As Time Goes By - Christmas 1984

It was all Alan Dukes's fault, as it often is. Maybe that's not fair. It was Jim Doege's idea in the first place, and if he'd kept himself to himself I wouldn't have had to endure the shame and disgrace of being thrown out of O'Donoghue's. Whooever's fault it was, God rot the lot of them.

I was sitting at the end of the bar upstairs in O'D's, as per usual, communing with a glass of lager. Lord be with the days when that corner seat saw a lot more action than a glass of lager, but time goes by. Christmas, at least, is a time for elbows down on the bar and thoughts going back over the years. It can get maudlin after a while, but it's fun. I was working on Christm as 1975, which was ace, when I heard a lot of people clumping up the stairs. I paid no attention, nodded to Con for a refill.

Then a head poked around the corner. A head wearing a funny party hat. Jim Dooge wearing a funny party hat. "Surpriiiiiiiiise!" he helped.

Judas H. Priest.

Now, there are people who think Jim bloody Dooge is a godsend to this nation. There are people who think that the sun shines out of Jim bloody Dooge's left nostril. I am not among their number. One of the travails of my life as a National Handler is theepresence of the same Jim bloody Dooge. I'm giving Garret the best advice money can buy and time and again Jim Cockup steps in which some blinding piece of advice which fouls everything up. Don't start me on the Anglo-Irish Summit.

I had made some progress on reebuilding the image after that debacle. EEC leaders in Dublin, just the ticket. Impress the punters with the majesty and importance of the occasion, with our mali. Garret playing centre forward. I was the one who came up with the stroke of turning Dublin into one big Andersonstown that Monday and Tuesday. Helicopters circling over the housing estates, tanks on the periphery of the city, roadblocks and checkkpoints, put cops in high buildings. Grab them by the traffic jams and their hearts and minds will follow. Sure, it upsets them for a while, but it impresses them with the importance of The Big Guy, which adds to his status, which doesn't hurt when elecction time comes round, which is what it's all about.

"Big Guy", I said (which is what I call Garret), "Big Guy, you gotta show them the hairs on your chest."

Tuesday morning I was out at RTE kicking ass. There was some reluctance to carry the Big Guy's press conference live. I spent about ten minutes wanderring from one executive's office to another, asking them when exactly they'd like a meeting to discuss the Government's attitude to the next licence increase, would Wednesday morning suit?

The press conference should have been a snap. A few political corresspondents there, who could be relied upon to ask stinging questions like "How do you think it went, Taoiseach?" The rest of them were foreign reporrters all trying not to sound too much like Peter Sellers. A snap. All it needed was for the Big Guy to come on like gangbusters, like he'd stitched the whole thing up, put one over on the frogs and the dagos and come out of it with. some folding green for us. Be vague on the details, just work on making an impression. Standard Operaating Procedure, right?

Then Dooge got to the Big Guy. (By the way, what kind of name is Doege? Dooooooooooge. I ask you.)

"Show them you're a good Euroopean," says our Jim. "Show them your 'confident grasp of the details of the complicated processes of transnational planning. "

Now, you know and I know that the frogs are out to screw the dagos, who are out to screw the krauts, who are out to screw the limeys, who (as usual) are out to screw everybody. And the EEC is a structure designed to allow them do it in an orderly way so that the whole show isn't cocked up. And maybe some day they can all get their act together well enough to screw the Japanese. But our Jim doesn't know that. And the Big Guy is a sucker for all that One Big Family guff. Besides, he really likes speaking French.

So he goes out to the press connference, live on TV, and he brings some frog politician along to nod while the Big Guy drones on endlessly about barrels of this and bushels' of that, while the nation switches over to watch Crossroads. Peter Prendergast was sitting beside the Big Guy and if you watched carefully you could see his eyes rolling back in his head.

And now here was Dooge in O'D 's, big smile on his face, telling me he'd organised a Christmas party for the National Handlers and since I WaS the

new boy they'd decided to give me a surprise and hold it here. Con told me afterwards that my lip was curling, but Dooge didn't seem to notice. The little wimp knows he's been batting zero and I'm on the come and' he's been sucking up to me for the last couple of months.

"What are you having?" he asked. "A fit of depression."

* * *

After that it was all downhill. Enda Marren tried to get a bit of a conga line going but he bumped into

Jim bloody Doege and knocked his party hat off and Dooge got all sulky and just sat at the bar all evening which would have been okay by me except that he chose guess who to sit beside, bitching and moaning and crying into his drink about how no one loved him except the Big Guy and how all he wanted was to do his bit for his country. With great reluctance I left my favourite seat and moved down the bar in search of peace.

No such luck. There was Katherine Meenan slouched on the bar, holding back the tears, remembering how it was in the good old days when everyyone loved the Big Guy and the biggest problem a National Handler had was getting him to wear matching shoes. Now, she sighed, they were tearing at him like a pack of dooges. Or someething like that.

It was as near as I've ever come to being driven out of my favourite bar. Frank Flannery was trying - would you believe this - to get a game of Charades going. Derry Hussey was holding out for Pin The Tail On The Donkey.

It was around then that the party was graced by the arrival of a number of politicians, determined to cheer up their Handlers. "God Bless All Here!" shouted John Boland. Oh, bugger off, I replied. The world is full of people who just won't leave people alone. Alan Dukes had brought Barry Desmond along and the pair of them Christmas started doing the hokey pokey and you could feel the whole place shake. I used the one method which works with these people and just stood there telling Austin Deasy jokes in a rather loud voice. People started looking uneasy and after a few minutes I had cleared quite a space, a kind of Total Exclusion Zone.

Which was when Dukes screwed it all up: "Oh, we ain't got a barrel of money," he sang. "Maybe we're ragged and funny," joined in Barry Desmond. "But we'll travel along," they both sang, "singing our song, side by side. "

Which was when Dessie Hynes, chef de booze of O'D's, decided he'd had enough. "Out I" he called, "Out, out out!" Tolerant man, Dessie, but business is business. "If ye can't beehave yourselves ye've no right to mix with civilised people," he said, my sentiments exactly. For the first time in my life I was asked to leave a bar.

Out on Merrion Row I stood there absently kicking a Fried Chicken box a few "inches along the pavement, then kicking it back again, my collar turned up against the rain, my heart heavy. Dukes insisted that everyone go down to the Dail bar and carryon the party. I shook my head. As the crowd moved down towards Kildare Street I turned my face up to the rain and gave a long sigh. From the centre of the vanishing crowd of Handlers someone shouted my name. It was Alan Dukes. "Happy Christmas," he called.

So there I am. Standing in the rain on a cold December night. With Alan Dukes wishing me a happy Christmas. How low can a man sink.