Not too long ago, I found myself in a rural pub, chatting with a retired county council draughtsman. There was a time when such men were people of consequence in their home-place, being the only ones capable of drawing up a plan, maybe for a bungalow or a slatted shed and in all rural areas, people turned to them for advice. I can understand that. It’s the Ireland that used to be, and in some ways, I feel a little sad that it’s gone.
After the usual preliminaries where we danced around each other verbally, finding out where you come from and who I’m related to, we settled into a comfortable double-brace of glorious pints and he began to reminisce.
There was an old cottage one time, he said. An old council cottage, and you see, thing is, the gable end was right on the boundary with the farm next door.
I understood the problem immediately.
You see, he said, if a slate came loose, or if there was a problem with the bargeboard –
I know, I said. He’d need permission to go onto their land.
He would. And sometimes, as you’re well aware, you’ll get a cranky customer.
That’s true, I agreed.
Would you like another one of them? he inquired.
I studied the last of my creamy pint and nodded. Certainly.
Two pints there please, John. Anyway, there was an old cottage, as I mentioned, and to be fair to him, the man living in it was a decent sort of a man, now. He was. A decent sort. He was all right and I knew him well. A decent man.
He was, I agreed.
He was. But you see, his house was right on the boundary, and the fella next door, the fella who owned the land …
He wasn’t so decent?
He was not indeed. He wasn’t even from this parish.
Jesus, I said. He married in?
He did. He was a cuckoo, as we say around here.
As they say everywhere, I confirmed. He married in,
He did. A nice girl. Only daughter. No son to inherit. The cuckoo got the lot.
And he wasn’t so decent?
Jesus, he was a scut. Big red nose. Staring eyes. Crown topper. Pin-striped suit tied at the knees. He used to wear it beating the cattle down the road. I’d say he slept in it. That man had no acquaintance with a bar of soap, God rest his poor wife.
That doesn’t sound good.
No, it does not, he agreed. Here’s our pints.
Thank you very much, I saluted him. But what’s a Crown topper?
My new friend stared at me. A wig, he said. It’s a wig,
Your man had a pin-striped suit covered in cow-shit. He never washed, but he wore a wig out of vanity?
That’s about it, said my companion. Clink.
We paused a while to contemplate our two new friends with their white collars and black surplices.
So what exactly happened?
Well, he said, I got a call one day at work and it was from the man in the cottage. I needs you to make up a plan, he told me. Draw up some kind of a plan for the court case, like.
He had my interest. And did you?
I did in my arse. Jesus Christ, I wasn’t going in front of a judge for no-one.
You were right.
What did you do?
I asked him what the problem was.
We threw a few slaps this morning, he told me.
They had a fight?
So what happened? How did they start fighting?
Oh Jesus Christ, he said. In the name of God, will you stop asking questions and let me tell you what happened?
Ah, come on. Tell me.
My drinking pal gave me a long stare. It’s your shout.
‘Tis. Two pints there, John, please.
What happened was this, plain and simple. My man had a few slates loose, so he got this ladder and he dragged it around to the gable end.
On the other fella’s land?
Well, the land he married into.
So when he’s half-way up the ladder, this lad appears over the hill, in his pinstripe suit tied at the knees, waving a stick with his Crown topper blowing in the breeze. His eyes are popping out of his head and he has a big red nose.
Get off my land!, he’s roaring.
That’s an ugly situation, I observe.
It is indeed. But it would have been fine if my client didn’t open his mouth.
He said, Your land? Your land? Sure, you owns nothing. Sure, you doesn’t own the hair on your head! And that’s when we threw a few slaps.
We nod at each other silently for a minute.
Pint? I suggest.
Good idea, my friend agrees.
After a brief silence, I venture a suggestion. That fella from Portugal. The Europe head. His wig isn’t all that great, is it?
We both make sour faces and nod gravely.