The Colonel's First Indo Column
Like you, dear reader, Cruiskeen Eile was expecting great things of the nation's top polemicist and scholarship boy on his first day at big school. Alas, he produced one of those jobbies he used to knock off over a glass or two of claret whenever he was a bit stuck over at the Old Lady of D'Olier Street. Cruiskeen Eile managed to get hold of an earlier draft which we've reprinted in full in the last post. This is the version which finally made it into the Independent.
As I was saying, before being so rudely interrupted . . .
MAY, 1980, and I start from my sleep after the most extraordinary dream, one in which I am working for years and years as a newspaper columnist for The . . . no, no, I won't go into the details of where and who and so on. It's all too preposterously unbelievable.
I gaze at the alarm clock, before leaping up, yelping with horror. I'm late for my morning shift at The Indo! I leap out of bed, and in my panic, feel I am drawn into a strangely trilateral flush, which suffuses my entire being. Then I recover, and tumble downstairs from my flat above the Family Planning Clinic - my condominium - and hurtle through the doorway into Mountjoy Square, which is as you know, a sad wasteland resembling Berlin circa 1945.
What! Overnight, someone has completely rebuilt it with elegant offices and apartment blocks. A strange flat-faced gentleman passes by. "Excuse me, sir," I ask, "but can you tell me what's been going on here?"
"Xctlgh Abklds vhghta," he murmurs melodiously. "Bnhghstd mklllp."
"I see. Thank you very much."
How odd. The Dalai Lama apparently has moved here. But why? After catastrophic economic mismanagement through the 1970s, tens of thousands of people are fleeing this Ireland of 1980. I'm the lucky one: this morning I have a freelance shift in Independent Newspapers. I scurry past the ruins of Gardiner Street: but stay! The ruins are gone: vanished! Indeed, horrible old Gardiner Street appears to have been transformed into a boulevard in the 17th arrondisement.
Now I didn't touch a drop last night. So what is going on here? I head towards the once great Gate Theatre, now in an abysmal decline. No modern drama ever here. Sad, sad, sad. Yet hold on! Hoardings insist that the Gate is staging "Waiting for Godot". What? Mac Liammoir as Estragon? And Edwards as Vladimir? But that'd be like John Wayne - who died just nine months ago: RIP - playing Lady Bracknell. No, no, it cannot be.
Dizzy with incomprehension, I totter down O'Connell Street, of all of Europe's capital main-streets, perhaps the most depressingly dereli . . . My God. It's utterly unrecognisable. There's a big shiny yoke sticking out of the street between the GPO and . . . The Anne Summers' what? kind of shop? Indeed, just about the only thing that remains from yesterday is that newly-opened McDonalds, the first one in Ireland, and the last, I'll be bound. McDonalds will never catch on in this country. Irish people just won't take to fast-food.
Irish people? What Irish people? The Tower of Babel has come to Dublin. Everywhere there are Balts and Bosnians, Gauls, Galicians and Greeks, never mind Poles, Apaches and Pathans. Some are spouting languages without vowels, others flute ones without consonants, and others still without either. What's happening to me? Is there something in the Mountjoy Square water? I half expect to see a chanting impi of Zulu warriors come trotting over O'Connell Bridge . . .
Then I finally realise what's going on. This is all part of that mad dream, the same one in which I was writing a newspaper column for decades. So I lower my head and scurry to Middle Abbey Street, hoping to wake up when I reach the sanctuary of Independent Newspapers.
Except it is gone. Yes, it too has vanished. It was there yesterday; but not today. Should I go back to bed? Probably. A gentleman who rather resembles the prime minister of Ghana, complete with fly-whisk, passes by. And I know I'm having a true Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds experience when a ban-garda shimmers into view, and on horseback. Naturally.
"Excuse me, ban-garda," I cry to the she-Mountie, "What's happened to Independent Newspapers, please?"
She looks at me curiously. "Moved to Talbot Street. And a little less sexist talk, if you don't mind." She then clops out of my dream.
Talbot Street? But Talbot Street is Stalingrad. You couldn't have newspaper offices there. And what's "sexist talk"?
I stagger back to O'Connell Street, past bistros selling mysterious comestibles I've never heard of: lattes and chorizos and pannini and mochas and even wraps. Why, we'll be munching sock-pie next. Meanwhile, the dream is getting steadily more ludicrous: Talbot Street, once populated by wizened, whey-skinned jailbirds with soggy cigarettes drooping out of their mouths, is now almost as cosmopolitan as Manhattan. I ask a little Eskimo for directions, and with the aid of his harpoon, he politely points out the new Independent building.
"I'm feeling a little out of sorts today," I gibber haplessly at some swagman at reception. "Is this newspaper still run by that O'Reilly fellow?"
"Of course, mate."
"Hallelujah! I thought I was having the weirdest dream, in which Ireland of 1980 is incredibly prosperous and attracting immigrants from around the world, and the receptionist at this newspaper is an Australian . . . "
"Which I am, cobber. But the year is 2006."
"TWO THOUSAND AND SIX? What! Am I some sort of Rip Mac Winkle?"
"Rather well put, sport. You used to work here, until you missed your shift back in 1980. Did you feel your complexion redden first thing after you woke up?"
"Yes! How did you know?"
"Because you vanished into the Florider Triangle. You're just out of it. Do yourself a favour. Don't look in the mirror, not quite yet, anyway. Otherwise, welcome back to the newspaper you used to write for, 26 years ago."
Ah. Really? So, as I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted . . .