This article appears in Volume 1 – Issue 2 of SKUNK Magazine.
THE TELEPHONE RANG. It was Jim McCann, self-proclaimed IRA arms smuggler, self-made millionaire, and self-obsessed poet. I hadn’t heard from him in ages.
“H’ard, my boys tell me you’re landing in Dublin tomorrow.”
“That’s right, but how do you know this, Jim?”
“My sources are impeccable, H’ard. You know that. Are you fucking crazy, you wired-up Welsh wanker? A fucking dope dealer like you is treated like a cross between a pedophile and a terrorist in Ireland. You’ll be boxed up and sent back to Wales. Those fucking sheep-shaggers in the hillsides and vales will welcome your fucking coffin, I’m sure. I can arrange an amnesty, but it’ll fucking cost you, you Welsh skinflint. Why are you going to Ireland anyway?”
“To promote my book, MR NICE. I’m giving a reading at Whelan’s and then a TV appearance on….”
“You stupid Welsh cunt. When are you ever going to stop over indulging your capacity for self delusion?” Who the fuck’s going to read that load of bollocks in Ireland? Apart from anything else, it’s racist, treats me like a stage Paddy, and fucks up my security by letting any silly fucker who should accidentally read it know exactly who I am.”
“Don’t worry Jim. In the film version, I’ll make sure a gay Rasta plays you. No one will know it’s you.”
“Fuck off, H’ard. You’ve been warned.”
Jim had a point. My book might be treated as an admission of having committed serious crimes on Irish soil for which I had not been charged. I arrived at Heathrow well before take-off and skinned up in the Gents. The Nepalese hit during take off as I opened a copy of Hot Press. There was an article about the Coalition of Communities Against Drugs, who had taken to the city centre’s streets carrying banners and placards bearing slogans like “Hang All Drug Barons” and “Pushers Beware.” I started feeling scared. Or was it a twinge of paranoia from the spliff? No I was fucking scared. With me was Martin Deeson, founder member of Loaded, the sponsors of the Whelan’s reading, which also featured Nick Cave and Roddy Doyle. We effortlessly sailed through immigration and customs and checked into our hotel. While unpacking, I noticed I’d forgotten to leave behind my toilet bag of Welsh magic mushrooms. I put some in my pocket, and went to the nearest bar. Feeling very patriotic about psilocybin, I proudly gave some to Deeson. Equally patriotically, Deeson washed them down with several gallons of Guinness and a few pints of Bushmills. We bemoaned the ever increasing and pervading presence of surveillance personnel and technology. Back at the hotel, Deeson peered into the fully functioning night surveillance camera, and systematically dismantled it. The receptionist called the Gardai. I scarpered to Whelan’s. (The audio/visual evidence against Deeson was quite formidable, and he gave the Gardai a phoney name. So they stuck him in Mountjoy for a few days. He’s now totally rehabilitated.)
I took the stage at Whelan’s and, after a few minutes, lost my voice and suffered the worst coughing fit of my life. Someone took pity on me and led me off the stage. His name was Olaf Tyransen, and he had a soft West of Ireland accent. I’ve met many people that boast Irish names and ancestry and who burst into a pathetically phoney accent after a sip of stout. But, until then, I’d not heard a true Irish brogue being delivered by anyone with a name so clearly foreign. The mushrooms were still playing havoc with my thought processes. Olaf accepted my offer of a handful. Was he one of the original Dublin Vikings passing through one of my previous lives? No. He was a reporter for Hot Press and had actually written the scary article I’d read on the flight.
“Why have you Irish, normally so tolerant, turned so vehemently against those who wish to get plastered on herbs rather than hops?”
“You don’t understand, Howard. While you were suffering prison and the rest of your friends were suffering Thatcherism, a new generation of ruthless crooks lawbreakers suddenly erupted here from the confused panic that accompanied the outbreak of violence in the North.”
“Well, it was a bit like that in the old days, Olaf: lots of rumours of bank robbers in bed with IRA men.”
“I agree, Howard, but the drugs business hit the actual communities much harder. Within just a few months, Dublin metamorphosised from a large village where it was hard to get a spliff to a complex of inner city ghettos in the grip of a heroin epidemic. Twelve-year old school-kids could buy the shit on credit in the playground. Their distraught parents understandably formed the CPAD, a kind of precursor of Coalition of Communities Against Drugs, whose vigilante activities hampered the efficiency, not only of the new wave dope dealers, but also that of the more traditional criminals. These in turn formed the Concerned Criminals Action Committee, and all hell broke loose with every parent, doper, hoodlum, political party, and terrorist blaming and hitting lumps out of each other. You must have heard of the General. He stole the Gardai’s arms stash, bombed their top forensic expert, set fire to Dublin’s law courts, and even told the IRA to fuck off.”
“I get your point. No one would have dared do that in the 1970’s. I assume he’s no longer with us.”
“You’re right, Howard. He was stiffed in the street two years ago. And the repercussions drag on.”
“So the troubles are no longer merely national, merely racist, merely religious, or merely class based: they now have the added complication of taking place against a backdrop of warring criminal factions.”
“Correct. And what has really got the country crying these days is the savage murder a couple of months back of Veronica Guerin, Ireland’s best crime reporter. Everyone here is so scared of drugs, Howard.”
“But don’t they see that all the problems are due to their illegality.”
“No, they blame people like you. Do you mind if I interview you? I’ve already done Nick Cave and Roddy Doyle.”
The results appear in later pages.
We moved on to Lillie’s Bordello. Olaf ensured smooth access into the club’s inner sanctum. We got drunk and talked about sex, drugs, and music. There was much that appealed to us both, including Christy Turlington, Grace Jones, and Irvine Welsh. Paddy Armstrong, recently released from a lengthy incarceration resulting from his wrongful conviction of the Guildford bombing, joined us. Paddy and I decided to do a nationwide tour on the injustices of laws and their corrupt application. It never materialized, but we had a great night.
The next evening I was appearing on the Late, Late Show. Olaf offered to accompany me. I was sharing the bill with the Kelly Family, Professor Tim Murphy of the University of Cork’s Faculty of Law, a nun, a couple of Irish stand-up comics, and a few demented prohibitionists.
“And do you still smoke cannabis?” asked Gay Byrne when we were on live TV. I was still a bit unnerved by all the hostility.
“Yes,” I answered, “as much as I can.”
“And you have it in your possession?
I always carry some for luck.
A few minutes later, I walked off the set. Olaf came tearing up to me.
“The Gardai are outside asking all kinds of questions. Hide your dope, Howard. For God’s sake get rid of it.”
“Where? Where?” asked one of the comedians. “There’s nowhere to hide anything. Just throw it as far away from you as you possibly can.”
“This way,” someone shouted.
Our motley band of academics, comedians, and dope dealers scrambled into the Ladies, where a TV monitor displayed an obese, non-menstruating, prohibitchionist yelling, “He shouldn’t be called MR NICE; he should be called Mr Evil. He’s a murderer.”
“Who the fuck is that, Olaf?”
“That’s none other than Mary Harney, leader of the Progressive Democrat Party. She was to the General what Elliot Ness was to Al Capone.”
“God, where am I?”
“How about there, Howard?”
I was being shown a rubbish bin full of unsavoury garbage. I couldn’t possibly put a Nepalese temple ball into that lot. The producer ran in.
“It’s all right, Howard. The Gardai are not wanting to talk to you. But they do want to know at which hotel you’ll be staying. You can tell me, and I’ll tell them”
I told him.
And stayed somewhere else.
Six months passed before I next saw Olaf. I was standing as Parliamentary Candidate for Norwich. My party was the Legalise Cannabis Party. Olaf and Tim Murphy had simultaneously formed the Cannabis Legalisation Party to fight the Irish elections. They had come to help in whatever way could.
None of us was elected, but we drew a lot of attention to the issue. We continue to do so.
On subsequent visits to Dublin, Olaf has always been my trusted guide, generously devoting all his energies to my bizarre agendas. A year ago, my daughter, Golly, was admitted to read philosophy at Trinity College, Dublin. Olaf’s kindness has manifested itself again, caringly enabling those dearest to me to share my love for Ireland, its life, and its culture.