As Time Goes By - 2 May 1985

The phone barked. Some people have phones that ring or beep, ours bark. There's a little cluster of pinholes through which a voice was barking. "He's on again."

"I'm not here."

It was like that for four days. Mayybe twelve times a day. "Des 0 'Malley on 3."

"I'm not here."

I was in O'Donoghue's one night when Con gave me the high sign that a suspicious-looking individual was downstairs asking for me. I made it out the back, down the fire escape, past The Shed and out through the Famous Fried Chicken place. Next day it was the same. "There's a Mr O'Malley on 5 for you, says its an emergency."

"Tell him I died."

It couldn't last. A few nights ago I was standing in the queue at Burrdock's when a nasal voice from behind me said, "Eyed Iyke to have a wurd with you."

I closed my eyes and very quietly said some very dirty words. There was a last resort which I was reluctant to use. It usually em barrasses people you don't want to talk to and it drives them away, but it sometimes turns them violent when there's a crowd around. I turned and looked at Dessie. He was blinking fast, as he tends to do when he's excited. I tried the last resort. I leaned forward and kissed him.

Usually they get all flustered and scurry around the nearest corner. Must admit I get a bit em barrassed myself, but it beats the hell out of talking to them. Dessie just stood there. "It's vurry importint ," he said.

I shrugged defeat and gestured up towards the Napper Tandy.

Dessie didn't get to the point until he was well into his third pink gin s.It went something like this.

Dessie was teetering on the brink of launching his new party. He had done the polling, got commitments from the Fianna Fail dissidents, watered a few grass roots here and there around the country, and he has a friend in the printing business who has promised to do the letterhead for half nothing. There was only one thing holding him back. In this day and age a party is going nowhere fast if it doesn't have some reliable National Handlers. And Dessie was a little short in that departtment.

I'd already thrown an eye over this embryo party and I wasn't too immpressed. As soon as I got Dessie's drift I began shaking my head. No, thank you, but no, thank you.

I would have gone there and then but Dessie had a hold of the sleeve of my coat and was doing calculations on a beermat. Swings and Last Effecctive Counts and the like. No, I told him.

Dessie stressed that he just wanted me as a National Handler for the first few months, and only on a part-time basis. I could stay with Garret until things were flowing, then decide where the richest pickings were and make my choice. No, I told him.

It was then that Dessie played a dirty trick. A few months back there was a bit of a carouse in the Dail bar in the wee hours, in which a few Naational Handlers and a few politicians, including Dessie, let our hair down. It was one of those what-would-you-do· if-you-ruled-the-world sessions, in which all· kinds of fantasies were given free rein. (You just wouldn't believe what Jim Dooge would like to get up to.) And I told them about my ambition to lead the THUMP Squad.

The rationale behind the THUMP (Tough Harassment of Unsocial Motor Parking) Squad is that our cities are being screwed up by slobs who stash their awkward lumps of heavy metal where it pleases them, regardless of the parking laws. They can shrug off the derisory fines. What is needed, I argued, was a Squad which would be effective.

We would perambulate around the city on little scooters, our spacious saddlebags equipped with real deterrrents. You come across a louser who has left his heap of metal where he shouldn't, you unscrew a phial of acid and sprinkle it hither and thither across the bonnet. The kind of damage it takes a couple of hundred quid to fix.

But suppose it's a banger or suppose the louser just decides to motor on regardless, doesn't bother to get the thing repaired? Well, that's when you get to use the sledgehammer, which is the part I like. You come across an acid-damaged car, parked illegally or legally, you reduce it to a pile of mush. As darkness falls the squad of JCBs fan out across the city, scooping up the residue and dumping it on the doorsteps of the offenders. I figure we would need about six weeks to teach people manners, after which we'd need just a token THUMP Squad.

Anyway, I once got Garret in a corner and had him convinced of the efficacy of the scheme, but Peter Prendergast stepped in and put the kibosh on it. It would almost cerrtainly cost them votes. Which is the difference between Prendergast and I. He just wants to' keep the Big Guy in power. I, on the other hand, believe that National Handling should have a socially progressive content.

The upshot of all this is that Dessie O'Malley promised that if I put my National Handling talents at his dissposal he would ensure that the THUMP Squad would be a first priority should his new party attain what we in the trade call a balance of power situation.

So, sue me, I'm human. Okay, I told Dessie , but just for a trial period.

It was a mistake. How I'm going to make silk purses out of these pigs' mickeys I just don't know. We had a war council last night in a back room of The Oasis. Strictly amateur night.

Dessie wants to call it the Yellowwpack Party. No frills, no gimmicks, just good solid value, says he. Jack Lynch is resurrected as party Presiident. "Let's Back Jack!" is the slogan. "Over a cliff," I muttered under my breath.

What about policies? The North, well, Dessie wants "peace and reconncilia tion ". That's not an aim, that's a policy. And it's "by consent". And what, I wondered, makes that different from the other showers? The people can trust us, I was told. The econom y? We will reinvigorate it, I was told. We will think positive. I sighed a very long sigh.

The one new policy was for "the elimination of divisive cultural diffferences which promote an overlyyna tionalistic ethos". There goes Croke Park. The new national sport will be showjurnping ,

The polls show, said Dessie, that 39% of the people want him to form a new party, the Yellowpack Party. "No," I told him, "what the polls show is that 61% of the people don't want you to form a new party. An<j. 39% don't want you to be a member of any party that has a dog's chance of getting power."

As you can see, I'm going to be pretty busy these next few months, trying to put a human face on the Maurice Pratt of Irish politics. •