Celtic Illumination, part 310, The three legs of Mann
The Isle of Man is perhaps best well known for the Tourist Trophy, the TT motorcycle races, where the main road that circles the island is closed for a fortnight and the most mental motorcyclists in the world tear it to bits and occasionally themselves. Many Manx residents vacate the island for the fortnight and leave the riders and spectators to it. I would have seen this fortnight as a golden opportunity to make some money, but that‘s just me. Many people I met spoke as if the event was beneath them treating all the participants and fans as if they were greasy, uneducated, leather clad, thugs. The island is also known for a liberal tax rate, its own government, the Tynwald, which is of Norse origin, over one thousand years old and claims to be the longest running parliament in the world with an unbroken existence. It has its own breed of cat with a very short tail, the Laxey wheel, again, claiming to be the world’s largest working water wheel and is the birth place of the brothers Gibb, better known as the Bee Gees.
It is also famous for its kippers and the use of the birch, which is where young delinquents would be sentenced to a lashing on the bare buttocks by a police officer with a number of birch rods. It was seen by many as an effective deterrent and used widely to try to attract people to the Isle of Man saying that it was safe place to live or holiday. Basically the young person, once found guilty and sentenced to birching, would be held down over a table by two police officers; his trousers would be pulled down, his shirt lifted and the punishment administered. Usually four or five strokes, but as each ‘birch spray’ contained four or five rods, it was similar to, on average, twenty lashes on the bare buttocks. Some of those who had been birched stated that it felt like having red hot wires thrashed against your skin. The practise is now illegal although many would still like to see its return.
But the Isle of Man is perhaps best known for, or is most famous for, the fact that John Clancey lives there. Some of you may recall me mentioning him before. John had been stationed at RAF Jurby Head which was a bombing range on the Isle of Man. John liked to tell people that he was special, but many of us knew the truth. I mean come on, if the Ministry Of Defence placed you on a remote beach and had not just the RAF but the USAF drop bombs on you, every day of the year, how long would it be before you got the message? He was such a slippery character that they could never get a direct hit on him so they gave up and closed Jurby. John of course tried to return to England but they wouldn’t let him in. He claims however that he elected to stay on the Isle of Man, but we know different.
John does have one or two things going in his favour the best of which is that he used to look like me. I say ‘used to look like me’ because time has not been very kind to him. Whereas I am still quite pretty, in a masculine sort way you understand. At one time when stationed together in Norfolk, John and myself would go around telling people that we were twins separated at birth, John being brought up in London and me being brought up in Ireland. It was fun and we were bought many beers to celebrate our reunion. I contacted John and let him know that I was on the Isle of Man. He insisted on meeting up and taking me out for a few beers with his mates, which unsettled me as he was quite a lightweight when it came to drinking beer, despite his wild claims.
John picked me up from Tony and Mary’s house in an old BMW motorcar. It may have been the first time I had ever been in an antique vehicle but I didn’t say anything as John seemed to be rather proud of the ancient machine. We went to his house which I have to say I was very surprised at. Anyone who met John would immediately recognise a hard and fast urbanite but here he was living in a small cottage with his partner Sally, a lovely young lady who has had to put up with so much. It really was idyllic and I couldn’t believe that someone like John had such good taste in choosing somewhere like that to live. Of course had I thought about it I should have realised that the locals probably did not want him living in their midst and forced him to live in the middle of nowhere. It was a lovely little quiet spot and I’m sure that they were very happy there, or at least pretended to be, as John is quite a stubborn fellow.
John took me off to Ramsey where he was going to show me the night life. Ramsey is the second largest town on the Isle of Man but is still quite a rural place. The pub car park was full of tractors and trailers and I really did expect to find sheep dipping or dwarf throwing inside instead of the standard darts or pool table. I do remember meeting some of John’s rugby mates and as I had respected the occasion, unlike John, I had dressed appropriately, I was surprised to find my clothes being ridiculed as I was repeatedly asked, by one fellow, rather loudly, why I had come out wearing my pyjamas. I think John was a little embarrassed as he knew I was being sophisticatedly stylish, in the extreme, and that his friends were exhibiting their complete lack of taste. We left and began a pub crawl in Ramsey, meeting up with more of John’s rugby mates as we moved from pub to pub.
A big rugby match was taking place the following day, against a visiting Welsh team, and most of the Manx players were out training hard for the match, by drinking their own bodyweight in beer. Throughout the evening John and his friends tried to get me to agree to play for them the following day. John’s main argument, apart from the fact that there would be an enormous piss up afterwards, was that if I played for them, the following day, I would in fact be representing the Isle of Man and this would afford me International player status. Well; I already had international status, as a criminal mind you, and juggled with the idea that it might make an interesting little snippet in years to come, not that I could ever find something to talk or write about myself or my life.
I found what I though was the perfect excuse that would allow me not to play and would save face for all concerned, especially John who had probably told his friends that he would be able to convince me to play for them. I think they were looking forward to not just having an experienced and graceful player join them, but I think some of them just wanted to look at my legs, and who came blame them. They were all red blooded, meat eating, men and I did have the loveliest legs in Ireland. I explained that I didn’t have my kit with me, which of course they claimed was no problem, until I mentioned that I had man sized feet, size thirteen, I had no boots. There followed a lot of muttering which is understandable but as you know, the most loveliest legs in Ireland do need a decent pair of feet to hold them up.
I don’t know how I got home that night, I can’t remember, but I do remember waking up and recognising the room as being in Tony and Mary’s farmhouse. Despite having been viciously attacked by my pillow during the night and having checked my perfect bottom for lash marks, just in case I had been birched the previous evening, I went downstairs and completed my daily writing task of seven hundred and fifty words. Much later in the morning John turned up, with his car making quite a commotion in the small farm yard, it sounded like someone had been feeding barbed wire into a bailing machine. I asked Tony and Mary not to say anything to John about his beloved BMW motorcar as he really did seem to adore it.
We drove into Ramsey and joined his rugby mates who were gathering at a pre-arranged spot. It was obvious that most of them had been attacked during the night by pillows and I wondered if I should apply for an international grant, or funding from the European Union, so that I could expand my research into the subject. It was going to be a nice day, a little grey but not cold, no rain and no wind, well; in the sky at least, John and his friends sounded as if they could have filled a squadron of zeppelins. I was looking forward to having a few beers and watching a decent rugby match when a car pulled up. The passenger window was wound down and a hand came out. “John!” shouted the passenger in the car, to which John responded. “Was it size thirteen you wanted?” said the voice behind the hand, which I now knew was holding a pair of size thirteen rugby boots.
Up until that moment the most violent rugby match I had ever been involved in was against Brussels British, at their home ground in Brussels, and it was during that match that John Clancy had been carried off with concussion. I immediately realised why John so desperately wanted me to play rugby for the Isle of Man, he wanted me to protect him, I wasn’t his twin brother any more, I was his big brother. I don’t want to say too much about the rugby match but it took sporting violence to a new level. The ball was ignored and thirty fellows had a stand up boxing match in six inches of blood stained mud. In fact it is the only match where no one wanted to share a beer afterwards the feeling was so bad amongst the players. After a few beers, with Manx players, John took me back to Tony and Mary’s and went off to live in the wilderness with poor Sally. But that wasn’t the end of it, no, much worse was to come, John and Sally were to marry, each other of course, and he had invited a gang of Pheasant Pluckers to the ceremony. Unfortunately one of those Pluckers was me.