Tuesday, December 21, 2010

In the Mouth of Madness

Marty 'The Shitpeddler' Whelan

The black tarmac lolls like a tongue through the dun coloured winter hawthorn and shitberry hedgerows. There's nothing like a snowmelt to make the countryside look secondhand. The car bucks upon the puckered and broken, frost-harried road surface like a spastic pig in electro-shock treatment. The hiss of static competes with the gristled snarling of my nissan cherry's prehistoric diesel engine. It's the best kind of radio these days. A tonic for the wounded pride and shattered dreams of Ireland's most feckless underachievers. I used to listen to Morning Ireland and then Drivetime in the evenings until it all became too horribly real to handle. The sudden realisation that I was only listening to them out of a snobbish sense of my own self-importance. Feeling that I could somehow better myself by listening to the torpid recounting of figures and facts - statisticians' reports read down the airwaves by the insipid, the craven and the dead - but I lost my nerve. I hadn't the steel of real men, able to take the hard news on the chin and get on with their day. I was a broadsheet tourist, buying the Irish Times for nothing more than the fleeting looks of acceptance it gained me from the men in suits who might flank me in checkout queues. Soon I was budgeting my meagre and dwindling salary so that I could afford even just the weekend edition and at that I would only read the food section and the TV guide. Finally I had to bite the bullet and drop the pretence. It was time to try something new. It was a rainy evening at Newlands Cross about six weeks ago when I rolled the car window down and asked the handsomely dark-skinned young man at the traffic lights for a copy of the Evening Herald. I felt the panicked palpitations of the transgressor as I wound the window back against the wind, the drizzle and the fumes. An excited shame at what had just passed and at what was to come. I pulled into a layby off the M11 to pore over the luridly coloured and conveniently-sized pages. I read quickly through the short passages upon the front page. Headlines that dominated half the sheet, stories that seemed to go nowhere and come back without souveniers. The punchy writing style, the inane subject matter, the total lack of cohesion and impartiality seemed to buzz in my head, rising like static within my ears until the noise of it drowned out any possibility of comprehension. My vision began to swim and I realised that I had come too far down the road of self-improvement and empowerment to forray so lightly into the torrid world of the sleazy rags. I burned the paper by the roadside and drove away at speed. Over the following days I tried other 'Redtops' in my quest for a new information media but the results of these experiments were even more harrowing. The News of the World and The Sun rendering me catatonic and in a state of such supressed conciousness that in both cases I was only roused when the neighbour's cat crept through a window and began to chew on my lips.

It was then that I began to experiment with radio and the true horrors of what I was facing arose to confront me. As the radio needle drifted across the bandwidths, new voices filtered in through the low, white noise. Raised voices, pitched into upper registers like excited children full of fanta and skittles. The Tweedle Dumm and Dee of Colm and Jim-Jim, conjoined twins trapped inside a helium balloon and fed E-Numbers and misinformation through a reconditioned umbilical cord donated by Sinéad O'Connor. Shuddering I pressed the needle onward. The one calling himself John Murray drifted out of the haze. He appeared to be reading jokes from the script of a cancelled pantomime, laughing at his own formidable guile. There is the one they call 'The Plank', who mixes a sickly elixir of current affairs and self-important old farts, a complex array of pulleys and trapdoors creaking away in the background, giving him the appearance of sentience as a ventriloquist reads carefully written questions taken from envelopes in a sequence predetermined by a team of numerologist druids. From here the octave leaps as some unintelligible gobshite from Navan moos his excitement all over the microphone like a bull at a gloryhole by a shed full of cows. "That's class!" he lows, his mouth full of cud. 'Class'? There's no class here - onward then! But it keeps on coming, more adolescent squeals of giddy, hand-clapping mirth. Mannequins given voice by some black-devil-witchery. "Accept me!" their cries plead from the radio. "Tell me I am loved. That I belong. That you count me as a friend!" These are the twittering, flapping boys that you remember from school. The one's for whom you saw only a future of latent homosexuality and a flamboyantly-conservative sartorial dichotomy. An idiot's parade, out of kilter with the mood of the nation. Their rising shrieks of empty mirth and endlessly circling chatter begins to overwhelm me. The steering wheel feels fat and heavy in my hands - it's another attack. Frantically I spin the dial but to no avail. It is Tubs! When I thought it could get no worse this man-child comes over the airwaves, his inflections veering more violently than my car as I struggle to stay in control. This mindless fucker is actually reading articles from a tabloid newspaper in a full-frontal attack upon my sensibilities. The hedgerows close in, the world goes soft and everything is darkness.

As I sleep I dream. I dream of a radio station where the presenter understands me and all of those like me. He arrives in the studio, turns on nought but a small table lamp and, by its subdued light, sighs into the microphone. He sighs for a country on the ropes. He sighs for the jobless and those working for a pittance. He sighs for all of the lies and deceit and for the loss of control. And his sigh lights a torch inside of us, for we know that we are no longer alone.

I awake to the harshness of disinfectant and whitewash and an ache down the length of my body. I can hear an argument, tinny and indistinct. I allow my ears to adjust to its frequency and realise that the bickering comes from a nearby radioset. A taxi driver and a menopausal housewife are going for it like two cats in a bag. I wish that someone would drop some bricks on it. Suddenly a deep, steady masculine voice, like a ship captain steadying all hands, cuts across them appealing for calm and then he sighs. It breaks over me like a soothing river, raising me afloat. Who is this creature, this Joe Duffy? This must be a special radio programme made by angels to play to the dead. I feel it may guide me to the home of my heart at last. But wait, what is this? He's calling for an ad-break. And then it happens. Marty Fucking Whelan, that miserable prostitute of the airwaves bringing vacuous, nauseating joviality to bear on tea brack and fucking cut-price crumpets from Tesco. The spell is broken, I'm not in heaven, I'm in MRSA central, Dublin 8, in a full body cast and without the physical wherewithall to beat the solid-state guts out of the bloody wireless with a gigantic fucking hammer.

After months of pain and intense physical rehabilitation I am back on the road with the radio tuned to static and the lithium pills in the glove box. Sometimes, if I double dose, I can hear the sigh again. The sigh of universal understanding.

Monday, December 20, 2010


“Lenihan y’bastard, come up with them purse strings, McCreevy never presided over such penury!”
Up comes Lenihan, chest puffed out like a pigeon, head puffed out like a Rice Krispie, eyes puffed and popped for want of more hot air.
“Come up Purse and let’s take stock.”
“Is Chucky comin’ Boss?” the airless eyes searchlight the room from their fleshy guard tower.
“Never my sweet, you won’t be upstaged tonight. Let the Belgians have and keep him and his sliteyed blueblack leer. Come up now.”
A mill a mull as the hall gets full with pinstripe, silks and tight knit wool.
“It’s avant garde new guard tonight Purse, great Aurthur’s seat’ll ring bright and solid and true. Listen! Lend your sow’s ear to that roar – there’ll be a session tonight as the rafters ring.”
“Bright and solid and true Boss!”
Elevated by the dais, the dumplings are asconce, an island for now amid the flow. Proud patriarchs, they watch from on high over high cheeks of high colour as about them the crush of tongue and flesh and hand in hand back slaps and bubbles with “Ah jakers howya!”
“Where are my Marys Purse, are they in yet? There’s order of pleasure to be discussed”
“I see them Boss.” The Purse flails a fist of sausages through the air, one of them hot-dogging, stabbing, making direction. The head dumpling sights along it with a gunner’s eye and grunts – they are in.
“Marymarymarymary, your bewitching, bow-legged feminine delicacy is well turned out this evening. Lead the way Coughlan, moonfaced and misunderstood, don’t fret, we’ll keep you warm and close tonight. Harney, the arse of the hydra, keep the conga line together you lapsed democrat.”
Up come the Marys, a quadrinity of duplicity – Coughlan, O’Rourke, Hanafin, Harney - up dance to the dais – clunk rattle shuffle stomp heel toe and thrust.
“Marys!” the Boss is crying with alarm “you’ll be rubbed red with exertion before it’s begun – Purse, call us to order.”
The Purse blows a coded whistle and makes the secret salute and a low soldier’s hush falls over the vaulted throng.
“Summon Carey and seal the doors.”
To a hollow drumbeat the slavering whip is presented by chain to his master’s fist. Lolling tongue and pigslit eyes flash through the dark leather hood whilst in his crotch an enormous erection burns beneath the taut thong of animal hide. A yelp and a snarl as the chain is tugged and a press as the crowd makes a hole.
“Easy boy.” The Boss coos and the whip settles down to worry his flesh.
Gather in, gather in let us shortly begin.” The Boss chortles the rhyme in his throat. And wavelets of sound lap the edge of the stage, hush soft of the hall gently breathing.
A great hock and a snort, a scowl and a smile as the Boss clears his ducts like a sewer for a song.
“Ah by winding red brick and bubbling black cobbles
We cumann tonight ‘neath old James’ Gate
And the Blueshirts have promised us pairs for tomorree
So’s we can louse and carouse and drink until late.”
Black ohs stretch pink and upturned faces, like toothed donuts they  roar and cheer. Then the Boss double clap like an old governess and great barrels are braced and tipped and tapped and as cries crescendo the very air bucks for nuts and nachos and sin-black stout, so the band strikes a devil dervish loose- whirligig wheeling away we go.
Isteach dó trí, knees and toes. Céilí lines crash and smash and amach. Dó trí a haon dó trí isteach dó trí, ears and nose and lusca.
Upon the stage the Boss has the Dev suit on and does a loose-limbed yankee barnhouse jig. All those that pass giggle and genuflect before an old man’s zombie skin, pallid and patriotic green and stretched like powdered latex over the Boss’s swollen, stomping form.
Clip clop clumpedy, clip clop clump – heavy hooves in shining leather while his elbows seesaw up the air and all the time poor Dev’s dead face, surprised and stretched, a banjaxed banjo, pince nez lopsided upon misshapen shades of a resurrected nose – clip clop, clip clop, clippedy clump. A sudden Tullamore roar, thick with smoke and stout, comes pouring from between the dead man’s lips and Dev’s desiccated parchment can take no more, bursting and tearing and falling asunder, drifting dandruff confetti down to the floor.
A whooping, laughing, tumultuous throng cheers and jeers and the band double-time. Wool-suited Marys, conga line chasing pulling in all but the Greens who skitter and yelp. Tweeded huddle of pumpkins guffaw in the corner swearing mad blind for Kirry “And sure ain’t she mighty!” Back-slapping boys, talk in the air, nod-nodding women and everyone “yes!” While the Boss and the Purse beam down on their kinsmen, grey muscles beating lies in their chests.
“How we lookin’ Purse? What news from the reserve?”
The Purse paws at his brocaded bag and loosening strings dips down inside and when up he comes fingers they turn a traitor’s farthing in the bleary eye air.
“The decision maker Boss, it’s all that’s left!”
With one rolling eye in the side of his great head the Boss fixes the heavy copper with a wary stare, the flips in the light – embossed harp, the queen’s head, embossed harp, the queen’s head – “Put that devil disc away Purse, decisions are later, tonight’s for the feckless, flathulach and free.”
Palming the coin out of sight, the Purse roundeyes the throbbing hall
“But Boss, the reserves, there’s none of it left!”
Like a cat at his elbow and up in his ear, the Boss pinches and hisses keep it down keepitdown.
A wave to the room “Look all about, the reserves are in porter and whisky and stout.” And then with a lash of his tourniquet tongue he’s whip-crack away “Purse, there’s whorin’ to be done!”
Like steam from a field that’s been over with cows, the hall fugs heavy and thick, as congas and céilís slow their ripples of motion in the dull press of drunkards, hotheads and thieves. The waves ease to a ripple, the surges, a sway, hangdog and haggard, all top buttons open and tails all untucked. Crumple crease, balled up jackets, discarded sashes, scarves and ties and rip ruptured seams. A voice hoarse as gunfire  it bursts, it’s the Boss, Marys on each arm and two at his wings. Wallowing sea anchors against undulation he staggers and sways and bawls out a song and then to the Purse with head back satisfaction “Look around you comrade, we proved them all wrong!”
Shaking off Marys like a bird of wet plumage “Get on now you harpies and leave us alone.” A hand of pride and infinite solace clamps hard on the shoulder of his first aide de camp “What’s botherin’ ya Purse, are we not pissed up to ninety? Sure the brewery’s empty, we’ve drinked it all dry!”
And the Purse in his trembling pork sausage fingers draws up again the copper of fate.
“It’s all we have left Boss – the emergency shilling, the coin that gets tossed when all hope is lost!”
But the Boss, never shaken, fits all in his stride, his shambling shoulder-hunched head-turning gait.
“Hope’s never lost Purse, only misplaced and ladykillers like us scare chance half to death.”
And closing a fist around the flat copper disc, he thumbs and then flips it head over harp.
“Decisions, decisions, he who hesitates loses. Heads it’s the early-house, tails we’re to bed!”