Celtic Illumination, part 79, Flashman meets Mac Fecker
Larry Power was going to great lengths to thank me for not giving his name to the Station Warrant Officer. Had I snitched on him, then Larry would have lost an awful lot more than I ever could, his bean stealing status could have been revoked and that would have been a huge financial blow to take. Larry came up with a fantastic idea to say thank you. A bank holiday was approaching so he proposed that I travel with him to Dublin and he would run me up to Warrenpoint on the Friday and collect me again on the Monday.
I hadn’t been home for some time and the thought of not having to fight my way across the Irish Sea, while being serenaded by vocally challenged knuckle draggers, was quite appealing, so I accepted his offer. It was quite a standard crossing, couple of beers, a bit of craic and then the Dublin to Newry road. It’s a road that many people travel and I wonder if like me there are certain cottages, or signs, you use as markers as your journey progress.
For me, the most memorable is the tiniest of signposts on the North side of Dundalk. The Republic is famous for its signposts. They used to be black and white, as if someone had stood five pints of Guinness on top of each other. It was even greater craic, when they switched from miles to kilometres. The new signs were put up, but the old ones were not taken away. Tourists would be stood standing there wondering if it was twenty five miles to Dublin or forty? We would always advise them to take the lesser figure, for sure, wouldn’t it be that much closer.
The signpost I refer to was a tiny little thing pointing to the back lane into Mount Oliver, Franciscan Convent. It where the aunts used to come, when they would travel back from the missions, and a favourite place for me to visit. However I doubt if Larry would have wanted to call in and have a cup of tea with a few hundred nuns. We travelled on up the road and the landscape began to change, as did Larry.
Your perception of the place would change as you came to the site of the old customs house, which had been blown up so many times, they gave up rebuilding it. However, despite their attempts to clean the area up, you were still aware that you were entering a war zone, as bomb craters and the odd burned out vehicle would be lying about. You couldn’t help but feel the agony of the innocent victims that had been slaughtered. I was quite aware of my surroundings and thought Larry would be too. We were in a queue waiting to pass through the main British army checkpoint when Larry yelped.
“Look!” he said, at me, in an excited whisper.
“What?” I asked, looking around.
“That bush is moving!” he cried, indicating with a nod of his head the direction I should be looking in.
I followed his direction and saw the heavily camouflaged solder crawling along a gully.
“Haven’t you seen the machine gun above?” I asked, at which Larry froze.
“Jasus!” he cried. “There’s thousands of them!”
This of course was an exaggeration, but I was quiet surprised at his reaction and hoped he would calm down, for although he was allowed to be in the republic I wasn’t. I wasn’t even supposed to be in the North of Ireland without express permission from the MOD. The last thing we needed was to be questioned and searched by the British army.
“Get a grip Larry,” I suggested, as it was quite clear he was about to enter panic mode. “They’re only pongos.”
Pongo is a term we use for army bods, the reason being, anywhere the army goes, the pong goes. We managed to pass through undetected, however from the border to the outskirts of Newry; I could tell that Larry was shocked at the massive presence of heavily armed troops.
We made it to Warrenpoint and I brought Larry into to our wee house for a cup of tea. I couldn’t believe that he was visibly shaken by the experience and as he was leaving, to get back down to Dublin and his family, he told me that he didn’t think he would be able to make it back up on Monday, so could I make my own way to Dublin and meet him there.
I told him that it would be no problem, and it wasn’t. I had a great weekend letting my hair down with Phelim and Peter. Jiving to my heart’s content and yelling “Yee ha!” without a care in the world. I walked across Dundalk, as there was another bomb on the train line and the direct service to Dublin was affected, praying that none of the IRA men would spot me. I wasn’t worried that I might get into a bit of trouble; I was worried that I would get into a drinking session with them and miss the fecking boat back to Wales.
Larry felt that he had fulfilled his duty and reverted to being a Corporal. I was out hammering snow flags in. It was a lovely job, all on my own, wandering along taxiways and runways, beating little painted sticks into the ground with a two pound lump hammer. If an aircraft was passing I would bare my legs, I know, the loveliest legs in Ireland, and thumb a lift, I even had a sign at one stage with the word “Warrington” printed on it, but I never got a lift although I could tell the aircrew were so jealous. I always thought snow flagging was such a waste of time, for when it started snowing they stopped flying. I often wondered if it was a ‘make work’ scheme, but I suppose I’ll never know. This day, I was out snow flagging to my heart’s content, in an appalling North Welsh gale.
I was very close to the runway caravan, which was an old truck where an air traffic corporal would sit and watch aircraft. He would act as a final safety check as they prepared for take-off, making sure that safety pins had been removed from ejector seats and the like. They would act as a final check on landing aircraft making sure that all the wheels on an aircraft were down and locked. Larry was runway controller this day, which is the term given to the man in the van, and I climbed in for a bit of a warm and a brew.
I can’t remember who was in charge of air traffic that day, but Larry wanted to know my impression of the person who would send me out on such a foul day to put snow flags in. I of course didn’t hold back, and gave my frank and honest opinion of the person in charge, which I may say contained one or two expletives.
I was surprised later to be ordered back to the tower. I went in, leaving a trail of water behind me and made my way, as I had been told, to the radar room. As the weather was horrendous and no aircraft flying, I found that all of the controllers were relaxing and, in their own way, having a bit of craic.
“Ah!” says the man in charge. “ I understand that you are having doubts about my parentage, Paddy?”
The gathered officers guffawed at the hilarity of their brother officer’s hysterical repartee. I detected a certain emphasis on the word, Paddy.
“Me sir?” I asked, feeling myself morph into something close to McGintys fecking goat.
“Yes, my dear chap. I believe you’re questioning the moral legality of the superior blood line that could produce such a fine specimen as I?”
“Me sir?” I asked again, realising that I was now sounding like a Dublin taxi driver, but knowing I was dancing about the ring looking for a weak spot.
“Yes you, Paddy. I’ve been told that you think I’m a bit of a bastard?”
His fellow officers couldn’t contain themselves for they thought the situation to be so funny; it was like Harry Flashman addressing a fag at Rugby. What they didn’t understand was that I was aware that handball, our sport at Violent Hell was very similar to Rugby Fives, except we were not girlie enough to wear leather gloves to protect our hands. It allowed me to feel a certain superiority to the standard English toff.
“Me sir?” I asked. “I would never call you a bastard sir. I was brought up as a good Catholic boy. God forgive me, I would never use such a profanity to describe such a wonderful upstanding gentleman as yourself…” I don’t know where the words were coming from but I could see that my quarry was taken aback. As an officer he was of course naturally superior to me, more intelligent and well damn it, a much better fellow altogether. The words kept spilling from my mouth, and from his body language I could tell he was dying for me to stop. His fellow officers were waiting for his comeback, which I could see wasn’t going to happen. As we were being gentlemen, well one of us was, and as I felt we were very much in Harry Flashman territory, I withdrew my rapier and prepared for the final blow.
I could hear myself talking; I was not just wondering where the words were coming from, but where on earth was the accent coming from? I opened the door to the radar room and began to back out, bowing submissively as I left. “Me sir?” I could hear myself asking. “I would never call you a bastard sir. Sure wouldn’t I have to spend the next five Saturdays in confession if I said, or thought, such a thing about such a fine gentlemen as yourself?”
I paused, as they say, for comedic effect.
He nodded at me, I knew he would not say anymore, the encounter was over and he wished he had never started it. It may have been over for him but it certainly wasn’t over for me.
I checked his brother officers who appeared to be let down by this fine fellows failings.
I continued to mumble in my finest Irish warble, as I backed out the door.
“I would never call you a bastard sir, no sir, not me, I called you a fecking arsehole!”
My timing was perfect. I could hear everyone in the radar room fall about apoplectic with laughter, apart from one fine fellow. I expected him to come after me and start screaming. He didn’t. In fact he gave me a bit of a wide berth after that.