I did the time, but there was no crime. Banged up I was, under house arrest after two red bars showed up on the Covid test. I’m not too bad, thanks for asking. I have it down on a man who was nearly close enough to kiss me at the All-Ireland football final between Kerry and Galway.
“You’re Billy Keane, aren’t you?” asked the spreader.
“Yes,” I replied. “I am he. Or at least I was the last time I checked.” He doesn’t laugh. A man on a mission, he’s undeterred.
He moved closer and I took a step back, but then the man who was already close moved even closer again. We were face to face. I could smell stale drink off his breath. He stared into my eyes like a lion stalking his prey. I wished I’d had a chair and a whip.
I made another backwards manoeuvre, but he was right there in my face, like a man marker in the big game. It wasn’t the first time a man had stolen my air and spoken into my mouth. The space stealers seem to think we hear with our mouths and not our ears.
The close-speaker gave me the Covid. He has to be the one. This deduction may seem unfair, seeing as there were more than 80,000 possibilities at the game.
There we were in Croke Park when Kerry people were in heaven after winning Sam Maguire and the tormented man was banging on about his grandfather who was badly wronged by the Land Commission 91 years ago.
On and on he went about the grandfather, who he said was “the wrong politics” and suffered accordingly. I was trapped by the curse of The Field.
People think because my dad wrote The Field and it was all about the Irish obsession with land that it’s incumbent on me to right all agrarian wrongs.
The best advice is to let it go and get on with your lives. Don’t pass on the feud to the next generation.
I’m guessing the Putins must have been badly wronged when they were done out of a dacha or a cherry orchard during the Russian Revolution.
I come up with an old trick. “I have to go to the toilet.”
He says: “So have I. I’ll be along with you.”
We’re in the packed Croke Park toilet. He parks up next to me. There’s no flow. I’m too dehydrated, what with the hot day and the excitement of the match. It was like I was slapped with a hosepipe ban.
The man whose grandfather was badly wronged in 1931 looks down. I’m thinking he knows now the trip to the gents’ was a subterfuge.
He leans over until we’re joined at the hip and says: “About the neighbours who got our seven acres – none of them ever fired a shot. Our crowd killed all around us.”
In the background, the fans are singing The Rose of Tralee.
I waited eight years for this, and here I am thinking of running taps and cascading waterfalls beside a man who’s obsessed with the blackguarding of his grandfather way back in 1931.
My tormentor is in full flow. I take my chance and bolt for freedom. I slalom through the fans like Michael Collins on the run, but by then the badly wronged man has surely given me the Covid.
I wasn’t sick, but I was addled. Found it hard to concentrate.
The worst part is there were no hugs from the grandkids. I love giving them kisses. Being a granddad is the best job ever.
I tried to find myself during the week off. It was easy. For once I was in the one place.
Time went slow and I slept a lot for the first couple of days. The vaccines seemed to have worked and I’m fine now.
It wasn’t exactly a Nelson Mandela moment, but the first day of freedom was as happy as could be. I wrote down all the good things in life while I was in isolation.
On that first day out, a box was ticked. I sat on a bench by the Feale, looking at ducks, and they were having a great old quack, even though the day was sunny.
I remembered Dad lifting me up in that very spot when he was lying flat on his back. I was laughing and loving every second. I’m not sure what age I was, but it was a long time ago and I was a very small boy.
From the river, I took myself up through the woods to my grandfather Bill’s grave. He died 59 years ago on the very day I was set free. I asked granddad to keep an eye out for his great, great, grandchildren and the latest Billy, who’s a fortnight old.
There are a good few of the family buried in that little plot. I really believe the ancestors look out for us.
Eamon Dunphy wrote that George Best was constantly in search of the buzz, and I’m a bit of a bee-seeker. There was nowhere to go when I was in the room. I had to make my own fun. The self-help books advised we should enjoy our own company. I tried to be as nice to myself as I am to others.
It’s a huge part of the psyche of Irish men of a certain age to avoid self- praise. The flawed logic is if we praise our selves, the condition known as the dreaded swelled head will visit us.
The old saying that self praise is no praise is all wrong. The things we say about self-confident people go along the lines of: “If he was an ice-cream, he would give himself a lick.”
I gave myself a pat on the back, which is much more beneficial than a self-administered kick up the arse.
I’m refreshed and lucky I’m not sick. I’d like to advise that we should get on with our lives as Covid will be here for a while yet, but this is for each of you to decide in light of your own circumstances.
We have to live life, and there’s no time off in lieu of lost days.
I reread my long list of all that’s good every day and add on. There are so many pathways to a content place, if we know where to look and stay put when we get there.
Maybe the space invader in Croke Park whose grandfather was badly wronged in 1931 by the neighbours who shot no one did me a big favour.