Thursday 24 January 2019

A chink of light and Scut goes to Canada

Scut Kelly lives in a town somewhere in the midlands. For over 30 years he drank. The kind of drinking that has nothing to do with craic. But Scut has been sober for six months. Read on as Eugene O'Brien gives the latest instalment of Scut's life

Illustration by Tom Halliday
Illustration by Tom Halliday

Eugene O'Brien

I'm walking to the gate and me heart is pounding. Flight AC 149 to Toronto is boarding in 10 minutes.

I haven't boarded a plane in 30 years. Not since I went on a Ryanair to Luton in the 1980s. Went over to work on the sites but didn't last long. I was a withdrawn, nervous kind of a young lad and was home inside a month. Probably the worst thing that I ever did. Going back home to me folks, roaring and shouting and throwing Trocaire boxes at each other. The coppers exploding against the wall. They would both be described as dysfunctional alcoholics in today's language. Back then we just called them stone f**kin' mad! Now I don't want to start ye off with sadness and loneliness although there was a lot of that, and ye know, full on… batin' like. Let's not pretend otherwise. Hiding under tables as a child not darin' to breathe until they'd both passed out like and then you could creep up to bed as quiet as a mouse. As a little Scut.

Anyways the brief time in London is where I first discovered serious drink. As in drinking every evening late into the night. Getting up and looking forward to the cure that evening again. A cycle. A loop. And the hangovers are grand when you're that age. And the shyness went and the ability to talk shite to strangers was like a new super power. Like superman could fly around the world and Batman could fight crime and I could talk utter nonsense for Ireland until I passed out. I ended up doing that for 30 years at home in me own little house. Parents died and I went on existing. In the dark. In a blur. A kind of twilight world of self medication and depression and sickness and… Ah look I'm sorry. I really don't want to be brownin' ye all with a story that would depress the head off anyone who has the misfortune to read it. It's a Sunday morning. You're having your breakfast maybe or relaxing after Mass and there's enough shite in the world without some drunk lad talkin' a load of me hole rigmarole short hand.

But please stick with it. Read on. Because there is hope. A chink of light. Something happened to me. A profound experience. Last Christmas. Like a visitation. Or a dream so real that it shook me to the core. Me Ma seemed to appear to me during the night and talk to me and comfort me and this ghost or Jedi mind trick or whatever the jaysus it was made me kick the drink. I go to meetings and all that but the short of it is that I have been sober for six months. It's been quite a time. Terrifying but gradually I've got more used to it. Every day is a challenge but every day I get more used to it. More used to being me. Jaysus it's scary even writing these words down for all of ye...

And now I'm approaching gate 27 to fly to Toronto to my cousin Donal's daughter's wedding and I am really scared of my shite. The nice girl checks me ticket and I go through. Down the tunnel. Towards the plane. There is a queue to board. I feel like running. Turn and bolt. Sorry. Can't go through with it. I need a drink. Maybe I could drink on the plane. Nobody knows me. A little gin and tonic to steady the nerves…. Sure what harm could it do… just the one…

Another nice girl with a lovely smile welcomes me aboard. Jesus she's so gorgeous I blush and nod and make me way down to the seat. I sit in 9D. In the middle of two people. A lad me own kinda age at the window and an older woman. They nod. I nod back. And close the eyes and try and think of something else. I think of Eddie Byrne me best friend and how he always stuck by me and the engines rev up and the captain announces that it's time for take off… and the woman smiles and says it will be okay. And I nod but think of me and Eddie as kids goin' to the pictures to see the disaster films Airport and Airport 75, Airport 77 and feicin' Airport 80 - the Concorde with your man from Hart To Hart. When they met it was murder! And it's blue murder now as a lad behind me is locked and singing The Hills of Donegal and they're asking him to stop and calm down or he'll have to leave the aircraft and he kind of settles down and it reminds me of all my own past awful, shite public displays of abject drunkenness and shame and I forget all thoughts of the gin and tonic… for another while at least.

Because I have a worse panic to deal with as the plane lifts off the ground. I say a prayer - 'Bless us our lord our souls to keep'. I open my eyes and the woman next door smiles again. She lives in Toronto but is originally from the West Indies. She was in Ireland with her husband who is sitting across the aisle. She chats about the Guinness hop store and ring of Kerry and Sligo and the man on the window side of me joins in. He was playing golf for eight days and he names off all these courses and I just nod and they both had such a great time and they think that it's amazing that we have a gay Taoiseach not to mention gay marriage and abortion and I say that it's a bit mad all right.

When you think of what people thought of queers when I was growing up. A lad could be labelled and his life wouldn't be worth living. If ye displayed any sort of hint of pansy behaviour you were called a queer bastard and that was it.

You see since I stopped drinking I have noticed this new country I live in. I am very clued in to everything now. I read the papers. I watch the TV. I talk to Eddie's kids and see how confident they are. I saw two young lads holding hands in the airport. Their balls would have been hung from a tree in my day. It's good like. It's open. I don't know whether I am really comfortable with it yet, but like it is good that people aren't scared of their shite at being who they are.

I didn't know what to do in the abortion referendum. I was a definite no at first. I listened carefully. A lot of self-righteous stuff from both sides and I know women have a right over their own bodies but in the end I just hate the thoughts of the babies being dumped into bins and I dithered in the booth like an egot but I thought of this young one who had sat beside me on that one other flight I had taken. To Luton in the 1980s. She was fierce stressed looking and so on her own. She cried at one stage. Her head leaned in agin the window. I was too embarrassed to say anything but I knew why she was travelling. That girl came into me head and before I knew what I'd done, I'd put the cross to the yes. I still don't know whether it was the right thing to do but how and ever.

The woman next door asks me if I'm going to see the Pope. I say that I'm not but I will be watching on TV. He seems like a good skin and has a good spake about most things. I won't be one of these say nope to the pope but at the same time the Church has a bit of making up to do to the country. Some of the stuff that went on. Like I knew a lad who spent time in Daingan and he never talked about it. He just called it hell. That's all he'd say. Hell. So maybe now that the Church can't order everyone around like it once could might sober it up. And it might find a useful place for itself in the country and really help the people who need it. Cause the Leos are in charge and the Leos ain't gonna help anyone.

The really lovely air hostess arrives and offers me a drink. Well Jaysus I have laid awake for the past six months dreaming of a beautiful girl offering me something from the bar! All I have to say is yes. Gin and tonic please… and I open my mouth and after a long pause… I say - "No thanks. Just a cup of tea if you have it… sure… milk and sugar".

Feicin' tea and I see all the little baby bottles of whiskey and vodka and gin under the cart and I have to blink and turn away.

The woman next door asks am I married with kids? I say no, feeling all self-conscious now. I laugh and cough manfully and say that there had been plenty of women but you know marriage was never for me. I ask her is she married for long thinking she was going to say 40 years or something judging by her age. She smiles and says that she got married last year. She met the husband Bernard after he had suffered a terrible tragedy. His wife was killed in a freak accident and then somehow two years later they met and fell for each other and she still can't quite believe it. She is 71 and a newly-wed. It's never too late.

This makes me feel good. I think of me cousin Donal and the wedding that I'm about to attend and all the people I'll have to meet. The long lost cousin from Ireland. I ignored all belonging to me when I was drinking so I didn't blame them for ignoring me even when I got sober. But Donal made a real effort to get in touch as we had been great pals as kids. Cheeky little head on him.

One time I decided to run away from my mad ol' pair. I was 12 or so and Donal and Eddie said they'd tag along for the craic. Like that film Stand by Me. You know probably the last time that we had conversation that didn't revolve around girls. In the end we got wet and cold and it got dark and the bog road seemed a bit scary. But Donal kept our spirits up with one of those Paddy Irish man jokes. It made us laugh so hard that we forget the cold and damp and kept on walking. Paddy Irish man, Paddy English man and Paddy Scotsman were out in a small boat in the middle of the ocean and had no food or water. So the devil appears and says he'll get them ashore if they set him a question that he can't answer. So the lads think long and hard. Paddy Englishman asks the devil how many fish are there in the sea and the Devil answers - One billion, one thousand and 30. Paddy Scotsman asks the Devil how many birds are there in the sky. The Devil replies - Five hundred million and 72. Paddy Irish man takes a second, let's a massive fart and says - "Can you catch that and paint it blue"! Really stupid but I'll never forget the laugh we had. The adventure could go on for another few hours out on that bog road, because of that laugh. Good man, Donal.

I'm looking forward to landing now. To seeing Donal again and meeting his wife and family. I am scared that there is a real possibility that I may drink in Canada. But there is a real possibility that I won't. That I can keep being me. Paul. Not Scut. Little Scut is dead and gone. Donal will introduce me as Paul. That will be a good start.

Next week Eugene O'Brien continues the story of Scut in Canada

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss

Editor's Choice