Dubs come good and Womble comes clean
Not even younger driver’s revelation can spoil Croker victory for Vinny
Vinny Fitzpatrick suspected he was getting tipsy because he had just agreed to sing, an occurrence as infrequent as it was unnecessary. When it came to finding a note, Vinny invariably had one or two more in his wallet than he ever had in his head.
About the kindest thing that could be said about the bus driver’s wojus warbling was it was mercifully brief, as his party piece was the two-minute Dean Martin special, Little Ole Wine Drinker Me.
The chorus encouraged the lads to join in and drown Vinny out – they needed little invitation.
As Fran called for hush in Foley’s back lounge, Vinny stood up, unsteadily. His face was flushed, his belly bulging under a stained Arnotts top but he was a man on a mission, like Kevin McManamon with the ball under his oxter at Croker earlier in the day.
In a gravelly voice, as deep as molasses, Vinny began: ‘I’m praying for rain in California, so the grapes can grow and they can make more wine . . .’ Before he knocked on the honky’s door in Chicago, the lads were playing the juke box.
As Vinny swayed back and forth, eyes shining, he was as content as a roly-poly porker in a muddy sty.
On this wondrous day of days, he felt a tremendous love of place, for Anna Livia and her castellated towers, for her Knights Templar hewn from girders, for those boys in blue who had come of age as men in one of the finest of all championship matches.
As a survivor of the ’76 semi-final between the great rivals, Vinny reckoned he would never witness another comparable classic. Yet, on this day he had, as Dublin rose again. Sure, it was enough to make any self-respecting Dub raise a glass, or two.
‘When they ask, who’s the fool in the corner, crying, I’ll say little ol’ wine drinker me’, he bellowed before collapsing in a beaming heap, flabby arms around his pals.
As he disentangled himself, and made for the jacks, he saw a face he recognised, one of his new colleagues from the garage, a young fella called Toby, who was sipping a pint in the snug on his Toblerone.
The lads had a nickname for him, recalled Vinny. ‘What was it? Oh yes, Womble after the character Tobermory in the kids TV series.’
‘Hello, Womble, you look like you lost a pound and found a penny. Come over and join us. There’s always room for another in the pot,’ said Vinny.
Womble glanced up from his glass. He had beady eyes, a pointy nose and lips that were almost fleshless. He could have been an East End spiv rather than a rookie driver on the 27A. ‘Thanks, but I think I’ll stay put, Vinny. I’m better off on my own.’
Vinny wouldn’t hear of it. ‘Nonsense, lad, come on over. You’ll be with the finest of companions who are guaranteed to cheer you up.’
Vinny steered Womble by the elbow towards the stout-fuelled rat pack. ‘Lads, this is Toby, er Womble. He’s just started on the buses with me. Make him welcome while I nip in for a hit and miss.’
Several hours later, the remnants of the wrecking crew tumbled out the door of Causeway Avenue, which Vinny liked to call his ancestral home, where they had emptied more tha one bottle of Jameson’s finest. The marathon session had run its course.
One by one, the lads wall-banged down the narrow street towards the seafront; Fran, Macker, Two-Mile Boris, Charlie Vernon, Brennie, Kojak, Spider, even Tommy Moloney, the street-wise local Labour politico made the cut.
It had been an unforgettable day, topped off by the finest of suppers from the Capri, which had a Dubs Special for a tenner – curried chips, onion rings and battered sausage.
‘I love going on the batter,’ grinned Vinny to himself.
As he put the kettle on for a reviving cup of char and thanked Angie for having the sense to suggest he stay in his old gaffe overnight, Vinny heard a noise from somewhere near his toes.
He bent down and spied Womble, all curled up under the table. He was snoring.
Vinny smiled. He was going to stir him and thought better of it. He found a blanket and pillow and left Womble where he was. As an afterthought, he turned on the heater, lest the boy catch a chill.
As he turned off the light, Womble stirred. ‘Vinny,’ he said in a voice thick with jar. ‘Is that you?’
Vinny got down on one knee and peered under the table. ‘Howya, Womble. How’s the head? I suggest you kip on the sofa in the front room, it’s more comfy.’
Blinked his slanty eyes
Womble blinked his slanty eyes. ‘Vinny, I’ve something I want to tell you. Something I have to tell you,’ he croaked.
Vinny opened his hands in supplication. ‘Fire away, son. But if it’s about the birds and the bees, I’m afraid I’m only a novice, and not even a supreme novice at that.’
Womble’s eyes widened. He hadn’t the foggiest what Vinny meant. ‘It’s about what was written on your locker in work the other day,’ he said.
Vinny stiffened and his senses were suddenly cleared as he grimly recalled the “Scab” poster. ‘Go on,’ he said slowly. ‘What did you hear?’
Womble propped himself up on an elbow, burped, and continued from the Book of Revelations. ‘It’s like this. Me aul fella is a big union head in the ESB, he’s into workers’ rights and some of his stuff has rubbed off on me.
‘I heard the lads in the canteen saying how you were prepared to pass a picket to make sure people got to work, school the shops, whatever. They were building you up, saying how you’d have defied Jim Larkin in 1913, and having a laugh.
‘It got me dander up so I stuck up the poster and wrote “Scab” all over it, thinking I’d put one over Mr Nice Guy and how my Dad would be proud of me.
‘Then tonight in Foley’s, you invite me to join your mates, ply me with pints, and make me feel welcome. Someone even offered me a ticket for the All-Ireland final. I feel like a fraud’.
Vinny shook his head and clucked. ‘Tell you what, Womble. Will you do something for me?’
Womble nodded. ‘Anything, I’m so sorry,’ he said. ‘Say two Hail Mary’s and a Glory Be, and we’ll draw a line under it, okay?’ said Vinny. ‘Oh, and one more thing, don’t you dare throw up – I’ve a new tenant coming next week and I’ve only just had the place cleaned.’