© The Gannet
YouWriteOn offers publishing for writers to help them reach new readers who like their writing.
Click here to email us for details.
St. Bernard Spoiled the Party.
20th August 1970 and Mother was on a roll.
“Say your prayers every day,Johnny”
“Don’t forget to wash the back of your neck.”
“Remember to go to Mass every Sunday.”
“Take a spoon of cod-liver oil every morning.”
“Jeez. Yes Ma.”
I was glad to see the back of him but Ma was upset when her eldest who'd just finished school headed across the Irish Sea. She'd prepared well. The ancient brown suitcase with obligatory belt for added security was filled, possibly for the first time, with new clothes. Half a dozen bri-nylon shirts, numerous pairs of socks, mickey-bags (aka underpants), a spare pair of shoes, pyjamas and sweaters had been folded, unfolded, refolded and packed in.
Everything had been bought in Dunnes Stores. Except for the socks, all the gear had the distinctive St Bernard trademark label. He'd be dressed head-to toe in Dunnes best, just like everyone else.
On leaving, she drenched him with Lourdes Holy Water and slipped a prayer book into the suitcase while he redid his quiff.
The Brother arrived safely thanks to the Holy Water and miraculously landed a job within days with an insurance company. Living frugal, he shared a dingy one-bedroomed flat with four other aspiring geniuses. All hoped to find fame and fortune but, so far, both had eluded them. Like most Irish in London, the Brother was constantly broke.
The dreams of long drink-fuelled orgies with gorgeous women soon disappeared but living in squalor created great camaraderie among the group.
In the bunch was Peter Mc, who had an obsession with robbing a bank. Not any bank, but the one his father managed back in Ireland. The plan usually got an airing late on Friday nights. After his seventh pint, Mc was quite insistent that he had the answer to everyone’s problems.
“Rich. We’ll all be fecking stinking rich,” he’d say, laying out a large detailed floor plan of the bank and overhead living quarters.
“It’ll be simple,” he assured them.
“The alarm code has always been the same. The safe combination is changed on the first of every month. The old man writes down the new one in pencil on the back of his blotter and rubs out the previous one, so no problems there,” he told them.
This was all pretty impressive. However when Mc arrived back after a holiday in Ireland with a full set of duplicate keys, the penny dropped. Mc was serious about robbing the bank.
The only time the Brother had ever been in trouble was when he kind of borrowed a neighbour's Honda50 motorbike. Made shit of it when he crashed. The Da beat the crap out of him, so the thought of becoming a bank robber didn’t really fill him with joy.
“We’ll aim to do the job at Christmas,” announced Mc.
“The Da takes us all out for a family meal after the bank closes on Christmas Eve. It doesn’t open again for three days. Nobody will realize what’s happened and when they do, they’ll never suspect us. ”
Sadly, or perhaps thankfully, Mc’s father fell ill shortly afterwards and was on sick leave for months. The plans were put on hold. Mc never again got the lads to muster up and share his enthusiasm for the adventure.
Jimmy-the-Job was another genius-in-residence. Jimmy was a wonderful Irish artist, and also, sadly a wonderful Irish piss-artist. He used his talent to enjoy a few wonderful years by forging signatures on a myriad of cheque books that crossed his path. He’d made a hasty exit from the ‘Auld Sod when the police started to take a keen interest is his art work. Jimmy worked in the underground and had a pale complexion like an alcoholic vampire.
The flat was rented in Tony’s name. Tony was from Bradford and nobody understood a word he said as they spoke a different dialect up there. A small wizened creature, he spent his days lying on the couch smoking weed, guarding the two cannabis plants he’d nurtured from seed. Not popular, but tolerated because his proud parents, who were under the illusion that he was studying economics, sent a decent cheque every month. Tony was regularly tapped for a loan.
Finally there was Big Pat from Tipperary. A quiet giant who worked in “de building” trade. Hard labour with rewards. Every Friday he'd post a letter to his mother, just three or four lines along with a few pound notes made their way back home. He drank the rest over the weekend.
The Brother liked and admired Pat.
“What brought you over here” he asked one night.
“Simple. Thirty-five acres of bad land at home to support the father, mother and five kids. That doesn’t work. I’m the eldest, so it’s up to me to try and make a few quid to help out.”
“Jeez, that’s tough. Would'ya have liked to stay on the farm?”
“Nah. Believe it or not, I enjoyed school and would have loved to become a teacher but sure we couldn’t afford that for me. The middle brother will probably get the farm but I hope the rest of them get to college. C’mon now. Let’s fuck off out now for a few pints.”
Every Friday night there'd be a mini riot as bodies fought over the bath. (No showers back then). Having being reared to a weekly scrub there was no need to change old habits but all wanted to smell good before heading out hunting. A shilling in the meter gave enough hot water to wash all the important bits. The problem was the meter was down the corridor from the bathroom. Whoever fed the meter had to be on the ball and sprint back before one of the others dived in, locked the door and helped themselves.
Big Pat was a bit of a hippie with long hair and a beard, and didn’t really go in too much for washing but occasionally he’d join in the mayhem. One night he caught the Brother on the hop and stole his water. Hostilities immediately broke out.
"Open the fucking door Pat and get out, ya big prick."
"It's a long way to Tipperary it's a long way to go."
"I'll give you fucking Tipperary. Get out" roared the Brother, ready for action standing naked, armed with a sponge and bar of Palmolive soap.
"It's a long way to Tipperary," continued Big Pat.
He emerged a few minutes later leaving behind lukewarm brownish water with a decent film of oil on top for the Brother to enjoy.
This bathroom gazumping was a regular thing, but once spruced up, the lot of them would head out together, the best of friends.
Cooking facilities were at best primitive. On the rare occasions that anyone tried to cook anything, a clean saucepan was never to be found. There were plenty with their arses burnt. Not surprisingly, the taste wasn’t great from baked beans heated in a pot with congealed porridge stuck to the bottom.
There were no washing machines in flats. Washing of all forms of clothing was done at a launderette. That cost money, so it was deferred for as long as possible. Lots were drawn to see who'd have to drag the bags down to Nancy's launderette. It was not the closest but ideally located between the Red Lion and the Admiral.
Everything was dumped into the one wash which was set on high. Shirts, ties, socks, mickey-bags, sweaters, three-piece suits, trousers, bed clothes – everything went in together. Pints would be consumed for the duration of the wash.
The clothes came out clean enough, but many a shirt and sweater were so badly shrunk that they’d fit only a small child. This was no big deal as there was a sharing of clothes. For a few days at least, everyone went to work without the need of a half bottle of Old Spice.
Things did not always go to plan. One wet and cold Saturday, Tony and Mc got involved with two ladies who were sitting at the counter in the Red Lion.
"Don't go near them two," said Mc. "They're older than my mother and as rough as tinkers."
"Now, now Mc. Let's give them a chance," replied Tony as he sauntered over to them. "Can I buy you ladies a drink?"
Three hours later and the lads were still plying the pair with drink. Mc knew they were in trouble when one removed her jacket to reveal a pair of arms adorned with various forms of artwork. Worse was to follow when she chipped in with -
"My bloke'll be here soon."
"Oh”, said Mc, "was he working today?"
"Are you for real? He's never worked a day in his life. He's been at the football. Supports Millwall."
Mc threw Tony a glance and within seconds they'd downed their pints and made a quick exit. To add further insult, Nancy's launderette was, by then, closed. On their return to flatland, Tony took the brunt of the ensuing attack from the Brother and Jimmy-the Job. Big Pat really didn't give a shit.
The Brother worked in bars to supplement his paltry wages in the insurance game. Most were dumps. Eventually he got lucky and landed a job to work every Friday night in a wine bar in Knightsbridge.
Since he had the gift of the gab he got on quite well with the posh clientele.
Friday was always busy as “the suits” came to unwind after making their fortunes during the week. All the women were beautifully turned out, most wore tailored two piece business suits. One, in particular, regularly caught the Brother's eye. Her black curly hair rested on her shoulders and the clear blue eyes that smiled really drove the Brother wild.
He’d served and exchanged pleasantries with her a few times and knew her name was Audrey. She worked in the City for a top law firm.
With the bank robbery on hold, the Brother would bore the shit out of the lads talking about her when he got home in the early hours of Saturday.
“Audrey the Angel,” he’d start. “Ye have no idea how fecking gorgeous she is.”
On and on he’d ramble until the others, usually drunk, fell asleep.
This weekly monologue on Audrey became too much and one night Tony piped up with –
“All this waffle about this bird is about as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike. When are ye going to ride her?”
The Brother made a dive for him.
“Shut your face, you prick.”
“Take it easy lads,” said Big Pat as he prised the two apart with his excavator-sized hands.
The following week even Jimmy-the-Job had enough.
“Do ya know,” he said. “I’m thinking ya must be suffering from Goat’s Disease.”
“What the fuck is Goat’s Disease?” the rest asked in unison.
“A horn in the head,” roared Jimmy, as everyone, except the Brother, fell around the place.
All was about to change however.
The next Friday, was the last one in the month and pay-day for most office workers. It was a very warm evening and the pub was packed. To be prepared, the Brother had given one of his non-iron, drip-dry, bri-nylon, whitish shirts a quick rinse in the kitchen sink the previous night. The bar supplied the bow-tie. The rest was however, long overdue a trip to the launderette.
The Brother almost fainted when he saw her coming through the door. No business suit tonight. She was wearing the skimpiest pair of strawberry coloured hot-pants. Many girls tried to wear the latest Mary Quant creation, but few had the long legs or figure to carry it off. Audrey ticked all the boxes. On top a dazzlingly white shirt left little to the imagination. Black, sling-back high-heels finished off the outfit.
She and her equally posh friends were intending to have some night by the way they were putting away the drinks.
About 10ish, Audrey came up to the bar.
“Hi Johnny, three Pimm’s and two dry Martinis please.”
“On the way,” said the Brother.
"I love your Irish accent."
"Thanks," was all the eejit could say as his face turned scarlet.
As she paid, she smiled and asked,
“Would you like to come to a party at my place?”
Jesus H.C., he almost collapsed.
“Yeah,” he said, trying to sound all casual like. “Love to. Be finished here in an hour or so.”
Shortly after midnight, the twenty or so partygoers headed off. It was a short walk to the angel's apartment that she shared with her best friend June and Rodney, who owned the place. June was a banker and engaged to an army officer. Rodney, a stockbroker apparently made millions every year and spoke with a posh accent. He also wore a cravat.
The Brother (penniless) thought that anybody who spoke that well and wore a cravat had to be a dickhead. The fact that his name was Rodney confirmed this. He was a regular in the bar and the Brother had other doubts about him.
Never yet saw him with a bird, could be a bit of a left-hand drive merchant, thought the Brother.
But tonight Rodney had a beautiful creature hanging from his arm.
Jeez, coulda sworn he was gay.
Audrey made most of the introductions as they strolled along. She also linked the Brother's arm. He was so happy, he was almost levitating, a proper walk-on-water miracle job. Everybody was so friendly and quite normal. By the time they arrived, he’d even reclassified Rodney as a pinkypepperhole rather than a dickhead.
Once inside, all he could do was gawk around with his stupid mouth wide open. He’d never seen anything like it before. It was palatial. Floor to ceiling windows ran the length of the apartment and the views over London were breathtaking. Ultra-mod furniture, carpets about a foot deep and lights with dimmers were all new to the Brother. Tiny candles on the tables dimly lit the place. The Brother and the other geniuses had often resorted to candles when the electricity was turned off, but that was poverty, and this was mood lighting. When you were posh, it seemed, you could squint about in the dark for fun.
Discovering that a bar had been set up in the kitchen, he took long steps in that direction to make up for lost time.
Everyone chatted away until the music started. They even had their own DJ. A few “fasties” got things going. After some tasty food and more drink, the slow music started with Carly Simon’s, “You’re so Vain.”
“I hoped you’d invite me to dance,” Audrey said, eyelids all a flutter.
Dancing would not have been a strong point with the Brother, but she didn’t seem to notice or care. They moved slowly and within minutes he could feel her pressing closer and closer.
She kissed him like he’d never been kissed before, since the only one who’d ever kissed him was our Ma.
He had a stalk on him like an elephant and his hands were firmly pressed on the cheeks of her gorgeous bottom.
“Do you like my new hot-pants,” she asked.
“Like them? I love them. Love them. Love them so much, I could eat them.”
She giggled. “Better not do that, darling, ‘cos I’m not wearing anything else underneath.”
Suddenly a million little explosions went off in his head and he went into shock. Small beads of sweat started to run down his back.
The underpants, he thought, me fecking underpants. I’ve had ‘em on for weeks. More tyre marks than you’d get at Brands Hatch. If she sees these, she’ll run a mile.
He came up with a plan.
“Must go and drain the snake.” he said, untangling himself and making for the loo.
He had the trousers and mickey-bags off in seconds. After a quick leak, he pushed the well-worn and soiled underpants down the jacks and flushed. They resisted, so he put his hands into the loo and gave them a bit of encouragement. Given his newly found knowledge of risk from working in insurance, he waited until the cistern filled up and then gave it another good flush to make sure they’d gone on their merry way.
Satisfied and feeling much more confident, he washed his paws and made his way back to his angel. Making up for lost time was assisted greatly by the lack of any underwear.
Audrey was dancing away on her own, oblivious to the serious work under way on the settees and in every corner of the dark room. Nobody really gave a shit that anyone might be watching them bonking away.
“Oh my God, you feel so big,” she said.
“That’s ‘cos I missed you.”
For hours they clung to each other. Lost in a mixture of love, lust and a good drop of the free booze, the Brother was in ecstasy. As the hauntingly seductive lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne filled the air, Audrey drew him even closer and whispered,
“Make love to me. Make love to me now.”
He was about to oblige when proceedings came to an abrupt halt. The music stopped. All the lights were turned. Everyone blinked, trying to adjust their eyes to this unwanted intrusion.
“What the fuck's happening?” came from every corner of the room as near naked couples disentangled themselves and grabbed at anything to cover themselves. One couple emerged from behind opposite ends of a settee, looked around and disappeared back down again like a pair of rabbits at play.
As the crowd settled, an angry looking Rodney stood on a kitchen chair holding a toilet brush at arm,s length. Suspended from the brush was a pair of wet and soiled underpants emblazoned with the image of St Bernard, judging everyone in the room as the pants swung wet from the end of the brush.
“Do these, by any chance, belong to anyone here?” demanded Rodney as he focussed directly on the Brother.
His knees almost buckled when all eyes turned towards him. The stalk that was about to burst only moments earlier fell totally limp as Audrey took a step away.
Although it only took seconds for June’s fiancée and another burly friend of Rodney’s to “assist” the Brother to the door, it felt like forever and it was a dejected figure that walked the seven or so miles back to his gaff.
He made a promise that night.
“I’ll find him. I’ll find him. I’ll find that fecking wanker of a plumber that worked on that place. And when I find him, I’ll kill the prick.”
“Did ye get lucky? ” demanded Tony as he turned over, stretched, belched, picked his nose and farted when he heard the Brother trying to take the door off its hinges around dawn.
Tony got his already bulbous nose thumped and repositioned and the Brother dived straight into the feathers without uttering a syllable.
There was to be no happy ending. The Brother still doesn’t like to talk about that night or what might have been. He never did go back to that bar and kept out of Knightsbridge for years for fear of bumping into Audrey the Angel again.
It’s doubtful if there are any City bankers who get a week or more out of a pair of underpants. Even more unlikely any Stockbroker ever resorted to flushing a pair down the loo. The Brother however, is convinced it was the St Bernard label dangling from the toilet brush that found him guilty without a trial that night. He never went in another Dunnes Store in his life.