was trundling on its ways with the lights on the trailer working, and then not working, and then working. Phelim wired the trailer lights into the four way hazard warning light circuit and sent the trailer away flashing like a mobile Christmas tree. Once, with a similar problem, a truck had been stopped between Dundalk and Dublin that was trying to get to a ferry before it sailed. We stopped en route in Newry and picked up some bicycle lights which were then attached to the rear of the vehicle which again was sent on its way.
We normally drank in a pub called the Rendezvous Inn. One evening we were playing cards and darts. It was way after the normal pub closing time. I was playing poker. There was a group of bar staff, some of them full time bar men who took poker and horse racing very seriously indeed. I wound up facing one of them with a fifty pound bet waiting to be made and a huge pile of cash between us on the table. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, nor did I have the money to make the bet so I threw my hand in. This caused much consternation among everyone as, in their opinion, I should have continued on. I decided there and then that I would never play cards again in my life and I never did.
Something else happened that night which stayed with me for the rest of my life too, something that I have found very interesting indeed. Phelim and Peter were playing darts. As usual there was a lot of good natured banter going on between everyone. Peter took up his position at the dart board and was told that he had 123 remaining. As Peter stood wondering what the best combination of numbers for his three darts would be, Phelim said “You’ll never get this, because 123 is the most unlucky number in the world.”
Now, I can’t remember if Peter actually managed to get 123 with his three darts, but what stayed with me for the rest of my life, right up until today, is that I still think that the number 123 is the most unlucky number in the world.
A number of years ago I was having a drink with Phelim and I mentioned this event to him. He smiled and said that he remembered that evening very well for I had made a momentous mistake by throwing in my hand and he had never seen anyone make such a basic and stupid mistake in poker ever again. I smiled and told him why I remembered that evening. He looked at me and asked me what on earth I was talking about. He couldn’t remember ever saying that and had never heard of any luck, good or bad, being associated with that number.
Despite the fact that I now know Phelim had said the number 123 was the most unlucky number in the world, it was a throwaway line, he had made it up on the spot, and there was no substance to it at all. So why did I believe it? And why, to this day, when I see the number 1232 do I still think ‘Oh! That’s unlucky?”