THE KINGDOM BAR, KILLORGLIN – PART TWO
DAY SIXTEEN: SUNDAY
7am – woke with a fit of sneezing and my throat feeling as if it had been lined with walnut. This was the worst possible of news. If anything could bring the tour crashing to a halt, it would be ill health. It was the only situation from which there was no comeback. Brewed up some hot water then dumped three packs of Lemsip into it. The instructions advised no more than one every four hours, but I had to make up for lost time. In any case, I’d never heard of anyone dying of a Lemsip overdose?
The temperature had dropped considerably and the wind was quite strong. The tent walls billowed and bulged in the squalls. Glanced outside – Macgillycuddy’s Reeks were invisible behind the black storm clouds. Stuffed the remains of the ‘Kerryman’ inside my shirt to increase body heat, then lay back swaddled in the sleeping bag. I had to get fit for the show tonight.
Spent the morning listening to the radio. After an hour of Mass, I twiddled the dial around: a talk show, a record show, more Mass. One thing that did become noticeable was that Irish radio was utterly obsessed by national identity. Every conceivable item had to be linked somehow to Ireland and then even further refined to whichever county that might have some remote connection.
“That was Abba. A great band and famous for winning the European Song Contest with ‘Waterloo’. I remember Terry Wogan introducing the programme. A good Limerick man, Terry Wogan.”
The next station was even more tenuously engrossed. “That was Tchaikovski’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Suite. It has been said that Tchaikovski had an Irish great grandfather on his mother’s side.”
Presumably the County Monaghan Tchaikovski’s.
It was understandable to be proud of the diaspora but, after a time, this must surely grate on the nerves of even the most rabid patriot.
Taking advantage of a dry interlude, walked into Killorglin to put up some posters. Then found a phone box in working order and rang up Radio Kerry to try and persuade them to broadcast a plug for the show. There was no reply. Shit! How could a radio phone-in station be out?
Stopped off at a café for the Full Irish. Apart from myself, the place was empty, so the proprietor sat down for a mug of tea. After a mutual whinge about the weather, he said it was a pity that I’d missed the Puck Fair in Killorglin a couple of weeks previously. The Puck Fair was another of the annual festivals, this one was in honour of goats.
I mentioned that it sounded fun. “Almost Bacchanalian. Is it a pagan celebration of sex and drink?”
He laughed. “Oh no, it’s historical. It started in the sixteen fifties. It was a herd of goats that warned the townspeople about the arrival of Oliver Cromwell’s army. The survivors decided to honour the goats for saving them. They’ve done it ever since.” He thought for a moment. “On the other hand, a celebration of sex and drink isn’t a bad description either.”
By 2pm, the rain could not be ignored any longer. The lumberjack hat was sodden, the jeans felt as if I’d just bathed in them and the handle of the ‘Wilde Tour’ umbrella had snapped off. There was no alternative but the tent. Sneezed my way back to the campsite.
Once more installed in the sleeping bag, I held the jeans over the primus-stove flame to dry them. Hopeless – and dangerous. Listened to the radio and heard that Co Mayo had lost the football semi-final. There would be gloom in Matt Molloys tonight.
Managed to hitch a ride back to the Killorglin bridge at 7pm and walked up to the Kingdom Bar. The sense of foreboding had not left me; then I remembered the T-shirt in Derry, ‘Look Fear in the Face’. Took a deep breath and strode into the pub.
The only person there was a large youth behind the bar who turned out to be the landlord’s son. Explained that I was doing a show tonight. He didn’t seem to take it in at first, then a slow smile spread across his face.
“So you’re doing a play here then?”
The smile spread further as he turned to stack some bottles. Then he turned again.
“So you’re actually going to have a play on? Here? ”
He giggled and shook his head, then continued to load bottles on a shelf.
“A play? Here? Jaysus.”
I carried a pint over to a corner and sat back. Slowly the bar filled with the same cast list as the previous night – the row of silent farmers, the whispering lads and the muttering TV. The sense of foreboding began to turn into a sense of certainty. This could be very dodgy indeed.
Moved into the musicians’ corner and shoved ‘The Two Mikes’ electric piano to one side. Began to make up. This had always been an embarrassing experience; under the present surveillance, it was excruciating. The farmers grunted in deep suspicion.
“What the feck does yer man think he’s doing?”
At 8.20pm, to my relief, the door opened; at least there would be some more audience. Then a couple with three children walked in; the children were aged ten, eight and six. The worst possible audience for Wildean epigrams. The landlord clumped down the stairs into the bar and looked at me.
“You’d better get it over with before the crowds arrive.”
Stood up and took a deep breath.
“One should not play Narcissus to a photograph.”
The youngest child began to whimper. I pressed on.
“Critics usually emerge like Caliban from the mire of journalism. In the old days men had the rack; now they have the Press. It was a fateful day when the public discovered that the pen was mightier than the paving stone. Behind every barricade there may be much that is noble and heroic. But what is there behind the leading article and that purely decorative object, the conscience of the editor, except prejudice, stupidity, cant and twaddle. Yet these four are joined together to form a new authority. Journalism justifies its existence by the great Darwinian principle of the survival of the vulgarest. That curious arena in which the race is always to the noisiest. Instead of monopolising the seat of judgement, journalism should be apologising in the dock”.
After a few minutes of basilisk staring, the farmers turned back to contemplate their drinks; all I could see was a row of large tweed-patterned backs. The three lads watched for a bit longer, then transferred their attention to the TV which I suddenly realised had not been turned off. As the thing was almost beside me, the audience were able to watch the screen at the same time as the performance.
The stony silence of the bar was broken by a guffaw. Thought gratefully that, at last, Wilde’s humour was breaking through. Then it dawned that the laughter had been for ‘One Foot in the Grave’ on the TV. To complicate things even further, the laryngitis was kicking in, so the voice delivery was descending to a harsh bark. Every quip died on the air. It was horrendous but the only option was to hang on in there like grim death and make it to the end. Just as I thought conditions could not possibly get worse, they did.
Stage left: Enter the Looney. He was a slightly-built, middle-aged man dressed in a shiny brown suit. His eyes bulged slightly as he caught sight of me; presumably he was relishing the possibility of a kindred spirit. He began by performing a little jig on the assumption that I might join him. I gritted my teeth and continued into the tragic ‘Oscar in Jail’ section. Disappointed at my lack of response, he came to the left hand side of the stage area, removed his cap and started singing ‘Bachelor Boy’. We stood in a row like the Three Tenors – Victor Meldew on the TV, Oscar Wilde, and a demented Cliff Richard – performing to a line of farmers’ backs.
My only advantage was that, despite the laryngitis, I could still shout louder than the others. We continued on to the end in a discordant three-part aria and with Oscar’s final ringing affirmation about the Last Trumpet ‘Let us pretend we do not hear it’ partially drowning out ‘Mistletoe and Wine’.
I carried the hat round. A few more people had wandered in, the campsite proprietress amongst them. She gave a smile of condolence and handed over the £7 camping fee. Extracted a few coins from the family group by looming over them threateningly. The total take was fifteen quid, a sympathy vote if there ever was one. Sat back down at the electric piano and scraped off the make-up. The Looney, seemingly under the impression that he’d done me a favour, came up beaming.
“Ah, I enjoyed that. Do you like Cliff Richard?”
“Yeah.” I growled grimly, moving away to find a seat. “Why don’t you sing ‘Itchy Fanny’?”
He looked puzzled.
I slumped over a pint. It was a measure of the disgrace that it was the first venue so far where the drinks were not free. My neighbours maintained a diplomatic silence. Dear God, it was the worst show I’d done in twenty years. There was no way out of it – an unmitigated calamity.
Two musicians walked on to the stage. They had the cheery resolute air of men determined to save the day. As they prepared to perform, the vocalist, Sean Kelleher, announced:
“And let’s have a round of applause to Neil over there for doing his talk.”
Despite the fact that the ‘round of applause’ sounded more like dropping a couple of tin tacks into an iron saucepan, I felt that I would be indebted forever to Sean for his kindness. Nodded modestly and hid behind the pint.
As the band roared off into ‘Sean South of Garryowen’, the door opened and the customers crowded inside. Slowly I restored some semblance of a nervous system with fresh pints. Well, at least it was over. ‘The greatest pleasure is cessation of pain’, as any tooth-ache sufferer could affirm. But any more shows like this would finish me off.
It was one of the problems of doing solo theatre. If you worked in a company, you could always join in mutual commiseration and blame someone else – usually the director. But working alone there was nothing to stiffen the backbone except your own ego. And the ego, like any balloon, can only endure a limited amount of punctures. Still, there was always lager.
Indeed, after two hours, the booze had rescued me from the quagmire of self-pity. As I left the bar at midnight, Sean gave a friendly wave from the stage. Outside, the rain continued in a steady patter over the wet streets. It had increased by the time I reached the bridge and the broken umbrella was leaking more water than it was resisting. Last night had been bad but now, as I dodged my way back along the road, it was the turn of the Wilde costume to suffer. The dinner jacket became sodden while assorted leaves attached themselves to the starched dress shirt. The torch battery failed after a mile and each car as it swerved towards me became potentially lethal. What in daylight was a stroll became an hour-long endurance test as I was forced to crouch in dripping privet every time headlamps blossomed through the rain.
Finally reached the camp, thoroughly soaked, coughing and sneezing, fed up and knackered. Crawled into the tent and turned on the radio for some company. By some freak of atmospherics, the only station I could find was an English phone-in show with Edwina Currie as host. God, as if things weren’t bad enough.
Brewed up some hot water and drank more Lemsip. Then tied the lumberjack cap to my head. Slept at 2 am.
At the risk of being thoroughly melodramatic, I think that these precautions prevented the onset of serious illness. Seventy per cent of body heat reputedly leaves via the top of the head and the cap prevented it from happening. Those old wives’ tales are sometimes true.
DAY SEVENTEEN: MONDAY
Woken at 7am by the alarm clock – I had to make the bus stop in Killorglin by nine. The drizzle had abated for a bit, although storm clouds were towering up in the west like satanic cathedrals. Scrambled to take down the tent and repack Bosie. By eight, I was on the road vainly trying to hitch. It was too early for real traffic. Had to walk the whole distance, with Bosie squeaking at the punishing pace, then climb the Killorglin hill as the rain restarted. By the time the bus arrived, I felt like a sheep who had been modelling for Damien Hirst.
The Blaskets, Co Kerry